Metal Music Reviews

WATAIN Trident Wolf Eclipse

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
It’s been five years since Watain last released an album. The Wild Hunt divided opinion with many praising the growth of the band, which to be honest was nothing new and has been an ongoing thing since Rabid Death’s Curse. Others thought it a band aiming for a more accessible sound and losing something along the way. It was certainly epic and sprawling at over an hour in length and a big production sound certainly made it easier on the ears than many black metal albums. Whatever, I think it was the equal of anything they’d previously done in the past and joint contender with Lawless Darkness as my favourite from the band.

Forward to Trident Wolf Eclipse and on the face of it, it’s a little perplexing. This is certainly no Wild Hunt part 2. In many respects it seems like a backwards step. Immediately apparent is the raw production, more akin to earlier work and the songs don’t waste any time getting into their stride. One after another they’re in, do their business and bugger off. The one two salvo of Nuclear Alchemy and sacred Damnation is ferocious, both maintaining a frantic pace, as does most of the album. The recognisable Watain chord progressions remain intact however. You won’t mistake this for anyone else, even if Erik Danielsson’s rasp wasn’t there to give the game away. Thankfully the songwriting is excellent and consistent with each song needing little time to ingratiate itself, in part down to them cutting off all the flab. Likewise the musicianship, with the band operating like a well-oiled machine which when you’ve been at this game as long as they have is to be expected. Missing from my vinyl copy is the closing instrumental Antikrists Mirakel but it’s none the worse for it as it plods along somewhat aimlessly, even detracting from the flow of the album to an extent.

Trident Wolf Eclipse at this point in time isn’t my favourite Watain album but it’s damn good nevertheless and a great way to kick the year off. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess but like all the best bands they won’t be bowing to fan expectations I’m pretty sure. Let’s not wait another five years though hey guys.

RIOT Rock City

Album · 1977 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.53 | 11 ratings
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Unitron
"Shine, shine on, Warrior."

Exploding onto the quickly growing metal scene in 1977, Riot unleashed the first taste of their high octane traditional metal with their debut Rock City. By this time, heavy metal was evolving out of it's development stages, and into a second wave of bands that propelled the genre into the 80's and into a more focused sound. So along with Judas Priest, Scorpions, Motorhead, and Heavy Load, Riot brought heavy metal into a truly "traditional" sound.

Already Riot feels very comfortable in their own sound, as this debut is not far off from the band's legendary classics like Narita and Fire Down Under. Influences from Sweet's heavy metal moments can be heard, as well as some more hard rock leaning moments reminiscent of bands like Led Zeppelin and UFO. Overall though, it can easily be compared to what Judas Priest would be doing on Killing Machine just a year later.

The album opens right up with a one-two punch of "Desperation" and "Warrior", which have everything that's great about late 70's metal. The title track follows with a more hard rock sound, though the solo is pure metal all the way. "Angel" and "Heart of Fire" are a couple more high energy bursts of classic metal, especially the latter. It just explodes right out the door, and has an absolutely driving main riff that pulses with energy. While it's close with that song, the best on the album would probably have to go to "Overdrive", which has such a massive drum sound that makes it impossible to not stomp your foot.

Something that I absolutely love about the first three Riot albums, is how much personality there is. A lot of that personality comes from Guy Speranza's vocals. He has such a unique voice and has the perfect combination of metal attitude and beautiful melody. The closest comparison I can make is James Young of Styx, who sang on the band's heaviest tracks. "Overdrive" and "Heart of Fire" have that great heavy metal attitude blended with wonderful melodies, while "Gypsy Queen" has one of the most beautiful melodies in 70's metal.

Like with many debuts, Riot's is another one that has gone underrated. Ignore the atrocious cover art, and get ready for a ride of awesome classic metal that screams of personality. It's a great start to a fantastic career. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

KISS Kiss

Album · 1974 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.40 | 28 ratings
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martindavey87
It's crazy to believe that this uninspiring release would spawn one of the most iconic and legendary rock bands in history. Though, what Kiss would lack in memorable hits they certainly made up for in marketability. Admittedly, I've always had a soft spot for the band. In fact, it was their 'Destroyer' album that changed the life of 12 year-old me back in 1999 when it introduced me to rock music. So going back to the bands early albums has sadly failed to live up to expectations.

Not that there really were any expectations to begin with, mind you. Kiss have always had a penchant for dumb, womanizing, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll anthems, but their biggest trait has always been their image and their ability to sell products. Especially when their early albums were as lacklustre as this one.

Featuring ten tracks that top in at 35 minutes, 'Kiss' is a very raw release that is very straight forward and to the point. Songs about women, partying, drinking and more partying is the name of the game, but none of these songs are as noteworthy as the groups later material.

If I had to be generous, 'Strutter', 'Cold Gin' and 'Let Me Know' are alright, but pale in comparison to albums like 'Destroyer', 'Love Gun' and 'Creatures of the Night', and considering a lot of the other rock bands that were around in 1974, it's not hard to imagine where this band would be right now if not for their iconic face paint and stage shows.

Still, it's Kiss. How can you be mad at them?

ANTHRAX Fistful Of Metal

Album · 1984 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.37 | 36 ratings
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martindavey87
I like Anthrax. I really do. In fact, I feel somewhat bad for them, as they've always seemed like the ginger stepchild of what's known as the Big Four of thrash metal (including Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer), but like so many early thrash bands, their debut album is fairly unremarkable, with a lack of finesse being evident in their naive and unpolished song writing.

And I know, this is thrash metal, right? What am I expecting? But like all their contemporaries, their later material shows a huge maturity and growth which their earliest releases lack. Such is the case with Anthrax's debut, 'Fistful of Metal'. Although the album starts off well, it quickly loses whatever charm is has as repetition and a lack of any real creativity sinks in.

While guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz have an immediate chemistry, and drummer Charlie Benante proves himself as one of metals most underrated stickmen, it's vocalist Neil Turbin who's performance fails the band. I find his vocals grating, mostly resorting to high pitched wailing that shows a good range, but something about it just annoys the hell out of me.

Still, songs like 'Deathrider', 'Metal Thrashing Mad' and a cover of Alice Cooper's 'I'm Eighteen' salvage this record, and makes it my second favourite of the Big Four's debut albums (Metallica's 'Kill 'Em All' being the best of the bunch). But like so many bands from that era, their best material is yet to come, and earlier releases such as this will soon be left in the shadows.

LATEXXX TEENS Moloko & Ultra-Violence

EP · 2006 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Are you missing the Marilyn Manson of old, instead of the increasingly bland and commercial automaton he's been replaced with? Do you lament at Rob Zombie's neglect of his music career in favour of dodgy horror movies? Love the teeny-Goth image of the Murderdolls and Cradle Of Filth? If you said yes to all three of these, bad luck - your life is pathetic. Um, you might just like this CD though. `Moloko And Ultraviolence' is a fairly standard but fun mishmash of electro/dance/rock and comic book Gothic image, simple as that. It's not going to reinvent the wheel or change the world as we know it, but you can dance to it.

Latexxx Teens seem to be able to out-Manson Marilyn Manson with ease. The dance beats are suitably bouncy, the guitars so drowned in effects as to be almost synthetic, and the bass throbbing. But the best thing about Latexxx Teens' sound is the simple little fact they know how to create memorable, fun songs. Try not singing along to a rousing chorus of "United Shits of America!" Try not headbanging to the great riff of "Maschine Zeit".

Lex Kaos is a strong vocalist, almost sounding like Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire, minus a genuinely venomous edge. He's a little hard to understand at times, perhaps because the whole band is Italian, and he's singing in English, but that matters little. The lyrics are reasonably good plays on words, and hey, the kids will love it!

`Moloko And Ultraviolence' is not a release for brain surgeons or great philosophers of our time. It's just good, dumb non-pretentious fun. Turn it up loud on a Sunday morning to scare off the Jehovah's Witnesses.

COHEED AND CAMBRIA Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness

Album · 2005 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.30 | 42 ratings
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mlkpad14
Looking back at many reviews, it seems like this album is mostly getting an okay rep, but I think this album deserves 5 stars. I don't say that often at all, and I will explain just what led me to my decision.

Initially, actually, I didn't think much of the album. With each listen though, the album grew on me. While I'm sure that this album will disappear amongst my music list in the next month or so, every listen since I tried it 2 weeks ago has bounced this album to its essential ranking.

After my first listen, I was happy to give the album 3 stars as it really didn't do anything for me. However, by the 2nd listen and the 3rd listen, I was noticing epics such as the 4-part "The Willing Well" and the energy-filled "Welcome Home."

Then, by my 4th and 5th listen I was really digging more and more songs from the album. Particularly, "Always and Never" held high replay value for me. It reminded me of a short preview to Steven Wilson's song "Pariah." They both just felt like they should've been longer, but they weren't so I found myself replaying them over and over!

My 5th listen was mostly for the lyrics. The story seems exaggerated but valuable, though I'm partial as to whether I should buy the parallel graphic novels.

Finally, my next few 6th, 7th, and 8th listens were just really fun. The album isn't all that technical and it is very poppy. They move through concepts quickly, and all-in-all it makes the album very fun to listen to when looking for something to bounce around to. Very worth trying out!

EVILFEAST Elegies of the Stellar Wind

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
It's been quite a while since the release of Wintermoon Enchantment (2011), the last full-length release by Polish atmospheric black metal solo project Evilfeast. Although there's been both an EP and a demo in the meantime, musician GrimSpirit has emerged back in full force at the tail end of 2017 with Elegies of the Stellar Wind, an album that may just upset any established lists of the best black metal releases of the year once you hear it.

Comprised solely of long songs (the shortest is over eight minutes) with no messing around with separate intros, interludes or outros, Elegies of the Stellar Wind is clearly written with being immersive in mind and it's very effective in succeeding at that. This is the kind of atmospheric black metal record where it's almost like a paradox against what metal music is usually about, featuring traditional raw and cold riff work that often merely serves to lay the groundwork for an even colder ambience (actually the first thing you'll hear when the album kicks off with The Second Baptism... Shores in Fire and Ice), to do its thing.

There are plenty of parts where the ambient elements are withdrawn and the focus is purely on the raw riffs and growling vocals of course (which every so often are switched to clean singing, which features prominently when used, especially in the final track Inclinata Resurgit... Rebirth of My Noble Dark Kingdom), such immediately following the ambient introduction of the opener. The album's certainly at its best and most majestic when the two worlds combine though. I'm reminded of a mix of the likes of Striborg and the raw yet atmospheric sound heard on albums such as Autumnal Melancholy (2008) and Midnight Odyssey through the majestic ambient parts such as on the Shards of Silver Fade (2015) album.

While the extremely raw sound of the album may prove a detriment to all but the most fervent of black metal listener, to those among us who appreciate the style that Elegies of the Stellar Wind delivers the record is quick to establish itself as being something special. The mood captures both the winter season that the album was released in while also giving off some dark, medieval vibes. It's enough to be drawn in straight away, then keeps hold of my attention throughout, despite the considerable total length of 67:24 minutes. The first listen can easily be spent just revelling in all the fine details coming off the synths that it's only on the next go around that an appreciation starts to form for the real old school black metal guitar riffs that GrimSpirit has crafted. I usually prefer my black metal to sound a bit less fuzzy than this, but I have to admit that anything more would throw the combine atmosphere of guitars and synths off kilter. It's a delicate thing to balance, but one which is handled to perfection here.

It may not be pretty or polished, yet Elegies of the Stellar Wind resonates high up on the levels of creativity. It's an excellent release and even surprising work that despite it's late year release has quickly cracked my black metal top five for the year. It's because of that late in the year release date that I nearly missed it in time to include it in my annual best of year list. That would have been a shame, so don't make the same mistake I almost did.

OVERKILL Under The Influence

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 36 ratings
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Warthur
Combining tight songwriting, straight-for-the-throat thrash aggression, and emotive lyrics taking a frank look at various issues, Overkill's Under the Influence stands out from the 80s thrash crowd less for its originality (there were a lot of bands throwing together similar elements at the time) and more for its execution.

Sure, it's hardly the only album taking this approach from this era, but Overkill seem to have an extra bit of grit that much of the competition don't have. By the standards of their later discography it also feels slightly more light-hearted than some of their later works - take Drunken Wisdom, for instance (which also seems to have a somewhat more grown-up and balanced take on alcohol consumption than was typical for thrashers of the era - everyone knows someone who's a total bore when they're drunk, and the song's a great takedown of such a person). An early highlight of their career.

SLAYER Show No Mercy

Album · 1983 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 67 ratings
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martindavey87
There was a time in my early teens when I was really into Slayer. I'd just gotten into rock and metal via Kiss, Metallica and Megadeth, and was craving anything heavy, and nothing was heavier to 15 year-old me than Slayer!

But that was in 2002, and while I quickly outgrew my foray into thrash metal, I remained loyal to a lot of the bands. Of what is known as the "big four", Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax stayed with me as my musical tastes evolved and ventured to pastures new. But there was one band that got left behind very easily, and it's time to become reacquainted with them; Slayer,

Released in 1983, 'Show No Mercy' is Slayer's debut album, and much like all the other early thrash releases, it's raw and aggressive, but very unpolished and lacking anything truly memorable other than it's penchant for playing fast. There's not really much going on save for a song or two, with the riffs being fairly bland, typical 80's thrash riffs and Tom Araya's vocals not really suiting the music either. A weird combination of shouting and talking that just sits there but doesn't really do anything for me.

The musicianship is fine. Nothing to celebrate or shout about, but the early makings of one of metal's most beloved bands is certainly there. Guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are certainly competent at keeping up with each other and all the other thrash metal bands of the day, and drummer Dave Lombardo is able to keep the tempo up throughout.

Admittedly, there is one song I like, and that's 'Tormentor'. It has a cool NWOBHM vibe to it, with some very nice riffs that are hindered by Araya's lacklustre vocal delivery. There's worse debuts out there, but I'm not a fan of 'Show No Mercy', and hearing it now, it makes me wonder how Slayer were ever considered a part of the big four to begin with.

NIGHT VIPER Exterminator

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
Sweden. As far as metal goes it's probably best known for its death metal, a lot of it of the melodic death variety, especially the Gothenburg scene. It's also got a strong heritage in both black metal and doom metal through acts such as Dissection and Katatonia respectively, among others. What it's less known for it's it's output of classic heavy metal bands, especially in the eighties. There's Heavy Load who are likely the best known band unless one counts the more hard rock chart bothering Europe, the neoclassical metal virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen or the relocated Oz (who are Finnish), Swedish heavy metal in the eighties is mostly made up of lesser known acts who you're most likely to have only heard of if you either A) are Swedish or B) have extensively researched the scene.

In spite of this, Sweden does keep turning out modern bands that fly the flag for traditional metal, old school sound included. So arguably the country actually has a better heavy metal scene now than it ever did, which in times where modern traditional albums continually get overlooked in favour of their eighties counterparts is quite something. Night Viper, a female fronted act who released their self-titled debut album in 2015, is the latest of these to come my attention and they've really got me excited about what their country has to offer the heavy metal genre. Exterminator (2017), is their second full-length effort.

If you've previously heard the Night Viper self-titled effort, then it will be quickly apparent when Exterminator kicks off with No Escape that the band have had a little bit of a shift in sound in the couple of years since the first album's release. They're still playing old school heavy metal with a nice, crisp production sound that really highlights the riffs, but it's been tempered with an often pronounced edge of speed metal or thrash metal, depending on the song. This starts off right away with some speed metal references in No Escape, but is most prominent in the following track, the short but powerful Summon the Dead, which is the closest the album comes to having a full on thrash metal song. These additional influences give Night Viper's material a faster and more aggressive edge than traditional heavy metal usually has, while still being more about classic galloping rhythms.

Starting with Never Win we start to hear some more straight heavy metal from the band like that found on their debut, which while not as hard hitting is still just as satisfying work. Following this we hear the speed/thrash edge again in tracks such as the Exterminator title track, Ashes, Lady Bad Luck and All That Remains, while the rest is more classic old school heavy metal. Regardless of whether the song in question has this or not though, the one thing that's uniform across the album is the band's growth as instrumentalists. They come across as a real tight unit across the board, while vocalist Sofie-Lee Johansson has a strong melodic voice that carries the songs well; making them easy to follow and to keep the choruses going around in your head.

Whether the speed/thrash metal edge heard on and off on Exterminator is an indication that Night Viper is evolving more towards that kind of sound remains to be seen – the kind of thing that will only be answerable with the hindsight of time and another release from the band – but one thing's for sure: they've delivered a heavy metal highlight of 2017 in this one. Exterminator is the kind of release that's fun to listen to and doesn't inflict anything that a metalhead of any taste shouldn't want to hear: if you like heavy metal, you should like this album. And if you don't like this album, then I'll have to presume you don't like heavy metal.

ICED EARTH The Dark Saga

Album · 1996 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 33 ratings
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martindavey87
Iced Earth's fourth release, 'The Dark Saga', is a concept album based upon the story of comic book character Spawn. It's a bit of an odd release in the bands discography, as they stripped down their sound a quite a bit, and as a whole nothing here reaches the intensity, aggression or complexity of anything we'd heard before.

I'm probably one of the very few who didn't like previous release 'Burnt Offerings', which is held in high regard by fans, and while 'Dark Saga' is somewhat a step back in the right direction, it still fails to truly connect with me. I feel like the Spawn storyline is also a detriment to the music. As a huge fan of the character, it seems like halfway through the album the lyrics and music don't seem to relate to the source material anymore. Or perhaps I'm just struggling to pay attention.

Musically, it's standard power metal, but the band have slowed down a lot, with only a couple of songs reaching the same speed as past compositions, but there's still that unmistakeable Iced Earth sound to it. Mostly in part thanks to vocalist Matt Barlow, who, with this release, is the first singer to make it to their second album with the band. With that said, his vocals are fairly disappointing here. I'm not sure if it's the hackneyed songwriting or the uninspiring lyrics, but his delivery just doesn't seem to work.

Even the guitar solos on this album are unremarkable. Most of them just being slow, melodic lead breaks with the occasional harmony. I'm all for solos suiting the songs and not playing speed for speed's sake, but there's just nothing truly memorable happening here.

Complaints aside, there are a handful of moments that save this release from being a complete abomination. The title track, as well as 'I Died For You', 'The Hunter' and 'The Last Laugh' are all decent tracks. But none of them hold up well compared to Iced Earth's other (burnt) offerings, and while it's certainly not the worst album I own, it's probably not one I intend to go back to very often. If ever.

BEYOND TWILIGHT Section X

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 20 ratings
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martindavey87
Released four years after their debut, 'Section X' gives us a second dark and twisted glimpse into the mindscape of Danish prog metal group, Beyond Twilight. With another concept album based around themes of cloning, manipulation and perversion, it's a pretty bleak story, but it makes for some great music!

Beyond Twilight have a fairly unique and distinctive sound, with lots of dark passages that really conjure up images of perverted horror. Their sound is very gothic and gloomy, with powerful, multi-layered vocals and interplay between numerous guitars and keyboards. It's a very atmospheric release, which is surprisingly short for a concept album (at 45 minutes), but will still require a number of listens to really familiarize yourself with the music.

But that's nothing new to us prog fans, right?

Although there are very slight moments where the music tends to drag and feels self-indulgent, overall the album flows diligently. Highlights include 'The Path to Darkness', 'Section X', 'Shadow Self', and what is probably one of the bands finest pieces, 'Ecstasy Arise'. These songs alone make this album a notable addition to any prog metal fans collection, and help define Beyond Twilight as a truly underrated band that are worthy of your time.

VICIOUS RUMORS Vicious Rumors

Album · 1990 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.33 | 17 ratings
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Warthur
Vicious Rumors' self-titled album was their first major label release, and as such finds them polishing up their style and steering it at points in a more accessible direction than the preceding album. It's a solid Iron Maiden/Judas Priest-influenced effort, though some of the songs outlast their welcome a bit (World Church gets rather repetitive) and the second side unfortunately seems a bit thin. In fact, I have to wonder whether deadlines imposed by the label or some other disruption caused them to hurry this album, with the more polished and accomplished songs clustered together on side A and side B being thrown together quickly to make the product.

PANTERA The Great Southern Trendkill

Album · 1996 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 42 ratings
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Warthur
Compared to the subgenre-defining Cowboys From Hell and the staggeringly aggressive Vulgar Display of Power, I just can't quite get behind The Great Southern Trendkill. Oh, sure, it's another aggressive beast of an album, but it tries too hard at it; whereas Vulgar Display of Power was a disturbingly believable offering, here Anselmo's layered vocals feel a bit too overplayed - it seems more like cartoonish posturing than a genuine threat.

The involvement of Seth Putnam of Anal Cunt fame on backing vocals kind of says it all really - I've never found his contributions to be especially musically interesting, and the decision to include him feels like a dose of bad judgement on the part of Pantera themselves - the same sort of slip in aesthetic vision which makes this less compelling than it could be. Perhaps you can put some of the blame on Anselmo's heroin addiction, and the way the tensions it created in the band seeped through into the recording process - once a band member's issues have gotten bad enough that they can't even work in the same studio as the rest of the band, you inevitably aren't going to have as tight and as effective a collaboration as you might otherwise.

MOONSORROW Kivenkantaja

Album · 2003 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 17 ratings
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Warthur
I tend to find the whole "folk metal" thing highly hit and miss, particularly when bands don't integrate the two halves of that formula but simply play mediocre metal and mediocre folk music together and hope that the charms of both sides of the equation smooth over the holes. Moonsorrow's Kivenkantaja, on the other hand, absolutely does not do that, integrating the sounds and motifs of Scandinavian folk music into a majestic, sweeping, almost cinematic metal framework. The compositions tend towards longer tracks with epic, progressive rock-esque structures, and the overall effect wouldn't seem out of place as the soundtrack to an adaptation of some pagan saga of ancient days.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY No Cross No Crown

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Corrosion Of Conformity have had a lot of different line-ups over the years and a few very distinct career phases. Some of the most notable and best of which are the short-lived Blind era of the very early ’90s, where Pepper Keenan and Karl Angel joined the band and wrote a very dark, yet strangely melodic mixture of Sludge Metal and Groove Metal. Then Karl left, Pepper took over somewhat and they released three brilliant mixtures of Stoner, Southern Rock and good old fashion Metal with a bunch of diverse records that had acoustic sections, interludes, ballads and speedy-ragers all mashed into one record. Their final album in that line-up (well, with a new drummer actually, but close enough…) was very Doom Metal focused. Then Pepper left, and the Trio line-up from before even the Blind era reunited but instead of making Hardcore or Crossover Thrash like they did in the ’80s; they released two Doom albums with raw punky influences.

The celebrated and arguably most popular line up (the Pepper-in-charge on from the mid 90s-early ’00s) reunited recently and toured the globe with incredible reunion shows and now the time has finally come for them to put out some new music together. Its probably one of my most anticipated albums in a very long time. What on earth could it possibly sound like? Well, the first track is a slow instrumental Sludge intro, bringing immediately to mind the Blind era. Next comes the third single, ‘The Luddite’ which is almost indistinguishable from the style on their Doom-focused In The Arms Of God album from 2005, which is interesting to hear with Reed Mullin on drums. It totally works. Speaking of that album, the creepy-ass title track here might remind you of a certain dark semi-acoustic track from there too.

Like their seminal Deliverance album, there are a few instrumental interludes and mood pieces sprinkled throughout. The first two singles, ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and ‘Cast The First Stone’ hark back to the Wiseblood sound, recalling hits like ‘Long Whip/Big America’ or ‘King Of The Rotten’ in a certain specific way that the instruments interact with each other and with the production style (by John Custer, who did Wiseblood too!) leaving the space at the end of sections and sounding very organic and Jammed-out-in-a-rehearsal-room, if you know what I mean. ‘Little Man’ has a very characterful and southern-fried sound, reminiscent of the under-rated 2000 album, America’s Volume Dealer, only without the over-polished production.

So far, so great. Towards the end, there are a also few slower, sludgy, dragged-out pieces that hearken back to both ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Bottom Feeder.’ It just wouldn’t be a C.O.C album without mixing in something slow and dirty sounding towards the end, would it now?

The overall feeling is a mixture of all the Pepper-era albums, with a warm and very earthy production. It doesn’t stand out as an immediate drop-everything, earth-shattering revelation, but it is a very welcome return (although they were never really that gone recently, and I’d still love if they threw ‘Demark Vessey’ or ‘Tarquinious Superbus’ into the setlist nowadays too!) that gets better with repeat listens. If you walk in expecting to be blown away like the first time you heard Deliverance you might be disappointed, but if you go in with realistic expectations you’ll find a very solid and rewarding album. My favourite track on the album is ‘Forgive Me’ which has a sort of Thin Lizzy vibe to its hook, but a very metallic breakdown, and Pepper’s vocals are very exaggerated and full of character like they were on ‘Volume Dealer.

To top it all off, there’s a cover of Queen’s very heavy and Sabbathy debut album deep-cut, ‘Son And Daughter’ and it really, really suits C.O.C’s sound. I remember Iron Monkey covering it in the past and it is a very suitable track for this end of the Rock & Metal spectrum. I know people imagining ‘Radio Gaga’ or ‘I Want To Break Free’ might raise an eyebrow, but Queen’s debut was a lot heavier than you remember. For Stoner, Doom or Sludge bands it is a natural fit.

In summary; without disrespecting the fine work of the trio line-up, its nice to have the four guys from Deliverance through to ‘Volume Dealer back playing together again with their unique chemistry. The album is pretty diverse, with a nice mix of fast and slow, clean and dirty, stoner and doom, sludge and hard rock, atmospheric and immediate. The production job is perfect and there’s a fairly decent proportion of the tracks would make it into any fan’s future dream setlists or best-of playlists. If you don’t immediately do a spit-take and have heart-shaped eyeballs the very first time you hear it though, don’t worry, it grows on you.

XYSMA Yeah!

Album · 1991 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.05 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
XYSMA was a short-lived band that formed in 1988 near the Finnish city of Turku and has been cited as one of the earliest example of the much loathed term “death’n’roll.” The band’s name has the charming meaning of “material resembling bits of membrane in stools of diarrhea.” Now yeah! That’s fucking metal! I think :o

Despite living in Finland, the band had close ties to the Stockholm scene and were buddies with the legendary Entombed with whom they cross-pollinated ideas, thus going down similar paths by linking rock’n’roll meets Sabbath type compositions with the old school death metal scene. At this point XYSMA had a mix of grindcore as well as early traces of the death’n’roll that would be more prominent on their second album “First & Magical.”

Their debut album YEAH! lies somewhere in between Sabbath, death doom, grindcore and old fashioned death metal with lots of changes between tracks and even within individual tracks. At this point the band was a quintet. Janitor Mustasch as vocalist dished out the typical guttural growls of the old school death metal scene however a few clean vocal utterances occur. The demos showed clear influences from bands like grindcore era Carcass and Napalm Death.

XYSMA had an interesting sound and its easy to see where they were going and create a rather unique mix of styles. The tracks are short with only one hitting over four minutes. The riffs are fast and furious and fit into the old school death days. The drums are the weakest link with a lazy sludge type of drumming pattern without much variation however it’s the compositions that take on aspects of old fashioned rock’n’roll in the song styles.

It’s apparent the band was on to something with YEAH! However, somehow it misses the mark feeling like a rather mediocre batch of tracks that never simmer down into the proper nourishing broth. Death metal riffs alternate with Sabbath laced guitar runs and occasional grindcore bursts of freneticism all seem randomly strewn together without much thought as how to tie them together. There’s even an acoustic opening on “Uranus Falls!” Stool sample time maybe? LOL,

While sometimes verging on brutal, YEAH! mostly floats by in the mid-tempo range with grungy guitar riffs and a rather weak percussive drive. The bass is also almost buried in the mix and the vocals do become a bit monotonous. Unfortunately XYSMA had all the elements to craft a killer metal album but hadn’t quite mastered the maturity to place all those pieces into the right places. Hardly a bad listening experience, YEAH! does deliver a nice slice of old school adolescent rawness however it sort of misses the mark in comparison to other established acts of the era.

PSYCHEDELIC WITCHCRAFT Sound Of The Wind

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
Although their formerly shared their vocalist Virginia Monti with the doom metal band Dead Witches and the remainder of the band are also involved with hard rockers Magnet, Italians Psychedelic Witchcraft haven't up until this point been a particularly heavy band themselves. This is in spite of also being easily grouped with acts such as Blood Ceremony through the retro rock connection. With their second full-length album Sound of the Wind (2017), they're clearly set out to change this. This one's a real hard rocker!

With ten new tracks under their belt, the band, whose first album was mostly a straight psychedelic rock affair with the occasional heavier edge creeping in, have near enough fully embraced heavy psych on Sound of the Wind. There's the odd moment where things are dialled back considerably, including the title track which sounds as if it could be a lost Jefferson Airplane number. I'm very much reminded of that band's famous White Rabbit during it fact. Mostly though, this album is all about rocking hard but with plenty of psychedelic vibes throughout. It's even close to metal at points, in terms of heaviness if not technique, though there's a vague air of traditional doom if you listen closely enough.

An improvement on the decent but ultimately less interesting (especially to the heavy rock and/or metal fan) debut, Sound of the Wind is quick to assert itself as one of the best hard rock albums of 2017. Despite this I have to say that it's that title track that sounds out as it's crowning achievement, but it's a strong record from start to finish. Perhaps more to the point it stands out in the crowd of these female fronted psychedelic heavy rock bands that have been (justifiably) quite popular in recent years, thanks in no small part to the increased heaviness of the guitar riff. Along with this potent riffage, the use of psychedelic melodies really pushes the album up a level, as do the charming vocals from Virginia Monti, whose voice fits perfectly and is a real delight to take in.

Overall I'm very impressed by Psychedelic Witchcraft's change in direction to becoming a heavier band and hope to hear more work in this style from them.

PORCUPINE TREE The Sky Moves Sideways

Album · 1995 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 17 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Although it all began as a joke, by the time Steven Wilson and his now official band called PORCUPINE TREE made it into the 90s, the popularity of their Floydian inspired space rock was taking off like a rocket ship to the moon. After a number of demos and two fully fledged space rock albums to get their feet wet, the band was really more of a solo project but starting with this one, a real band was in play with a style that reached the culmination of the psychedelic space rock sound on the third album THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS. Your listening experience for this one may depend on which side of the Atlantic you reside because of the fact that two different versions exist. THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS was the debut album in North America and showed the band mastering their full potential as they also unveiled various aspects of the different styles they would take on future releases. The European version which came out first contained the seventeen minute track “Moonloop” as the second to last track whereas the US release nixed it in favor of a shorter running time. Since the US version is the one i’ve grown attached to, it is the one i prefer so all my gushing admiration for this album is based on it.

It was never any secret that 70s Pink Floyd was the biggest source of inspiration for Wilson and company and that was never more true than on THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS which has been compared to “Wish You Were Here” for having two sprawling tracks that begin and end the album with shorter tracks sandwiched in between, however a careful listen will yield all kinds of influences from the Floydian world up to “The Wall”. Likewise, all the tracks flow together relatively smoothly making it in reality a long series of movements that culminate into larger suites and extended musical motifs. Although Steven Wilson remained ringmaster and creator in chief even at this point, this was very much a real band effort on album number three which allowed a blossoming of musical expressions to make a much richer album than the previous two. Most importantly added to the lineup was ex-Japan keyboard wizard Richard Barbieri who deftly mixes his best Klaus Schulze styled progressive electronic backdrops over the hypnotic space rock grooves. Likewise, Wilson’s alter ego in the art pop outfit No-Man found him a steady drummer with Chris Maitland filling the spot. With all musical spots freshly manned with eager talent, PORCUPINE TREE was ready for prime time and THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS shows them honing their chops into highly addictive seductions of sound.

THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS starts off rather chaotically with sputtering electronic effects that belie Floydian space groove that soon steals the show. A false flag to throw the listener off? Not sure, but once the Floydian rhythmic flow begins, it grooves with a vengeance. While the “Phase 1” of the title track gently rolls on with a sensual rocking groove as “The Colour Of Air” movement strives to lull the listener into a hypnotic state, it does however evoke a call and response that makes me want to scream “Hello, Is There Anybody In There?” at times. Perhaps too comfortably close to “Comfortably Numb,” but even with such brazen Floydisms slapping the listener in the face, somehow the electronic wizardry derails any cached earworms from the past and keeps PORCUPINE TREE sounding like distant cousins of the Gilmour and Waters team rather than mere imitators. The near nineteen minute suite churns on into a gentle space rock groove with Wilson belting out his unique fairy tale narrations before the track goes into an upbeat psybient and psytrance mode that summons a high intensity percussive drive and multidimensional atmospheric turbulence in the “Wire The Drum” movement. Tribal drums meets staccato keyboard sequences while a bouncy bass illustrates spaced out blissful melodies. The suite finds resolution with the “Spiral Circus” finale which drifts off into the clouds and exits with a soft acoustic guitar riff with a fluttering flute run flapping around like a pretty butterfly in the breeze.

Sandwiched in the middle of the lengthy title track suite that begin and end the album are three shorter tracks (plus the “Moonloop” jam if you have the European version). “Dislocated Day” debuts a more familiar sound heard on future PORCUPINE TREE albums and the first of the band’s career to demonstrate heavier rock with hefty guitar riffs, biting percussive drive and much increased tempos. This also provides the gateway into their progressive rock leanings that would culminate on albums like “In Absentia.” “The Moon Touches Your Shoulder” on the other hand is a totally chilled out acoustic guitar on codeine type of track with a catchy melody and poetic lyrics from Wilson’s most chilled singing style. “Prepare Yourself” is nothing more than a short spaced out bluesy soloing sequence that serves as a fluffer for the the “Phase 2” of the title track, unless of course you have the European version with “Moonloop” inserted between. This track is my least favorite and i’m happy to have the edition without it (or at least thrown onto the second bonus disc). It is nothing more than a drawn out spacey sequence of synthesized loops and effects.

The final “Phase 2” is begins much like “Phase 1” with non-committing electronic atmospheric effects only finding stability after a drum roll coaxes them down to Earth. The opening “Is…Not” segment displays more love of classic Pink Floyd as it generates a heavy connection to tracks like “Have A Cigar” with restless electronica and eventually a banging bass. Once a melodic development is allowed to form, it bursts onto the scene with a dramatic guitar riff which calms the atmospheric presence into an obsequious counterpoint. Nice guitar work on this one for a while but eventually as “Off The Map” continues the suite, an estrogen filled siren seduces a rambunctious guitar to come out and play. As it arrives it begins to perform a rather spunky blues workout around the ostinato bass line. It performs all kinds of tricks yanking every emotional heartstring with a mere bending of a note or two. It gets wild and woolly before the track slowly wends down as it reprises the initial Floydian bass dominated riff that began it all, not after more bizarre excursions into ambient electronica however.

On THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS, Steven Wilson and PORCUPINE TREE not only joined the ranks of the progressive rock revival that was unfolding alongside bands like Anglagard, Opeth, Dream Theater and the neo-prog bands like IQ and Arena but were also fundamental in the revival of good old fashioned 70s psychedelic space rock alongside other space tripping bands like Ozric Tentacles. While Pink Floyd was still around in name only, it was really just a David Gilmour solo effort milking of the enterprise and tarnishing of the name with mediocrity in the form of albums like “The Division Bell”. PORCUPINE TREE on the other hand were uploading an entirely new operating system into the space rock paradigm by adding all the relevant 90s influences of neo-psychedelia and chilled out electronica such as trip hop and as well as bass heavy stoner rock in tandem with the tried and true chill pill elements of 70s psych and electronica.

While never really intentionally wanting to steal the baton away from the great Pinksters, somehow on THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS, they did just that and created one of my personal favorite albums by the group and the absolute best of the 90s output. The 2 CD re-release is well worth the time as it has a brilliant alternative mix of the title track suites as well as the “Moonloop” tracks that went missing on the US release. I’ve been holding off on reviewing this one since i couldn’t decide if the Floydisms are too derivative or not but when all is said and done, they are no more derivative of Pink Floyd than Floyd was of the blues artists who came before them and this is one of those rare albums that i literally never tire of because Wilson’s brilliant mixing and production skills weave such a massive sonic web around any similarities that it keeps them in their own unique musical territory while respectfully conjuring up warm fuzzy memories of the past. This is where PORCUPINE TREE came to fruition as a band and a trend that would only continue to develop into a more distinct musical entity.

COLD Oddity EP

EP · 1998 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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pointandclick
This has more interesting content than your average 90s maxi-single type release, although it comes in the form of the final two tracks. The altered versions of "Go Away" which begin this album are both pretty much worthless. "Blame" is a bland and dreary b-side that would just blend in with the rest of the self-titled's swampy grunge/alt-metal. It is followed by their cover of Bowie's "Space Oddity", which is very, very good. Compared to the original, it feels sadder and more hopeless, and Scooter Ward keeps the "mouth full of cotton" Eddie Vedder impressions to a minimal in it. The interview track at the end is also a pleasant listen, giving an insight into the band's origins and influences.

Originally written for rateyourmusic.com

GRAVITY KILLS Superstarved*

Album · 2002 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
No fucking about. This band sounds like a less chaotic Ministry, a more male Marilyn Manson, or Rob Zombie after he's had a shower.

It's a much trodden path now. Fairly standard energetic hard rock with samples, beats, distorted voices, like Filter, or straightforward Nine Inch Nails. It all has an air of utter predictability about it: quiet start with an electronic beat, breathy vocals, and then the main riff starts, with such utter regularity you can set your watch by it. Then the songs progress through variations on these dynamics - noisy bit, quiet bit with bleepy noises, shouty chorus, noisy bit, fade out with more electro-noises.

This description makes this album sound like a nasty cliched pile of shit. It isn't. The bass lines are reminiscent of "Rude Awakening"-era Prong, and the vocals take cues from Al Jourgenson, Rob Zombie and even Alice Cooper. Gravity Kills have a very good ear for melody, hooks, riffs, and some downright good songwriting. Sure, little new ground is broken, but so what? These guys aren't innovators, but they're certainly not imitators either. A band doesn't need to be innovative if they do what they do well - it never hurt AC/DC.

Many of the tracks here sound like they're aimed at rock radio stations. Opener "Love, Sex and Money" would make a great single. But then so would the second, third, fourth and twelfth tracks. The Depeche Mode cover "Personal Jesus" stands out above the rest, taking an acoustic guitar intro, giving it an electro-stutter, and then jumping in with a Manson-esque footstomping beat, producing a simple, catchy and highly effective song.

It would be great to see the likes of this band, who can actually write songs and play, taking the place of boy bands with guitars on rock radio and in the charts. If given the right push, this band could have been huge.

MACHINE HEAD Burn My Eyes

Album · 1994 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 27 ratings
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UMUR
"Burn My Eyes" is the debut full-length studio album by US, thrash/groove metal act Machine Head. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in July 1994. Machine Head was formed in 1992 by former Forbidden and Vio-lence guitarist Robb Flynn (who is also the lead vocalist in Machine Head), guitarist Logan Mader, bassist Adam Duce, and drummer Tony Costanza. With that lineup Machine Head recorded their 1993 demo, which eventually got them signed to Roadrunner Records. Before recording "Burn My Eyes" Tony Costanza was replaced by Chris Kontos. Upon release "Burn My Eyes" was an almost instant success and with 400.000 copies sold, it was the best selling debut album released through Roadrunner Records until the release of Slipnot´s debut album in 1999.

While main songwriter Robb Flynn came from a Bay Area thrash metal background, the times they were a changin´ in the early 90s and especially Pantera and Sepultura (with "Chaos A.D. (1993)") had brought a more groove oriented element to thrash metal music, and with "Burn My Eyes", Machine Head followed suit.

The music on the album is at it´s roots thrash metal, but it´s far from the sound of 80s thrash metal (except for the fast thrashy riff on "Blood for Blood") and features hard edged groove oriented riffs and rhythms, raw and shouting hardcore influenced vocals, and the occasional alternative metal leaning. The latter is mostly heard in the clean vocal sections. The material on the 11 track, 55:37 minutes long album is of a consistently high quality, although tracks like the iconic album opener "Davidian", "Old", and "Death Church" are among the highlights.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Machine Head are a tight unit, delivering precision playing, but never to a point where an organic approach is forgotten. While all involved are skilled musicians, I´ll give a special mention to drummer Chris Kontos, who´s relatively inventive playing style and impeccable sense for grooves carry the music far. The vocals by Robb Flynn are the only minor issue I have with "Burn My Eyes". They undeniably suit the music well, but he just doesn´t have a very powerful voice and his clean vocals aren´t that interesting either. He makes it´s work with what he´s got though, and that deserves some praise.

"Burn My Eyes" is a very well produced album featuring a powerful, heavy, and detailed production. It´s one of the most well sounding Colin Richardson productions, and considering his vast number of high quality production jobs, that says a lot. "Burn My Eyes" is through and through a high quality release, that to my ears is just short of being a masterpiece, but a 4.5 star (90%) rating is still well deserved.

DEFECATION Purity Dilution

Album · 1989 · Grindcore
Cover art 2.50 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Purity Dilution" is the debut full-length studio album by US/UK grindcore act Defecation. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in 1989. Defecation was formed as a side-project by Righteous Pigs guitarist Mitch Harris (guitars, bass, vocals) and Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris (drums, vocals) in 1987. It was initially a one-off project, as Mitch Harris joined Napalm Death in late 1989, and both guys focused on that band (not for long though as Mick Harris soon left Napalm Death to form Scorn). Mitch Harris ressurected Defecation in the early years of the new millenium and released "Intention Surpassed" in 2003.

The music on "Purity Dilution" is Napalm Death influenced grindcore with the odd nod towards a punked version of old school death metal. The album was recorded and mixed in 29 hours and was co-produded by Danny Lilker (Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth). It´s audible that the band probably didn´t have time to do more than a few takes of each track, because this is a very organic sounding and not always tight performance. On some tracks the vocalist sounds pretty commanding, delivering some convincing growling vocals, while he sounds strained and hoarse on other tracks, which is probably the consequence of having to record all the vocal tracks within a few hours.

The tracks feature both mid-paced heavy parts, faster punk rhythms, and furiously fast-paced blast beat sections. Despite the relatively varied rhythmic approach the material is a bit one-dimensional and not many tracks stand out from the others. The sound production is pretty raw, lo-fi, and parts of the production lacks punch. So upon conclusion "Purity Dilution" is quality wise a bit of a mixed bag. I admire the DIY approach of the project, but the outcome really isn´t the greatest or most distinct sounding grindcore release and a 2.5 (50%) rating is warranted.

BRUJERIA Pocho Aztlan

Album · 2016 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When Brujeria first hit the extreme metal scene back in the Nineties, there was a great deal of discussion as to who was actually in the band, as they all used nicknames to hide their true identities. On guitar and bass was none other than Aesino, probably best known to many as Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, and due to involvement of members in other bands, Brujeria kept going on hiatus while they fulfilled other commitments. It took two years for the second album to see the light of day, five for the third, but no-one ever imagined that it would take sixteen years for the fourth to come out. There have been quite a few changes in the band in the intervening years, with Dino no longer there, but singer Juan Brujo has been a constant, as has bassist Fantasma and guitar/bassist Hongo and Pinche Peach (backing vocals/samples). They have always prided themselves on playing metal heavily influenced by grindcore and early thrash, along with some Mexican influences. To be honest, they have personally always reminded me of early Sepultura, in terms of brutality, rawness and sheer power.

The sixteen-year layoff hasn’t done them any harm, as this album shows them still as heavy as they have always been. They haven’t lost their sense of humour either, with the final song being a Spanish language tongue-in-cheek cover of the Dead Kennedy’s "California über Alles". Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take quite so long for the next one!

YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN Rising Force

Album · 1984 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 4.13 | 40 ratings
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Warthur
It's rare that you can point to a specific artist and album and say that here, right at that moment, is where a particular musical subgenre got its start, but you absolutely can with neoclassical metal - Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force album is patient zero for this high-technicality, classical-influenced, guitar-worshipping brand of metal.

This style has been derided from time to time as being nothing more than empty technical showboating, exacerbated by the fact that whereas progressive metal (which also gets accused of such showboating from time to time) at least tends to put a spotlight on a range of different instrumentalists, your typical neoclassical metal act is essentially a virtuoso guitarist and a group of backing musicians who are there to help the guitarist look good. Whether or not you consider that stereotype to be an outrageous slur on the scene or a perceptive assessment of some of its trends, you can't say that Malmsteen hasn't contributed to that image just a little, repeating his formula over sufficient albums that it's become an overworked, tired-out cliche.

It would be unfair, however, to tarnish this excellent debut album with that brush. The difference between this and so much of Malmsteen's subsequent discography is that, as a result of coming out first, it wasn't laden down with the expectations people had placed on Malmsteen's work. The general compositional approach hadn't yet ossified into a formula from which albums could be churned out by rote, and Malmsteen hadn't yet fallen into the trap of pandering more and more to fan expectations and believing more and more in his own hype, until his music became an overwrought caricature of itself.

Instead, what you get here is some dynamite classically-influenced heavy metal, building on a foundation reminiscent of early Queen (especially when Jeff Scott Soto's vocals come in) and adding intricate classically-inspired guitar work from Malmsteen himself. The end result is an electrifying performance which not only provides an exceptional showcase for Malmsteen's guitar skills, but is also a downright entertaining album in its own right. Don't hold Malmsteen's late-career turkeys against him and listen with an open mind.

LOUDNESS Disillusion (English Version)

Album · 1984 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.45 | 10 ratings
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Warthur
On their international breakthrough Disillusion, Loudness don't reinvent the wheel - they play traditional heavy metal, they wouldn't sound out of place opening for Judas Priest or Manowar, and they rock at it. The album comes in two versions; the original with Japanese-language lyrics sports by far the better cover art, though the English-language version is more complete, including as it does an intro which was cut from the original release. Either version offers a range of sounds from slower, gentler passages to more furious assaults - Esper, in particular, creeps towards the threshold of thrash metal. It's not an essential classic of the genre, but it's a more than solid effort which will entertain anyone who likes the harder side of 1980s metal.

EXTREME Extreme II: Pornograffitti

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 28 ratings
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Warthur
Extreme come at the whole funk metal prospect from a glam rock background, and as such it's rather poppier than much similar material of the era. Primus may have been "Sailing the Seas of Cheese", but this is cheesier by far than their material, and flirts regularly with reverting into full-on glam metal. For those who don't mind the more pop-metal styles of the 1980s, it's a blast, and there's certainly some wit shown in the lyrics. The Van Halen-esque guitar heroics add a bit of technical prowess to proceedings which at least helps steer things away from the most vapid and insipid excesses of the glam metal era.

EARTH WITCH Out of the Shallow

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Metal Music Archives Reviewers' Challenge December 2017

A big problem with a lot of stoner metal is that the band gets too carried away with the stoner part and forgets the fucking metal. Not Earth Witch.

There’s plenty of Iommi/Butler/Ward worship going on here, but thankfully these guys realised it’s not compulsory to have an Osbourne too to make fucking great music. Too often stoner and doom bands ruin a perfectly good bedrock foundation by trying to top it with a screechy, tuneless Ozzy impersonator. There’s only one Ozzy, and a few good Ozz-like acolytes, and trying to create one is pointless. If you’re not born with the pipes and the moves, you’re out of luck.

So… If you want some hard assed, spazzed out stoner-not-stoned metal with riffs and grooves coming out the ass, Earth Witch is the band for you. “Lovecraft” is an outstanding rocker, cranking up the tempo, and features the rocking sort of riff 1972 was famous for. “Butterfly” is mellower, a bit of a comedown from the frenzy of the previous track. Unlike many blissed out THC tripping songs though, this track doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and has the decency to eventually start abusing the amplifiers again.

This isn’t quite as hard and heavy as High On Fire or recent offerings from Electric Wizard, but for someone coming from a straightforward rock or metal background, it’s a reasonably gentle introduction to the genre. When I say gentle though, remember this is still fucking metal! There’s also a deep vein of blues influence flowing through this album. Check the intro to “Green Torch” for some bluesy string bending goodness, and the main riff and leads in “Mermaid”. Sure it’s a mutant kind of blues, but then that’s where ye olde metal originally came from.

Ultimately, “Out of the Shallow” offers enough fire and fury to keep metal fans interested, and provides enough of a demonstration of stoner metal’s potential to encourage further explanation. It never falls into that old trap of becoming boring for a non-weed addled mind, while also retaining enough of the psychedelic and hallucinogenic to satisfy those in a chemically altered state of mind.

LEAVES' EYES Sign of the Dragonhead

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
It can be hard for longtime fans of a band when a founding member suddenly departs, especially when that founding member happens to be a singer with a very distinctive voice like Liv Kristine. Well, that’s exactly what happened with Leaves’ Eyes in 2016, and while I won’t go into details (because that sort of thing is best left kept between band members) it sure sounds like the two parties didn’t part ways on good terms, which makes the situation even harder for fans to take. Personally, I’ve always found Leaves’ Eyes to be one of those bands who I can always rely on to deliver a solid album, but they rarely blow me away, outside of their 2011 release Meredead, which surprised me with its extensive focus on Celtic folk, and while I always enjoy their music, I wouldn’t put them up there with the likes of Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation or Xandria as my favorite symphonic metal bands. With that being said, I am a fan of both Liv Kristine and her replacement Elina Siirala, and so I was interested to see what this new lineup would do all their first full-length release, following the Fires in the North EP in 2016. After waiting over a year, the band is finally set to release their seventh full-length album, Sign of the Dragonhead in 2018, but does it represent the start of a new era, or is it a sign that the band should call it quits? As usual, the truth is somewhere in between, in that there’s nothing here that truly blows me away, but it’s definitely a solid album that’s sure to please fans of the band, as long as they’re willing to give Elina Siirala a chance.

For their first few albums, Leaves’ Eyes seemed to be changing things up slightly each time, with Meredead in particular feeling like a shift into longer songs as well as being the album to put the most emphasis on folk elements, while its predecessor Njord, was perhaps the band’s heaviest and most gothic sounding album. Ever since Meredead, though, it feels like the band has started blending the two sounds together, with Symphonies of the Night and King of Kings both providing a steady mix of symphonic, gothic metal and Celtic folk, as well little bits of power metal here and there. I was curious to see whether or not the change in vocalist would also lead to a change in musical direction, but at least so far that isn’t the case, as Sign of the Dragonhead feels very similar to its two closest predecessors. Fans can expect some heavier tracks which mix in some gothic elements, including the expected death growls, as well as some lighter tracks, a ballad, some more folk-infused tracks, one speedy power metal track, and an 8-minute epic that closes out the album. Which is to say, this is quite the varied album, so at the very least it should keep most fans of the band happy, and the songwriting is fairly solid all around, with one exception. Musically, everything sounds tight as always, and while there’s nothing overly flashy going on, at least from the metal instruments, everything is well done and there are some good riffs and a few nice solos here and there. The symphonic arrangements and folk instruments stand out the most, as usual, but on the whole, it’s a nice sounding and well-produced album, as expected.

Obviously, the biggest point of interest on this album is the vocals, seeing as it’s the debut of Elina Siirala. I’ve reviewed both albums she’s done with her other band Angel Nation, so I was familiar with her voice before hearing this album and was already a fan, so it’s little surprise that I enjoy her vocals on this album a lot. She uses an operatic approach, like what Liv Kristine had been doing for a while, though her voice is a bit deeper and has a slightly darker tone. She doesn’t sound as distinct as Liv Kristine, but her voice is very nice and she does an excellent job throughout the album, sometimes using her operatic vocals in a very light and accessible way, while other times opening up a bit more and singing with more power, but she sounds equally great on every song and definitely fits in very well with the band. As usual, keyboardist Alexander Krull provides some growls, and once again, while his deep growls are powerful, they sound a bit forced to me, and there’s just something about how he uses them that I find a bit irritating, so the harsh vocal sections tend to be my least favorite parts of the album, just as they’ve always been.

The album gets off to a strong start with the title track, a rather fast-paced and epic symphonic metal track, which makes great use of its symphonic arrangements throughout. It has some pretty heavy lead riffs as well, and is definitely one of the harder hitting tracks on the album, as well as having one of the better choruses, where Elina instantly shines and proves herself to be a worthy vocalist for the band. There’s a brief harsh vocal section later on, which doesn’t bother me too much, and overall it’s an excellent start to the album. Next is “Across the Sea”, which opens up with some nice folk melodies, and it’s a very folk-infused track, where Elina’s vocals are very soft throughout in a pleasant way that carries the melodies well and blends in nicely with the music. It has a very catchy chorus and is one of my favorite tracks on the album. After that is “Like a Mountain”, a slower track which opens with a soft piano section where Elina uses some very strong operatic vocals. Once the song gets going, though, it’s a fairly standard symphonic metal track. The vocals are great throughout and there are some nice melodies, but it’s a fairly unremarkable track overall, aside from that great opening, and a similar section in the second half.

The rest of the album is quite varied and is fairly solid throughout, with a few standouts here and there. Going into some favorites, we have three folks infused tracks in “Jomsborg”, “Völva” and “Riders of the Wind”, which are all right next to each other. The first of these stands out to due to some very effective gang vocals, which add to the overall feeling of the track and help make it more epic, though musically it already has some great Celtic folk melodies, moves at a nice pace and has an excellent chorus, so it’s a very strong track overall. The middle track here is probably the least memorable of the three and is the slowest paced, though it has some great melodies and a great chorus as well, where the harsh vocals work effectively as backing vocals, though one harsh vocal section later in the track is a bit annoying. Lastly, “Riders of the Wind” is the most upbeat of the folk-infused tracks here, and it probably has the strongest Celtic folk influence, with some very nice melodies throughout, as well as some epic backing vocals and another amazing chorus. It’s a very fun and extremely catchy track which uses the folk elements particularly well, and the use of marching drums, later on, is pretty awesome. One last favorite is “Shadows of the Night”, a speedy symphonic power metal track, with great riffs and excellent vocals from Elina. Even the harsh vocal section, later on, is quite effective, and overall it’s the fastest track on the album, as well as one of the heavier songs, and it’s definitely one of the catchiest and most fun as well.

On the less memorable side of things, the ballad “Fairer Than the Sun” has some great vocals, but it never really gets going, with even the chorus not being overly strong, and aside from a nice guitar solo in the middle, there isn’t much about it that stands out. Fans may have already heard “Fires in the North” from the EP in 2016, and while it’s a solid mid-tempo track with a nice chorus, it’s another one of those songs which feel like fairly run of the mill symphonic metal to me. Lastly, we have the closing 8-minute epic “Waves of Euphoria”. To me, this track feels like the band’s attempt at a heavier, more extreme brand of symphonic metal in the style of Epica and newer Xandria, but while it has its moments, particularly the chorus where Elina really shines, the track overall comes up well short of its ambitions, unfortunately. Musically, the riffs are decent but nowhere near as strong as Epica’s guitar work, and on a compositional level, the song is decent but not as complex or impressive as what either band I mentioned has done in recent years. Worst of all, Alexander’s harsh vocals seem especially irritating on this track and really get on my nerves at points. There’s one really memorable guitar melody around halfway through, and Elina sounds excellent throughout, but otherwise, I find the track to be a fairly disappointing ending to the album.

Overall, Sign of the Dragonhead is a solid symphonic metal album which starts a new chapter for Leaves’ Eyes in much the same way as the last one ended, meaning it’s another enjoyable album, which mostly meets expectations, but musically it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the elite players in the genre. It does provide a nice blend of symphonic metal and Celtic folk, as well as strong gothic elements and occasional power metal elements, and I think it should please most fans of Leaves’ Eyes who are willing to give Elina Siirala a fair chance. I’d say it’s roughly on par with King of Kings and Symphonies of the Night, but not on the same level as Meredead.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/12/07/leaves-eyes-sign-dragonhead-review/

UNLOCO Healing

Album · 2001 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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pointandclick
Like fellow obscure class of 2001 members Skrape, Lifer, No One, From Zero, Flaw, Darwin's Waiting Room and 40 Below Summer, I'd lump this in the "fun yet generic" category of major label nu metal. The high points are "Reckoning", "Less of" and "Whimper", which all have a great energy to them, as well as the more melodic tracks "Face Down", "Useless" (a bizarre choice for an opening song) and "Know One", which showcase the band's knack for catchy and heartfelt melodies. Still though, nothing about this feels innovative in the slightest for 2001, which is the album's main downfall both artistically and commercially.

Originally written for rateyourmusic.com

SKRAPE New Killer America

Album · 2001 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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pointandclick
This record explores a lot of different heavy sounds that were popular in 2000/early 2001, but doesn't really have a clear-cut identity of its own. A few songs here sound like a less cringy version of Disturbed's synth-laden pop metal debut "The Sickness" (the catchy "Isolated" being a key example). Others including "Sunshine" and "Goodbye" have that heavy Alice In Chains worship sound that was popularized by Godsmack, while songs such as "Sleep" could pass as unrealised Deftones B-sides. Finally there are songs like "Waste" and "Blow Up" which are basically just Pantera with keyboards and clearer hooks.

Originally written for rateyourmusic.com

ALICE IN CHAINS Black Gives Way To Blue

Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 53 ratings
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Warthur
Of course this Alice In Chains sounds older and wiser than the unit that had first emerged during the peak grunge period - just look at what they'd been through since their previous studio album. First there were the seven years whilst the band was in limbo as a result of Layne Staley's struggles with bereavement, drug addiction, and a retreat into a reclusive lifestyle suggesting that there were perhaps additional mental health issues exacerbating these; then there was the shock of Staley's death, prompting the band to temporarily dissolve itself until in 2005 they drew together again and decided to continue their legacy.

New lad William DuVall takes up Staley's spot on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, though Jerry Cantrell shares the lead vocals here. This is a smart decision because it allows DuVall to ease into the role and gives more of a sense of continuity. As far as the music itself goes, we're headed into dark alternative metal territory here which, bar for the closing title track (featuring a piano cameo from Elton John), ranks among the heaviest releases of their career, and the weight of experience clearly hasn't robbed the band of the passion of their early material.

FLOWER TRAVELLIN' BAND Satori

Album · 1971 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.23 | 13 ratings
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Warthur
Flower Travellin' Band's Satori isn't really the album-length song which the track titles imply that it is. It's essentially a series of hard-edge, heavy psych jams strung together, but the thing which really makes it is how tight those jams actually are. With brilliant guitar work which occasionally creeps into proto-punk territory before launching off into weird space rock like a stripped-down and edgier version of Hawkwind and a leaner, lighter version of Black Sabbath got mashed together in a black hole and spat out in the form of these guys. It's not a classic, but it's very very good as far as highly improvisational jam-based albums go.

HIGH TIDE High Tide

Album · 1970 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.28 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
High Tide's second album feels like a bit of a step down from Sea Shanties. With the flowering of the progressive rock movement, the band seem to deliberately tone down the heavier side of their music in order to present a more sensitive and artsier image, and in doing so accomplish only the watering down of their material's power. Simon House's violin is still an important presence in the music and on the whole the jams here are pleasant enough, but there aren't any passages which leap out and grab me by the throat in the same way the best portions of Sea Shanties did.

SCREAM No More Censorship

Album · 1988 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Unitron
Scream were one of the most notable bands of the D.C. Hardcore scene in the 80's. However, once 1988's No More Censorship came along, they had a big change in sound. Perhaps this was in part due to Dave Grohl joining the band as drummer, which makes it strange that these last two albums are so unknown. Before joining Nirvana and forming Foo Fighters afterwards, Dave Grohl brought a pedal to the metal in Scream.

While some punk elements are still here, No More Censorship is primarily an 80's hard rock record with some metal and aforementioned punk elements. It all comes together beautifully, and perhaps better than you would expect from a band taking such a different direction. Some of the songs meld everything together, and one of the best at doing that is "Fucked Without a Kiss", which opens up with a barrage of double kick drums and a speeding bassline that sound like a thrash attack is going to strike in no time; however, punk edged hard rock guitar riffs come in.

Some of the songs sound like they would not be out of place on a NWoBHM album, such as "No Escape". A great punky bassline opens it up before hard rock riffing blended with almost Diamond Head-esque vocal melodies take the stage. Though it all has this heavy metal energy, especially with the pounding drums at the end with one killer scream. The best song on the album is probably "Something My Head". How this isn't known as one of the greatest hard rock songs of the 80's, I have no clue. The vocal melodies are beautiful, the screaming metal guitar solo is fantastic, and the whole song has an explosive energy. The title track is just pure 80's hard rock at its best, with an almost AC/DC-sounding main riff. "Binge" is up there as well, which sounds straight out of an early Iron Maiden album for the first 30 seconds, then is followed up with more high-energy hard rock action.

After the album ends on an interesting note, with the short "In the Beginning...", which is basically a catchy drum solo with bass twangs, you're left with an extremely underrated heavy rock album of the 80's. If you're looking for some great catchy 80's hard rock that's a bit different, I highly recommend checking out this gem. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

HIGH TIDE Sea Shanties

Album · 1969 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.68 | 10 ratings
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Warthur
About as heavy as an album could get in 1969 without being full-on proto-metal, High Tide's secret weapon on Sea Shanties are the nuanced violin performances by Simon House, who prog fans might have heard on albums by Third Ear Band or Hawkwind. This touch of gentle class amid the band's Atomic Rooster-meets-Hendrix whirlwind of acid-drenched fuzz creates an intoxicating mixture, like House is a lone violinist on the deck of a ship in the middle of a violent storm. The album structure might be simple - two comparatively shorter songs sandwiching a longer epic on each side - but the songs are engaging and vibrant and the longer pieces (Death Warmed Up and Missing Out) are incredible proto-prog offerings.

The album's been rather overlooked by prog historians, which is a shame because it's an intriguing point where the hardest of hard rock, the heaviest of heavy psych and the proggiest of proto-prog met up and created a truly unique sound.

STRATOVARIUS Destiny

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 27 ratings
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Warthur
Coming off the back of Visions - my personal favourite Stratovarius album, and a strong candidate for the best of their career - Destiny had a lot to live up to, and whilst it doesn't exceed the standards of its predecessor I think it's another extremely solid release from the band. As is often the case with Stratovarius, the power metal cheese factor is through the roof, but with their mild progressive flair here and there they're able to hook me to an extent which evades many of their competitors in the same subgenre. Though much of the album is business as usual, the opening track is a bit more of a departure, an epic with some truly eerie moments that surely earns a place in any "best of" Stratovarius collection worthy of the name.

SCULPTURED Embodiment: Collapsing Under the Weight of God

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.56 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
Sculptured is the personal vehicle for Agallloch member Don Anderson's twisted brainwrongs of avant-prog metal strangeness. With Agalloch taking off to the extent that it's done, Sculptured releases have been few and far between, but 2008's Embodiment is a rather magnificent specimen which takes technical death metal as its launching-off point for wild and deep explorations of diverse musical territories. With a sound about as diverse as your typical late-period Mr Bungle album, it ranges from the atonally noisy to the blissfully melodic and calm, often within the same composition and occasionally, impossibly, at the exact same moment. A genuine avant-metal oddity which doesn't deserve to be left in the shadow of Anderson's Agalloch day job.

M.O.D. U.S.A. for M.O.D.

Album · 1987 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.71 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"U.S.A. for M.O.D." is the debut full-length studio album by US, New York based crossover thrash metal act M.O.D. (Method of Destruction). The album was released through Caroline/Megaforce Records in 1987. M.O.D. was founded in 1986 by S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death) vocalist Billy Milano after it was clear that S.O.D. was a one-off project (at least that was the case in 1986) and the other members of the band opted to focus on their main acts Anthrax and Nuclear Assault. Milano however didn´t have a main act to return to and as a consequence formed M.O.D. to continue what he had helped start with S.O.D....

...and that`s politically incorrect crossover thrash metal delivered with an attitude. While "U.S.A. for M.O.D." isn´t as surprising nor as revolutionary as "Speak English or Die (1985)" by S.O.D., the musical style of the latter is pretty much continued on "U.S.A. for M.O.D." with very few changes to the overall musical/lyrical concept despite most of the personel having changed.

Most tracks are structured with a heavy groove oriented section first and then a fast-paced hardcore section to close the track. There are exceptions to that formula like some of the very short tracks in "That Noise" and "Short but Sweet", which are respectively 13 and 7 seconds long. There are a couple of more tracks that are as short as those two, but most tracks on the 22 track, 40:32 minutes long album are between 1 and 3 minutes long. Short bursts of aggression and often oddball politically incorrect lyrical themes (like making fun of fat people on "Bubble Butt" and "Spandex Enormity", or of gays on "A.I.D.S."). But the lyrical themes are actually quite varied as you´ll also find social/policial commentary as in "Aren´t You Hungry" and "Get a Real Job", or some silly humorous lyrics like in "Don't Feed the Bears" and "Ode to Harry".

"U.S.A. for M.O.D." was produced by Alex Perialas and Anthrax/S.O.D. guitarist Scott Ian (who also handles some guitar/backing vocals, and co-wrote some of the material featured on the album), and the sound quality is decent. The guitar tone is a bit thin and the punch is slightly lacking from the sound, but considering the fact that "U.S.A. for M.O.D." was recorded and mixed in 4 days, the sound production is of a pretty good quality. The organic and somewhat lo-fi nature of the sound is definitely not without it´s charm.

So upon conclusion "U.S.A. for M.O.D." is a relatively entertaining debut release by M.O.D.. It doesn´t quite live up to the quality of the legendary "Speak English or Die (1985)" by S.O.D., but if you enjoyed that album, there´s a good chance you´ll find at least some enjoyment in "U.S.A. for M.O.D.". A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

LÄÄZ ROCKIT Know Your Enemy

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Know Your Enemy" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, San Francisco, California based heavy/thrash metal act Lääz Rockit. The album was released through Enigma Records in September 1987 and it´s the successor to "No Stranger To Danger" from 1985. Lääz Rockit was formed in 1982 and was an active part of the early Bay Area scene, although the early part of their discography only features very few thrash metal elements.

"Know Your Enemy" is the album where Lääz Rockit crosses the border into thrash metal territory more than just dipping their toes like they did on their first two releases. There´s still a strong traditional heavy metal element in the music though and I´d call the music on "Know Your Enemy" 50% thrash metal and 50% traditional heavy metal.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, which isn´t that surprising if you´re familiar with the preceding releases. Lääz Rockit was always a very well playing act, delivering their music with the right amount of badass attitude and passionate conviction. A pounding rhythm section, hard edged riffing/blistering solos, and the powerful and raw sounding vocals by Michael Coons in front. The material is generally well written and predominatly vers/chorus structured. It´s catchy and easily accessible music and while it´s not wildly adventurous in nature, Lääz Rockit are able to deliver even the most generic heavy metal tracks/lyrics with conviction.

"Know Your Enemy" feautures a raw, organic, and powerful sounding production, which suits the music well and overall it´s another quality release by Lääz Rockit. Personally I like them best when they play the more traditional sounding heavy metal tracks, than when they are more thrashy (at least on this album), as the vocal melodies on the more heavy metal oriented tracks are more memorable, but Lääz Rockit generally masters both styles pretty well. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MORBID ANGEL Kingdoms Disdained

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Kingdoms Disdained" is the 9th full-length studio album by US death metal act Morbid Angel. The album was released through Silver Lining Music in December 2017. It´s the successor to the much discussed and critizised "Illud Divinum Insanus" from 2011. There have been quite a few lineup changes since the predecessor as lead vocalist/bassist David Vincent has been replaced by Steve Tucker. The latter was also a member of Morbid Angel in the 1997-2001 and 2003-2004 periods and has recorded three albums with the band (the last being "Heretic" from 2003). Drummer Tim Yeung has been replaced by Scott Fuller (Abysmal Dawn, Havok, Annihilated), and guitarist Destructhor has also jumped ship. He hasn´t been replaced here, so guitarist and band leader Trey Azagthoth handles all guitars on "Kingdoms Disdained".

While "Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)" probably made quite a few Morbid Angel fans scratch their head in disbelief, it was an experiment the band needed to do, but listening to "Kingdoms Disdained" it´s also obvious that Morbid Angel knew what their fans expected from them after their little experimental adventure and in that regard they chose the safe path this time around. So "Kingdoms Disdained" doesn´t feature any flirts with industrial metal or weird electronic music experiments, but instead features the trademark Morbid Angel death metal sound of the 1990s. It´s old school and brutal, but still rather complex and sophisticated death metal loaded with twisted riffs, screaming atonal solos (actually not as many as usual), brutal yet intelligible growling vocals, and quite a few tempo changes. It´s not easy listening death metal, and a few more catchy moments wouldn´t have hurt the overall accessibility of the album, but this is uncompromising death metal, so that´s more or less the premise and nothing unusual for the genre.

The material on the 11 track, 47:43 minutes long album is otherwise well written, intriguing, and powerful. Not quite in the league of their first four albums, but definitely on par with the other Tucker fronted releases and after the challenging experience of getting through "Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)", it´s great to hear the band back on track, doing what they do best. The musicianship is as always on a high level. Tucker is not quite as distinct sounding as Vincent, but he is a pretty strong and commanding growler, and new drummer Scott Fuller delivers a powerful percussive attack. He has a great, and for the genre relatively varied drumming style. Azagthoth is...well Azagthoth. A lot of praises have been spoken of his inventive riffing style and solos over the years, and I can only join the choir here, and send more praise his way. As mentioned above a few more memorable and more straight forward riffs could have made some of the tracks a little more listener friendly, but on the other hand Azagthoth clearly does exactly what he feels is right for the music, and I always praise a bold and adventurous soul like Azagthoth.

"Kingdoms Disdained" features a dark, raw, and powerful sounding production, which is surprisingly organic since it´s Eric Rutan who is credited as producer on the project. I did not enjoy some of his early production jobs, but in recent years he has become quite a skilled producer. Some of the guitar riffs could have been more clearly defined as they sound a bit murky and low in the mix, but other than that "Kingdoms Disdained" sounds pretty great.

Upon conclusion "Kingdoms Disdained" is a high quality death metal release by Morbid Angel and a clear letter of content that the experiment of "Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)" was a one-off. "Kingdoms Disdained" is not what I would characterize as a standout release in the band´s discography, but it´s an important album because of when it was released. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

DEEP PURPLE Who Do We Think We Are

Album · 1973 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.38 | 46 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
DEEP PURPLE was always a strange act. A rather random cast of characters starting as a pool of talent arranged in a similar way to pop acts like The Monkees, somehow found its own soul as one member after another built upon what came before and finally beginning with their 1970 landmark album “In Rock”, the band had hit upon the perfect chemistry. This was the period that has been designated the Mark II era of the band’s long and changing career and was the time when Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitars), Jon Lord (keys, piano, organ), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums and percussion) were one of the most successful bands alongside Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in the nascent world of hard rock and early heavy metal. The band sold albums by the millions and couldn’t book enough shows to fill the demand of their dynamic live performances. Their success was the envy of musicians far and wide and one of those rare acts that seemed to appeal to all whether they preferred hard rock, prog, soul, jazz or classical. This band simply had a universal charm.

And then there was the negative side of the equation. After the success of their multi-platinum release “Machine Head,” DEEP PURPLE became living legends and toured like there was no tomorrow under the management’s brutal dictatorship and constant pressure to perform. All was not well with the PURPLE ones after the whirlwind tours across the world had finally come to an end. Exhausted were they and that is exactly when the pressure reared its ugly head. Instead of the sensible idea of allowing the band to recuperate from their enervating and demanding live performances, the record company and all the money grubbing whores who profited dearly from the band’s phenomenal success instead pulled out their slave driving whips and put the band immediately back in the recording studio to pump out a followup album which resulted in the very frowned upon WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE which to this day still divides hardcore fans like the DMZ between the Koreas.

As the tale goes, the infighting between management and members resulted in major schisms that led to Ian Gillan jumping ship only a few months after WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE was released. Citing fatigue as the main culprit which led to all the other issues at hand, the band carried on the best that they could although agreeing on tracks to include on the album was one of the major points of contention. The rather short album consists of a mere seven tracks and includes one of the band’s most famous tracks “Woman From Tokyo” which narrated the famous Japanese tour that also yielded one of the most celebrated live album recordings of the entire rock era with their hugely popular “Made In Japan.” After that famous single, what we mostly get is another six musical compositions that have sort of fell to the bottom ranks within the greater DEEP PURPLE canon, and that is indeed a true shame because i happen to be one of those who actually loves this album although i will readily concur that WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE is indeed one of the weakest releases within the Mark II lineup.

Often cited as nothing more than a series of disconcerting efforts and passionless pits of uninspired drudgery that showed the band playing their older material by the numbers, i see this album from a different point of view. True that this without doubt could have been a better album given all the vital circumstances needed to create a “Machine Head 2,” however even taking the album for what it is, this is one excellent album filled with classic PURPLE material. For one, i don’t want a sequel of a previous masterpiece but rather a new set of tunes that take a bold new approach to the sound laid out from what came before. WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE does just that with heavy guitar riff oriented bluesy rock in tandem with the excellent keyboard accompaniments and yet more strong vocal performances from Gillan. There is no slacking off here that i can detect.

After the initial “Woman From Tokyo” the tracks continue with an interesting array of heavy rock that is more blues oriented than on their previous albums but not too far off the cuff of other Mark II albums when all is said and done. “Mary Long” is an exception listed below (me no likey) and while “Super Trouper” doesn’t jump into the typical heavy DEEP PURPLE rocker, it does however have a unique fragility to it with a very catchy melody and smooth instrumental interplay that is more sophisticated than the average DP track. “Smooth Dancer” is an absolute gem with a heavy emphasis on a nice guitar riff (reminds me of what “Nobody’s Home” would sound like on the future “Perfect Strangers) with excellent keyboard interplay in the form of a rather honky tonk sounding piano run. The melody creates one of my absolute favorite DP tracks of their career. The keyboard solo is also quite adventurous as Lord is a relentless madman.

Next up: the phenomenal “Rat Bat Blue.” This is yet another masterpiece of music in the band’s long career with a heavy blues riff that adds some interesting progressive rock time signature workouts at key moments (albeit brief). Honestly it sounds a tad like “Rock ’n’ Roll Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer only without the lame cheesiness and elevated to a higher arts position. Brilliant grooves, excellent vocal interplay and one of Jon Lord’s most treasured sizzling keyboard performances in his entire career that makes Keith Emerson look like nothing more than a piano student who wants his mommy. “Place In Line” takes the pure blues route that sounds more like a John Lee Hooker track than the DEEP PURPLE the world had come to know, however despite this sidetrack into a sorta “Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues” that sounds a tad Janis Joplin, this track finds resolution as it ratchets up heaviness. A major faux pas for some but for me this merely finds a band paying tribute to a style of music that inspired the members all the while adding their own voice. I find it quite satisfying myself. Last up: “Our Lady.” Spacey organ intro is followed by a semi-ballad that maintains a thick organ presence and sounds a bit like a 60s psychedelic band of some sort. Not one of the best tracks of the album and definitely not a wise ending choice but i find this one to have a nice groove and beautifully intricate melody as well.

Here are a few reasons i can detect as to why this album has received such a bad rap. 1) Reputation. Yeah, this album has gotten trashed by everyone over the years to the point that someone who had never listened to this album would assume that the band was trying to record covers of The Partridge Family or something. 2) The album cover and title are admittedly awful and give the impression that all the stale and soulless tunes that have been purported to exist surely must be as such since the cover is about as inspired as a adipose laden ass sitting on a plexiglass coffee table. 3) There are some bad moments on this one although not nearly as bad as one would expect. Unfortunately one of these musical faux pas’ s comes as the second track “Mary Long” which is a rather insipid tale doubt a girl losing her virginity and even hosts a major no-no of stealing the riff from Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff” for certain parts of the track. 4) This is different than “Machine Head” and has a completely different energy. Riffs are varied, solos (both guitar and organ) are more varied. Everything is more eclectic and more ideas are strewn about which makes some people feel uncomfortable i guess, especially when the relativity factor is part of the equation (that being it followed the brilliant consistency of its predecessor.)

A perfect album this ain’t. There are so many ways this could’ve been a better album but i personally love this one a lot and find it a testament to the fortitude of a great band at their absolute worst that is still able to crank out excellent music despite wanting to pull out a semi-automatic rifle and blow everyone else around them away. While i would never tout this album as the pinnacle of the band’s career in any way, shape or form, i do find this to be woefully underrated, under-appreciated and misunderstood. While i will probably never convince anyone to the contrary, i cannot find the horrible aspects of this album that i have read about forever. This is an excellent album that only could’ve been much better with some rearranging of tracks and a few more months of recovery after a lengthy tour. However, as fate would have it, the band would splinter, Gillan would exit stage right and David Coverdale would usher in the Mark III phase. True that we cannot change history but we can alter our misguided perceptions of a great album that’s been deemed inferior for too long.

Four stars because the strengths are so much greater than the weaknesses.

IRON MONKEY 9-13

Album · 2017 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Existing in the concrete jungles and unheard of for almost two decades, the Nottingham simians IRON MONKEY swing off their vines and onto the world’s stage once again. Having formed in the 90s when sludge metal was in its infancy, the band followed in the footsteps of Eyehategod, Acid Bath, Buzzov-en and Grief when they finally released their debut album in 1997. The band got their feet wet with their eponymous debut that displayed their primal ability to deliver the sludge metal treatment like the big boys with all the caustic fury and hypnotic distortionfests turned up to 11. After an initial positive response the sludge apes quickly pumped out their second release “Our Problem” which was not only met with critical acclaim but remains one of the hallmarks of late 90s sludge metal. As is too often the case, the band became plagued with personal and music industry disputes and soon the MONKEY go bye-bye leaving a mysterious void in the potential that seemed would never find a second life.

Having been almost forgotten as a mere footnote in the growing annals of metal history, IRON MONKEY has left the thick over-grown jungles and released an album of new material. Despite existing in a rather truncated history in their early stages, IRON MONKEY still had their share of lineup changes and with this resurrection there is no exception. This comeback was orchestrated by two of the original founding members: guitarists Jim Rushby and Steve Watson. This decision is somewhat of a gamble since original hardcore punk inspired vocalist Johnny Morrow surprisingly died in 2002. Also adding to this dubious reformation was that the original drummer John Greaves wasn’t invited to rejoin the new MONKEY spanking club. Undeterred, the band has reemerged as a mere trio with Rushby adding vocal duties to his resume and Watson trading in his guitar for bass. New to the mix and picking up the drumming duties is Scott Briggs who brings his hardcore punk sensibilities to the table from his stint with the crusty punkers Chaos U.K.

One of the most immediate head scratchers for those of us who accumulated IRON MONKEY’s mere two releases and the twofer comp release is that 9-13 uses the exact same album cover artwork as the 2-CD compilation “Our Problem / Iron Monkey” which is obviously going to cause great confusion and could possibly invoke a flurry of cursing in paragraphs for the uninitiated who happen to accidentally order the wrong product unknowingly. The product inside though is quite different than the two albums that precede it. This is the new IRON MONKEY that has grown out of the old. While incorporating the expected template of grinding sludge riffery and adrenaline fueled feedback frenzies all dressed up with misanthropic vocal tantrums, the band has certainly opted out of dirge doom drudgery and added a more hardcore punk infused energetic delivery that ultimately leads back to the days of such early birds like Discharge which is a welcome change since the early albums were lacking that extra ass burning drive that this one seems to have.

In fact, the opener “Crown Of Electrodes” misleads by insinuating that the band has gone hardcore and crust altogether. The following “OmegaMangler” does nothing to dispel that conclusion. Finally on the title track which is third on the queue list, the old IRON MONKEY begins to shine through as the punk infused drive yields to the distant sludgy jungle calls of the past with that unmistakable Sabbath-esque doom shuffle and high octane distortion cranked up for full pyroclastic feedback flows. On “Toadcrucifier - R.I.P.P.E.R” we’re treated to an extraordinary bout of feedback abuse before the energized bluesy sludge shuffle steals the limelight. “Destroyer” tears the roof off the joint as it delivers one of the most unrelenting and uncompromising heaviness of the band’s entire career and one that sounds like the ultimate crowd please in a live setting. Ditto for the following “Mortarhex.” “The Rope” is perhaps my favorite track of the lot as it delivers an instantly evil-as-fuck riff supplemented by Rushby’s more than adequate for the job vocal delivery. In fact, Rushby does an excellent job at replacing Morrow as he has perfect control over the gargling grunge and sludge mood setting management that this style of metal requires. “Doomsday Impulse Multiplier” continues almost by the numbers, the full sludge effect. “Moreland St. Hammervortex” takes a stab at creating a lengthy near ten minute closer guaranteed to leave a caustic acrid taste in your mouth with intended results delivered.

In the end, i understand why IRON MONKEY felt they had to leave the jungle and jump onto the world’s stage once again. As the internet allows older music to be exposed to a wider world audience, their first two albums have gained more recognition than they did at their time of release and there has always been a sense of unfulfilled destiny as the group mysteriously disbanded seemingly forever. Overall, 9-13 provides a platform for the two founders to uncork all that pent up sludgy rage that has been simmering for two decades and unleashes it in full metal fury and for once doesn’t sound overly derivative of early sludge masters Eyehategod or Acid Bath. Here they exude a volcanic explosive energetic release that in some ways blows away their 90s output. However, the whole thing still comes off as rather retro as countless sludge bands have long surpassed IRON MONKEY in their ability to perform their metal jungle gym routine. Despite the recycled album cover that is supplemented by recycled 90s sludge tricks of the past, these guys trimmed down to a trio do a surprisingly excellent performance of a nice modern punk infused retro sludge metal routine.

Although bands like Neurosis and Intronaut, for example, have long ago taken the sludge metal paradigm to more progressive pastures leaving the 1.0 version of the sub sounding a little one dimensional, IRON MONKEY nevertheless exudes a revitalized energy on their latest 9-13 despite not offering a great deal of variation in terms of compositional development. If old school feedback and fuzz coupled with crushing riffs augmented with the classic angry vocal effect is your poison, then 9-13 won’t disappoint but if you don’t exist in an anachronistic bubble of another era, then this one just misses the mark at finding a top tier status under the infinitely more sophisticated bar that modern metal bands have raised so high. In the end, 9-13 will ignite the pistons, grease the spark plugs and rev the engines and produce the full adrenaline effect that only this sort of raw, filthy and primal type of metal can induce, but after 18 years i would have expected some sort of upgrade in compositional development. As it stands 9-13 will have to serve as a decent but not outstanding slice of super heavy sludge metal from one of the underground classics of the 90s. Whether IRON MONKEY deserves a position in the 21st century as a contemporary sludge metal act remains to be seen, but i have to admit that i’m a sucker for this sort of primordial manic outburst of energy without the overly complex layering of effects at times.

RAMMSTEIN Mutter

Album · 2001 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 48 ratings
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Warthur
Fusing Rammstein's usual threatening industrial drive with the pomp offered by a decent string section, Mutter is Rammstein's imperial phase - an impressive collection of Neue Deutsche Härte anthems that really teases the best out of their early formula. Driving rhythms? Check. Stentorian vocals delivered in German that hover between dazed chants and furious rants? Check. With sounds ranging from the orchestral majesty of album opener Mein Herz Brennt to the synthesiser glitching that kicks off the stompingly heavy Rein, Raus, it's also one of the broader Rammstein releases in terms of the aesthetic palette they allow themselves, which is a big help in terms of maintaining interest.

PARADISE LOST Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us

Album · 2009 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 20 ratings
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Warthur
Encouraged, perhaps, by the general applause received by In Requiem for its reintroduction of doom metal elements into Paradise Lost's sound, Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us finds Paradise Lost several steps further down their return journey. From the opening track, As Horizons End, Nick Holmes gives a more classic doom metal vocal performance rather than the more generic alt-metal/goth stylings that he'd been working as late as In Requiem, and the riffs are even heavier and doomier.

Fans of their gothic metal years aren't entirely left out in the cold - there's quieter, more atmospheric sections aplenty which will keep them well-satisfied. Overall, this is the sort of doomy gothic metal album which, counterintuitively, Paradise Lost might not have been able to make without moving away from metal and coming back again, thus gaining an external perspective which allows them to deploy their goth-doom chops with greater mastery and subtlety than before.

PARADISE LOST In Requiem

Album · 2007 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 21 ratings
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Warthur
Paradise Lost's slow curve back to their original turf really picked up steam here. On the one hand, there's still little sign of the death-doom that they originally made their name with, but on the other hand the riffs here are unquestionably doomy, though still in service to a more gothic metal atmosphere. Nick Holmes' vocal approach is about as generically alt metal-ish as you can get for much of it, except when he shifts gear (as he does in the midsection of Never For the Damned) to a more stentorian, Andrew Eldritch-esque tone. On the whole, a solid gothic metal release with more doom in its DNA than Paradise Lost had displayed for quite some time.

THE FACELESS In Becoming a Ghost

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Necrotica
Up until now, my relationship with The Faceless had been a slowly deteriorating one. When I first heard Planetary Duality and Akeldama back in 2009, I thought it was the heaviest, fastest, and most technical shit on the planet. The intricate guitar harmonies, the frenzied drumming, and varied vocal work made it clear to me that we were witnessing a fantastic new beacon for technical death metal. Throw in some progressive rock influences and some creepy sci-fi interludes for good measure, and things just got more interesting. But sadly, Autotheism ruined the good will built up by many fans. It wasn’t an awful album, but it sounded disjointed and undercooked by the band’s standards. And of course, lead guitarist and (I guess) figurehead Michael Keene’s ego seemed to be getting in the way of the band’s future. So it’s pretty safe to say that I was approaching In Becoming a Ghost with much more caution than usual. Luckily, I’m pleased to report that my fears have mostly been erased.

In Becoming a Ghost is largely defined by a more cinematic, progressive identity than its predecessors, and it can be considered the band’s furthest removed from their original sound. But, bizarrely enough, this isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think. The experimentation is wrapped up in song structures and lyrical themes that are both engaging and tight, and the progressive elements serve more to bolster the atmosphere than be an excuse to noodle around. As if the haunting piano part of the intro title track wasn’t cool enough, we get to hear some killer tech-death flute melodies (!) and full-on symphonic passages in its followup “Digging the Grave.” That’s not to say the aggression is absent, though; Abigail Williams vocalist Ken Sorceron is more than enough to fill the shoes of Derek Rydquist with his strong mix of guttural growls and black metal shrieks. The riffs are still quite punishing in parts too, especially in the killer tremolo-picked riff that kicks of “The Spiralling Void.” But the difference between this album and Autotheism is that it seems to have more purpose to it. I get the sense that the band members genuinely put their all into this one, and that they really wanted to experiment around with what they thought was cool. Oftentimes, the framework surrounding the riffs is just as interesting as the riffs themselves, such as the weird staccato bass stabs that dance around the guitar intro of “I Am” or the deranged orchestral breaks in “Shake the Disease.” As for the problems with the album, I only have two major ones. One is, as in Autotheism, that Michael Keene’s voice gets way too much time in the spotlight. Remember when his voice would pop up very sparingly in Planetary Duality to add a little extra atmosphere and variety" Well, he sings in just about every track here. And, simply put, his voice is just boring. His inflections make him sound uninterested with the subject matter, and he draws attention away from the far superior performances of Ken Sorceron. Also, while the band’s technical skills are still impressive, the riffs aren’t the most memorable around. This has been a problem with past Faceless records, but sometimes the band get so caught up in their experimentation and technicality that their riffs don’t really stick with you very well. But maybe that’s because In Becoming a Ghost will need a bit more time to sink in. Regardless, it’s impressive what they accomplished here. It seems as though the band are getting closer to fully realizing their potential as a progressive death metal band; it’s just time that they tightened up their songcraft... and perhaps let Michael Keene stick to just his guitar playing and songwriting.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD The Stage

Album · 2016 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.10 | 8 ratings
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Necrotica
Progressive. Theatrical. Ambitious. These are the words that immediately come to mind when describing Avenged Sevenfold’s newest release, and they’re the words that make it so unique in their discography. The Stage takes the quintet’s tried-and-true sound and offers a more complex and bombastic take on it, as well as some aggressive thrash passages that keep the intensity going in the meantime. While this isn’t the first time the band have delivered on the technical end - City of Evil and Waking the Fallen had plenty of those moments - it was never delivered with such potency or meaning. What we’re listening to is a full-fledged progressive metal experience revolving around the elements of artificial intelligence, science fiction, and the flaws of society. And when exploring each thought-provoking theme, the band sound revitalized and full of vibrancy; this is especially true when comparing the album to its dull and stripped-down predecessor Hail to the King, which seemed more interested in emulating influences rather than expanding on them. Traces of Dream Theater, Metallica, Nevermore, Rush, and Mastodon can all be detected in The Stage, but the band’s ability to make it an unmistakably Avenged Sevenfold record is what makes it all distinct. Whether it’s the elaborate orchestrations of City of Evil, the aggressive-yet-melodic metalcore stylings of Waking the Fallen, or the traditional metal anthems of Hail to the King, Avenged Sevenfold manage to incorporate these past incarnations into a fresh new synthesis. And, as someone who’s waited since City of Evil for this band to go progressive, I can’t tell you how excited I am that they’ve fully embraced this approach.

It’s not just expressed in terms of complexity or technicality, either. Perhaps the best thing about The Stage is that it provides listeners with an audio-visual approach to music, in which the lyrics and musical atmosphere match up beautifully. For instance, “Higher” is about a failed NASA test. What music accompanies it" An epic neoclassical metal tune with space rock stylings, complete with cosmic synthesizers and an elaborate choir section to top it off at the end. “Creating God” expresses religious conflict and denial, which is symbolized by the combination of major and minor chords clashing throughout the track. But maybe the strongest example is the final track “Exist,” a 16-minute song meant to be an aural representation of The Big Bang. The first section symbolizes the creation of the universe, and the second represents the creation of Earth itself. Overblown" Yes. But there’s no denying the creativity and ambition behind the concept, especially when the band gets Neil DeGrasse Tyson in for a spoken word clip to drive home the explosive finale. And as I stated before, the aggression isn’t lacking either. “God Damn” is a nice little slice of thrash, brutal but controlled in its approach. The title track is another great example, starting with a fantastic melodic buildup before giving us some heavy mid-tempo riffage to chew on throughout the majority of the song. Unfortunately, M. Shadows continues to be Avenged Sevenfold’s greatest weakness; while he doesn’t drag things down as much here as on other efforts by the band (I’m looking at you, City of Evil), I can’t help but think that a better singer could be bringing all these great lyrics to even greater heights. But really, it’s mostly in the more aggressive moments that he suffers from his limitations, as he’s often great in softer settings. His multi-octave approach in the symphonic ballad “Roman Sky” is beautiful to listen to, and it’s hard not to get goosebumps when he emotes so well in the ballad portion of “Exist.” Either way, he’s still brought up by the rest of his bandmates, who manage to do an impeccable job at their respective instruments. Special kudos go to Brooks Wackerman, who I honestly didn’t expect to be such a technical and intricate drummer. More than anything, The Stage is simply an exciting album. It’s an amazing display of what Avenged Sevenfold could eventually become with their collective talents, as well as a triumph in its own right. You did well, boys!

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 13 ratings
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MorniumGoatahl
The UK's Paradise Lost are a band I've always liked despite not being that into the genre that they are most associated with: gothic metal. In a genre that seems flooded with so called beauty and the beast bands, they stand out thanks to Nick Holmes' commanding clean vocals, which depending on the album can have some classic James Hetfield vibes to them. But Paradise Lost started their career as an extreme metal band and were a pioneer of the death-doom metal style and it's this style of their early albums that I've personally always been most fond of, with Gothic being my favourite. The sudden reintroduction of death growling vocals on The Plague Within, didn't change that although that album has risen to become one of my favourites from the band. The band's latest album Medusa though, changes everything about my relationship with the band and has already become my favourite album of theirs.

That's because Medusa is Paradise Lost's first death-doom metal album since the early nineties and thanks to the wonders of modern recording and production equipment and techniques, is the most powerful they've ever sounded when playing this style. Sure, there's a brief resurgence of their gothic metal style (with added growling like on The Plague Within) for a couple of tracks, The Longest Winter and the title track while Blood & Chaos is a bit too upbeat to be considered a doom song, but otherwise they've slowed their tempo right down and Nick Holmes is growling even more than on the previous album and certainly in a more death metal manner than is used on the Shades of God album. I don't thinking they've ever been heavier.

Fearless Sky is the perfect opener for this album. Despite it's slow and crushing sound, there's also a triumphant feel to it, especially in the chorus growls from Holmes. Some clean vocals are used, but it's not until those middle tracks that they ever become dominant on the album and by the time of No Passage For the Dead they've back in the centre stage again. I like Nick as a clean singer and am glad he didn't throw those vocals out completely, but despite years of not using growls in the band he can still deliver them and arguably is even better than ever. His appointment to the death metal band Bloodbath may have something to do with that.

The standard version of Medusa is eight tracks long but it's worth picking up the special edition if you can which will also net you two extra tracks: Shrine and Symbolic Virtue. Which both, especially the latter, feel more like The Plague Within or even earlier material compared to the death-doom of the main album, they're definitely worth having. Symbolic Virtue is a good reminder of why Paradise Lost are one of if not the best gothic metal band despite this return to their roots.

BLACK FLAG The Process of Weeding Out

EP · 1985 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Warthur
Aptly named indeed, since this EP is very much one of those releases which divides Black Flag fans into two camps - generally (and simplistically) speaking, we're talking those who thought that Black Flag got worse and worse the more they drifted from their original hardcore style, and those who enthusiastically embraced late Flag's post-hardcore experiments. These four instrumentals establish two things. The first is that, much as the Minutemen had been demonstrating in their own way for years, mashing up jazz influences and a hardcore punk attitude is big and clever. The second is that Greg Ginn is a damn fine guitarist.

Depending on whether that sounds unutterably naval-gazey or absolutely fascinating, you probably already know which faction of listeners you fall into here - but that doesn't make the EP redundant, because as well as providing an acid test for who really enjoys a fat slice of experimentation with their hardcore, it's also a nifty little listen in its own right, and perhaps the one Black Flag release where they follow this particular direction with the most purity and consistency.

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