Metal Music Reviews


Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Up to this point Wellington (NZ) based death metal band Heresiarch have released just one album in their ten plus years of activity, but that has now been amended by French label Krucyator getting the rights to their debut demo ‘Obsecrating The Global Holocaust)’ (2011) and their two EP’s ‘Hammer of Intransigence’ (2011) and ‘Waelwulf’ (2014). They have all been put together in one album, with the track listing staying in the same sequence as when they originally came out. Given the gap between the last EP and the 2017 album ‘ Death Ordinance’ it perhaps isn’t surprising that none of their earlier songs made it onto that release, so this is a nice and easy way to listen to the early material without having to dig too hard.

Hearing this album made me realise just how small the music scene is in New Zealand, as there are few bands who actually tour very much, and this is the first time I have come across the name as they are in Wellington and I tend to be in either Auckland or Christchurch. With small venues closing here as they are elsewhere it is incredibly hard for local bands to get enough of an audience to justify playing outside their own small area. That’s a real shame as this is an incredibly powerful outfit, heavily influenced by the likes of Cannibal Corpse, but also bringing in Nile as well as some more over the top black metal tendencies at time. It is frantic, it is frenetic, and the only way for it is to make any sense at all is by playing it very loudly indeed. Your neighbours will thank you. Having only just come across these guys I can see I am going to have to hear some more, as this is over the top mayhem guaranteed to create a serious mosh. Intense.


Album · 1999 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.69 | 3 ratings
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"Get up, get up, get up, get up, get up"

One of the best "jumpdafuckup" metal albums out there. Usually whenever I'm inclined to spin a Sevendust album, it's usually the debut, but gave Home a full listen for the first time in years and it holds up as a close second. It's a bit more polished, but in a way that gives more punch to the guitar which benefits the pure nu metal style that they got on this album. Also I can swear I hear the bass rattling in some of the songs on here, which is an added bonus.

I think this is where Sevendust had the best balance of melody and aggression, as it mostly comes together nicely here. Denial has a fantastic blend of the two, but they don't add unnecessary melodic choruses to songs like Rumble Fish which wouldn't be the mosh-ready anthem it is if they did. For those of you who remember the ATV: Offroad Fury games on PS2, Denial will probably bring a lot of nostalgia.

Sevendust has kept on going, but their first two still hold most of their great stuff. They focused a bit too much on melodic alt-metalcore later on for my tastes, but if you just want some good heavy grooves this delivers.


Album · 1988 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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In the Cold Ice of Outer Space

Unlike black metal, Bloodstar evokes cold imagery in a different way. Instead of walking through a forest during a Scandinavian winter, this is an icy interplanetary world from a science fiction novel, perhaps those written by band member Micha Pansi. It's a soundtrack for walking on the surface of Pluto in an alternate universe where we are free to travel through space.

There's thrash riffs, melodic leads, industrial programmed drumming, but it all comes second to the atmosphere, which is made even stronger with the great addition of the organ. One of the finest moments on the album is the fantastic doom metal-esque rendition of Goblin's "L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi"

Perfect listen for a lonely winter night, where the only thing entering your ears are the cold apocalyptic sounds of space from this little-known album.

ATOM SEED Get in Line

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 2 ratings
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"Get in line, free your mind"

If you want to find maybe the largest amount of great bands lost in time, just look into the funk metal genre. It had a very brief amount of popularity in the late 80's and early 90's, but unfortunately once it went out of style, so did most of bands with it. A handful kept a legacy (Living Colour, Fishbone) or changed their sound (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More), but most sadly remain forgotten.

Atom Seed is one of the many funk metal bands that only managed to put out one album, but also like many of these bands, this is an album that sounds like a passionate band unrestricted. There's the thrash-funk of the title track and Bitchin', moodier songs like Shot Down and Better Day, several straight up funk metal songs, and the monumental heavy metal of Castles in the Sky as the best song on the album. Hearing how fantastic this song is makes it that much more sad that Atom Seed only released an EP after this and disbanded shortly after that.

Maybe someday funk metal will finally get its due appreciation and even make a comeback, but until then, this is one of funk metal's many underrated classics. All we want are castles in the sky.

PRONG Cleansing

Album · 1994 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 6 ratings
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Attitude, balls-out aggression, and industrial soundscapes: this describes Prong’s 1994 breakthrough album Cleansing. Taking the massive thrashings of Pantera, the grungy aggression of Helmet, and the atmosphere of Killing Joke, Prong threw a bunch of what made 90’s metal great into one absolute sucker-punch of an album.

With this album, Prong hit the perfect stride of simultaneously being monstrously heavy and infectiously catchy. Especially with “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, which I would easily call this one of the best songs of the 90’s. The dense, bass-heavy, and rhythmic hook that drives the song makes this an instant mosh-pit anthem. “Cut-Rate” can join the likes of Pantera’s “Domination” and Sepultura’s “Dead Embryonic Cells” as having one of the greatest massive grooves to dominate the bridge of a thrash song, while “Broken Pieces” and “Test” bring in a bit of funky bass to blend with the shredding riffs.

Frontman Tommy Victor barks with utmost conviction throughout each song, and even on the rare chance that the music lets up, he maintains a roughness that still works. With Killing Joke’s Paul Raven on bass coupled with Victor’s love of the band, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that songs like “Not of This Earth” and “Home Rule” are very reminiscent of the aforementioned band. Similar also, is that the whole album maintains an underlying industrial backing sound. Raven and drummer Ted Parsons dominate the entire album with an incredibly strong rhythm section, and Victor’s surging guitar playing blends beautifully to create what really is one of the grooviest albums I’ve ever heard.

While Prong never quite got to the same big-name status as some of their contemporaries, I believe Cleansing deserves to be mentioned alongside classics such as Vulgar Display of Power and Arise as one of the greatest metal albums of the 90’s. When it comes to crushing riffs and monster hooks, Cleansing delivers with some of the best of them.


Single · 2003 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.30 | 7 ratings
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I think there’s no denying that 2003’s ‘St. Anger’ is hardly a career highlight for Metallica. While certainly a pivotal moment in the bands history, the album itself is probably more a result of a well-documented time of turmoil for the band, than an actual critical success.

Which brings us to any promotional singles that were released, and there were a few. ‘Frantic’ is arguably one of the better songs from the album, which isn’t really saying too much. Especially as this is standard Metallica fare. The title track, accompanied by two generic live recordings, in the case of CD1 of this two-disc set, ‘Blackened’ and ‘Harvester of Sorrow’. Both original studio recordings are Metallica masterpieces... these live recordings... umm... rather forgettable, really.

Nothing overly special or remarkable, the band sounds quite rusty here, no doubt due to having not toured in a number of years at this point. None-the-less, this doesn’t make for any notable live recordings, which ultimately makes for a rather mundane single release, which finds itself only worth owning for die-hard fans.

SAVATAGE Ghost In The Ruins: A Tribute To Criss Oliva

Live album · 1995 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 8 ratings
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‘Ghost in the Ruins’ is the second official live album by American metal band Savatage. Released in 1995, it serves as a tribute to the late Criss Oliva who died in a car accident in 1993, however, it’s release comes just months after the band had released ‘Japan Live ‘94’, and two live albums, both with similar set lists in such a short span tends to lessen the impact.

To be brutally honest though, while I absolutely love Savatage, and they are one of my all-time favourite bands, I’ve always felt that their material doesn’t translate well into live albums. Sure, there’s no doubt the energy of hearing these songs live is off the hook, but hearing it “live”, in album form at least, seems to lack what makes the studio versions so powerful to begin with.

I mean, the band play exceptionally, and there’s a palpable chemistry between them all, and the set list is spot on, especially considering when this was recorded, but as I’ve touched upon, I just really can’t get into this. With the likes of ‘Gutter Ballet’, ‘When the Crowds Are Gone’, ‘Sirens’, ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ and ‘Of Rage and War’, this album isn’t a complete loss, but at the end of the day, I’d much rather listen to any of the studio albums and hear the music in all its fist-pumping studio glory.


Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1978 I was given a cassette by a mate of mine to see what I thought of the music. It was the new greatest hits collection by a band I had never heard of, and as this was a good old TDK-90 there were no images. I took it home and that night fell in love with the music of Kiss, and the compilation ‘Double Platinum’. It was quite a shock when I first saw what they looked like to be honest. As well as soon being a fully paid up member of the Kiss Army when it launched in the UK, I not only was wearing a denim jacket with Kiss emblazoned across the back, and buying every album I could find by the band, but was also seeking out bands that had some connection. That was how I came across Van Halen, but the band which really made the impact on me was Angel. Signed to the same label as Kiss due to being discovered by Gene Simmons, there was something about their melodic heavy keyboard-driven music which fascinated me. The first album I bought was ‘On Earth As It Is In Heaven’, but quickly realised that their masterpiece was ‘Heluuva Band’. Frank DiMino had an amazing voice, Punky Meadows had great licks while in Gregg Giuffria they had one of the greatest pomp keyboard players. But they burned hot and they burned fast, and by 1981 it was all over. Giuffria made a name for himself with his own band and in House of Lords, but I was saddened by the loss of the band who I felt never really gained the acclaim they deserved,

I never lost my love for Angel, and in the Nineties when my daughters were looking for a present for me, I asked for the import double CD set ‘Live Without A Net’. There was another album in 1999, but although singer Frank DiMino and drummer Barry Brandt gave it some authenticity it just didn’t have the impact or passion I expected. So when an email turned up in my inbox a few weeks ago offering me the new Angel album I was totally shocked as I wasn’t aware that Punky and Frank had been working together again after all this time as I thought that Punky had left the music business altogether. Checking the web I can see he did, but returned with an album in 2015 which featured among others Danny Farrow (rhythm guitar, vocals) and keyboard player Charlie Calv, who along with bassist Steve Ojane, and drummer Billy Orrico comprise the new line-up.

Even before I listened to it, I looked at the cover and it just made me smile. At the top there is the ambigrammatic logo (it looks the same upside down), and there are all the band dressed in white staring at the photographer, just as they did on all their original albums (apart from the debut). Punky just doesn’t look his 69 years, and if Zappa was still around today, I am sure he would enjoy penning a sequel to “Punky’s Whips”. If the cover took me back to being a teenager once again, the music did so even more. The keyboards aren’t quite so front and centre as they used to be, but Frank is singing as well as ever, and Punky is relishing the opportunity to be more central than when he was always vying with Gregg for musical dominance. There are also now two guitars in the line-up, whereas there only used to be one, so it is no surprise they have come more to the fore.

The production is superb, and the hooks are there for all to hear. It isn’t a perfect album, in that there are a few places where it drags, but if this was edited down to the length of their albums in the late Seventies then I am sure we would be asking exactly where it sits in the pantheon. Would it be above ‘Sinful’? Probably, but although it wouldn’t topple ‘Helluva Band’, it would be pushing hard. Talking of which, my favourite song from the band has always been “The Tower”, so I was somewhat surprised, and concerned, to see that they had decided to re-record that as the closer of the 17 numbers . The initial keyboards are quite different, but when the drums come in it is very close indeed to the original, but the band aren’t trying to recreate what was achieved back in 1976, but rather show they understand where they came from.

I have been listening to this a great deal, and while I am fully aware that is probably in many ways because I loved them so much some forty years ago, but this is a great album which certainly doesn’t sound as if they have been away for so long. Angel are still one helluva band.

METALLICA All Nightmare Long

Single · 2008 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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One of the best tracks from 2008’s ‘Death Magnetic’, an album brimming with great songs, ‘All Nightmare Long’ rightfully received a single release and a promotional video, and as is always the case with Metallica, there’s multiple versions and discs.

This one, disc one of a three-disc set, features the titular track, as well as live versions of ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and ‘Master of Puppets’. Two exceptional tracks in themselves, overall, this single release doesn’t really offer anything new, however.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the two live tracks, just that we’ve heard countless different live versions of them by now, that as great as the compositions are, there’s nothing remotely notable about these two recordings in particular. Still, they’re great songs, so whatever. And the title track is amazing, full of twists and turns, with some breakneck speed guitar riffs and Hetfield’s voice sounding the best it has sounded in years. If nothing else, ‘All Nightmare Long’ is a great little nugget for fans and collectors.


Album · 2011 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 2.77 | 11 ratings
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2011’s ‘Here and Now’ is the seventh studio album by Canadian rockers Nickelback, and yep, you guessed it, it’s similar to their previous few releases. But is that such a bad thing? The band have sold millions of albums and toured the world over, so they must be doing something right. They have a winning formula and they’ve stuck with it. Radio-friendly enough for the casual listener yet rocking enough for metal fans. Those willing to give the band a chance, that is. As is usually the case by now, the band can be hard and heavy enough for rock fans, yet some softer ballads allow the band to garner radio airplay. The production is top-notch, giving the band a full sound which really makes the rockier songs heavy as hell and gives the soft pop songs a warm, vibrant feel.

The lyrics, as always, range from the usual rock debauchery to more introspective and reflective themes. Sex, women and parties are usually at the top of the bill, but there are themes of unity, suicide and dependence too. For the most part, they’re usually a fine old slab of cheese, but anyone willing to dig a little deeper can see that occasionally the band can have something meaningful or poignant to say.

While Nickelback will never be known specifically for virtuoso musicianship, there’s no denying their penchant for writing catchy and memorable songs, and with beastly guitar riffs and pounding drums aplenty, there’s an abundance of quality material here. The likes of ‘This Means War’, ‘Bottoms Up’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Kiss It Goodbye’, ‘When We Stand Together’ and ‘Trying Not to Love You’ are all exceptional rock songs that are certainly worth a listen or two. And while ‘Here and Now’ may not be anything groundbreaking or innovative, the truth is, it doesn’t need to be. This is good, quality hard rock at its finest.


Album · 2000 · Nu Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 6 ratings
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Violence, fitting for its album title, is one of the most genuinely aggressive albums out there. The pure unbridled rage that Nothingface exudes is both blood-pumping and cathartic, with some added melodies to create an effective contrast. The aggression and heaviness never take a back seat though, it all works perfectly together.

The massive grooves bring the hooks to reel you in, but the late vocalist Matt Holt is perhaps the biggest highlight of the album. He screams out some of the most seriously angry vocals I've heard, to the point that he can sound legitimately intimidating. Songs like Make Your Own Bones, Same Solution, Can't Wait for Violence, and especially Hidden Hands, show someone that you don't want to mess with. Lines like "YEAH, YOU'll DIE YOU FUCKING BITCH" from Same Solution and the aforementioned lyric from Hidden Hands that opens this review are some of the most intense moments in metal history.

Coupled with the minimalist yet threatening Roy Lichtenstein-esque album cover, this is as intensive as music gets.

RAZOR Custom Killing

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.54 | 4 ratings
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It's easy to think that this was Razor going prog going in blind just looking at those two 11-minute long songs, but there's none of that here. Survival of the Fittest and Last Rites are just hook after hook as with the rest of the album. This is actually Razor at their most aggressive, humorous, and attitude-filled. Everything that makes thrash great.

Funnily enough, despite being the frontman, guitarist Dave Carlo is the least important thing to what carries this album. He's a good guitarist and the riffs are great, but the vocals and rhythm section is what takes this to new levels. Sheepdog is either almost out-sneering Dave Mustaine or screeching like a madman. Mike Campagnolo's bass is either rumbling in the background or grooving up front and personal, while M-Bro drums with pure force. His cymbal work gives some real texture that isn't common, while the production brings so much more impact by accentuating certain drum parts. Just listen to Shootout for this and the epitome of thrash metal.

While often considered Razor's worst album for some bizarre reason, Custom Killing presents Razor at their best. Violent Restitution is close, but this album has the edge. The production is one of the best in thrash, especially with bringing the bass and drums to the forefront. If Dave Carlo can't stand this album, maybe Sheepdog should just get with Campagnolo and M-Bro then find another guitarist and get back to this pure attitude and aggression.

ACCEPT Russian Roulette

Album · 1986 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 37 ratings
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Tied with Breaker as Accept's best album, though best for different reasons. Breaker is a fantastic album for the pure raw edge of a band fed up with record labels telling them what to do and breaking through into their own sound (Perhaps the reason for the title?). Russian Roulette, on the other hand, is a fantastic album for how it sounds like a band that's taken on the world and delivers metal anthems with an introspective wisdom.

It's an amazingly crafted album, as it instantly hooks you with the infectious catchiness alone and gargantuan drums, with the title track even maybe beating their classic Balls to the Wall in triumphant power. However, the lyrics and melodies show a band with a lot more emotion than many gave them credit for. The aforementioned title track is a more effective song against war than most, taking it on a more personal level of a soldier rather than just saying "people die". Also, Accept's probably the only band who could write a song called Man Enough to Cry that's great and not a sappy hair band ballad.

I love every song on here, though my favorites are definitely Monsterman, the title track, Heaven is Hell, Walking in the Shadow, and Man Enough to Cry (Which actually kind of reminds me of Dio-era Rainbow with the riffs). These have some especially amazing group vocal choruses. Such an incredibly underrated album, and not only tied with Breaker as Accept's best, but also one of the absolute best 80's heavy metal albums out there.

ELOY Performance

Album · 1983 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 8 ratings
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Among the many bands that made the transition from the 70's to the 80's, Eloy was one of the best at adapting to the new decade. They perfected their space rock/heavy metal hybrid in the 70's with the trilogy of Inside, Floating, and Power and the Passion, and with Performance they perfect a new sound appropriate for the decade.

Performance, as well as the equally excellent follow up Metromania, are a bit hard to pin down as far as genre goes, but they're so wonderfully 80's in the best ways. It's basically a combination of multiple 80's sounds, from new wave to the new wave of heavy metal, it's made to fit Eloy's own mold. Opener In Disguise is a fantastic piece of 80's new wave-tinged hard rock, and is what should've actually been Top Gun's theme song. Shadow and Light has some great metal riffing, Mirador is an instrumental dominated by bass and synth interplay, Heartbeat and Fools are more fantastic 80's new wave rock, and A Broken Frame closes out the album in a majestic fashion.

The best part about this album is just how electrified and energetic the band sounds. Even a song like Surrender which is just drenched in 80's cheese, turns into a total bop with how much these guys are having fun. It translates to the listener so well, it feels like I'm watching these guys on stage at a big arena.

Is it 70's heavy space rock? No, but it has no reason to be. If you want that, there's the fantastic albums they did in the 70's for that. It still sounds like Eloy, just with a new sound that fits the decade much better.

FU MANCHU Daredevil

Album · 1995 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.71 | 3 ratings
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If there's any band where the term desert rock perfectly applies, it's Fu Manchu. Their sound is all about driving dune buggies and convertibles on southern dirt roads and beach corners, crankin' your tunes, and just enjoying the summertime ride. No summertime blues here, other than the Blue Cheer distortion.

If you're looking for something more anthemic, California Crossing is the better album, but Daredevil is equally fantastic. It's basically 60's/70's heavy metal, but with the doom replaced with driving around. There's also some subtle space rock influence, in songs like Travel Agent, Sleestak, and Space Farm, but they're used as just nice embellishments to create a fuller sound.

Scott Hill's deadpan vocal delivery is probably the most iconic thing about the band, and this may be their album with the most fuzzy distortion, so it's all at its complimentary best. Like desert atmospheres, fast cars, distortion, and heavy riffs? If so, you can't go wrong here.

PESTILENCE Consuming Impulse

Album · 1989 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 24 ratings
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Anxious, disturbing, manic.

Never has any album invoked real horror and anxiety more than Pestilence's Consuming Impulse. Instrumentally, it's an incredible album with fantastic hooks, thrashing rage, screaming solos, and all that is essential to death metal. Out of the Body and Reduced to Ashes especially have absolutely crushing grooves. However, the vocals are what takes it to a whole new level of what death metal can be.

On every song, every vocal, Martin van Drunen sounds like he's screaming for his life and there's nobody there to save him from all the torment. Dehydrated is about dying in a barren desert, The Trauma is self-explanatory, Out of the Body seems to be about having your body infested with parasites, Chronic Infection about having an incurable disease, and Echoes of Death is probably the most emotionally powerful song about death I've ever heard.

This is truly a one-of-a-kind album, and is one of the most passionate performances I've ever heard. It's a shame Pestilence were never able to make anything like it again, but they really couldn't do it without Drunen.

PANTERA Vulgar Display of Power

Album · 1992 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 74 ratings
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Nothing hits harder than this album when one's pissed off or overwhelmed with emotions and it works every time. It's an instant surge of energy, and before you know it the album's finished and you feel empowered.

There's not a single dud on here, there isn't even a song that's less memorable. Of course you have the metal anthem that is Walk, but the whole album is an anthem of metal spirit. Phil Anselmo is unmatched in gruff screams, with only John Bush (Anthrax) and John Tardy (Obituary) coming close to the unhinged forcefulness. Dimebag is for good reason well respected for his solo skills, but also of note is how heavy of a sound he gives the band from being the only guitarist. Last but not least the rhythm section is among the best, it's just hook after hook and even during a solo there's something groovy in the background.

Also, it's possibly the album cover best representative of the music inside, just one forceful punch to the face that lasts for a fantastic 52 minutes. If asked to pick a top five albums of all time, this would definitely be one of those.

SWORD Metalized

Album · 1986 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.67 | 8 ratings
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There's a certain sound and forcefulness that needs to be expected when faced with an album cover that's an extreme close up of a double-barrel that's ready to fire. Thankfully Sword (Not to be confused with stoners The Sword) does more than just deliver.

On Metalized, Sword strike a perfect balance of 70's styled heavy metal, the anthemic sound of the 80's, and just a dash of thrash. Vocalist Rick Hughes always has great melody, but his screams are out of this world making Dare to Spit sound like an actual dare. Almost every song sounds vicious and biting, yet some haunting harmonies in Children of Heaven and Evil Spell add an extra flavor.

Dan Hughes's gargantuan drums give the album a massive sound, and especially Stoned Again becomes a metal monolith along with the heavy bass tones. Obviously the album is full of great riff hooks as well, especially the thrashing Stuck in Rock.

It's a perfect balance of melody and grit in this hidden 80's metal classic.


Album · 2001 · Nu Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 8 ratings
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Mushroomhead's always been one of the most interesting bands in my opinion, there's really no other band quite like them. You can hear where their influences may have come from, but they craft their music in such a way that I've never quite heard before.

A clear point of reference is Faith No More, particularly Angel Dust. The orchestral and keyboard based atmosphere, as well as the vocals bring it to mind. Unlike Faith No More though, Mushroomhead has a much better focus on how exactly they want to sound. There's no awkward deviations of genre, even with the varied range of sounds they have on display. The two vocalists work really well together, the clean vocals sounding like Mike Patton mixed with James LaBrie of Dream Theater if he didn't kill his voice after Awake, while the gruff vocals in a Matt Holt of Nothingface style compliment them well.

Mushroomhead may be the best atmospheric metal band, as they just wrap the listener in this ominous and haunting sound. This is mostly done with the great electro-orchestral and piano work, but it combined with the vocal performances and the rest of the instruments strengthens it. Take the stabbing piano in Chance Sore, the fantastic cover of Pink Floyd's Empty Spaces, or the Kraftwerkian orchestral backing of These Filthy Hands and Born of Desire that sound right out of Trans Europe Express, it's all so good. The best part is that they don't sacrifice any heaviness, and have everything work perfectly together.

One of the most underrated metal bands out there, and one of the best at having a varied approach while knowing exactly how to put all the pieces together.


Album · 2014 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 5 ratings
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2014’s ‘Men of Honor’ is the second full-length album by American metal band Adrenaline Mob. It is the bands fifth overall release in just three years of existence, and follows on with the same sound and style the band have polished and refined over the years prior.

If the name of the band wasn’t a big enough clue, Adrenaline Mob’s formula is simple... heavy, melodic and grooving metal, with aggressive and powerful vocals. Lyrical themes include the usual, manly, testosterone-induced stupidity, such as “feeling the adrenaline”, fighting, loyalty (to “the family”, or course), various pseudo-gang references and the occasional soppy tune too. But you don’t go into an album by a band like this expecting deep, meaningful introspection. This is high-voltage, fist-pumping rock at its finest.

The production on ‘Men of Honor’ is fantastic. Heavy, beefy guitars are well accompanied by a thumping bass and a pounding drum to make this an incredibly “loud” album, and the performances by everyone are exceptional. Guitarist Mike Orlando is an absolute riff machine and his guitar solos wail away at dizzying speeds, and Russell Allen’s vocals, as always, are unmatched, whether loud and aggressive or quiet and beautiful, the guy is one of metal’s all time greats.

With highlights including ‘Dearly Departed’, ‘House of Lies’, ‘Mob is Back’, ‘Judgment Day’, ‘Let It Go’, the title track itself and the beautiful ‘Fallin’ to Pieces’, it’s clear that there’s an abundance of groove metal anthems here, that, as touched upon above, if you go in expecting nothing more than dumb, fists-in-the-air head-banging madness, you’re in for a huge treat.


Album · 2004 · Power Metal
Cover art 1.00 | 1 rating
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Okay, so seriously, the band is called “Leash Law” and the album is called “Dogface”. Doesn’t that pretty much sum this up?



Formed in 2003, Leash Law are an American metal band which are probable most notable for featuring drummer Richard Christy of Iced Earth and Death fame, as well as vocalist Wade Black, who had sung on power metal band Crimson Glory’s 2000 album ‘Astronomica’. I actually really enjoyed that album, so had some interest in what this ridiculously-named band were like, but I should have guessed just by the title.

This is generic metal at its finest. The riffs are uninteresting, with each song sounding the same as the last, and none of them standing out either. The production sounds pretty weak, and everything just feels dated. But the true letdown is that Black’s vocals just kind of sit there, screeching away willy-nilly, out of tune and with no notable melodies, a poor man’s version of Tim “The Ripper” Owens.

I don’t want to dwell on this for too long as I’ve listened to ‘Dogface’ a number of times, and nothing sticks. In fact, there’s a similar word to “Dogface” they could have used to name this album which would have been much more appropriate, but hell, this is my fault for thinking a band named “Leash Law” could actually put out anything of substance in the first place. Okay, so seriously, the band is called “Leash Law” and the album is called “Dogface”. Doesn’t that pretty much sum this up?



Formed in 2003, Leash Law are an American metal band which are probable most notable for featuring drummer Richard Christy of Iced Earth and Death fame, as well as vocalist Wade Black, who had sung on power metal band Crimson Glory’s 2000 album ‘Astronomica’. I actually really enjoyed that album, so had some interest in what this ridiculously-named band were like, but I should have guessed just by the title.

This is generic metal at its finest. The riffs are uninteresting, with each song sounding the same as the last, and none of them standing out either. The production sounds pretty weak, and everything just feels dated. But the true letdown is that Black’s vocals just kind of sit there, screeching away willy-nilly, out of tune and with no notable melodies, a poor man’s version of Tim “The Ripper” Owens.

I don’t want to dwell on this for too long as I’ve listened to ‘Dogface’ a number of times, and nothing sticks. In fact, there’s a similar word to “Dogface” they could have used to name this album which would have been much more appropriate, but hell, this is my fault for thinking a band named “Leash Law” could actually put out anything of substance in the first place.

ICED EARTH Horror Show

Album · 2001 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.53 | 39 ratings
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American power metal band Iced Earth had managed to carve a bit of a niche for themselves at this point in their career. Having established themselves as one of the more notable and prominent bands of the subgenre, it’s surprising that their discography has been drastically hit-or-miss. Unable to truly capture any momentum over a string of consecutive releases, one album could be amazing, while the next could be pretty average. There really was no predicting how each release could be received, and 2001’s ‘Horror Show’ follows on with that trend.

After a bit of a lull had been rectified with 1998’s critically acclaimed ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, the band followed this up with, uh, a pretty mundane themed release focusing on horror characters and stories. While one or two tracks could be acceptable, an entire album seems a bit uninspiring and not overwhelmingly promising.

And so here we have it, another pretty average release. Iced Earth’s sound by this point is what it is, and while they aren’t looking to branch out and explore new styles, the quality of songwriting could still benefit from a bit more focus and enthusiasm. This feels slightly by-the-numbers. An abundance of the usual speed metal trappings and powerful, operatic vocals, this is undeniably Iced Earth, but the songs just don’t have the same exuberance and determination that the band have shown with past releases.

Still, it’s not all terrible, as there are a couple of decent tracks on here. ‘Wolf’, ‘Damien’ and ‘Jack’ are alright, though mostly forgettable compared to the bands stronger material. Admittedly however, a cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Transylvania’ is actually fantastic and the true highlight of this album. The band truly stamp their identity all over this instrumental track, and, most notably for me, it’s the song that served as my introduction to the band (how ironic that it was a cover, a fact I didn’t find out until years later).

Overall, ‘Horror Show’ isn’t by any stretch a terrible album, it’s just not overly memorable, and considering that Iced Earth have shown the ability to put out some incredibly strong releases, it just fails to truly stand out in any way other than being “that horror album”.

HELLOWEEN United Alive

Movie · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Imagine a Judas Priest show with both Tim Ripper Owens and Rob Halford singing together. No wait… Imagine a Sepultura show with both Max Cavelera and Derick Green singing. No wait, that’s not even it. I’ve got it… Imagine an Iron Maiden show with Paul Dianno, Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bailey all singing. Well, maybe, if Dickinson had left after four albums and Blaze had been there ever since. Ok, Now swap out the zombie mascot for some comedy pumpkins and you’re approaching the situation here. Helloween, one of Germany’s biggest and most important bands, one of the most iconic Power Metal bands in history, with one of the most impressive family trees (Gamma Ray, Masterplan, Freedom Call, Unisonic, Iron Savior etc) make one of the most anticipated decisions in the history of the genre.

Who is your favourite Helloween singer? Is it Kai Hansen, the heaviest singer and the original? Is it Michael Kiske, the most technically accomplished and the one from their most iconic record? Or is it Andi Deris, their best frontman and the singer on the most albums? – Turns out, now you don’t have to choose. United Alive, the live video from the Pumpkins United tour sees all three join the stage together, cracking out a career spanning mixture of material from the earliest thrashiest material to the modern gems, with all the iconic genre defining masterpieces from the peerless Keepers’ era sprinkled in too.

There are over 20 tracks here (some are intros and solos, and some are medleys/combinations, but still…) that’s a lot of Helloween. All three singers take it turns to sing. Sometimes not even a song each, but rather dividing it up section by section inside each song, or all at once. It is very welcome to hear them back on some of their own tracks like ‘Heavy Metal Is The Law’ after not hearing it on the other live videos, or ‘Dr. Stein’ after having heard only Deri’s take on it previously. Conversely it is very interesting to see Kai or Kiske sing on some of the big commercial ‘90s/’00s hits like ‘Perfect Gentleman’ or ‘If I Could Fly.’

There are often 7 members on stage at the one time (or 8 if you count the keyboardist, Eddy Wrapiprou). There’s Weikath and Grosskopft on guitar and bass as always. Sascha Gerstner and Daniel Löble on guitar and drums like the last several albums. And the three aforementioned singers (with Kai also playing guitar).

There’s a mix of footage, ranging from headline shows in Madrid, Spain to festival appearances at Wacken and in Brazil. Sort of like they did already on their previous ‘Legacy World Tour 2005/2006 DVD.

Normally I really prefer a concert DVD to come from one single show, rather than complied from a series of different dates in different places with different lighting, sound and camera work, but given that the band itself is now a compilation of past and present members and some of the songs included are medleys, I don’t know why but it just works here.

The band put on a great show. There’s a lot going on. There’s video screens, a big pumpkin stage set piece around the drum kit (which has 4 kickdrums for some reason, just to add to the over-the-top feel of it all), a light show, and a few cheesy moments like members coming out dressed in a top hat and cane, or raining pumpkin balloons.

Deris, ever the consummate front man is great at revving up the crowd, and then the different members get spotlights for certain tunes and join up on others, there’s prolonged solo segments, a tribute to late drummer Ingo Schichtenberg, its all very diverse and entertaining. They even do a stripped-down bare bones version of the ballad ‘Forever And One’ straight after a super heavy Walls Of Jericho/EP medley, which pretty much shows both polar opposites of the band’s varied discography.

There’s multiple different ways you can buy it. DVD, Blu Ray, combinations thereof. Versions with CDs. The version I got it two Blu Rays. One with the concert and one with a load of extra footage. There’s a few extra songs (Including the underrated ‘Kids Of The Century’ from the oft maligned Pink Bubbles Go Ape album). There’s a bunch of behind the scenes footage looking at various aspects of the tour and production. It comes in a nice shiny digi-book with some brief liner notes and a glossy photo booklet. You know, just as if it wasn’t value for money enough already with an almost three-hour concert of a Helloween fan’s wildest fantasy line-up.

As a concept you really have to hand it to them; its quite a clever move to reuinite with past members without losing current members as some fans never got over Kiske leaving the band or only ever even tried the Keepers albums. Some fans really love the Kai era and you never get to see Helloween play much material from it anymore (you only really get the chance if he chucks one in to a Gamma Ray show some time). Its a great idea to reel them back in and show them how great the Deris era can be too. Come for ‘Halloween’ and ‘Future World’ but stay for ‘Sole Survivor’ and ‘Power’ then learn to love the Deris era if you don’t already.

Thankfully though, its not just the concept that’s good. The whole package is good. The sound, footage, editing and bonus material. Most importantly though, the performance. It doesn’t come across as a novelty cash grab, it really feels like a jubilant celebration. As they say in the opening track ‘Halloween’ ”There’s magic in the air.” This may be cheesy to say (but hey, if you like Helloween, you better be used to cheesy) but it really is a heavy metal dream come true. Buy it!

BLUT AUS NORD The Mystical Beast of Rebellion

Album · 2001 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.41 | 6 ratings
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BLUT AUS NORD formed all the way back in 1994 as the solo project of Vindsval but as a black metal band only managed to release two albums in the 90s however on “Ultima Thulée” and “Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age,” what began as a somewhat traditional atmospheric black metal project slowly developed into more progressive and experimental realms outside the orthodoxies of the typical Darkthrone inspired second wave. While its questionable if the project was intended to be a permanent ongoing one or just one of many to see which experiments find the biggest audience, after 1996’s “Memoria Vetusta I,” Vindsval set the project aside for five whole years while he dabbled in other bands such as “Children Of Maani” and “The Eye.”

After all was said and done, it seemed that the BLUT AUS NORD albums were gaining the most traction so that was the trajectory Vindsval has remained on ever since. It wouldn’t be until 2001 that BLUT AUS NORD would officially release the third album THE MYSTICAL BEAST OF REBELLION and for the first time session musicians were given credit. Vindsval handled the usual guitar and vocal combo pack, W.D. Feld performed on drums and keyboards whereas Nahaim handled bass duties. This third offering was basically a transition album from the project’s second wave black metal roots to the more esoteric experiments that followed. This album has appeared in two significantly different forms.

The original release with the darkened hues of brown and mysterious symbolic faces on the album cover consisted of only six tracks, each titled “The Fall” followed by “Chapter” and the accompanying Roman numeral. Often considered one of the weakest early BLUT AUS NORD albums due to the inconsistent quality, the album was re-released in 2010 with a completely different album cover. That one displayed a strange MYTHICAL BEAST that looks like what i would imagine to be a were-goat if such a thing existed. This re-release contains a second album or disc that adds an additional three tracks but due to the more progressive and experimental nature, these three tracks approach the 40 minute mark and essentially constitute a new album. I highly recommend this version if you set out to purchase this album as it’s this second bonus album that is far superior to the ho hum original track listing.

The original album is very much a mixed bag. In fact mostly an empty bag. The first four tracks almost sound like the same mix of repetitive guitar riffs and chord progressions with only minor variations undetectable to the passive listener. Sounding more like early Darkthrone than anything of the 21st century progressive era of BLUT AUS NORD, it’s almost as if Vindsval resurrected some demos out of the vault just to take up space. Not a stellar idea for an album that emerged five years after its predecessor. Hardly anything to get excited about given the quickened evolution of the black metal paradigms splintering into disparate factions. About as exciting as a faux bloodbath in Easter egg dye. It’s amazingly dull and monotonous. Only the beastly calls in between tracks stand out as something to pinpoint one’s attention upon. If there’s ever a black metal album that can put you to sleep, the first four tracks of this one should do the trick.

Luckily the album redeems itself from being a total waste of time with track 5, “The Fall: Chapter V” which suddenly transmogrifies into a bona fide interesting listening experience. The beastly calls announce the change and instead of a quickened buzzsaw guitar riff-fest in hyperdrive, the tempo is slowed down into a doomy dirge-like dread and the beast grunts continue as the track plods along with heavy distorted guitars, a murky hidden bass and a lazy drumbeat slowly build the gloomy atmospheric cloud covers and then begin to ratchet up the tension with bizarre guitar antics. Some kinds of guitar bends and a huge improvement in vocals over the generic nature of the earlier tracks. The finale “The Fall: Chapter VI” continues the developments and is equally enthralling however the album ends with an irritating 3 minutes of silence. I HATE THAT!!!!!


Given the lackluster selections presented on the original mostly demo quality release of THE MYTHICAL BEAST OF REBELLION, it was a wise decision for Vindsval to make it worthwhile for newbies to add a bunch of bonus material and i’m happy to say that this bonus material is far superior to anything on the original release. Stylistically these three newer tracks are intended to supplement the original material by keeping the theme intact. Therefore we get “The Fall: Chapter 7.7” followed by the two more same titles that tack on “7.77” and “7.777” which adds a little twist. These tracks display the same doomy plodding of the “Chapters V” and “VI” but takes those ideas to the logical conclusions. The tracks retain the same snail’s pace trot but are fortified with extremely angular riffs with jangly dissonance indicating that the emergence of Deathspell Omega’s popularity since the first release in 2001 clearly played a role in Vindsval’s approach.

The three tracks comprise a complete album’s worth of material. “Chapter 7.7” slinks over the eight minute mark, “Chapter 7.77” oozes past the nine and the grand finale “Chapter 7.777” clocks in at 21 seconds past the 19 minute mark however as lengthy as these tracks are, they all share the same characteristics. All slowly stomp down black metal alley with jagged razor sharp guitar angularities and deeply buried raspy vocals not so prominent as on the original release. The progressive elements are subtle but distinctly complex as the tritone attack of the guitars, bass and drums drift in and out of sync while darkened atmospheric overcasts keep the darkened doom effect in full obscureness. Overall both discs of this collection are extremely repetitive and hypnotic however it’s this second newer one that offers more subtle variations that keep the listening experience more active and also at this point BLUT AUS NORD has mastered the art of sonic terror, which has remained a steadfast trait of the underground extreme metal scene of France.

The original release of THE MYTHICAL BEAST OF REBELLION is perhaps the weakest album in the project’s lengthy canon and only worthy of 2 stars, however the second disc is an intricately designed slab of blackened doom metal worthy of a 4 star rating so if i had to average the two albums together then it’s an obvious 3 stars. I cannot stress though how imperative it is to only purchase the version of this album with the bonus tracks. I simply pretend that the second disc is what the original album was supposed to be and ignore what actually was put out in 2001. Still though even the original isn’t a complete waste of time, only about 2/3 of it is. Vindsval would completely resurrect BLUT AUS NORD from hibernation and never again allow so much time to lapse between albums. His next album “The Work Which Transforms God” took things to an even more sophisticated level and brought the project into the big boys club of extreme metal and things would never be the same.

OPETH In Cauda Venenum

Album · 2019 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.14 | 3 ratings
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These days there are literally a gazillion metal bands that come and go with even some of the bigger names which often blur into the massive number of albums that emerge every single month and then there are bands like OPETH, a band that has become so legendary that it actually creates quite a stir even over two decades after the band’s debut with “Orchid.” This Swedish band founded by lead vocalist / guitarist / songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt all the way back in 1989 has successfully straddled the fence between the disparate genera of death metal and progressive rock often blurring the distinctions. While fans on both sides of the fence have been routing for the band to take one path or the other, OPETH for the most part has successfully remained staunchly in hybrid mode at least until the last few albums.

While starting out as the former and taking the leap into the latter beginning with 2011’s “Heritage,” the group has successfully created some of the most lauded albums that decorate both the prog and metal top album lists and with the band’s 14th studio album IN CAUDA VENENUM (“Poison Of The Tail”), OPETH shows no signs of slowing down and have crafted yet another album of intricate melodies teased into progressive sprawlers that are bathed in aspects of psychedelic rock, folk rock and progressive metal. Only the growly vocal death metal elements have been jettisoned as OPETH has decloaked any traces of its earliest aggressive tendencies and have instead seemingly adopted the permanent features of clean vocal styles and King Crimsonian style prog rock circa the “Red” area. And still going strong which started all the way back in the very beginning are those beautiful arpeggiated acoustic guitar segments are still riding high in the mix.

OPETH tried something new on IN CAUDA VENENUM, which was somewhat common with Italian prog bands of the 70s but not so for the Scandinavian scene. This album has been released twice both in English and the band’s native Swedish. Despite the differences in language, the music is exactly the same and both albums clock in exactly at 67 minutes and 44 seconds. While the choice of language may appeal to some, for those like me who are less concerned about lyrics and much more into the compositional meat and potatoes, i personally don’t care if a song is titled “Universal Truth” or “Ingen Sanning Är Allas.” Having said that, Swedish is a beautiful language and although this review is based upon the English version of the album, i will inevitably want to absorb the majesty of an OPETH album in its native lingo. After all, Swedish is the language that sings and love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Åkerfeldt is one singing MF and becomes more nuanced with his vox box as time goes one.

After releasing “Sorceress,” the band received a lot of criticism for jettisoning too much metal and becoming just another retro prog band. Yeah, those metalheads can get really testy about things. Even on the prog side of the music world, they got shot down in some circles for not being original enough, by recycling 70s sounds and jumping on the bandwagon that seems to be all the rage today which may be fine for, let’s say a band like Wobbler, but for metal superstars like OPETH? No way, just ain’t cuttin’ it. IN CAUDA VENENUM corrects that faux pas and adds some extra metal oomf to the mix once again however in many regards, this album is a lot like “Sorceress” in that its progressive elements are the main focus, the clean vocals shine in the forefront and the music is lushly orchestrated to create pleasing atmospheric counterpoints to the folk-tinged melodic developments. As far as the psychedelic rock aspects are concerned, IN CAUDA VENENUM is drenched in piano, Fender Rhodes 88, harpsichords, Moogs, mellotron and a Hammond CD to boot.

The metal almost seems like an afterthought that is there solely to add a bombastic contrast to an otherwise super chill album. So much for the band’s original intent of becoming one of the most evil bands in the world. Now much closer to Pink Floyd than to Mayhem, OPETH seems to have nurtured this new path into the prog world quite well. IN CAUDA VENENUM is an amazingly consistent album that may be a much more metal-free zone than say albums like “Morningrise” or “Deliverance” but still manages to sneak in some ferocious guitar riffing and power chords amidst the proggy time signature rich passages as they tick off all the proper prog check lists.

Out of the newer OPETH albums that rely less on the metal aspects, IN CAUDA VENENUM is actually one of the most diverse of the lot so far expanding OPETH’s sounds into new arenas (such as the jazzy “The Garroter”) to the more familiar (which is most of the album.) One of the main tricks up Åkerfeldt’s sleeves has always been those appropriately placed classical guitar segments which tastefully starts off the album intro on “Garden Of Earthly Delights.” The twin guitar attacks of Åkerfeldt and Frederik Åkesson are still in action especially in the more metallic tracks like “Heart In Hand.” There are new developments in OPETH’s arsenal such as the overdubbed choir parts in “Dignity” and let’s face it lots and i do mean LOTS of organ parts. Despite scouring the periodic table to add as many metal elements as possible, IN CAUDA VENENUM is firmly in progressive rock territory with just a touch of heavier bombast to hopefully entice the older crowds into the new OPETH show.

On a personal level, OPETH has never been a top band in my reality but i am amazed at how consistent the quality of the material is on every single album in its long never-ending canon and therefore they have my utmost respect and admiration. Åkerfeldt was born to bring to life catchy yet proggy tunes that while crafting the instant ear worms of pop music still have quite the catchiness factor even if it takes a few spins to sink in. Whether OPETH is in full death metal regalia or simply taking a siesta in organ drenched prog makes no difference to me personally. I find the Jekyll & Hyde peekaboo act to be amusing since the band so successfully masters both styles quite well and on IN CAUDA VENENUM, the band seems to find new ways of incorporating both aspects into a cohesive whole without deviating from the current trajectory of settling on the prog side of the equation.

IN CAUDA VENENUM will surely not win over those who ditched the band when “Heritage” declared the new OPETH was in town but it certainly won’t disappoint those who have been digging the recent prog albums such as “Pale Communion” and “Sorceress.” While taking cues from both, this one moves on into ever more diverse pastures and the great thing about OPETH is that it is a band that no matter what criticism is heaped upon it, is never afraid to just sally forth in whichever direction the musicians feel it right for them. While IN CAUDA VENENUM will receive ample amounts of hate from metalhead purists and equal amounts of love from retro-proggers, taken as a work of art, IN CAUDA VENENUM is a compelling album with rich seductive melodies and intricately crafted musical developments. Another excellent album in the OPETH camp.

DRAGONFORCE Extreme Power Metal

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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“Extreme” and “Power Metal” generally aren’t words one would expect to see placed together, as the genre is generally known to be on the light, catchy and fun side of things, as far as metal goes, and yet one band has deemed themselves as being so daring, so adventurous and so far ahead of the pack, that their music is worthy of being called “Extreme Power Metal.” That band is, of course, British band Dragonforce, who has always been a very divisive band, most notably for the fact that their first big success came when their song “Through the Fire and the Flames” was included in Guitar Hero III. Jokes aside, though, while the band is certainly an acquired taste, they picked up a rather large fan base over the years, releasing seven albums to date, with each of them being highly enjoyable. While I’ve always struggled with some of the band’s earlier works, I’ve been very pleased with their past three releases, especially Maximum Overload, and so I always look forward to hearing more from them. Their eighth full-length release, the indeed boldly titled “Extreme Power Metal”, is almost upon us, and it sure lives up its name, as it’s equal parts extremely fun, extremely fast, extremely catchy, extremely melodic and extremely cheesy, in all the best ways possible!

For better or worse, Extreme Power Metal represents everything Dragonforce stands for, while at the same time allowing a bit of room for experimentation, so listeners can certainly expect a ton of very high speed, high energy power metal, with some heavy riffs, some insanely upbeat melodies, some excellent choruses, some occasional cheesy moments, some very retro sounding keyboards, and of course some very lengthy, technically impressive instrumental sections. There has been one lineup change since the release of Reaching Into Infinity, that being the departure of longtime keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov, and while he hasn’t been officially replaced yet, the band brought in Epica’s Coen Janssen to record the keyboards for this release, and obviously his contributions are excellent, and very much up to par with what fans would expect. If anything, he at times give the music even more of a cheesy, 80’s feel than ever before, which fits in perfectly with the overall direction of the album.

All musicians are in top form, with dual guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman delivering the same blistering leads, glorious melodies and insanely impressive solos they have always been known for, while the keyboards are cheesy but very effective, and everything sounds perfect, as always. Vocalist Marc Hudson is also in top form, at this point proving himself to an excellent power metal vocalist, being equal parts intense and epic at times, while also being able to sing very smoothly during some surprisingly soft tracks. In fact, contrary to what the name might suggest, this album is actually fairly tame at points, with some slower than average Dragonforce tracks, including a couple of ballads, both of which are excellent, emotional and driven by incredible performances, both from the musicians and from Marc, who just sounds incredible on both songs. Otherwise, fans can still expect plenty of high octane power metal moments, as well as some rather surprising moments on a couple of tracks, which help bring the “Extreme” part of the name back into focus. Overall, the songwriting isn’t quite perfect, but there’s certainly a lot of variety, compared to some Dragonforce albums, and the band has struck a nice balance between the overall simplified, more melodic approach of their first two albums with Marc, and the more extreme, adventurous sound of their first four albums. I’d say this album is slightly more accessible and less complex than Reaching Into Infinity, but it still has a ton of stuff going on, and there are quite a few fresh ideas here, while still giving longtime fans everything they want to hear.

Songwriting is an area where the band has greatly improved over the years, managing to make their last three albums more varied than their first four, while still providing a ton of fun, speedy power metal, and this latest release is no exception. Starting things off is lead single “Highway to Oblivion”, which starts off with a very light, keyboard-driven vocal section, before the guitars kick in and the track quickly speeds up and turns into a very classic Dragonforce sounding song, except with a much stronger chorus than most of their earlier songs had, while also having the kind of frantic, super intense verses fans are used to. It’s a very speedy, very melodic track, and while it’s fairly straight-forward overall, it does have a rather lengthy instrumental section in the middle, where the two guitarists show off their skills. Overall, it’s exactly what fans of the band would expect, and it opens the album up with a huge bang! Next is “Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shredding Machine”, which opens up with a nice guitar melody, as well as some rather cheesy retro sounding keys. The track has a slight symphonic influence, while still being another blazing fast power metal track, with more heavy riffs, fun verses and one of the best choruses on the entire album, where Marc shines, especially near the end, where he hits some very impressive high notes. The instrumental section in the middle is unsurprisingly amazing and has some very retro sounding keys, that almost sound like they came from an NES videogame, which is pretty neat. It’s another excellent track, overall, and one of my personal favorites.

Another personal favorite is “The Last Dragonborn”, the first of two ballads on the album. One would expect a band like Dragonforce to shy away from ballads, but they’ve proven themselves to be pretty good at them, with the likes of “Trail of Broken Hearts” from Inhuman Rampage and “Silence” from Reaching Into Infinity. However, this track is a big step above those two, as it’s a surprisingly beautiful track, with some wonderful melodic guitar work (including the expected excellent instrumental section), as well as some epic symphonic elements, but the two biggest highlights of the track are the unbelievably epic chorus, which Marc absolutely slays, and the overall feel of the track, which has some nice Japanese folk melodies. It’s certainly not something I ever expected to hear from the band, but they nailed it, as the Japanese melodies sound incredible and help give the track a distinct feel, while everything else is executed to perfection. Over the years, I’ve heard some very weak ballads, some solid ballads, and even some great ballads, but I rarely hear a ballad I’d consider my favorite track on an album, which makes “The Last Dragonborn” a rare exception, as it’s just such an absolute masterpiece of a track, I can’t help but wanna listen to it over and over again, sometimes even repeating it while listening to the album.

Following up that impossibly good track, second single “Heart Demolition” is perhaps my least favorite on the album, though it’s still an excellent track, with a few rather surprising moments (plus the video for it is absolutely hilarious and totally worth looking up on Youtube!) The track moves at more of a moderate pace, and the guitar tone during the verses actually reminds me a bit of some Dream Theater tracks, though this quickly changes, as the pace picks up and the riffs become more intense in the second half of the verses.

The one part of the track I don’t love is the build-up to the chorus, which has a bit of a classic hard rock feel to it, and I find this rather annoying. The chorus is excellent, though, with a bit of an upbeat 80’s pop feel to it, and Marc, of course, nails the vocals. Overall, the track is a lot of fun and feels fresh, while still having that distinct Dragonforce sound, so even though it’s not one of my favorites, I’m still glad the band made it. Next is “Troopers of the Stars”, which opens up with a rather surprising sequence, with some screams, some thrashy guitar work, and some intense blast beats, which do feel a bit “Extreme”. Following that, the band uses some epic keys and an incredibly epic, upbeat vocal section, which quickly launches into the opening verse, where the band goes full speed ahead, with more heavy riffs, uplifting melodies, and some intense drumming. The chorus is the kind of super cheesy, upbeat and just pure fun the band is known for, and while the track is full of cheese, it always puts a smile on my face, and is probably my favorite of the speedier songs on the album, with the instrumental section in the second half, in particular, feeling like one of the most inspired sequences on the album.

The momentum keeps up with “Razorblade Meltdown” and “In a Skyforged Dream”, which are two more super speedy, hard-hitting tracks, filled with epic melodies, impressive guitar work, and super fun, catchy choruses. They’re pretty much exactly what Dragonforce fans would expect, and are both excellent tracks. In between those is “Strangers”, a bit of an oddball track, in that it’s fairly slow-paced and very keyboard-driven, with modern electronic keys dominating throughout, while the guitars generally provide rhythm and not much else, aside from the usual instrumental section. I find the verses a tad boring, though they get the job done fine enough, while the chorus starts slow, but speeds up a bit as it goes along, becoming extremely epic in the process. The track has a strong 80’s pop feel to it and feels like one of the more adventurous tracks on the album, and while it’s not exactly what I was expecting, it’s a lot of fun.

Coming towards the end of the album, “Remembrance Day” is the second ballad, which starts with some very epic bagpipes. The track has a pretty epic feel to it, overall, with some awesome melodies throughout, and while it lacks the unique feel of “The Last Dragonborn”, it makes up for it with some very impressive guitar work, some strong symphonic elements, and another awe-inspiring chorus, where Marc really shines, as he pours a ton of emotion into the track. For a band not known for ballads, this album sees them going 2 for 2, not just for making “good” ballads, but for making amazing ones, so that’s quite a pleasant surprise! Speaking of ballads, the band chose to close the album out with a cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic, and while the opening teases at a soft, keyboard-driven track, the pace rapidly increases in a hurry, and it turns into the kind of super fun cover they did with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” in 2014, taking a song from a totally different genre, and expertly turning it into one of their own tracks, managing to nail the overall melody of the track, while putting their unique touches on it, and flawlessly executing it within their own style. It’s certainly an impressive cover, as well as an extremely fun way to end the album.

In spite of its rather comical name, Extreme Power Metal is yet another excellent Dragonforce album, and one which at times feels like a victory lap, with the band fully demonstrating everything their fans have come to expect from them, while at other times it takes some chances, going in some rather surprising directions, with almost everything working out very well. Obviously, I expect to see a lot of people poking fun at that name (and the band in general), but while the album really doesn’t feel all that “Extreme”, it is an excellent, surprisingly varied album, with a tons of speedy, hard-hitting power metal, as well as some lighter, more melodic tracks and two amazing ballads, and of course everything is brought together by the usual mix of excellent musicianship and fantastic vocals. Fans of the band should be most pleased with this release, and I think it would make a great starting point for newcomers, as it showcases everything the band is great at, while also having some surprises. I think Maximum Overload is still my favorite Dragonforce album, just for how consistently perfect it is, but this release isn’t too far behind, and it continues the band’s winning streak, which started with The Power Within.

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AXEL RUDI PELL Oceans of Time

Album · 1998 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 8 ratings
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Way back in 2002, 15 year-old me was browsing my local second hand shop when I came across this CD. Digging the artwork and a quick glance at the booklet showing me this was indeed a rock band, I thought I’d check them/him out. Here I am all these years later, still loving this album (and still unsure whether to address “them” as a band or an artist!).

By this point, Axel Rudi Pell’s formula is simple and effective (and also a tad repetitive). Opening instrumental followed by a few high-energy rock tracks, long “epic”, etc. You get the idea. And 1998’s ‘Oceans of Time’ is no different. A great mixture of hard rock and power metal, this is guitar-driven rock at its cheesy finest, full of energy, emotion and melody.

Renowned rock vocalist Jeff Scott Soto is gone, ushering in the bands forth vocalist, powerhouse Johnny Gioeli, and boy, does he make an impression! With his powerful voice and impressive range, it’s clear upon hearing the first couple of songs that he is a perfect fit for this band. As for the others, they all play their roles perfectly. While Pell’s guitar solos are pretty much all the same, there’s no denying his penchant for catchy hooks or riffs, and there’s an abundance of outstanding tracks here.

‘Carousel’, ‘Pay the Price’, ‘The Gates of the Seven Seals’, ‘Ashes from the Oath’, ‘Ride the Rainbow’ and the title track itself are all incredibly cheesy yet satisfying slabs of hard rock, that are easy to listen to and highly memorable. Arguably one of Axel Rudi Pell’s best releases, this album made me a fan, so I’d say it’s a great place to start, and definitely worth a listen for fans of the genre.

DREAM THEATER Tokyo, Japan - 1995-10-28

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 7 ratings
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‘Tokyo, Japan 10/28/95’ is the second release in Dream Theater’s live series of official bootlegs. Recorded in 1995 (the clue’s in the title!), it shows a fairly young band who, while playing immaculately, are still polishing off and refining their live shows.

With only three studio albums and one EP under their belts at this point, the set list seems fairly limited by today’s standards, especially as the band don’t play anything from their debut, and miss two pretty important tracks from their seminal ‘Images & Words’ album. Still, it’s a look back at the band in their early days, and the set is pretty solid nonetheless. There’s a fair bit of “jamming” added in which does get a little tedious, especially as some of the placements of these sections seem a bit jarring, but again, this is something the band will refine over time.

The sound is okay. The band themselves sound great and everyone is perfectly balanced in the mix. Unfortunately the audience are barely audible, which, considering this is a live album, is a little bit of a shame. Vocalist James LaBrie trying to get the crowd to sing only for the listener to receive near-silence in response is a bit of a letdown.

But otherwise, this is a decent enough release. The performances from all involved are fantastic, including LaBrie, who struggled enough live as it was, even before his infamous food poisoning incident, and there are a few added in extras that make this worth having for fans, such as an acoustic guitar version of piano ballad ‘Wait for Sleep’. While this pales in comparison to the bands later official live albums, it’s still cool to hear them in their earlier days, making this a worthy addition to any fans collection.

KAMELOT The Expedition

Live album · 2000 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 5 ratings
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‘The Expedition’, released in 2000, is a live album by power metal band Kamelot. It follows their forth studio album and rather than being one specific concert, features highlights from their tour of the same year, supporting power metal peers Stratovarius.

The band perform exceptionally, especially vocalist Roy Khan who can really belt out the high notes, and there’s no doubting the energy of the music or the enthusiasm of the musicians, especially as there’s a palpable chemistry between everyone involved. However, now the down side... I find Kamelot’s first four albums range from okay to good, and while the songs here are some of the best of the bands earlier days, I’d still prefer to listen to their later material, which, conveniently, starts to really pick up with their next studio album.

But for what it’s worth, this is still a decent enough release. The sound is spot on, giving everyone space to shine and stand out without drowning anyone else out. There are some cringe-inducing moments too, such as Roy Khan shouting “let’s tear this place apart” between songs! I love his voice, and his energy is infectious, but this isn’t the kind of music to mosh to.

Thankfully there’s only eight live tracks, keeping the album fairly short and sweet, as there’s then three new studio tracks included at the end, and this is where you really get your money’s worth. ‘One Day’ is a nice enough ballad, but the key highlight for me is the rerecording of ‘We Are Not Separate’ from the bands debut album. With a much updated and richer sound, improved vocals and arrangements, this song is a true gem in Kamelot’s discography and one of their finest works.

For that alone, this album is a great addition to any Kamelot fans collection, and at least worth checking out once by any casual listeners.

CAR BOMB Centralia

Album · 2007 · Mathcore
Cover art 3.76 | 5 ratings
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Formed on Long Island, New York the mathcore band CAR BOMB didn’t waste any time crafting a totally obnoxious fusion of metalcore bombast with progressive rock complexities. After a couple demos, the quartet of Michael Dafferner (lead vocals), Elliot Hoffman (drums), Greg Kubacki (guitar) and Jon Modell (bass) set out to create the loudest and most abrasive musical output they could muster up and on the debut CENTRALIA which was named after an utterly doomed town in Pennsylvania that was abandoned after an underground mine fire, these hyperactive and over-imaginative freaks pretty much succeeded.

Mathcore is a challenging and difficult listening experience for sure. Absolutely everything is wrapped with the sonic equivalent of barbed wire and only accessible for those with Ankylosaur armor, however it is impossible to dismiss CAR BOMB as mere noise makers no matter what your musical proclivities happen to be. This is a serious band that as over the top as it may be, engages in highly nuanced and sophisticated slabs of iron plated metal music that excels at an equal ratio of bombast turned way past 11 and unpredictability calling its bluff and upping it one hundred and elevenfold. The results are enough to wake the dead and to kill the living.

While mathcore got its start in the New York based Lethargy all the way back in 1992 with Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor in the mix, the most irritating subgenre of metal has become, well, even more irritating as time goes on! Yep, it’s all about maximizing the most extreme forms of music and taking them even further, EVEN further than the comfort zone of most self-proclaimed metalheads. Add a heaping mix of progressiveness to the mix and you have something that will instantly suffocate the uninitiated and make all the non-open-minded ones of the world instantly run for cover as this stuff is the equivalent of a nuclear attack in the musical world!

With tags like technical, complex, heavy, aggressive, dissonant, energetic, manic, uncommon time signatures, dark, hateful, pessimistic, misanthropic and arhythmic, you know you’re in for one heckuva ride with CAR BOMB. Clocking in at a merciful 32 minutes, CENTRALIA is a non-stop metal bombast ride through extremely aggressive sonic assaults. The music is relentless as pummeling guitars, bass and drums are accompanied by the most hardcore screamed vocals that Dafferner can force out of his throat. Not overly far from what bands like Behold The Arctopus and Psyopus have to offer, CAR BOMB maintains its own distinct sound that offers a scant few moments of reflection with soft clean guitar passages but more often than not pummels the hell out of your senses with an incessant supply of start / stop guitar riffs decorated with unusually complex time sigs.

Graced with track titles such as “Cielo Drive” which refers to one of the locations of the morbid Manson Family killing sprees, you know what you’re in for with this brutal beast and at this stage CAR BOMB was merciless with one brutal arrhythmic assault after another and for that i am completely enamored with this completely anti-commercial display of aggressive and energetic parade through bombastic riffs and incessant orotundity. Every musician on this one is at the top of his game and as far as the most brutal extremes of mathcore without the complete surrender to atonality, then you can’t go wrong with CAR BOMB’s excellent debut album CENTRALIA. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. Don’t close your eyes, sunshine. You might be in the wrong CAAAAAAAAAR! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha


Album · 2019 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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A Dawn to Fear (2019) is the eighth full-length studio album by Swedish atmospheric sludge metal act Cult of Luna. As their last album Mariner (2016) was a collaboration effort with vocalist Julie Christmas (Battle of Mice, Made Out of Babies), A Dawn to Fear marks the first 'pure' Cult of Luna studio album since Vertikal (2013). It is a double album consisting of eight tracks, most of them lengthy, with half passing ten minutes each. The total length just passes 79 minutes, which is actually about what a standard CD can handle at a push, but I guess the decision was made to play it safe from a technical point of view, since I have heard of CDs having playback issues on their final tracks when the maximum duration is reached. Still, it's on the line enough to avoid accusations of passing a single album off as a double, unlike the couple of minutes shorter Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (2016) by Metallica, which really should have been a single CD, not a double with a double's price to go with it.

But even if it would fit on a single disc, we can forgive Cult of Luna more than we can Metallica, because unlike the legendary on/off thrash metal band, Cult of Luna has delivered exactly what any fan of the band would have wanted in A Dawn to Fear. This could possibly be their best album to date, which is coming from someone who was so blown away by Mariner that he had to confess to wishing several times that Cult of Luna + Julie Christmas would become a permanent thing. Then they release this. The kind of album that immediately grabs your attention and drags you down into its atmospheric sludge metal and softer post-rock passages, leaving you submerged in it's sound, which is distinctly that of Cult of Luna even if the only prior album you've heard happens to be Mariner, for its duration and only allowing you to surface upon its conclusion. A conclusion which seems to come around much sooner than it's near eighty minute length would suggest it should.

On a personal level I first heard Cult of Luna's music with Vertikal. That album was very likely also my first taste of the atmospheric sludge metal style. It quickly became an album I enjoyed very much, but it was only with Mariner that I started to really pay attention to how good the band actually was. I've since been back and heard fan favourite albums Salvation (2004) and Somewhere Along the Highway (2006), both of which are also excellent releases that cement Cult of Luna's reputation as the world's premium, not just atmospheric sludge, but sludge metal in general, act. It's to my own detriment that, including A Dawn to Fear, my knowledge of the band's catalogue only extends to just over half the the studio albums.

Mariner has, in the few years since it's release, become one of only a few albums released since that time that is still in a fairly regular rotation for me. It has that indescribable something that keeps pulling me back. While it is still early days, I can't see that A Dawn to Fear is going to be any different in that regard. Mariner was a grower; the kind of album you suddenly realise is one of your favourites. A Dawn to Fear is instant satisfaction. There was never any doubt in my mind that it would be good, but this good? Truth be told, it's single-handed got me out of a slump regarding new music. This is actually the first review I have written since November 2018. That's how good it is.

Saying any more about the album's specifics feels like I would be doing an injustice to the experience that Cult of Luna has created in this album. A Dawn to Fear offers up tracks that are each substantial enough to be taken as individual entities but like with many atmospheric albums it's surely best taken as a whole rather than try to pick it apart as say this song or that song is a highlight. If you've listened to the band before at any point in their now twenty+ year long career, even if you only came to them on Mariner through Julie Christmas, then stop everything and do yourself a solid: buy A Dawn to Fear immediately. For this listener's money, it's quite likely the album of 2019.

JOHN ZORN Angelus Novus

Album · 1998 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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After a fairly fruitful musical career established in the 1980s, JOHN ZORN really got productive all throughout the 90s especially around 1995 when he released five albums. The ensuing years would prove to be equally or even more productive and ZORN was always eager to take detours from his avant-garde jazz comfort zone. One of the lesser known aspects of his musical career ZORN was also a classical chamber ensemble composer but many of these compositions remained in the vault for many years to come.

ANGELUS NOVUS which was released in 1998 (the second of eight released that year) was the first album in a series that documented ZORN’s interest in the world of classical music. The album which consists of four lengthy compositions spanned three decades. “For Your Eyes Only” the opening chamber symphony was originally composed in 1988, the piano torture of “Carney” in 1989 and the title track the newest of the lot was crafted in 1993. The two part “Christabel” dates back all the way back to 1972 when ZORN was just a student and was inspired by the romantic mystic poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

ANGELUS NOVUS is yet another album where ZORN steps out of the limelight as a musician and occupies the role of executive producer but has always been quite unique in the fact that he releases these albums under his own name. Stephen Duty is the conductor, producer, artistic director and pianist of the project while the other instruments are performed by the Callithumpian Consort of the New England Conservatory who mastered the spontaneous jittery angularities of ZORN’s restless nature and pull it off flawlessly. “Christabel” the oldest piece on board is a piece for five flutes and a viola and a clear tribute to the European 20th century classical masters.

“For Your Eyes Only” features a 20-piece ensemble and wends and winds through various obtuse passages with occasional bursts of cartoon music and also a snippet from the occasional melody from the classical history books. The track skirts along for almost 14 minutes but keeps things spiced up to give it various flavors that keep changing. “Carny” is a 13 minute piano performance by Stephen Drury. This avant-garde piece exemplifies his mastery of precision and sounds like a mix of Chopin-esque technicalities with the dissonant abstractness of jazz virtuoso Cecil Taylor. This is definitely difficult listening if there is any but the rhythmic drive provides an underpinning of tangible compositional fortitude.

While the first half of the album is fairly engaging, the latter half is comprised of the title track divided into five different suites. It is very much a fragmented work that takes on many themes. It was dedicated to Walter Benjamin and encompasses both 20th century avant-garde classical flavors as well as inserting various traditional Jewish themes. It is a rather slow burner and the least interesting part as it sort of slinks around aimlessly although the execution is brilliantly performed. Overall it’s just missing that extra magic that gives it an engaging run. The tracks seem to lack a cohesive connecting tissue that makes it all seem relevant. Still though not a horrible piece by any means.

While ANGELUS NOVUS is a grand execution of ZORN’s compositional fortitude in the world of avant-garde classical music, i can’t say this is his best works by any means. While it’s above average for a jazz musician’s ability to effortlessly take on a completely different genre of musical expression, the second half of the album just comes off as way too sleepy and ho hum to make this album absolutely essential however for diehard ZORN fans, this is surely a worthy addition to the collection of countless albums that he has cranked out. The first four tracks alone are interesting historical perspectives of ZORN’s dabbling in this saxophone-free style of music. While this won’t go down in history as one of classical music’s crowning achievements, ZORN did successfully bring new perspectives into its purview and this does make great background music for when you’re feeling really disconnected from reality.


Album · 1992 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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JOHN ZORN’s vast canon of avant-garde sounds is daunting if you happen to take a quick glimpse at his discography as a whole. As of 2019 he has released no less than 145 albums of disparate genres ranging from his more familiar avant-garde jazz motifs to highly experimental rock and chamber orchestral music to even grindcore. After introducing the world to his unique hyperactive form of saxophone squawking that fires off like an AK-47 during a road rage incident somewhere in the USA at any given moment, ZORN quickly proved to be quite prolific in not only his own incessant studio output but also as a collaborator with like-minded weirdos who apparently have nothing better to do than dream up and record the most bizarre musical expressions in the known universe.

While ZORN is mondo bizarro in his own right, add a couple members of Mr Bungle and i’m talking Mike Patton with Trey Spruance (penned here merely as “Scummy”) and you are sure to have more fun than a barrel of monkeys dressed in drag and heading to Mardis Gras and enough weirdness to scare the bejesus out of Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa AND the Gerogerigegege for good measure. ZORN found a bit of notoriety as Patton’s object of obsession and main inspiration and appeared on the first Mr Bungle album. Striking up a friendship only music freaks could ever understand, the two became best buds and Patton as a reciprocity, ZORN featured Patton on many of his own music works with this album ELEGY being one of the first.

While ZORN flooded the 80s with a series of avant-garde jazz releases in 1988 he created the experimental rock band Naked City and released a few albums under that moniker but starting with ELEGY he was back to solo releases, well sort of. While released as a bona fide ZORN album, this album of classical chamber music mixed with avant-garde jazz and the occasional drifting into everything from dark ambient and turntable music to even throat singing and choral chants follows in the footsteps of ZORN’s 1987 album “Cuba” where he contributes no instrumental playing at all and instead steps back and provides the role of organizer and producer. Existing in an avant-garde playground of its own atonal and dissonant making, ELEGY showcases the talents of other musicians all united under the JOHN ZORN banner.

This album was dedicated to Jean Genet who was a French novelist, playwright, essayist and political activist whose main time in the spotlight was roughly from the 50s on. Equally known for his criminal activities as well as homosexual promiscuity (he was once a prostitute even), Genet provides the perfect subject matter for this dark terrorizing tribute in four pieces that each have a color as a title. Part avant-garde jazz and part 20th century classical mixed with strange outbursts of decibel maximizing after creepy acoustic build ups, ELEGY finds David Abel (viola), Barbara Chaffe (alto flute, bass flute), David Shea (turntables), David Susser (effects), Trey Spruance (as Scummy on guitar), William Winant (drums) and Mike Patton on vocals creating some extremely challenging musical motifs and yes this is defiantly some sort of music although it sounds like music from an alternative universe.

The four tracks, “Blue,” “Yellow,” “Pink” and “Black” all exude their own haunting charm but are quite varied in how they squirm around from mutated chamber orchestral music to freaky vocal perversions that remind me of Patton’s avant-garde freakery on albums like “Pranzo Oltranzista.” This is truly creepy music with unsettled flutes, violas and effects building up ghostly soundscapes that are sometimes accompanied by heavy breathing, sometimes ethnic tribal chants, throat singing or whatever Mr Patton can conjure up at the moment. Likewise the percussion and guitar strive to be as far outside of the box as possible and the scant few moments of recognizable music come from tribal drum circle type motifs but usually clamor on in bizarre irregular and often jittery cymbal abuse and jazzy interludes from the most avant-garde sector of the universe.

ELEGY, much like Genet’s life, is a startling reality. Unnerving avant-garde musical scales create an unresolved feeling but in a quiet placid state of mind only to be unpredictably interrupted by cacophonous outbursts of drumming frenzies, turntables gone wild as well as all the instruments just completely freaking out totally. This would be one of many collaborations between ZORN and Patton but perhaps this is one of the most interesting as the dynamics are haphazard and the album definitely achieves the alienation effect without coming across as forced. This really seems like a series of compositions that are being expressed in some completely extraterrestrial tradition. While this album defiantly flaunts its avant-garde mastery unapologetically, the album is quite intricately designed and showcases ZORN’s unique contributions to the world of avant-garde and experimental rock outside the context of his more usual comfort zone as sax squawker on speed.

BLUT AUS NORD Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age

Album · 1996 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 8 ratings
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Sure the Scandinavian nations were the first dementors of doom and din to usher in the first raging sonic fury of the black metal universe starting all the way back in the 80s when Bon Jovi was still “Living On A Prayer,” but as the 21st century wrested control over an expired millennium, it seems that the nation of France was poised to take the reins and steer the black metal beast into far more bizarre experimental arenas. Initiated by the Satanic theologies of Deathspell Omega, France has since consistently generated some of the most far-reaching examples of avant-garde and progressive black metal ranging from the medieval melancholy of Peste Noire to the psychedelic ambient surreality of Murmuüre.

The Mondeville based BLUT AUS NORD is amongst the early pioneers of more progressively infused black metal. Basically the solo project of Vindsval, the project started out in 1993 with two demo releases appearing before the 1995 debut “Ultima Thulée” which joined the wolf pack of black metal artists who were quickly expanding the subgenere’s range into an ever diversified sound spectrum. Defiantly ahead of the pack, the albums of the 1990s may not quite be as complex as the one’s that followed but on the second BLUT AUS NORD album titled MEMORIA VETUSTA I: FATHERS OF THE ICY AGE the blueprints were designed for a diversified soundscape to expand its tentacles into ever progressive pastures.

By incorporating icy atmospheres and expansive progressive meanderings, Vindsval was well on his way to becoming one of the 21st century’s masterminds of black metal evolution. MEMORIA VETUSTA I: FATHERS OF THE ICY AGE basically picks up where “Ultima Tulée” left off with the ideas presented evolving into more majestic monstrous black metal magic. All instruments once again played exclusively by Vindsval, MEMORIA VETUSTA I stands out in the sea of anti-Christian rage and Viking metal odes of yore and tackles the more esoteric subject matter that revolves around metaphysical subjects and all things deeply occult. The compositions are extended into massive sprawls of buzzsaw guitar distortion oscillating over the horizons of frigid winter landscapes accompanied by murky bass lines, percussive bombast and atmospheric cloud covers.

Upon first listen, BLUT AUS NORD can sound a lot like any other black metal band from the second wave of the 90s. Tremelo picking guitar style distorted to high heaven, buried raspy vocals screaming out from the suffocating din and an energetic percussive bombast that while not exactly blastbeating, still offers a veritable drum kit workout or two. Where BLUT AUS NORD stands out at this period of time is in the sophistication of how the compositions are constructed. Eschewing the simple straightforward approach, BLUT AUS NORD tackled more labyrinthine song structures that wend and win through various passages with an infinite supply of riffing variations and occasional outbursts into folky medieval sounding clean vocals that evoke a connection to the Viking metal scene of the north.

For those who are initiated, there actually is a storyline buried in the raw lo-fi outbursts of noise laden orotundity but for those not inclined to follow the epic tales of wolves and dwarfhills, then a completely ignorant approach is even more mystifying and probably even more gratifying as many of these storylines don’t pass the muster under closer scrutiny. Along for the ride on the undulating peaks and troughs of the guitar riffs are higher register guitar licks that often threaten to burst into fully fueled solos but they always stop short and simply repeat the melody in a more pronounced manner above the raging riff machine from whence it spawns.

All in all, MEMORIA VETUSTA I: FATHERS OF THE ICY AGE is a very mature second offering from one of France’s most enduring examples of progressively infused black metal and an excellent bridge into the more avant-garde and experimental releases to follow. Loaded with sophisticated twists and turns and icy atmospheres guiding the journey through a never-ending journey, BLUT AUS NORD’s earliest albums may not tackle the same eeriness that the later more acclaimed albums touch upon but are excellent examples of black metal in their own right. Musically, MEMORIA VETUSTA I falls somewhere between the intense fury of early Emperor albums and the slower tempos of Greek pioneers such as Rotting Christ. The compositions exhibit sophistication and variations but unleash them subtlety and in a very reserved manner. This is the type of music that engages in a stampeding repetition and just changes things up a little every now and then until you realize that everything has become something else. Best of all, this is a consistent album from beginning to end.


Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Entity" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Chicago based death metal act Nucleus. The album was released through Unspeakable Axe Records in June 2019. It´s the successor to "Sentient" from 2016 and features the same four-piece lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Stylistically the material on "Entity" is old school influenced death metal featuring sci-fi lyrics. It´s a well performed and relatively well produced album, and the sci-fi themed lyrics and imagery create a futuristic atmosphere to the album. The songwriting is of a good quality too and Nucleus certainly understand how to write an effectful death metal song with both a decent number of tempo changes, brutal riffs and heavy rhythms, atmosphere enhancing lead guitar work, occasional use of dissonance (which imply a slight Immolation influence), and a solid growling vocalist in front.

The word solid actually comes to mind often when listening to the album, which is of course great as it´s a word which spells quality, and Nucleus are definitely a quality death metal act. I´m a little less inclined to use the word excellent here though, as I still think the band are lacking a few things to enter the premier league of death metal. First of all the material could have been a little more catchy/hook laden (and it´s got nothing to do with variation, because considering the core music style here, there is actually a decent amount of variation on the album) and secondly a more distinct sounding growling vocal style could also have enhanced the overall impression of the album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still well deserved though and Nucleus can rightfully be proud of what they´ve achieved with "Entity".

ANAAL NATHRAKH Hell Is Empty, and All the Devils Are Here

Album · 2007 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 5 ratings
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The tortured shriek of VITRIOL - possibly one of the most terrifying vocalists in black metal - heralds another outing for Anaal Nathrakh. With Napalm Death's Shane Embury guesting on bass, there's a certain influence from the death metal end of grindcore creeping in here and there, which further cements Anaal Nathrakh's credentials as purveyors of some of the most extreme sounds in metal.

As usual, they show a great knack of incorporating these sounds into their music whilst still keeping the centre of gravity within their particular take on black metal, and they also keep proceedings short and sweet. Anaal Nathrakh are one of those bands who understand that an album that's not even 40 minutes long but is a gripping, intense ride all the way through is often better than an album that's an hour long at the cost of including some filler.

HATRIOT From Days unto Darkness

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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"From Days Unto Darkness" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Hatriot. The album was released through Massacre Records in July 2019. It´s the successor to "Dawn of the New Centurian" from 2014 and features a couple of lineup changes. Hatriot was originally formed by (at the time) former Exodus lead vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza and his two sons Cody Souza on bass and Nick Souza on drums plus guitarist Kosta V.. When Steve "Zetro" Souza was invited back to the Exodus fold in 2015, he had no other choice than to quit Hatriot, as he could not handle the commitments of two bands. There have been a couple of other lineup shuffles on the second guitarist position, but on "From Days Unto Darkness", the band settled on Kevin Paterson. A worse issue was of course to replace a legendary and distinct sounding lead vocalist like Steve "Zetro" Souza but bassist Cody Souza stepped up to the challenge, and performs vocals on "From Days Unto Darkness" in addition to his bass duties.

A change on the lead vocalist spot is always serious business for a band, but upon initial listening to the opening track "One Less Hell" I actually thought that "Zetro" had helped out and done session vocals on the album, because that´s how similar a voice and vocal style Cody Souza has to his dad (it´s almost too easy, but I can´t resist the temptation to quote the Exodus song title "Like Father, Like Son"). Listening a bit more closely there are some differences though and the longer you get into the album, the more the young Souza comes into his own. He also performs some vocal styles (like occasional semi-death metal growling) that his father would never do. The Exodus comparison is of course inevitable though, and it´s not only because of Cody Souza´s voice sounding very similar to his fathers ditto, but the general music style is also US, Bay Area influenced thrash metal through and through. The riff style, the guitar solos, the drumming, and how the vocals are delivered are all trademarks of that particular brand of thrash metal.

So Hatriot won´t win any contests if the goal is to have an original sound, but they will definitely be contenders for the title of being one of the most powerful and convincing acts on the scene. The musicianship is high class on all posts and Hatriot are also skilled composers who know how to write an effectful and memorable thrash metal song.

"From Days Unto Darkness" features a punchy and powerful contemporary sounding production job, which suits the aggression and power of the music and the performances well. So it´s an album for fans of a slightly updated Bay Area thrash metal sound with clear influences from the classic 80s acts from the area. The lack of a more original sound is a slight issue, but only a very small one, as the music is as well written and well performed as it is. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

IRON MAIDEN Maiden England '88

Live album · 2013 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 11 ratings
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Run for the hills or die with your boots on! IRON MAIDEN is gonna get you so fret not over the wasted years. Heaven can wait while infinite dreams are running free in a sanctuary cursed by the number of the beast where thou art a prisoner of the clairvoyant of still life. The moonchild screams hallowed be thy name of the seventh son of the seventh son who remains a prisoner of the evil that men do like bloody killers while they are MAIDEN ENGLAND!!! Scream for me Birmingham! Screeeeeeeeeam for me Birmingham!!!

Oh yeah! The IRON MAIDEN guys were at their prime when they embarked on the Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour that kept the indefatigable quintet of metal musicians on a tireless tour from April 1988 to the end of the year in December. While many shows were recorded for posterity none would be released until 1994 in the form of a limited VHS/CD combo edition that captured the last days of magic of the mighty MAIDEN before Adrian Smith quit the band and the gradual decline into the dregs of the 90s would fully sink in. And believe me. As spectacular as MAIDEN’s seven album stint from 1980-88 would be, the 90s would be the complete equal in opposition, namely dismal.

The original CD was basically the audio of the video presentation however due to limitations of the technology (and the unwillingness to add a second disc), it lacked the two tracks “Can I Play With Madness” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”) All of this was corrected however with the remastered reissuing titled MAIDEN ENGLAND 88 which was the first-time stand alone CD release which featured not only the missing two tracks but an additional three more including “Run To The Hills,” “Running Free” and “Sanctuary.” While most live albums are tacked together from performances over the course of the entire tour, MAIDEN ENGLAND limited itself to only two nights, both recorded and shot at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England on 27 and 28 November 1988.

Since i’ve never owned nor heard the original limiting version released in 1994, this review is strictly about the CD reissued in 2013 which due to the remastering and generous serving of extra MAIDEN yumminess, gets my vote as the ONLY version of this album to get. Of course, just like the earlier “Live After Death” album, you can totally opt to get the DVD and watch the concert visually as well but this album is perfect for driving time while stuck in traffic and when Bruce beckons for us to “Screeeeeam for me Birmingham!!!!,” suddenly i’m transported to the 80s and in the audience where i’m caught up in the frenzy of course with all the hindsight that this was the last leg of the magic golden years where MAIDEN could do no wrong. Until it all did of course.

Interestingly MAIDEN ENGLAND 88 contains tracks from all of MAIDEN’s early albums with the sole exception of “Powerslave.” Presumably that album was ignored due to the fact that “Live After Death” was recorded during the “World Slavery Tour” which focused on the corresponding tracks. Given that this tour promoted the “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album, the performances include six of the eight tracks. Only “The Prophecy” and “Only The Good Die Young” are excluded. Surprisingly the 88 version a few of pre-Bruce tracks notably “Killers,” “Sanctuary” and “Iron Maiden” both brought to a new level of mastery with Dickinson taking over. All the tracks flow together perfectly with the band capturing every subtly flawlessly.

Overall the production and mixing jobs are spectacular as Steve Harris’ galloping bass lines are easily distinguished from Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s twin guitar attacks and of course Nicko McBrain takes the metal madness to a new level with his unique percussive style which is equally audible and balanced. As with most MAIDEN live albums, the band does not improvise a lot and sticks to how the songs as presented on the albums. While this may rankle some, i have never found MAIDEN to be a band that i want to hear jam on for ridiculous amounts of time outside of the context of the compositions as all of that was calculated into their content in the first place. This does not mean that there isn’t energetic audience participation however on the track “Running Free,” Bruce really starts egging the audience on to sing the catchphrase and whips em up into a frenzy making it the rare exception where the band floats on for a while.

Generally speaking this album is excellent! It shows MAIDEN at their prime delivering to the fans some of the best heavy metal the 80s had to offer. The band played to one of its largest audiences during these nights and displayed exactly why IRON MAIDEN has virtually become the patron saint of the entire metal universe. During this tour the band hired the keyboardist Michael Kenney to bring the creepy atmospheres to life that were an integral part of the pseudo-progressive offerings of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” and as a result the tracks from that album stand out the most. The album shows how the chemistry between these five musicians was almost impeccable with each supporting the other and how subtle variations always kept the music fresh and best of all how perfectly the band performed these live as well as in the studio unlike many successful bands of the 80s.

While this album is a spectacular sampling of 80s MAIDEN in action, these live performances do suffer a bit of Bruce Dickinson’s vocals sounding a little strained at times. This is most clearly heard on tracks like “Number of the Beast” and “Run To The Hills” which have unusually high registers. Apparently several incessant years as well as these recordings occurring towards the end of this particular tour had taken its toll. However for the most part Bruce is right on key and his frontman charisma carries on. Perhaps the most awkward moment is on “Run To The Hills” where he drops the title lyrics and the audience is supposed to pick up the slack but don’t quite cut the mustard. Only a minor quibble though. This is one of the better live releases by the mighty MAIDEN just behind the flawless “Live After Death.” Get the 88 version!!! Just do it :)


Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 56 ratings
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"Promised Land" is the 5th full-length studio album by US power/heavy/progressive metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through EMI Records in October 1994. Queensrÿche had a relatively lengthy recording break after the release of the multi-platinum selling success of "Empire (1990)", but they returned on "Promised Land" with the same lineup and a new ‌inspired concept.

"Empire (1990)" was a fairly accessible and commercial oriented release, which provided Queensrÿche with great success and worldwide recognition. Following up a release like that was always going be a difficult task (just as it was a daunting task following up the artistic achievement of "Operation: Mindcrime (1988)"), but Queensrÿche took the bold and adventurous path, instead of releasing "Empire (1990)" number two. "Promised Land" is generally a much more progressive and experimental release than it´s predecessor, although progressive in this respect shouldn´t be understood as if the band have now have started playing long instrumental sections or that they focus on odd time signatures. It´s an experiment within the confines of their own sound, and overall they succeed pretty well. Stylistically this is still at it´s core heavy metal/rock with only the occasional progressive metal leaning.

"Promised Land" is a bit of a fragmented release though, featuring quite a few different atmospheres and music styles. Tracks like "Damaged" and "disconnected" are both dark and very heavy songs. The former probably features THE most heavy riff ever on a Queensrÿche release and it´s an absolutely brilliant composition. But then there are also tracks like "Out of Mind", "Bridge", "Lady Jane", and "Someone Else?", which are power ballads (in the case of the latter it´s a pure piano and vocal ballad, and probably the weakest and least interesting track on the album. It´s definitely not a good way to close the album), and tracks like "I Am I" and the title track are of a more experimental nature, both featuring middle eastern music influences, and the latter featuring saxophone. "My Global Mind" and "One More Time" are rather forgettable heavy rock tracks, which don´t stand out much. To my ears the album is frontloaded with the best material, and especially the last three tracks on the album leave you with the impression that the quality has dropped markedly since the high quality opening to the album. For all the greatness of tracks like "Damaged", "Out of Mind", and "Lady Jane", "Promised Land" simply features too many tracks which aren´t remarkable enough.

As always the musicianship are on a high level on all posts. The instrumental work is delivered with great skill and with an adventurous spirit, and Geoff Tate also delivers a strong vocal performance. "Promised Land" features a dark and heavy production job, which suits the material perfectly, so it´s in the songwriting department and overall tracklist flow, that the album doesn´t score perfectly in my book. It´s actually a bit hard to rate an album, which maybe features some of the best material written by Queensrÿche, when said material sits among some of the most lacklustre and uninspired material written by the same artist. Despite these issues I still find "Promised Land" highly recommendable, although I almost always skip around 30% of the album, when I give it a listen (including the way too long intro track "9:28 A.M."). A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.


Album · 1990 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 70 ratings
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"Empire" is the 4th full-length studio album by US power/heavy/progressive metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through EMI Records in August 1990. It´s Queensrÿche´s most commercially successful release selling 3 million copies (triple Platinum status in those days) and spawning a top 10 Billboard charts hit in "Silent Lucidity". While "Operation: Mindcrime (1988)" was the band´s big breakthrough on the heavy metal scene, "Empire" was their mainstream breakthrough...

...and listening to the album it´s obvious why that is. "Silent Lucidity" is a Pink Floyd influenced power ballad, which resonated well with hard rock audiences in the early 90s, but the rest of the material on the album are also predominantly mainstream oriented heavy rock/metal tracks, which could easily have been played on the radio. Tracks like "Jet City Woman", "Another Rainy Night (Without You)", and "Hand On Heart", are almost ridiculously catchy and obviously aimed at the most heavy rock loving AOR audience. Queensrÿche flirt a little with progressive ideas on "Best I Can" and on "Anybody Listening?", but it´s only an influence and not a dominant trait on the album. Compared to the slightly more hard edged and dark themed predecessor, "Empire" is generally a more light-hearted release, and the only track on the album with a really dark atmosphere and heavy riffs is the title track. Not that tracks like "The Thin Line" and "Della Brown" doesn´t feature serious lyrical subjects and darker moods, but overall "Empire" is a fairly accessible release with a focus on "regular" vers/chorus structures and quite a few lyrics dealing with love and romance.

It´s a polished release with a pretty sterile and clear sounding production, courtesy of Peter Collins, who also produced "Operation: Mindcrime (1988)". The album could have prospered from just a slight organic touch, but it is still arguably a well produced release. As always the musicianship are on a high level on all posts. A tight playing rhythm section, plenty of great guitar work, and a well singing Geoff Tate in front.

Featuring 11 tracks and a full playing time of 63:23 minutes, "Empire" ends up feeling a bit too long for its own good. Many of the tracks feature similar structures and compositional ideas, and not enough of them stand out as particularly remarkable although there of course are some standout tracks like "Silent Lucidity", the title track, "Della Brown", "Best I Can", and "Jet City Woman" (damn that is one catchy chorus). So upon conclusion af 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

QUEENSRŸCHE Operation: Mindcrime

Album · 1988 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 157 ratings
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"Operation: Mindcrime" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/heavy/progressive metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through EMI Records in May 1988. It´s the successor to "Rage For Order" from 1986 and as something new in the band´s repetoire at the time, it´s a concept album/rock opera, telling the story of the recovering drug addict/political activist turned brainwashed hitman Nikki, who becomes involved in a revolutionary group lead by the mysterious Dr. X. It´s a story of questionable morality, political corruption, abuse of religious authority, exploitation of the weak, love and murder. While Queensrÿche were already relatively successful before "Operation: Mindcrime", this was the album which turned them into a highly commercially successful act too...

...and it´s obvious why that is when listening to the material on the 15 track, 59:14 minutes long album. There´s so much quality in all departments of "Operation: Mindcrime", that had the album, and the band, not achieved the high degree of the success that it did, it would have been a near crime.

Stylistically the music is US power/heavy metal with the occasional progressive leanings. It´s predominantly the 10:41 minutes long and highly impressive "Suite Sister Mary" (featuring female vocal contributions from Pamela Moore, a choir, and orchestration), which can be applied the progressive metal label, but there are other sporadic moments throughout the album, where that label also apply. Mostly this is US power/heavy metal though, featuring hard rocking riffs, melodic lead guitar work, a powerful and tight playing rhythm section, and one of the most powerful and skilled vocalists of the era in front. There are no words big enough to describe Geoff Tate´s vocal contributions on the album. Not only does he possess a powerful and distinct sounding voice, he is also an incredibly pathos filled singer. His delivery is commanding and every word of the lyrics are performed with conviction and great passion. He is also quite the versatile singer in the respect that he can sing both deep and really high notes with a natural ease.

The album is structured so there are short interlude samples, effects, or narrative attached to many of the "regular" length tracks, and there are also a couple of shorter atmospheric interludes/intros, which function as individual tracks. "Operation: Mindcrime" features many great rockers like "Revolution Calling", "Speak", "Spreading The Disease", and "The Needle Lies", epic tracks like "The Mission" and "Suite Sister Mary", but also more melodic and accessible material like "Breaking the Silence" and "I Don´t Believe in Love". The heavy title track also deserves a mention as one of the highlights of the album. So the material is relatively varied, although there is a clear stylistic thread throughout the album.

"Operation: Mindcrime" was produced by Peter Collins who had recently produced the two Rush albums "Power Windows (1985)" and "Hold Your Fire (1987)", and he has put his audible mark on the sound of the album (especially the drums feature a very characteristic sound). The sound production is powerful and detailed, and considering that it was recorded in 1987 and released in 1988, this is a very well sounding heavy metal release.

So upon conclusion this is a perfect release by Queensrÿche (and to my ears the peak of their career). The concept story works, the songwriting and the tracklist order are varied and keep the listener intrigued throughout, the musicianship is outstanding, and the sound production is professional and brings out the best in the material. There´s not a single sub par moment on the album and a 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.


Album · 1986 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 60 ratings
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"Rage For Order" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Washington based power/progressive metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through EMI Records in July 1986. It´s the successor to "The Warning" from 1984 and features the same lineup as the debut album. Queensrÿche achieved moderate commercial success with "The Warning (1984)" and scored the support slot as the opening act for Kiss on their "Animalize (1984)" tour. Something which further enhanced their profile. EMI Records smelled the potential for greatness and started interfering, demanding that the band employ a more glam oriented image, hence the change of wardrobe and hairstyle since the more sinister and dark leather clad look of the band on the debut album.

Stylistically quite a few things have happened too, but despite the change of image, "Rage For Order" doesn´t have anything to do with glam metal. Instead the band´s US power/heavy metal style has taken a progressive direction and keyboards have been given a prominent role in the soundscape. There´s even some programming featured on the album, and the keyboards and the programming effects provide "Rage For Order" with a futuristic almost sci-fi tinged sound. The basis of the music is still US power/heavy metal though. Melodic lead guitars, beautiful clean/acoustic guitar sections, hard rocking riffs and rhythms, and Geoff Tate´s strong high pitched vocals in front.

The material on the 11 track, 45:47 minutes long album is generally well written, but not all tracks stand out equally much. The album opens strong enough with "Walk In The Shadows" and especially "I Dream In Infrared". "The Whisper" and the Dalbello cover "Gonna Get Close To You" (from her 1984 album "Whomanfoursays") work pretty well too (the latter is quite mainstream oriented, but Queensrÿche put their own spin on the song), but it´s like the album fades a bit after that. Here and there a memorable vocal line, guitar lead, or rhythm pattern appear, but even after years of listening to the album I still can´t remember what each track sound like, when I look at the tracklist. Some tracks are simply that unremarkable.

One of the strongest assets of "Rage For Order" is the strong musicianship. The instrumental part of the album is very well played with intricate layers of keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums, but it´s the incredibly powerful vocals by Geoff Tate, which elevates the album to a higher level. "Rage For Order" features a detailed, but not that powerful sounding production. Especially the rhythm guitars lack a bit of punch, but it´s an overall issue, that the music sounds a bit too polished and not raw enough. So "Rage For Order" is an album which leaves me a bit biased. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.


Album · 2001 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 9 ratings
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To my ears the Codex Necro at first sounded like a fairly straight ahead black metal album, and for much of its running time that's exactly what it is, but it pays off attentive listening well. Anaal Nathrakh's core duo consist of talented multi-instrumentalist Irrumator and impassioned screaming frontman VITRIOL, and what's clear from a listen to this is that whilst this is a consciously black metal-oriented album, the pair were also paying close attention to what was going on in grindcore and the more industrial-influenced side of metal at the time.

With these influences creeping in around the edges like rust corroding the seal on a drum of toxic waste, Anaal Nathrakh are able to invest their black metal attack with a set of textures that previously hadn't been heard much in a black metal context, but in retrospect really helped establish the tone they were going for. The band show a particular knack for getting the most out of the studio without their work appearing overly sanitised as a result of that, and on the whole the debut sets a strong foundation for an auspicious career to come.

MGŁA Age of Excuse

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.07 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Black metal has emerged as one of the most creative and fertile grounds in all the metal universe where countless hybrids of musical genres have cross-pollinated and resulted in some of the most forward-thinking stylistic approaches in the entire metal universe so it always boggles my mind when a rather ordinary run of the mill band seems to emerge from the darkened battlefields and achieve a major victory in terms of commercial success and popularity. The Polish black metal outfit MGŁA is exactly one of those types of bands that i’m talking about and this band ain’t no Behemoth or Batushka.

Having formed in 2000 as the duo of multi-instrumentalist Mikołaj "M." Żentara with the collaboration of drummer Dariusz "Daren" Piper after playing together in Kriegmaschine, Daren moved on in 2006 just as M continued on to create a series of EPs and full-length albums and since then has steadily enamored the black metal world like very few have in recent days once the current drummer / percussionist Darkside (Maciej Kowalski) joined forces and conspired to conquer the world from their dark metal headquarters in Krakow, Poland.

MGŁA found its niche and has stuck to it ever since rarely deviating from its status quo and has been called the Amon Amarth of black metal in the process and that’s not an unthinkable comparison actually. Just like its death metal Swedish counterpart, MGŁA takes a melodic approach on the more extreme examples of the sub-genre and tames the once dissonant rage into more harmonic and accessible chunks of the blackened noise parade. Here in 2019, this duo has released its fourth full-length album AGE OF EXCUSE and not surprisingly continues where the previous “Exercises In Futility” left off.

While i’ve been aware of MGŁA (Polish for “fog”) for many years now, my scant exposure to a few tracks here and there has never prompted me to actually investigate further. Well, after the band releases another album with many fans going gaga, i figured it was probably time to fully digest a complete album in its entirety and AGE OF EXCUSE proved to be the easiest point of reference since it’s the most current album at this moment. Accusations of Nazi sympathies and other vicious rumors aside, MGŁA comes off as a rather generic black metal band that does everything by the books and really adds zilch to the sub-genre of black metal at all and no matter how hard i try to understand what the big whoopty-do is about this band, i remained baffled.

While nothing on AGE OF EXCUSE (or any other MGŁA release) is bad by any stretch of the imagination, neither does this band add any creative interpretations nor does it excel in any technical wizardry that sets it apart from the legions of imitators out there. The one thing they do exhibit quite well is the fact that the melodic constructs are instantly catchy much like Amon Amarth, Rotting Christ, Dimmu Borgir or a whole host of others however unlike all of THOSE bands, MGŁA just seems insincere to me and going through the motions. My first impression is that the band is basically copping a melodic take on the Deathspell Omega sound. Miikko Aspa styled raspy vocals drenched in evil, slightly off tune guitar on dissonance light and rather monotonous drumming techniques dominate AGE OF EXCUSE from beginning to end.

Another complaint about this album (and band) is that it begins to sound quite monotonous halfway through. Now it’s quite common for many to claim that a black metal album is monotonous and that is quite true for the untrained ear but the genre is all about detecting the subtleties beneath the carpet bombing of din that assaults the senses from every perceived angle. MGŁA delivers the same tritone laced chord progressions and monotonous groove with impunity. Yeah, there are some drumming outbursts from time to time and as i’ve stated, the album is perfectly listenable but as someone who has spanned the entire spectrum of black metal from its nascent origins with bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory to the more avant-garde experiments that range from Ukraine’s Graal to Norway’s Dødheimsgard, i just do not detect anything spectacular here.

Repeated listens do offer that magical ear hook experience for sure but at the end of the day i just can’t shake that this band is just playing the melodic alter ego of the much superior Deathspell Omega. Yeah, i do understand to a point. As metal ages and artists develop bolder and more avant-garde styles of musical expression, some of it is a little alienating for newbies trying to latch onto the relevance of the sub-genre but personally i would always recommend going back to the earliest examples of melodic black metal over this been-there-dont-that-before retro metal any day. Excluding bands like Emperor or Dimmu Borgir that implemented synthesizers to nurture a more melodic approach, bands like Dissection, Kvist, Nagelfar, Melechesh, Windir or Sacramentum just to name a few were much more creative in their delivery. As open minded as i am about music, once in a while a certain band makes me hit a brick wall and i just have an immediate reaction and in the case of MGŁA i am perplexed why it has become so revered while i just get a meh ho hum reaction. Oh well.

COME BACK FROM THE DEAD The Rise Of The Blind Ones

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Despite kicking around for a decade Come Back From The Dead, a death metal band from Spain were unheard of to me, until I recently added them to our database here on MMA that is. Always eager to hear some new death metal that will pummel me half to death I gave this, The Rise Of The Blind Ones, their second album a listen.

Did it do the trick? Well, to be honest not really, but that’s not to say Come Back From The Dead don’t have any merit. They clearly sit in the old school camp and play with no shortage of enthusiasm. Their songs are on the raw side, fairly simply structured but played well enough nevertheless. Vocalist Paul attacks the songs with unrestrained vigour and is the bands greatest asset. These songs whilst not going to set the world on fire occasionally makes me sit up and listen more intently but for the large part its death metal by numbers. They also inject a bit of doom and some punk touches too which is a welcome addition. Death metal should bludgeon the listener into submission but a weak and thin sounding production robs the band of having much hope of doing this. The drums in particular sound very distant at times though drummer Marcos is clearly giving it his all. Something that dawned on me later, that’s unusual in death metal, unless I missed them – no double kick drums. They’re barely missed however with Marcos throwing in no shortage of fast rhythms and fills around the kit.

Come Back From The Dead should not be written off by any stretch and I warmed to this album more with repeated plays but with the glut of great death metal out there they’ll need to follow this up with something a bit more special if they are to make any serious dent in the current scene. I think they have it in them though and the next album with a better production could be a winner.

MASTODON Leviathan

Album · 2004 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 80 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Atlanta’s MASTODON made quite the thundering debut with 2002’s “Remission,” an album that sounded like a herd of ancient pachyderms rampaging across the Siberian tundra en masse with such force that the very ground below them quaked and split the continents in two. The album introduced a new kind of progressive sludge to the metal universe and excelled at creating murky dark soundscapes that added touches of suffocating atmospheric gloom and doom. The story of MASTODON has been pretty much that it incrementally at a snail’s pace slinked into more accessible stylistic approaches that would de-emphasize the chaotic paranoia and settle into more streamlined even melodic approaches. This trend began all the way back on the group’s second full-length release LEVIATHAN.

It’s more accurate to state that the band made some tradeoffs. While jettisoning the fear porn of the debut, the band instead adopted characteristics of the progressive world and on LEVIATHAN the band’s very first concept album was born which was loosely based on Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick. While taming the wild antics of the debut album, LEVIATHAN by no means slowed things down and continued a rampaging parade of ten sonic attacks of sonic ferocity well intact. Decorated with more progressive compositional workouts and tight consistent instrumental interplay, LEVIATHAN was the album that saw the band taking both the progressive and metal world’s by storm and catapulted the band into the big boys’ club. Laced with the raging angst of hardcore crust punk and the ambitiousness of tech metal wankery, MASTODON hit the scene like a derailed train colliding with an anvil factory.

With the first hard-hitting riffs of “Blood And Thunder,” MASTODON sets the tone for LEVIATHAN that never lets up until the bitter end. Laced with venomous guitar distortion and interchange of Brent Hinds’ and Bill Kelliher’s dual double axe attack, MASTODON takes the timbre-based sinew of sludge metal and coerces it into performing technical gymnastics that subtly sneak in and steer the aggressive assaults into more advanced creatures. The tracks seamlessly blend together with an idiosyncratic series of riffing made all the more outrageous by Brann Dailor’s approach of alternating the lazy slug drumming experience in the Eyehategod school of drumming along with more tech infused jazzy outbursts. Brett Hinds also delivers his madman vocal approach from under the cacophonous din of the relentless tempo drives save the short instrumental contrasts as heard on the intro and subsections of “Seabeast.”

Another interesting factor and what ties the band’s first four albums together is that each one symbolizes one of the four elements of tetralogy. While “Remission” was not a concept album, it was still considered to have the theme of the element of fire. LEVIATHAN therefore not surprisingly represents the water element however the turbulent paths forged throughout this relentless metal madness is more like the Drake’s passage between South America and Antarctica which is known to have the most devastating channels and highest waves on the entire planet. Of interest as well is the stunning artwork on the album cover created by Paul Romano which is a revamped version of Martin Heemskerck’s 16th century interpretation of the “Pharos of Alexandria” as well as the wave representing Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” It’s also notable that the vinyl edition has a different track listing with “I Am Ahab” and “Island” appearing toward the end of the album, presumably so that the tracks could be spaced out more cozily.

Of the ten tracks on board, “Heart’s Alive” exercises the band’s complete progressive workouts and at 13 and a half minutes runs the gamut of tender arpeggiated sequences to galloping metal fury and a healthy dose of Viking metal mythos as well as NWOBHM sensibilities. While Brent Hinds is the clear lead vocalist of the band, on LEVIATHAN, Neil Fallon picks up the task on the opening “Blood And Thunder” and Scott Kelly likewise on “Aqua Dementia,” but you know what? They all growl alike so it’s unlikely you could tell the difference anyways. “Aqua” also has a cello cameo and the final instrumental features organ by Joseph Merrick who strangely has the track named after him. Some kind of endorsement scheme here? My mind is so suspicious. Back to “Hearts Alive.” Despite it being the longest track it doesn’t seem to make the most of the progressive opportunities and actually becomes a big stagnant, however LEVIATHAN is an outrageously fun romp through the world of stampede style sludge metal with a few progressive candles channeling the spirits of technical wizardry. A great album that continues the band’s unique style.

TNT (NORWAY) Encore: Live In Milano

Live album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
‘Encore’ was recorded during TNT’s headlining set at Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan on April 30, 2017 and is currently the final live footage of the band with singer Tony Harnell. Given that this is the third time he has left the band no-one can be really sure he won’t be back, to be fair, but TNT need him as although many may think that guitarist Ronni Le Tekrø is the one who really matters, and while he and drummer Diesel Dahl have been there since the very beginning back in 1982, it is Harnell who provides the class. His voice is amazing, and he is the one who lifts the band, as to be honest most of their numbers are fairly forgettable, but when he is fronting them then he takes them to a whole new level.

I’ve lost count of how many live albums Frontiers have released recently, but you have to admire the commercial nous which got them to set up a festival just for their bands and then record all of them. Here the sound levels and production are perfect, with the right levels and mix throughout. This time around it is the lack of great songs which lets down the band, but they have been in the business for the best part of 40 years, so maybe it’s just me. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of TNT, but Tony Harnell? Boy, that guy can sing.

AMEBIX Monolith

Album · 1987 · Crust Punk
Cover art 3.73 | 4 ratings
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Amebix continue their experiments in blending hardcore punk and the most chaotic side of then-current extreme metal on Monolith. The end result sounds sufficiently close to proto-black metal to such an extent that Darkthrone's later dabblings in crust punk make perfect sense in retrospect, with enough thrash elements that it also sails slightly in the direction of crossover thrash. Perhaps the thing which stops Monolith from going full crossover is a certain sense of the epic - plenty of crossover thrash bands sing about the same subject matter as Amebix, but few give it this sense of awful spectacle that Amebix manage to.

ACID BATH Paegan Terrorism Tactics

Album · 1996 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 8 ratings
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On their second album Acid Bath diversify their sound a little, delving into the sludge-adjacent portions of stoner rock and grunge here, getting a little mellow with their psychedelic side there, and generally offering a deliciously morbid meditation on death and the various religious distractions from it. The tragedy of Audie Pitre's death as the result of a drunk driver ramming the Pitre family car brought an end to Acid Bath, making the album's near-obsessive focus on death somewhat eerie in retrospect, but even if you aren't aware of that the album's morbid, downbeat tone is brilliantly realised and will stand out to any listener.

DAWN OF NIL Culminating Ruins

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Culminating Ruins" is the debut full-length studio album by French progressive death metal act Dawn of Nil. The album was independently released in May 2019. Dawn of Nil is a one-man project formed by Vincent Laugier, who performs all instruments and vocals on the album.

Stylistically the music on "Culminating Ruins" is progressive death/black metal, often atmospheric in nature (keyboards are occasionally used and the album feautures acoustic parts too). The vocals are low in the mix growling/occasional black metal screaming, and the riff- and rhythm styles vary between death metal and black metal influenced playing styles (often in the more melodic end of the spectrum). The material is structurally adventurous and there are some pretty creative songwriting ideas on the album.

It´s obvious that Laugier is both a skilled musician and knows how to compose music, but the sound production on "Culminating Ruins", do come off slightly amaturish. It´s a bit too audible that the drums are programmed, which wouldn´t be a problem if the artificial programmed drum sound was an integral part of the the soundscape and enhanced it, but here they work like a replacement for a human drummer, because a human drummer was either not available or because Laugier did not want to bring in a session musician to play the drums. It´s sometimes the curse of one-man projects that the artist has full control and often don´t realise that outside input could have enhanced their project greatly. The drums are otherwise well programmed, they just sound a little stiff and artificial.

The choice to place the vocals as low in the mix as they have been placed is another production choice I question. Maybe they are placed this low to create a mystical effect or something like that, but to my ears it does not work well. They sound like a deep growling noise in the soundscape and thereby more like an instrument than actual vocals.

So upon conclusion I´ll praise the many creative songwriting ideas on the album (and the many great epic and melodic moments) and the fact that Laugier is a capable musician, but the songs really aren´t that memorable and they generally don´t differ enough from each other (there are many great ideas, but they aren´t put together in a particularly effectful or memorable fashion), and as mentioned above the "bedroom" sound production and the programmed drums don´t do the material any favors either. I overall respect the basis of project, but to my ears the glass is only half full, and Laugier still has some way to go, before releasing what I would characterize as a fully professional sounding release. Still a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

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