Metal Music Reviews

VARIOUS ARTISTS (TRIBUTE ALBUMS) Thunderbolt - A Tribute To AC/DC

Album · 1998 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Listening to “Thunderbolt - A Tribute To AC/DC”, several things become immediately obvious.

1. AC/DC wrote some fucking great songs - Just look at the tracklisting here - “Highway to Hell”, “Back in Black”, “Live Wire”, “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “ It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)”. Such great songs of such quality. Many bands have aspired, to such greatness. Most failed. And AC/DC just kept on doing it. This compilation could have been twice as long without the slightest drop in the quality source material.

2. AC/DC inspired some amazing bands - First track up is “Highway to Hell” by Kevin DuBrow, the late singer of Quiet Riot. His swagger and voice has that perfect combination of rough and smooth to do justice to Bon Scott’s ragged bourbon-and-cigarette howl. The rest of the band hit that AC/DC groove bang on, although the bass player shows off a little too much. Second track is “Little Lover”, performed by Sebastian Bach. As accomplished a singer as he is, he doesn’t quite match DuBrow in trying to re-create Scott’s greasy, sleazy drawl, just a little too clean for his own good. Bach’s second track, an album closing take on “T.N.T.” doesn’t work well at all. While the vocals are fine, it has an awful pinging snare drum, misplaced samples, and a pseudo-industrial element to it. Not the place for experimenting.

3. Made-up bands are quite often a bit shit - The biggest down-side to this album is it seems to be made up of various “supergroups”, thrown together just for the album. Often, as in Joe Lynn Turner’s rendition of “Back In Black”, the musicianship is flawless, there’s scope for some reinvention, particularly of Angus Young’s solos, and it’s a fairly faithful cover, but...it just sounds wrong. 4. Made-up bands can also be fucking good - One of the better renditions included here though, is Whitfield Crane’s The Sensational Whitskiteer Band doing “Live Wire”. A little rougher and heavier than other songs here, the song also featured Crane’s Ugly Kid Joe bandmate Klaus Eichstadt on guitar, and the pair showed up many of the more seasoned musicians here, injecting agro and energy into the track. The band also contribute an ultra-laid back rendition of “Ride On”, cruising through the lazy blues track with the throbbing bass line like they were born to play it.

5. AC/DC songs can sound a bit shit if not performed convincingly - “Sin City” is credited to Jack Russell and Mark Kendall (Great White), with Bobby Blotzer (Ratt), and a couple of other fellas. It doesn’t suit Russell’s vocals, the music is pretty fucking bland, and the song just seems too long. “Shake A Leg” just sounds awful with John Corabi’s tuneless screech over top of it, while Bruce Kulick shows why he got kicked out of KISS with some awful try-hard guitar heroics. It doesn’t suit the song one little bit. Bass player Billy Sheehan must have been cringing listening to the racket. He shows much restraint, sticking to AC/DC’s original basic bassline, demonstrating few of his legendary chops.

6. AC/DC inspired some real hacks - The Stephen Pearcy (Ratt)/Tracii Guns (LA Guns) version of “Whole Lotta Rosie” (listed here as “Whole Lot Of Rosie”. What sort of fuckwit changes a song title to something grammatically correct?) shows why neither of their bands quite hit the stratosphere like Guns N’ Roses or Def Leppard. Pearcy tries too hard, and inexplicably sounds like the song is way out of his range, where a singer of his abilities should have handled it comfortably. Guns fares a little better, but his performance leaves you longing for the original. “Night Prowler” performed by Dave Meniketti (Y&T) along with former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright is just boring. Wright was probably note-perfect with the drums, but ya don’t listen to AC/DC for the fucking drums!

7. AC/DC had some legendary friends - A supergroup featuring Lemmy, Jake E. Lee, and Simon Wright (again!)? Do supergroups get any more super? “It's a Long Way to the Top” by this combo is a pure gem. While sounding totally different, Lemmy’s crusty old vocal cords probably best matched Bon Scott’s of any singer on the album. While not as revered as Randy Rhoads and overshadowed by Zakk Wylde, Lee was still Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar player, and no matter how fucked up he ever got, Ozzy always knew a shit-hot guitar player when he heard one. Lee fills in the spaces where Bon Scott’s bagpipes would have been with some incredible lead work, probably the best on the entire album. Lemmy and Lee both just seem to have the right feel for this song.

8. Dee Snider would have made a fucking great vocalist for Anthrax - Dee joined Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, and Frank Bello of Anthrax performing “Walk All Over You”. While it’s the heaviest song of any on the album, the Anthrax boys resisted the temptation to thrash the track up. Dee Snider injects plenty of energy into the song, but is hardly stretched. A good solid, honest rendition of the song.

9. Quite honestly, the only band which does AC/DC songs any justice is AC/DC - Yup. As great as some of these covers are, this album leaves you longing for the real thing.

FLESHKILLER Awaken

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Awaken is the debut album from Norwegian extreme metal band Fleshkiller. New band yes, but not lacking experience as it features guitarist/vocalist Ole Børud of Extol fame and previously Schaliach. Also present is guitarist/vocalist Elisha Mullins who’s also a member of The Burial and ex- A Hill To Die Upon, bassist Ole Vistnes from Tristania, ex- Zerozonic and drummer Andreas Skorpe Sjøen.

Of the past bands these guys have played with above the only one I have any experience of is Extol and Fleshkiller don’t sound too dissimilar playing a blend of prog metal injected with more extreme elements, in this case melodic death metal with a touch of thrash thrown in. It sounds generally heavier and more complex than later day Extol to my ears though I know their earlier work less, at times reminding of technical death thrashers Revocation with added melody. The vocal harmonies are still in place and if anything have an even more melodic edge and integral to the sound alongside the harsher more extreme vocal work. Musically it’s pretty complex stuff with each song rarely sitting still for too long before throwing in another complex series of shapes, licks and intricate riffs. These songs are full of strong hooks with inventive progressions that often go off in unexpected directions. In fact it’s a strong emphasis on melody that really help mark these songs as something special and not just a vehicle for displaying exceptional musical chops. The guitar solos have an equally melodic edge too.

Not surprisingly, these guys play really well – a pre-requisite for this sort of complex material. I’ve already mentioned the vocal harmonies but it’s worth emphasising their importance to the overall sound and certainly makes them stand out in extreme metal circles. Like Extol the songs have a Christian leaning. I’ve always felt that Christianity and death metal make unlikely bedfellows but then again why not and it doesn’t come across as incongruous. The production is powerful and with everyone cutting through clearly in the mix displaying the intricacies of the songs effectively. Not a single moment is wasted with every song earning its place making it compelling listening from start to finish, but it doesn’t get any better than the first two tracks, Parallel Kingdom and Salt Of The Earth being perhaps my pick of the bunch for the interplay between vocal melodies and inventive guitar hooks.

2017 has been a great year for death metal and Awaken can now be added to the list of best albums for this year, it really is that good. It also comes recommended to Prog metal fans who don’t normally venture into extreme metal territory who may also find much to enjoy.

AMBERIAN DAWN Darkness of Eternity

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Finnish symphonic power metal band Amberian Dawn has long been one of my favorites in the genre, but at the same time, I’ve always felt they had potential to be even better than they are if they could just be a bit more consistent with their songwriting quality. They’ve released some excellent albums in the past, to be sure, with 2009’s The Clouds of Northland Thunder, 2011’s Circus Black and 2015’s Innuendo being my personal favorites. However, I find even their best albums always manage to fit in one or two tracks that don’t quite do it for me, as the band often goes for some oddball tracks, some of which deliver big time and end up as major highlights, while others fall flat and end up stalling momentum on their respective albums. I’ve said all this to say, out of every album Amberian Dawn has released so far, Darkness of Eternity, their seventh full-length release, and one I was highly anticipating, is easily their most frustrating, inconsistent release to date, with some tracks that match their career highlights, while others simply feel odd and out of place on a metal album, and it all makes for a release where you can have songs placed together that conflict with each other and are so strikingly different, it feels like you suddenly switched to a different album. With all that being said, the high points of the album are good enough to make it easily worth enduring the low points, and it’s still a quality album overall, but it’s also incredibly frustrating.

Every Amberian Dawn album to date has a had a mix of different styles, ranging from speedy symphonic power metal with excellent guitar riffs and epic keyboard solos, to slower, more theatrical tracks, all while mixing in some classical flavoring throughout. All of this is true on Darkness of Eternity, however, while the speedy power metal portions are still intact on a few tracks here, a couple of which can be considered among the band’s best work to date, I find some of the slower songs here to be a bit off-putting and not really in line with what I want from the band. Obviously, they’ve never been the heaviest, most guitar-driven band in the world, as keyboards and orchestras have always been the most dominant elements of their music, however, some of the tracks here fall into straight up 80’s pop territory. Again, this is something they’ve briefly hinted at on past albums, with “The Court of Mirror Hall” from Innuendo being perhaps the most obvious example, but even a track like that felt more metal and more epic than a few of the tracks on this album. Take, for example, the second track, “Sky Is Falling”, a track dominated by bouncy vocal hooks, cheesy, pop-inspired keyboard lines and a catchy, overly pop-infused chorus. There’s absolutely nothing in that track I consider metal in any form, and even the brief flashes of guitar work sound so light as to have no effect, plus I don’t even notice any symphonic elements at all, effectively making the track feel more like a dance-pop track than anything else. I will admit, it’s a decent track in its own right, but I really don’t think it belongs on a metal album, even coming from a band that tends to stay on the lighter side of the genre most of the time. The song especially feels out of place when coming after such a classic sounding power metal track like “I’m the One”, and it’s the first sign that band leader Tuomas Seppälä is perhaps overreaching a bit in his attempts to be creative and ambitious.

Moving onto the biggest positive element of the album, Capri’s vocals remain as strong as they’ve been since she first took over vocal duties on the excellent re-recordings compilation Re-Evolution in 2013. As always, her voice is very powerful and deeper than many other female vocalists in symphonic bands, and she sounds as impressive as ever, be it during the heavier tracks like “I’m the One” and “Dragonflies”, or the lighter, more pop-infused tracks, all while sounding as varied in her approach as ever. In fact, she briefly does some semi-operatic vocals on “I’m the One”, making it an instant highlight. She’s also very effective on the two ballads, as expected, and her vocals are definitely the band’s biggest strength at this point.

Unfortunately, the area where the album struggles the most is in perhaps the most important area of all, that being the songwriting. The band at least gets things off to an exciting start with “I’m the One”, a very speedy, classic sounding symphonic power metal track with some excellent guitar leads, epic symphonic arrangements, a huge, catchy chorus with awesome operatic vocals, and an amazing keyboard solo. For all the flaws in the songwriting department, the band still displays some great musicianship throughout the album and this track is certainly one of the best examples of that. It’s also extremely catchy, while still sounding metal and it would definitely feel right at home on one of the band’s earlier albums. While that song is probably my personal favorite here, “Dragonflies” isn’t too far behind. It has some pretty heavy guitar work throughout, with a darker feel than many of the other tracks, though Capri’s vocals still help add a lighter tone to the track, and she excels throughout as always. It has incredible instrumental sections, with some very chunky guitar riffs and epic orchestras accompanying an excellent keyboard solo, and of course, the chorus is spectacular as well. From a purely instrumental standpoint, I think this is probably the best track on the album, and I love how the guitar manages to have come excellent neoclassical flavoring while still being very heavy. Also in the speedier category, are“Golden Coins” and “Abyss”, with the former again having a very classic Amberian Dawn vibe throughout, with epic keyboards and some very impressive, classical flavored melodies, while the latter is brief but very fun and perhaps the speediest track on the album, with some more excellent keyboard work and vocals.

On the slower side of things, we start with the previously mentioned “Sky is Falling”. I’ve already mentioned why I’m not so fond of it, with the biggest reason being that it really throws off the pacing, being thrown in there right next to such epic speedy tracks as “I’m the One” and “Dragonflies”. Well, I wish I could say it was one-speed bump and that the album fully recovered afterward, but sadly that would be a lie. Two tracks later, we get lead single “Maybe”, another very pop inspired track, with some cheesy keyboards, bouncy vocal lines, a catchy chorus and a general lack of anything resembling metal. Again, I know the band has done tracks like this in the past, but this feels very pop like even by their standards, and while I do slightly notice symphonic elements on this track, they aren’t enough to prevent it from having an “Abba with guitars” feel, and the thing is, if I wanted to hear dance pop, I’d listen to dance pop, not a symphonic power metal album. Even worse, the track feels like it’s cut off at the end, as the keyboard lines simply fade out instead of actually reaching a conclusion. I’ll admit it’s certainly a catchy and well-written track, but it simply isn’t what I want from the band, and that ending does come across as a bit sloppy.

Moving into the second half, there are two ballads and two tracks which feel like a blend between the two dominant styles on the album. Firstly, “Luna My Darling” is a pretty solid track, starting with an epic vocal section before moving onto some bouncy, pop-infused melodies during the verses, which give way to a slightly heavier, more epic chorus. The highlight of the track is in the second half when the music speeds up and we get epic dueling guitar/keyboard solos. See, if I’m going to get obvious pop elements in my symphonic metal, I prefer it to be done in this way, as at least this track has a nice blend of both pop and power metal, and is a nice track overall. Similarly, “Ghostwoman” is a speedy track, which also has a power metal feel to it, though it sounds a lot bouncier than the other up-tempo tracks on the album, especially during the verses, and even the chorus is pretty pop like as well. It’s a fun track, and the chorus is very catchy, though not really one of my favorites. The highlight is the epic guitar solo in the second half.

Lastly, we have the two ballads which close out the album. Yes, just in case the overall flow of the album wasn’t already completely out of whack, the band decided to end with not one ballad, but two ballads! First is “Breathe Again” which starts out slowly and calmly, serving as an excellent showcase for Capri’s vocals, before the music picks up in the second half, with some epic orchestral arrangements and some heavier guitar work at points. It’s an excellent track overall and probably the better of the two ballads. After that, we have the closing title track, which also happens to be the second part of “Symphony Nr.1”, the epic sequence the band started on Innuendo. Where part 1 was an epic, complex symphonic metal track, with many twists and turns, this track is a pure ballad throughout, with some nice classical piano serving as the main focus, though there are also some nice orchestral elements in the background. Capri does a wonderful job as always, and it’s a nice track overall, but because part 1 was so epic and especially because this one serves as a title track, I was expecting a bit more from the track overall.

And that about sums up my feelings towards Darkness of Eternity on the whole: It’s a nice enough album, which at times has some big standout moments that equal some of the band’s best works, but overall it’s simply a messy, inconsistent album that left me wanting a whole lot more. Power metal fans, in particular, are likely to have mixed feelings, as “I’m the One” and “Dragonflies” are sure to get them excited, while many of the more pop-infused tracks are likely to frustrate them just like they frustrate me, and the overall focus on bouncy keyboards over epic symphonic arrangements on many tracks here is a rather puzzling choice, as is the decision to end an already oddly paced album with two ballads. Overall, longtime fans are sure to find some songs here to be satisfying, but I consider this to be Amberian Dawn’s weakest album to date, and I have a hard time recommending it to my fellow metal fans.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/11/12/amberian-dawn-darkness-eternity-review/

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 4 ratings
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adg211288
US funeral doom metal duo had released just two full-length albums, Longing (2012) and Four Phantoms (2015), when their line-up was split in two following drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra's departure. Bands change line-up all the time but this change was tragically made all the more profound when a year later, in 2016, Adrian Guerra passed away. Mirror Reaper (2017) is the group's, which now consists of Dylan Desmond (bass, vocals) and new member Jesse Shreibman (drums, vocals), first new recording since then. The monolithic, eighty-three minute long single song album can be seen as a eulogy to their fallen comrade, whose presence is still felt by the insertion of some vocals recorded before his untimely death at the age of just 35, credited under 'the words of the dead'.

Because Mirror Reaper is so long, physical versions of it have to split the song into multiple parts. The CD version has two discs with the track split into two (titled As Above and So Below) while the vinyl is also a double, with the track split into four parts. It's worth pointing out at this point that at least in the case of the CD version the physical pressing does NOT come with a download code so buyers can also obtain the full uninterrupted version of the album. Without confirmation, I'd assume that the vinyl is the same. This, while I won't allow it to affect my rating in this review, is a considerable omission to make in my view, making Mirror Reaper one of the extremely rare cases where the physical version can be deemed inferior to the digital (more so because the digipak packaging is one of the most shoddily made I've ever encountered).

In any form Mirror Reaper is a daunting journey, one that I'm certain most potential listeners will want to think hard about whether they even want to try taking it. Those that do will definitely need to find themselves in the right frame of mind, and set aside enough time to take the whole composition in during a single sitting regardless of whether you're listening to the seamless digital version or the four part vinyl version. A piece like this loses its impact if you decide to take a break of any length and while at least in the case of the CD version the split between the As Above part and the So Below part does make sense, So Below doesn't work near so well as a stand alone track.

Funeral doom metal is known for its plodding pace and atmosphere of misery and that's exactly what is delivered on Mirror Reaper, via some quite extended length non-metal sections, especially during the So Below part of the song. No idea is treated like a flash in the pan thing, but is drawn out for ages. The vocals range from growling to hypnotic chant to subdued singing. Despite the growls, there's no forays into actual death-doom like the works of Evoken or Esoteric, so it's pretty much a dirge from start to finish. In that sense, Mirror Reaper may just be an example of funeral doom metal at its most pure, though since there are no guitars and it's all done on bass the sound is a little difference to the average band. At least it's a pure funeral doom metal sound until one of the non-metal passages hits, then it's something else, yet still very much funeral and very much doom, just without the metal.

Mirror Reaper is not, understandably, an easy album. I expect that many who give it a go will find it to be too much in one way or another. To many, this will be far too long than any one song has a right to be. For others the length in itself won't be an issue but the snail's pace tempo will be. For more still it will be how it actually sounds. Mirror Reaper is certainly a dreary affair, even depressing at times, but that's hardly surprising given the genre and backstory and the death of Adrian Guerra. It's true that the point, musically speaking, could likely be accomplished in a much shorter yet still lengthy composition and that to some ears it may have been better for it. Those people will be entitled to their opinion, while I will remain steadfast in mine that they just don't get it. All things considered it seems highly appropriate that Bell Witch went all out with Mirror Reaper and produced something that will stand tall as a monumental work of what funeral doom metal is all about. This is their tribute to their fallen bandmate and it's certainly not found wanting. Even being so long there's definitely a coherence to the whole composition so that despite all the pitfalls it could fall into it never actually feels aimless.

Mirror Reaper will not go down as an album that will grace my speakers with any kind of regularity, but it's one I'm pleased to have taken the plunge on for when the mood strikes. Bell Witch have crafted a quality, well thought out work here.

SUPERNAUT Supernaut

Album · 1999 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Today I am going to do two things for the first time. One is that I am going to review an album entirely from listening to it on YouTube and the other is that I am going to rate an album below 2 stars.

But first, a little about Supernaut. An English band formed in 1973, they were, as you can guess by the name, Black Sabbath fans and like their mentors, played music with heavy and dark-sounding riffs. Unlike Sabbath, however, they included a spacey keyboard in their compositions. The band cut a single self-titled album of seven tracks in 1974 which was later released on CD.

Searching about the Net, there is little more information, though one site includes some info from the CD booklet which states that the band recorded a demo (the album) and had Vertigo's interest. The label said they were too heavy and requested Supernaut to record some Eagles covers to which the band obliged but were "so disgusted" that they split up. There seems to be some question as to whether this was a real band and is cautiously considered fictitious on another metal site.

Listening to the album there are two things that you will notice immediately. The riffs are really doom heavy and the guitar playing sounds really amateur. Honestly, the first time I clicked the play icon, I was immediately transported to my 17-year-old self with my Anjo electric guitar, sitting in my bedroom with a Boss distortion pedal plugged into a small, inexpensive amp and cranking out a riff that I thought sounded cool but couldn't do anything with. And this is the one very huge drawback to the album: the guitar playing sounds really amateur. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are introduced by the guitarist indeterminably hammering out his riffs on his very cheap and poorly sounding equipment. Once the drums and bass are in and the keyboards (surprising they are at first) start playing, the guitar playing slips into the flow of the music a little better and the recordings are passable as early demos of a young band. The vocals, sparse as they are, don't sound any better than the guitar.

This is available as a CD still now and I listened to this on YouTube because I was at first interested in an early doom band from 1974 and had an eye on the disc. I am glad I decided to listen first though and saved my money. In comparison, the early recordings by Iron Claw, which have a pretty shoddy production and don't sound so good and don't have the ideal vocalist, at least have a better sense of composition and playing. Perhaps it's because Iron Claw used to play Black Sabbath's debut album in its entirety at their live shows. Also worthy to consider in comparison is Necromandus, who were actually taking under Toni Iommi's management and who played excellent progressive, early doom but were abandoned after recording their album as their manager went overseas to tour in America.

I think Supernaut needed to have a guitarist who could play a little more fluidly and professionally, a better recorded guitar sound, and a proper producer in the studio to help them flesh out their style more. The actual riffs are somewhat promising and the music indicates that the band had a vision and potential but in the end lacked what they needed to make their album sound good. They get points for effort and could possibly have been a great early doom metal band. Instead, we are left with an album that is almost painful to listen to at times and has attracted criticism and scorn in the YouTube comments and no praise.

Not to be confused with the 1974 release by the Perth, Australia glam rock band by the same name.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 6 ratings
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Nightfly
I’ve always viewed the development of Opeth and Enslaved as running parallel with each other. Both started as extreme metal bands, death metal for Opeth, black metal for Enslaved and both even at an early stage displaying progressive influences. As they have developed the progressive elements have come to more to the fore. One of the areas where they differ though is whilst Opeth these days bear no traces of death metal Enslaved have never entirely lost touch with their roots. Sure, they’re much more of a prog metal band these days but their black metal roots can still be heard.

E is Enslaved’s fourteenth studio album, drawn as a Latin rune which is why it appears as M on the cover meaning Horse. The albums not about Horses per se but is symbolic of the partnership of co-operation and trust between them and man. 2015’s In Times was their most progressive album yet but still managed inject some pretty harsh black metal moments. E whilst maintaining the prog quotient is less reliant on extreme metal though it’s still there and Grutle Kjellson harsh rasp vocal work is still in place. In Times was the last album to feature keyboard player/clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen and I expected a major shift in dynamics and sound with his loss. New guy Hakon Vinje slips easily into his shoes and has a similar clean vocal style so E just seems like a natural development which could and probably would have happened even if Larsen hadn’t left.

The music on E is epic and grandiose shifting through a myriad of changes no better demonstrated than on opener Storm Son, at almost eleven minutes giving them ample opportunity to stretch out. Clean vocals dominate over harsh here and their sound is a lot smoother than the Enslaved of old but they can still pack a punch. Kjellson’s rasp is still present and more to the front on other songs though like on The River’s Mouth that has a spacey outro that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hawkwind album.

Sacred Horse might just be the albums best track where more extreme metal elements come to the fore but includes a Hammond organ solo that Opeth would be proud of. Light and shade are present but largely it drives along at a fair pace. That said E has no weak moments and shows a band on top of their game with no sign of running out of ideas. The musical interplay between band members is strong as always and like most great bands Enslaved aren’t afraid to experiment – they even use saxophone on album closer Hiindsiight, but still retain enough of their original identity to keep older fans happy.

E just keeps getting better and better with each play as more subtle melodies come to the fore and whilst it probably won’t end up being my favourite Enslaved album it not lacking in any way. It’s great to see this excellent band still on top of their game after all these years.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS Adelain

Album · 1995 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
While the Scandinavian second wave of black metal was in its full glory, the lesser areas of Europe were busy gestating their own version of musical misanthropy in the form of extreme metal ranging from the death and doom dirges of maximum distortion to the blackened pits of fiery hellish metal that served as the soundtrack for Hades. Eastern European black metal bands may have been few in number in comparison to their northern neighbors but nonetheless some persistent aficionados of the style churned out some memorable albums. Greece has never really been on the forefront of any musical movement perhaps since the homegrown folk styles such as rebetika, however lurking in the shadows arose a few well known extreme metal bands such as Septicflesh and Rotting Christ. One of the lesser known but no less worthy of recommendations were THE ELYSIAN FIELDS who may have taken their namesake from the conception of the afterlife in Greek religious philosophies but were very much a part of the here and now of the 90s when they released their debut album ADELAIN in 1994 after a couple of attention getting demos.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS created one of the most unique forms of melodic black metal in the 90s despite sounding somewhat familiar in comparison to its Hellenic counterparts of the scene but yet somehow drifted into its own unique arenas that took disparate sounds and made them their own. The band very much developed their sound in conjunct with bands such as Rotting Christ and Varathron but somehow fell off the radar while the others rose to the ascending throne of the world’s attentive ears. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS gained a loyal following in the early 90s as they released a few demos and demonstrated a unique interpretation of the black metal scene. Dominated by heavy aggressive guitar riffs and blastbeats that offer a backdrop for the angry raspy vocals to lash out against, this melodic black metal band’s sound was actually centered around a melodic keyboard riff that served as the anchor for the full fueled fury to dance around. In this regard THE ELYSIAN FIELDS took the same approach as the Ukrainian band Nokturnal Mortem did on their debut demo turned EP “Lunar Poetry” which uses a simple melodic hook on the keys to generate a never ending stream of aggressive riff changes and second wave black metal fury.

Also unique to the band were its exemplary ability to utilize aspects of death, gothic and doom metal in their musical cauldron to create a larger than life experience that mixed the typical blackened metal aggression with piano laden spoken word segments and more moody slower parts that created a unique contrast. At times during the slower parts the band can bring a doom metal band like My Dying Bride to mind but during the heavier parts the vocalist known only as “Bill A” is a dead ringer for Sakis Tolis of fellow Greek band Rotting Christ as do their crunchy guitar riff attacks mimic periodically throughout the album. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS also had a knack for a poetic prowess like few others of the day and created a more epic feel with their lyrics rather than simply blasphemous or misanthropic passages. Having been well steeped in the traditions of the Ancient Greek mythologies, this band utilized their exposure to these hidden worlds quite effectively and likewise utilized the proper mood setting musical principles to amplify their power. While the following album “We.. The Enlightened” expanded the overall sound manyfold, ADELAIN remains a typical melodic black metal 90s album that while not quite as frenetic as what Emperor or Cradle of Filth were pulling off back then, maintained a heavy sound with only certain moments where the full speed of their fury was uncaged.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS remains one of the forgotten obscure Hellenic black metal bands that has fallen through the cracks to the point of true obscurity but more than deserves a resurrection from the vaults as the band crafted some excellent melodic black metal with death, doom and gothic touches. The piano and keyboard accompaniments are purely evil in their minor key hauntings and usher in the perfect storm of extreme metal savagery with devilish guitar distortion that alternate between tremolo picking and doomy sustained chords that linger on to infinity. This is an excellent taste of extreme Greek metal from the 90s and in my opinion much more sophisticated than what Rotting Christ was cranking out at the time with their early releases. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS knew just how to craft their compositions with the proper ingredients to create something not too far removed from the overall second wave black metal scene but yet with enough touches to make it sound totally original at the same time. Highly recommended.

EDGUY Mandrake

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 18 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
There’s a very handy Metallica comparison that works when thinking about Edguy. So, Kingdom of Madness is the Kill ‘Em All of the discography, a more raw and charming affair that wears its influences loud and proud and is fun but not yet fully developed. Vain Glory Opera is like Ride The Lightening, a more mature and uniquely them record that starts showing off their ambition while still rocking. Theater Of Salvation is Master Of Puppets, the magnum opus, the really grand and ambitious album that contains amazing, well constructed and monstrously catchy songs. The Savage Poetry is …And Justice For All, the follow up to their best album and almost as good in its own right.

All of that brings me to what I’m trying to say here. Mandrake is their Black Album. After four albums in one particular style and tone, the band decide to mature off in a new direction and break out of the confines of their home genre. Like The Black Album still had some Thrash songs on it like ‘Struggle Within’ and ‘Through The Never,’ Mandrake has some pure Power Metal songs on it like ‘Painting On The Wall,’ ‘Golden Dawn’ and ‘Save Us Now.’ Even then, sometimes when it does do traditional Power Metal, its more of a Master Of The Rings vibe than a Keeper Of The Seven Keys vibe if you know what I mean. Just listen to the little skiffly drumstick solo and high pitched comedy vocal in the middle of ‘Save Us Now’ to see what I mean.

Largely however, Edguy find themselves testing the limitations of their German Melodic Power Metal roots. ‘Painting On The Wall’ and its more progressive big brother ‘Tears Of A Mandrake’ have some very Bon Jovi and Detonater-era Ratt sounding influences audible on them, its no the whole picture but it is one colour they’re painting with. ‘Jerusalem’ sees them blending their Power Metal stylings with a more commercial Hard Rock vibe foreshadowing where they’d go on their next album. ‘The Pharaoh’ is a ten minute epic with an eastern vibe that sounds like a mixture between Sabaton when they get slow and stompy and when Rainbow would go eastern sounding like on ‘Babylon’ and ‘Tarot Woman.’ ‘Nailed To The Wheel’ although opening up acoustically with some very different vocal melodies than Edguy usually go for, evolves into the fastest most pissed-off Thrash Metal like song the band had put out to date. If you get the version with bonus tracks, ‘The Devil & The Savant’ also has a touch of Glam to it. Not the whole picture again, but its there. Its the band testing their boundaries.

The production job also has a lot to do with it. This album has a much more full, bright, unmetallic sheen to it. Commercial is the word best to describe it really. Its good in its own way but it sounds quite different to where they’d been living in previously.

Like with Metallica, there are lots of fans who consider The Black Album the last of the classic-five and there are other purists who think there was only a classic four and this is the first one afterwards. Of course, there are also a large amount of fans I’ve discovered online who prefer the band in their more Hard Rock form and say things like ‘Yeah, they got good when they stopped trying to sound like Iron Maiden’ and even those guys are also split on this record, because its not quite the Pure Power Metal style and its not quite not either.

Overall; Mandrake is a very good album, and a very interesting album, but whether you’ll like it or not very much depends on what you wanted out of it in the first place. The production job may be off putting if you wanted a certain thing, as may be the songwriting for about half of it. The songwriting on the other half may be off putting if you wanted a different thing. Vocals, guitar solos, drum patterns and creativity are all above reproach, its just the sound and musical direction that people are divided over.

TRIVIUM The Sin And The Sentence

Album · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.11 | 6 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Let me say this quickly before you stop reading. This album is a fucking masterpiece. A gigantic game-changing triumph we didn’t expect! This is hands-down the best album of their career and a new high for the subgenre. An almost from out of nowhere about-face turn, skyrocketing them from diminishing returns to champions. No, I wasn’t expecting it either, but go with me on this…

Right, still reading? Ok, with that out of the way. Lets do the review.

Trivium have had a funny old career. Their output has been really varied. They’ve done some really heavy and some really melodic stuff. They’ve done some technical progressive stuff and some simplistic groovy stuff. They’ve gone brash and brutal and they’ve gone mature and commercial. Not only has their music been really varied but so have the reactions from both their fan-base and the critics for every album. Every new album seems to sees them pick up new fans they’ve never had before and lose diehards who hate the new material or direction. Critics in one territory or from one background may hate the early stuff and love the mid career stuff and its vice versa with critics from another territory or background. Some albums are beloved in Germany but forgotten in the UK. Some are cult classics in America but underrated gems in Europe.

Me, I’ve liked every single one of the bands albums. A few of them I’ve loved. Like the majority of fans I’d say the best three are Shogun, In Waves and Ascendancy. I also have a huge soft spot for Silence In The Snow too due to its Classic Metal and Power Metal vibes but I understand how some fans of the heavier or techier stuff aren’t into that one.

This album, even with all that said, is just straight up and unarguably in another damn league. The energy in the performances; the fantastic satisfying crunchy production, the best and most diverse vocals of their career, the best drummer they’ve ever had hands-down… these are all factors that elevate this album above the rest of their discography. As are the songs themselves.

The songs are some of the most diverse, inventive and interesting songs they’ve written musically and structurally to date. They mix a vast array of styles that the band have dipped their toes into over the years and a lot of new stuff to. They have some of the band’s most interesting and memorable riffs and solos to date. They take twists and turns you don’t expect and catch you off guard. They showcase all of the musician’s talents at times but leave space for the lyrics and vocals to take center stage at other times. Sometimes they’re haunting and beautiful and sometimes they’re furious and heavy as balls, just riffing the fuck out of a big groovy riff.

Do you remember back when Machine Head were new and they were the cool new thing, and then they altered their style and tried new vocal techniques and production styles and lots of fans jumped ship but then The Blackening came out, all full of energy and anger and just plain amazing songs and suddenly tore everyone’s heads off and now Machine Head are bone-fide legends? This album is Trivium’s equivalent of The Blackening. It doesn’t sound anything like it, but that step-up in quality and energy and absolute revitalization of their career? That’s the same!

A lot of people online and in print have been going nuts over The Sin And The Sentence and justly so. In a recent interview Trivium mainman Matt Heafy said that the band decided they would have to write the best album of their career or else give up because they are always second guessing themselves and changing their styles and going through as many drummers as Spinal Tap. Well, Trivium ‘aint giving up now, because this is unequivocally their best ever work. Maybe its because Paolo is writing more of the songs than Matt. Maybe its because they are letting some of their Black Metal and Skate Punk influences mix into things instead of trying to purely do a mix of Groove Metal, Thrash Metal and Classic Metal like their original mission statement. Maybe new drummer Alex Bent just injected a new lease of life into them like Todd La Torre did to Queensryche. I don’t know why, but this thing is just on a whole other level.

Its quite a diverse album that really doesn’t sit in any one space for too long. ‘Betrayer’ mixes Ascendancy-era brutality with Pennywise style Punk and a happy Power Metal lead guitar sheen, but ends up with blast beats in the middle. ‘Thrown Into The Fire’ is the darkest and heaviest thing they’ve ever done at times and has undertones of Dimmu Borgir, but then at other times is just an absolute riff and solo school that…ok maybe this one does sound a bit like The Blackening actually. ‘The Wretchedness Inside’ is the kind of thing they were doing on the heavier deep-cuts from In Waves mixed with some jaunty Prong-style disco beats and a guitar effect than almost recalls Damageplan on their weirder songs like ‘Blunt Force Trauma’ or ‘Explode,’ it also has a strange midsection that remind’s me of Slipknot’s ‘Custer’ but then it has one of the most satisfying and heavy riff-out moments like Messuggah or something and that transitions into really pretty, clean Maiden-esque guitar lines. ‘The Heart From Your Hate’ is probably the most conventional song on the album, and it mixes their ‘In Waves’ and ‘Brave This Storm’ style staccato riffing with their ‘And Sadness Will Sear’ style mature The Black Album-worshiping stuff.

For fans of the band’s heavier side ‘Sever The Hand’ pretty much alternates between especially crushing groove metal riffing and pissed off Thrash Metal sections throughout. Fans of the band’s cleaner more commercial side won’t be disappointed either. Although this is one of the band’s heaviest and most progressive and technical albums yet, there’s still some stuff to get into if you prefer the heart-throb-Heafy stuff they previously showcased on ‘Dying In Your Arms’ and the like. ‘Endless Night’ for example lives in that sort of territory. Its just got a hell of a lot more energy, verve and attitude to it. The drums and background guitars give it a cool sort of Coheed & Cambria quality rather than just radio rock.

I’d try to pick out highlights but the album doesn’t sit in any one place long enough (hell the songs don’t either) to really establish a good version of it. I wouldn’t cut a single track and I’d like to see each of them live. Its all great. Its all interesting and diverse. That’s “diverse,” yet really cleverly constructed and naturally flowing though, not wacky-“diverse” were stuff that doesn’t fit is just smashed together. This is an album you can listen to over and over again and find new depths, new nooks and crannies. ‘Oh hey I didn’t notice that cool drum fill before’ sort of stuff. Not “why are they playing a bassoon over old-school Tampa Death Metal riffs during their Lady GaGa cover?” sort of stuff.

Its hard to hand out a man of the match award either. Matt’s voice is so much better than its ever been (check out ‘Beauty In The Sorrow’). Paolo’s songwriting is so much better than its ever been. Corey’s guitar solos are just as good if not better than they were on the glorious guitar-line fueled Silence In The Snow. Oh yeah, and there’s Alex Bent, whose drumming absolutely makes the album. More than the cherry on top its almost the whole goddamn cake.

Overall, the Sin And The Sentence is an utter masterpiece. If you like Trivium do not miss out on this at all. If you used to like them and stopped, don’t you dare miss out on this one either, this is the one to get back into them on, seriously. If you’ve never listened to them I strongly urge you to change that. I’d even go as far as to say “If you only get one Trivium album, make it this.” This isn’t just a good Trivium album, or a good album, this is a game-changer.

BLACK STAR RIDERS Heavy Fire

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.27 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Heavy Fire" is the 3rd full-length studio album by UK hard rock act Black Star Riders. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2017, almost exactly two years after the release of "The Killer Instinct (2015)". "Heavy Fire" features the exact same lineup who recorded "The Killer Instinct (2015)". Ricky Warwick (vocals, guitar), Scott Gorham (guitar), Damon Johnson (guitar), Robbie Crane (bass), and Jimmy DeGrasso (drums).

Stylistically there aren´t many surprises either. This is unmistakably the sound of Black Star Riders continuing the proud legacy of guitarist Scott Gorham´s past in Thin Lizzy. So while no one really sounds like Black Star Riders, they themselves sound a lot like Thin Lizzy. Lead vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick isn´t no where near as charismatic and distinct sounding as the late Phil Lynott, but he has a decent raw rock voice and gets the job done fine here. The riffs are hard rocking, the solos and harmony parts melodic and well played, and the rhythm section deliver a great organic backbone. The musicianship is on a high level on all positions, and it´s hard not to be impressed by the skill and mutual understanding of band dynamics between the players involved. They sound like they love what they do, and they deliver their music with great passion.

"Heavy Fire" features 10 tracks and a full playing time of 40:02 minutes, which is perfect for this type of music. The material are both powerful and catchy, and I caught myself singing along several times during the playing time. It´s melodic hard rock at its best. The album also features an organic and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, so upon conclusion "Heavy Fire" is another high quality hard rock release by Black Star Riders. They may never get rid of the Thin Lizzy comparisons, but who cares when they write such infectiously cathy tunes and perform them with this kind of passion and conviction...a 4 star (80%) rating is well deserved.

EDGUY The Savage Poetry

Album · 2000 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 13 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Edguy were in an interesting position at the turn of the millennium. Starting the group as a bunch of wide-eyed teenagers in the early to mid ’90s, Tobias Samet and the rest of the boys who would go on to become legends of German Melodic Power Metal, were initially a rough an ready influences-worn-on-sleeves kinda band. They released a demo quality debut album called Savage Poetry in 1995 and then through years of practice and touring went on to become a leading force in Power Metal and one of the finest to be doing it at the time. After releasing their absolute magnum opus Theater Of Salvation in 1999 and being considerably more famous and beloved, fans kept asking if they would reissue Savage Poetry which had long since been out of print. Doing them one better, the band took all the talent, skills and confidence they’d been developing over the years and remade the album. No reissued, not re-recorded, but remade entirely.

Everything is different here, new artwork, new logo, new track order, new guitar solos, heck even the bassist and drummer are new when you think about it as neither were on the original version. They added a ‘The’ to the title as well, that’s new. Essentially, what happened was the band listened to these old songs and then wrote them again in 1999 as only the band who had released Theater Of Salvation could have. What resulted was a mix of old and new, that ticks all the right boxes to sound classic and modern, naive and accomplished, charming and sophisticated. There’s a duality to it that works as well as your go to metaphor (be that chocolate and peanut butter, tits and dragons or whatever people are saying these days, the point is the two compliment each-other despite seeming like different worlds).

For most people this is just some handy background information for a pub quiz however because unless you go out of your way, you aren’t hearing the 1995 version easily and the differences between the two versions are therefore largely academic. Regardless, because this is Edguy in 1999 we’re talking about here, this is an absolutely superb album not to be missed by Edguy fans, or indeed anyone with an interest in this style of music. If you listen to Gamma Ray, Helloween, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius or anyone of that nature, you really want to get up on this album. I would be so bold as to say The Savage Poetry is either the band’s second best, or sometimes if I’m feeling generous, joint-first best studio album.

There are a lot of similarities between this and Theater Of Salvation. They were both recorded around the turn of the millennium at Rhoen Studios in Fulda, Germany, and were both self produced by the band, with the same line-up. They both feature a mixture of Maiden and Priest influenced speed metal sections, bombastic grandiose sections with pianos and choral singing, and then some occasional ballads, and happy Helloween-influenced melodies. They both come before the band went a bit more Hard Rock in direction and they both come before the band started letting their humour play a big part.

Highlights include the speedier more metallic tracks ‘Sacred Hell’ and ‘Misguiding Your Life’ as well as the slow stompy Hammerfall-esque opener ‘Hallowed’ and possibly best of all, the diverse multi-faceted ten-minute ‘Eyes Of The Tyrant.’

The album works really well from start to finish, the two ballads break things up (and are surprisngly tasteful), the longer tracks take you on a little journey and then the rest of the album gets its head down and delivers exactly what you love about the band perfectly, only with a little bit more of a NWOBHM gallop than usual.

Overall; be sure not to miss out on one of the band’s absolute finest hours. If you like the glorious melodic guitar lines, crunchy riffs and pounding drums of Edguy at their most metallic, this is seriously up there as one of the finest examples of that. If you like the band being adventurous and writing long complex stuff, that’s here too. If you like them when they drop some ballads, these are some of the band’s best. If you’re tempted by the band but scared off by the more commercial Hard Rock stuff or the comedy stuff there’s none of that here. This is the band at their best, with some damn fine songs and a sterling production job, updating some charming old songs into an absolute beast of an album. Highly recommended!

LETHAL AGGRESSION Ad Nauseum

Album · 2009 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Ad Nauseum" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, New Jersey based crossover act Lethal Aggression. The album was released through Horror Pain Gore Death Productions in January 2009. Lethal Aggression formed as far back as 1985 and released their debut full-length studio album "Life Is Hard-But That's No Excuse" in 1989. They disbanded in 1991, but reunited again in 2001.

The music on "Ad Nauseum" is crossover thrash metal/hardcore in the harder edged end of the spectrum. There are tracks and sections on the album, which remind me slightly of early Suicidal Tendencies, but other than those moments, "Ad Nauseum" is a very raw and aggressive release, featuring a pretty dark and pissed off atmosphere, so these guys have not taken the "beer and party" route, generally opting for a more serious social/political agenda. That doesn´t hinder the less serious lyrical topic to pop up now and again, but it´s not the main focus on this album.

The band is very well playing and occasionally play some very fast thrashy riffing and rhythms although there´s always a hardcore edge to the proceedings. Aggression is in the high seat, which is helped further along by the vocals on the album, which are really raw and delivered with fierce conviction. The material on the 13 track, 38:04 minutes are generally well written and relatively varied for the genre, and actually quite a bit more sophisticated than what is usual for crossover releases. You´ll find plenty of tempo changes and even guitar solos on the album. As a bonus the band have added a hidden track on the album featuring a full live set recorded in 2003 at CBGB's. The sound quality is actually pretty decent, and fully showcase what a powerful sounding act Lethal Aggression also are in a live setting.

"Life Is Hard-But That's No Excuse" was quite an enjoyable crossover album when it was released, and Lethal Aggression definitely hasn´t lost any of their punch or passion for playing music in the years between their debut and sophomore album, because "Ad Nauseum" is to my ears an even better release than the debut was, and certainly a step up in quality both when it comes to the musicianship, the songwriting, and the sound production. The latter is dark, heavy, and very powerful sounding. It may not be a full 4 star (80%) rating but a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) isn´t the worst rating either.

LEUKEMIA Suck My Heaven

Album · 1993 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Suck My Heaven" is the debut full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Leukemia. The album was released through Black Mark Production in 1993. Leukemia was formed in 1989 and worked as a two-piece project act consisting of Kentha Philipson (drums) and Jocke Granlund (Vocals). All other instruments and vocals are delivered by guest/session musicians. Among those are prolific artists like L-G Petrov (Entombed) on backing vocals, and Jörgen Sandström (Entombed, Grave) on bass.

The music on "Suck My Heaven" is a hybrid death/thrash metal style with experimental/progressive moments. The latter mostly consists of some pretty odd and at times even silly sections, but they are few and far between, and the music predominantly features a more dark and serious atmosphere. "Suck My Heaven" was recorded at the now legendary Sunlight Studios and features the "classic" sound from that studio. The guitars are slightly more thin sounding and not as "buzzing" as usual on recordings from Sunlight, but especially the drums feature that unmistakable sound.

While Leukemia is generally considered a death metal act, the riffing on the album is often closer to thrash metal than to death metal and the same can be said about the thrash oriented raw vocals, which is the primary vocal style on the album. There are growling vocals on the album too though.

The material on the 9 track, 47:03 minutes long album is relatively well written but not necessarily that memorable in the long run, and paired with the thin guitar sound, and a vocal style which is a bit powerless sounding, "Suck My Heaven" isn´t the most successful sounding release to my ears. It´s not bad either though and there are several interesting sections and high level musicianship to be found on the album too, so a 3 star (60%) rating isn´t all wrong.

BURNING WITCHES Burning Witches

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.26 | 3 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Classic heavy metal is not a genre I've listened to much in recent years, outside of personal favorites like the legendary Iron Maiden and the last three releases from Dark Forest, but I can still enjoy new releases in the genre from time to time. The latest such release to win me over is the self-titled debut from Swiss all female band Burning Witches. I had listened to a couple songs earlier in the year and was already impressed, but never got around to giving the album a full listen until recently, and I have to say, I'm very glad I did, because this is some enjoyable classic heavy metal, with quite a bit of power metal mixed in, as well as occasional melodic death metal influences.

Stylistically, Burning Witches play a very aggressive, fairly old-school brand of heavy metal for the most part. One can certainly notice similarities to the likes of Judas Priest at times, with many tracks having some rather raw sounding and heavy riffs, and musically I'd say the album is very high energy throughout. There's a nice mix of speedy and mid tempo tracks on the album, and as mentioned above, I hear some power metal elements at times, though this mostly falls on the rougher side of the genre, with some of the riffs reminding me of the likes of Grave Digger and Primal Fear. There are also places where I detect some melodic death metal elements, with some of the guitar work having a more modern and more extreme sound at times, while there are also some occasional harsh vocals, though these are mostly used in quick bursts and are mixed in with clean vocals. I also notice a fairly dark tone to the music on many of the tracks, especially on some of the slower songs, and this helps add extra flavor to the music. Regardless of what kind of song the band is playing, the instrumental work is quite solid throughout, with some very good riffs on every track as well as some nice solo work, and the production is top notch as well.

Vocally, the album is also very strong, with lead vocalist. Seraina Tell proving herself to be a very capable singer. I had actually heard her before with melodic metal band Rizon, but she sounds so different here at times, I never even noticed it was her until I looked it up. I'd say she's definitely improved over the years, though, as her performance here is both much smoother and much more varied than what I remember hearing from her in the past. When she sings normally, she has a very deep and powerful, yet also very smooth voice that especially shines during the choruses and softer moments, though she tends to be pretty animated at times, occasionally mixing in some death growls and classic heavy metal wails. The former are quite good, while the latter took some time for me to get used to, but are done decently enough.

An album can't be considered fully enjoyable if the songs are no good, but thankfully that isn't the case with Burning Witches. Right away, the band brings it with opening track “Black Widow”, a speedy track with some heavy riffs and some very animated screams from Seraina during the verses, though she uses her normal voice during the chorus to bring some melody into the song, and does a great job of it. The guitar solo in the second half is very good, and overall it's an explosive, very fun track that serves as a pretty good indication of what to expect from the album. Next is the self-titled track, another fairly up tempo track with some more classic heavy metal riffs and more slightly over the top vocals, though once again, the chorus is more melodic and quite catchy. There's a slightly sinister tone to the guitar throughout the track, and this carries on throughout much of the album.

Also on the speedier side, “Dark Companion” is the first track on the album where death growls appear, and it has very aggressive riffs, which certainly give a melodic death metal feel, and the mix of clean and harsh vocals is done very nicely, making it an immediately engaging track, and certainly one of the standouts on the album. The melodic death metal riffing continues on “Metal Demons”, another speedy track, though the vocals are clean throughout that track, and the chorus is very melodic and quite catchy. The most traditional power metal track on the album is “Creatures of the Night”, which has slower moments during the verses where the riffs give it more of a heavy metal feel, but the chorus is very speedy and sounds like classic German power metal, while the vocals there are very clear and melodic, and the guitar work is generally very melodic throughout, aside from a couple points. Another speedier track is “Deathlist”, the last of the original tracks, here, and it's another fun track, with a mix of very heavy verses, a melodic chorues, and some nice melodic guitar work at times, and a very nice extended guitar solo in the second half.

On the slower side of things, “Bloody Rose” a hard hitting track, with a very dark tone to the guitar work, and the vocals are very deep and powerful on that track, with one particular repeated phrase coming across as very intense, though the chorus is still nice and melodic, as usual. One song that took me a while to open up to is “We Eat Your Children”, which aside from having an off putting name, also opens with some really over the top wails that initially annoyed me, though I've grown used to them by now. Otherwise, it's a slow and heavy track, with some very punishing riffs, and another pretty solid chorus. It's probably my least favorite song here, but it's still pretty enjoyable. In a similar vein is “Creator of Hell”, probably the slowest out of the heavier songs here, and it has some very mean sounding riffs, as well as some very intense vocals, and the music has a very dark and sinister tone throughout. It's a quality track overall, with a very strong chorus. Lastly, we have “Save Me”, the one ballad on the album. It's a very nice track, with some nice melodic guitar work throughout, that helps set the mood, while Seraina uses her softest vocals of the album during the opening verse, before opening up more as the song goes on, and she gives by far her most powerful and emotional performance of the album on this track, making it an obvious standout. There's also a very memorable guitar solo in the second half, and overall it's definitely one of my favorites on the album.

For the closing track, the band decided to include a cover of the classic Judas Priest track “Jawbreaker”, which proves to be a great fit for their sound. Their version is very faithful to the original, with everything from the main riff to the chorus being instantly recognizable, though I think I actually prefer Seraina's smoother vocals, as well the much more polished production. It's definitely a very strong cover, that doesn't lose any of the intensity of the original.

Overall, Burning Witches is a very strong debut from the Swiss all female band, with a great mix of classic heavy metal and power metal, as well as occasional flashes of melodic death metal. It's a very heavy album, with one exception, and it features strong performances all around, as well some consistently good songwriting. Fans of classic heavy metal are especially recommended to check this out, while power metal fans should also find much of it to be to their liking. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from the band in the future.

INSIDE THE SOUND Wizard's Eyes

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Although the Ukrainian band INSIDE THE SOUND began merely as a side project of guitarist / keyboardist Max Velychko (most notably from Modern Rock Ensemble as well as Karfagen, Sunchild and Hoggwash) and bassist Dmitry Trifonov while working on other projects, the promise of fusing all the love of their disparate genres of music proved too tempting not to engage in a fully realized development of the band’s potential. While sort of put on the shelf for a few years with only sporadic recordings emerging, they found enough quality material to release a debut titled “Time Z” in 2010. What may have seemed like a one shot release as the years slowly sputtered by, it turns out that Velychko and Trifonov were simply taking their sweet time to carefully craft the perfecting qualities that took the template laid out on “Time Z” and further expand into unthinkable arenas. The result is that finally in the year 2017, INSIDE THE SOUND has finally released the second long awaited album in the form of WIZARD’S EYES and although i wasn’t aware of this band at the time of their debut, i have to say that for fan’s who were holding their breath for a new release can finally exhale and take in an exhilarating new inhalation of some of the most pleasing progressive symphonic prog meets metal i’ve encountered in a while.

While “Time Z” laid down the foundations of an Allan Holdsworth type of instrumental progressive rock sound complete with heavy rocking guitar laced with jazz-fusion compositional styles, WIZARD’S EYES takes everything that came before and perfects them and then adds a plethora of new ideas and sounds to the mix. The core trio remains the same with Velychko performing exquisite guitar workouts and atmospheric keyboard nuances while Dmitry Trifonov returns for bass duties as does Max Didenko on drums. New to the band is Dmitry Yeryomin who contributes an expanded role on the keyboards and adds a whole new layer of intensity to the band’s symphonic and atmospheric touches that the debut album only hinted upon. Also new to the band’s sound is the inclusion of four guest musicians, each offering a unique stamp on the band’s already established and accomplished sound. The biggest contributors are Indranila who adds his Indo-raga charms on acoustic sitar and Vedic chanting as well as Nila Goal who supplies a nice touch of tabla that is interspersed judiciously throughout the album. The track “Friends” receives the royal treatment with two more guests in the form of Antony Kalugin on extra keys and Daniel Ilyin on electric violin. The combo effect of all these musicians in tandem creates some of the most divinely pleasing melodic progressive metal that while does include some steaming hot metal outbursts, more often than not tends to merely simmer in progressive rock stews.

While the album is touted as a prog metal journey into instrumental fantasy worlds of epic proportions, WIZARD’S EYES is far more varied and magical than that mere title insinuates. Graced with superior production techniques and intricate compositional flows, the album begins quite nicely with an almost soundtrack type of orchestration that slowly but surely ratchets up the the drive and intensity that finally erupts into a more heightened tension as it bursts into a heavier form of rock with great care paid to every detail. The opening track “Intro: A Secret Journey” truly sounds like a jazz-fusion project of the great Allan Holdsworth only on a higher energy level with a Steve Vai sort of prog metal infusion that at times reminds me of some of the more adventurous antics on his “Passion and Warfare” album. While the jazz meets metal thing is the underpinning of it all, the music is laced with intricate symphonic polyrhythms and counterpoints that add smooth atmospheric suavity to the metallic guitar riffs and jarring time signature workouts. “Dreaming Deja Vue” ratchets up these very attributes of the music with exquisite instrumental interchanges and driving dynamic shifts. “Fantasia” is more of a jazzy ballad with sensual piano lines providing the melodic underpinning while the guitar solos are the most reminiscent of Vai on the album.

“Friends” is a quirky number that provides a smooth jazz sort of feel that veers off into more spacey territory and delivers outstanding key and violin solos. “Empire V” reveals a subdued influence of Eastern European folk music as the melodic developments hint of the virtuoso guitar compositions of Serbia’s Borislav Mitic however Velychko displays some of his most creative guitar soloing on this track that successfully creates a lighter than a feather weightlessness to the sound. “Haribol” is the most exotic sounding track with the inclusion of the sitar and Vedic chanting that offer a taste of musical curry and naan. “Horizon” delivers yet another midrange rocker while the title track provides the album’s most scorching hot metal track complete with rapid fire guitar riffing and percussive overdrive as well as interesting counterpoints delivered by the exotic flair of the keyboard approaches. It also offers some of the most intense progressive time signature workouts making it one of the most daring tracks to be heard. For me the weaker tracks on the album arise at the end as “To The Sky,” “Outro” and “The Cold Spring (which is considered a bonus track) seem to run on auto pilot where the album needs to go out on a bang but instead finds a comfort zone.

INSIDE THE SOUND has crafted a beautifully manufactured product on WIZARD’S EYES that displays all the details and loving touches that all the years of creation incur. The musicians are of top calibre and meld their respective talents together in a seamless fashion with strong compositions to boot. The production is crystal clear and offers a plethora of subtle touches that make blasting this on full decibelage a true delight. While this is almost a perfect product for me as a huge lover of both Allan Holdsworth and Steve Vai, i have to admit that sometimes the influences are a wee bit too strong in their direction despite the compositions maintaining a fierce independence streak that gives the album a unique charisma. Overall an impressive sophomore offering from the Ukraine with only a few tracks at the end fizzling out the excitement of hearing these dedicated musicians hard at work. WIZARD’S EYES is indeed a magnificent display of intricate musicianship that shows a true depth in musical tastes. The term progressive metal will surely be misleading because while the progressive term remains a constant throughout the album’s 51 minute and 44 second run, the metal part does not partake as much with the majority of the album falling somewhere in the orchestrated ambient rock universe with the metal riffing and soloing only emerging part time. While personally i would prefer a few more heavy hitting numbers, i have to admit that the skills displayed on this album make me think of what i wanted the Liquid Tension Experiment albums to sound like because the care and scrutiny of every detail is impressive indeed. A worthy and heavier companion piece to the Modern Rock Ensemble project. Excellent.

NILE Those Whom the Gods Detest

Album · 2009 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 30 ratings
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UMUR
"Those Whom the Gods Detest" is the 6th full-length studio album by US death metal act Nile. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in November 2009. It´s the successor to "Ithyphallic" from 2007. "Those Whom the Gods Detest" is the third studio album in a row produced by Neil Kernon (Nevermore, Macabre...etc.) and sound production wise there are many similarities between the three albums (the drum production is handled by Eric Rutan on this one though). Neil Kernon seems to be the perfect producer to bring out the best in Nile´s rather complex, busy, and at times chaotic soundscape. The sound production on "Those Whom the Gods Detest" is powerful, brutal and professionally crafted. Raw yet clear. But not clean in a way that takes away power or brutality.

Stylistically the material on "Those Whom the Gods Detest" is brutal and technically well played death metal. There´s an epic atmosphere to the music and Nile as usual incorporate middle eastern scales/notes/themes in the music. The latter elements compliment the ancient Epypt lyrical themes perfectly and are some of the defining elements of the Nile sound. The 10 tracks on "Those Whom the Gods Detest" are all well composed, intriguing, and powerful enough to tilt an elephant. The tracks are also relatively varied and given some spins they begin to stand out from each other. That´s not necessarily an everyday thing when we´re talking brutal death metal artists and their releases but Nile are one of the few exceptions to the rule. They both play crushingly heavy parts, mid-paced death metal grooves, and insanely fast-paced blast beating. There´s nothing this band can´t do.

The vocals are deep brutal growling but they are actually intelligible to a certain extent, which is a major plus in my book. The commanding and aggressive fashion they delivered in, is not exactly a problem either. Lead vocalist/bassist/guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade are occasionally complimented by guitarist Karl Sanders who delivers some additional (and more unintelligible) growling vocals. The riffs those two conjure up are brutal, razor sharp, and rather sophisticated for the genre but it´s the drumming by George Kollias that put the icing on the cake. The man is a phenomena. You can argue that he plays his two triggered bass drums a bit too much but it´s hard to argue that he doesn´t play them well. He has a way of making the music move forward in a powerful and aggressive fashion yet with a sophistication that puts him in a class of his own. In addition to his playing on the faster paced tracks it´s interesting to listen to his playing on the crushingly heavy and slow "4th Arra of Dagon" which perfectly showcases what he is also capable of when the pace is lowered.

Upon conclusion, Nile have with "Those Whom the Gods Detest" once again proven who are the kings of brutal technical death metal. Releasing several high quality death metal albums in a row is not something you´ll see many artists accomplice. They are one of the very few death metal acts that have a distinct sound and an overall concept that work wonders. Put on any Nile album and you would instantly be able to tell that it was Nile you were listening to. Now that is what seperates the leaders from the followers. Well crafted memorable compositions, excellent musicianship, and a powerful professional sound production. It´s hard to ask for much more than that. A 4.5 (90%) star rating is deserved.

BARONESS A Horse Called Golgotha

Single · 2010 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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FMOTP
Baroness is a band I like a lot. They create well-played, mostly interesting music. I think Allen Blickle's drumming should be singled out as a big part of what makes Baroness enjoyable. This short single is probably most noteworthy for the band's fun version of "Bikeage". As far as I know, it's not available on any other release.

I have one reservation with Baroness. They tend to write interesting riffs and then not stick with them, which gives their songs a disjointed quality. However, "A Horse Called Golgotha" is one of the band's most attractive songs. I think there are better bands in this subgenre of metal. However, this is still a terrific appetizer for Baroness fans.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.56 | 9 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 1988 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Paradise Lost are not only known as one of the most distinctive acts in metal - their music arguably defined the gothic subgenre and raised doom metal to a new level - they are also considered pioneers of an entire musical generation. Never ones to hesitate to explore undiscovered paths, they have encompassed many genres during their career - from their death metal beginnings to the more mainstream electronic dark-pop album ‘Host’, electronic influences on ‘Symbol Of Life’ alongside majestic gothic moments. Vocalist Nick Holmes, guitarists Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy, along with bassist Steve Edmondson have never ceased to follow their own vision. The quartet has been an inseparable unit since its inception, with only the drummer's position changing hands several times. The latest incumbent, Waltteri Väyrynen, is only 22 years old, while the band have now been in existence for nearly 30!

With their last album, they showed that they were starting to return to their roots, and that has journey has progressed with ‘Medusa’, which is certainly one of, if not the, heaviest album they have ever released. Here we have doom and gothic metal hitting head on and being brought to live with vocals that owe more to the death scene than any other. There is a quality here that is hard to define, as they bring all the misery of Northern England to bear in 43 minutes of depressing, intense, music. Here is a band that is refusing to rest on their considerable laurels, but instead continue to push boundaries, and to my ears this is easily the most complete work they have ever produced. The drum and bass are crushing, the riffs are solid slabs of lead, while the solos are uplifting and almost cathartic while Nick Holmes shows no sign at all of mellowing in his middle age. I discovered that the more I listened to the album, the more I kept turning up the volume, until the neighbours the other side of the neighbours could share it as well. This is certainly one of the finest metal albums to come out of the UK this year.

KADAVAR Rough Times

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Two years on and the trio are back proving that they fully understand their niche and feel no need whatsoever to move away from it. The slight change in the sound is that the bass has been given more prominence and a far richer sound, but apart from that it is another album straight from the Kadavar playbook, namely doom, psyche and hard rock with major influenced from the likes of Sabbath, Cream and Atomic Rooster. Somehow, they always manage to imbue the music with a vitality, a real energy, and it is this that really makes them standout from others following a similar musical journey. This album has moved them more into classic Sabbath territory than ‘Berlin’, but for someone who grew up cutting his teeth on those albums that’s never going to be a bad thing. But whereas many bands appear to emphasise the doom-laden riffs of that group, Kadavar never forget the need for balance, and this album comes across as refined and polished, as well as raw and grungy all at the same time.

This is their fourth studio album, and they continue to mine a rich vein of material, and although it may never be the most fashionable forms of metal, they are experts at what they do and it is of little surprise that their third release gained some chart success on both Germany and the States, and this one will do the same I’m sure. There is much here for any fan of the genre to really get their teeth and ears into.

KADAVAR Berlin

Album · 2015 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


The cover to the German trio’s third full-length studio album has a very Seventies feel about it, and the music on offer definitely belongs to the first part of that decade, if not earlier. But, given that the first two albums looked as if they belonged firmly in the Sixties, possibly the band are coming more up to date? By now bassist Simon ‘Dragon’ Bouteloup was fully ensconced in the band, having only contributed to a few songs on the previous album, joining Christoph ‘Lupus’ Lindemann (vocals, guitars) and Christoph ‘Tiger’ Bartelt (drums) in making a glorious sound that owes a great deal to the few years either side of 1970. The guitars are distorted when they need to be, or clean and fine at others, while the drums are solid and the bass moved between hitting a solid single note and going off at tangents.

Somehow the band manage to mix Cream, Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster (although with no keyboards) and others in a celebration of bell-bottomed flares, long hair, and loud music that is exciting, invigorating and undoubtedly honest. This is music guaranteed to get the sweat running down the walls, and turn even the most svelte and sedate manner rocker into a greasy mess of hair and snot.

Music guaranteed to make lovers of the Seventies and Sixties smile, their version of doom, psyche and straight ahead hard rock is a joy from start to end. If you like the genre then this is essential, but if not then I suggest you pass quickly by while the rest of lose our dandruff.

XIBALBA Diablo, Con Amor​.​. Adios.

EP · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
Reviewers Challenge Nov 17.

This three track E.P. is my first taste of Xibalba as I only occasionally venture into metalcore/deathcore territory. Doing a bit of homework and checking out some previous releases from this USA band they seem to have gone for a simpler approach than on their last album, 2015’s Tierra Y Libertad which I have to say I found more involving and prefer to this.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with this release though. At just over two minutes Diablo kicks things off and the sound is raw, the tempo slow, blending death metal, metalcore and doom. Con Amor is more up tempo, at least initially before they bring it down for a slow grinding breakdown. Adios is the longest of the tracks at over five minutes and probably the most interesting of the three. Whilst it maintains the traits of the first two songs the riffs are more compelling and they throw in more tempo changes. The standard of musicianship is good and the vocals a cross between a shout and a death growl which do the job but nothing more.

All in all this is the kind of release that I quite enjoy whilst listening to it but with so much other great music out there am unlikely to return to in a hurry. That said I’m tempted to go back to Tierra Y Libertad for another blast.

SWORDMASTER Postmortem Tales

Album · 1997 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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aglasshouse
Here's a funny story: when I was seven or eight years old, I fantasized about having my own rock band. I had consumed volumes of Breaking Benjamin and Green Day, and I aspired to one day be mentioned alongside the likes of Benjamin Burnley and Billy Joel Armstrong. Said desire isn't really part of my life anymore, but what I can tell you is that during this time I was a kid who loved to plan out things. Hardly any of these things came to fruition, but regardless I loved plotting my dreams in large itineraries and graphics. For this rock band dream, I conjured a single-word name for the band, being...well, Swordmaster. I drew covers of explosions and fire and flying eagles for imaginary "Swordmaster albums", and it entertained the hell out of me.

Well, flash-forward to about a decade later and here I am, with a disc in my hand from a band called Swordmaster titled Postmortem Tales. And would you look at that- explosions on the cover. Go figure.

It's safe to say my past alone propelled me toward this particular album, but I remained curious to discover the actual contents. What lies inside this particular album is at least partially interesting- Swordmaster is apparently a Swedish death-thrash band that made their marks prior to this 1997 studio debut with a black metal themed demo and a split with the Norway-based Zyklon-B. While their genre shift is definitely evident from this record, palpable nuggets of their black metal past are still present in areas like Andreas Bergh's vocal work and the droning ripple of the dual guitars. Upon first listen, I was a bit skeptical of the whole piece and it's nature as an "obscure but boring thrash release". While listening through though I was pleasantly surprised at a variety of satisfying tidbits that did well to throw a wrench into the mix of what would otherwise be a dreadfully monotonous work.

For one, Terror (aka Niklas Rudolfsson) on the skins is quite the piece of work. Owe it to the production (which is quite good for such an indie release) or what have you, but his zealous, machinery-esque drum sound is quite entertaining and fitting, and is heeded by the fact that he is quite impressive with the more rapid fills and tempo changes. Another great part of this album is its surprising eclecticism. Swordmaster not only dabble in death metal and black metal, but also in some more melodic parts such as on 'Blood Legacy' and 'Past Redemption', the band hits some notes that would not be out of place on a power metal album. Such elasticity is extremely refreshing, keeping you on your feet at all times prepared for a different sonic onslaught. The third and final noticeable feature of Postmortem Tales is the above-par songwriting. As previously mentioned, the album has a rather eclectic nature and isn't shy to pull in different metal sounds to create a fun ride. But such eclecticism wouldn't be able to function if it weren't for the songwriting, which is particularly enjoyable due to how fast everything travels. Sometimes it feels almost progressive in terms how many guitar solos and drum fills can be jammed into a simple minute of playing time.

But Postmortem Tales isn't all great, because a few things indeed hamper it. Sometimes the drums and tempo lean a bit too heavily on the thrash 4/4, a metal cliche that haunts even the best of bands. Luckily as stated before, sophisticated drum fills do well to add at least some flavor, as do the melodic guitar solos. Sometimes the vocals can grow a bit cliche as well, but honestly I wouldn't expect much more from a band still clinging a bit to their roots and is still trying to find their sound.

In all, this little gem is a romp that packs quite a punch in some areas. Definitely a punch big enough to give it the edge over much of Swordmaster's peers. I'd say check it out if you've got 45 minutes to spare.

ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Being a huge power metal fan, and someone who likes it equally when in its purest form and when mixed with other genres, one of my absolute favorite genre combinations is power/folk metal, a style which has sadly not been done a lot in recent years, but the best band in the style continues to go strong. Of course, I’m talking about Italian band Elvenking, who stormed onto the scene with their incredible debut Heathenreel in 2001, and they haven’t let up ever since. The band has managed to come up with a very diverse sound while sticking with their two main genres, and they’ve certainly surprised folks throughout their career, sometimes going for a more aggressive, almost metalcore sound, sometimes completely toning down the power metal in favor of pure folk, and sometimes striking a near perfect balance between the two. Their previous release, The Pagan Manifesto felt like their best and most perfectly balanced release to date, serving as a perfect summary of everything the band is capable of, so I had high expectations for their next release. Three and a half years later, they’re back with their ninth full-length album Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, and if its predecessor felt like a mission statement, this release feels like the band continuing to execute that mission to near perfection.

Compared to past releases, Secret of the Magick Grimoire doesn’t feel like a big departure from previous albums. Many times in their career, just when it seemed like their fans had them figured out, Elvenking would manage to surprise them, with no release sounding very similar to the previous release. However, after The Pagan Manifesto managed to be such a perfect blend of everything the band had done before, it really felt like they didn’t have much room to develop their sound further, and so it’s no surprise this album feels like a direct continuation. What this means is, anyone who loved the previous album is almost certainly going to love this album as well, as the band has once again struck the perfect balance between speedy power metal, epic folk melodies, huge choruses, heavy riffs, occasional sections with harsh vocals and huge symphonic arrangements at times. Basically, everything the band has done on previous albums is here in full force and executed just as brilliant as always. I thought the songwriting on The Pagan Manifesto was both extremely varied yet consistently perfect, and aside from a couple tracks in the middle that don’t quite seem up to par with the rest, Secrets of the Magic Grimoire follows suit. There’s a nice mix of more straight-forward power metal, more relaxing tracks that put extra emphasis on the folk elements, tracks that strike a perfect blend between the two, alternating between heavy, fast-paced sections and calmer, more folk-infused sections, and even a couple full symphonic power metal epics where the band dials everything up to 11. As with the previous album, the band has struck a nice balance between having a polished sound, and some excellent musicianship, including some excellent solos, while also having a raw energy to the music, with very high energy performances all around.

Another area where the band has always excelled is the vocals, and of course, Damna is as great here as he’s ever been. As always, he has a unique delivery that sounds a bit rawer and a bit more wild compared to a typical power metal vocalist, and he brings a certain kind of passion and intensity to the songs that fit the music perfectly. He uses some surprisingly deep and creepy sounding vocals on this album at times, as well as the occasional softer vocals, as usual. There’s also the occasional use of harsh vocals. These are very good and are used quite a few times, though they’re often kept in the background, adding extra flavor to the songs without getting in the way of Damna’s always stellar lead vocals.

In the songwriting department, while I wouldn’t quite put this album on the same level as its predecessor, it’s still a consistently satisfying release, with several songs that do reach the masterpiece status of the band’s career high point, while even the couple exceptions are still excellent tracks in their own right, which simply don’t quite blow me away as much as the others. The album gets off to an amazing start with “Invoking the Woodland Spirit”, a track which only clocks in at a little over 6 minutes, but it definitely feels like an epic, as orchestral elements are in full effect, and it’s a very fast-paced, super epic symphonic power metal track with slight folk leanings. It’s definitely on par with some of the band’s absolute best work to date, with the verses being fast-paced and very engaging, while the chorus is absolutely phenomenal, and the guitar solo in the second half is very melodic and very impressive as well. Overall, it’s the kind of track where it feels like the band went all out and delivered one of their absolute best songs to date. Following that incredible opener is the lead single “Draugen’s Maelstrom”, another fairly speedy track, which has an excellent lead guitar melody and again has fun, energetic verses to go along with an insanely catchy chorus, where some death growls are used nicely in support of Damna’s lead vocals, and it makes for a pretty cool effect. The instrumental section gets really speedy and intense and is a definite high point of the album. Overall, another instant winner, and of the band’s best singles, for sure.

Following such an impressive opening, the remainder of the album mostly follows suit, with other early highlights including “The One We Shall Follow”, a slower track with some excellent melodies, more symphonic elements, epic choir vocals and another fantastic chorus, as well as the second single “The Horned Ghost and the Sorcerer”, a mid-paced, folk-infused track which again has some incredible melodies, fun verses and perhaps the catchiest chorus on the album. It definitely brings to mind “Pagan Revolution” from the previous album and is almost as fun and catchy as that song, with the folk melodies perhaps being even better than on that track, and it’s definitely another excellent choice for a single. It has an excellent softer section in the middle where the band uses some tribal drums as well as some epic acoustic folk instrumentation for a bit, and it’s definitely one of the highlights of the album. After those two, we have “A Grain of Truth” a track which has some slower paced, heavier verses, mixes with a speedy chorus where the harsh vocals lead the way. I think the excellent, melodic pre-chorus section is my favorite part of this track, though the chorus is nice as well, and overall it’s one of those tracks that doesn’t quite impress me as much as some of the best on the album, but it’s still very good overall. Rounding out the first half is “The Wolves Will Be Howling Your Name”, a track which blends power and folk metal elements seamlessly and is a fantastic track. It starts off with some epic folk elements and has a nice use of violins throughout. The verses alternate between slow and speedy passages, while the chorus is slow and calm, with some of Damna’s best vocals on the album. The track has some amazing folk melodies throughout and is definitely another highlight.

The second half begins with two very good, but not quite outstanding tracks in “3 Ways to Magick” and “Straight Inside Your Winter”. The former again has a nice blend of power and folk elements and the chorus is amazing, but it feels like it loses focus at times, trying to fit a bit too much into it’s 4 and a half minute runtime, so it ends up not being as memorable as some of the other tracks on the album, while the latter is the slowest full-length song on the album and it has some nice folk melodies and a nice chorus, but it simply doesn’t quite reach the heights many of the other songs reach.

The remainder of the second half, though is perfect and very much represents some of the best music found on the album. First up is “The Voynich Manuscript”, a near 6 and a half minute track, which has a perfect blend between speedy power metal passages and calm folk passages, as well as one of the best choruses on the album, some of the most energetic and exciting verses, and a ton of memorable moments. The music gets darker and more epic in the second half, and from there the song just gets insanely good, with the ending sequence having some of the best harsh vocals on the entire album. Next is “Summon the Dawnlight”, the shortest and most relaxed of the final three full songs, though it’s still fairly fast paced and has some excellent lead guitar melodies and some verses which, while not overly speedy, move along at a nice enough pace and are very fun, while the chorus is simply fantastic as always, and the instrumental section is perhaps the best on the album. The last full song is “At the Courst of the Wild Hunt”, which starts off with a very folk-infused section, featuring some dark and kinda creepy vocals, performed by guest Snowy Shaw, before the track speeds up and turns into another very epic, symphonic power metal track, with another excellent chorus, extremely energetic verses, an amazing middle section where the folk elements appear again, and some nice surprises in the second half. It definitely feels like the band packed a lot into this track, but everything works perfectly and it’s up there with “Invoking the Woodland Spirit” as one of my two favorite songs on the album. Lastly, we have “A Cloak of Dusk”, an acoustic outro which features some nice violin melodies, as well as some of the softest vocals ever performed by Damna. It’s a nice little track which ends the album effectively.

Overall, Secrets of the Magic Grimoire is another outstanding album from Elvenking, which builds off the momentum they gained from their career high point The Pagan Manifesto, and at times even reaches the same level of perfection. I wouldn’t quite put it on the same level as that release on the whole, but it has its moments for sure, and overall it’s another fantastic blend of power and folk metal, with occasional symphonic elements and harsh vocals, as usual. Fans of past Elvenking albums are sure to enjoy this one, especially those who loved the previous release, while anyone looking for a nice blend of power, folk and symphonic metal is highly recommended to give this album a try.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/11/01/elvenking-secrets-magic-grimoire-review/

WODE Servants of the Countercosmos

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Black metal may have got its true start in Norway, but in recent years the United Kingdom, metal's birthplace, has become it's own little hotbed of quality acts making names for themselves. A few notable names being A Forest of Stars, Fen, Wodensthrone (sadly now defunct) and Winterfylleth. The latest band who are set to follow in their footsteps is Wode, who, like A Forest of Stars and Winterfylleth, hail from Manchester. Although their debut album, the self-titled Wode (2016), was released only a little over a year prior, this young act has wasted no time in delivering a follow-up. With their line-up expanded to four members, Servants of the Countercosmos (2017) has been unleashed and with it, Wode really make their mark.

The first thing anyone who picked up on these guys with their debut will notice is, before they've even started the music up, that even though Servants of the Countercosmos features the exact same amount of tracks as its predecessor (six), that the running time of the album is actually considerably shorter. We're talking a total time of 31:24 opposed to Wode's 47:51. The rather more atmospheric influenced debut was mainly made up of mostly long songs while for this second effort, Wode have trimmed up their writing style, leaving only one long track among Servants of the Countercosmos' number, Chaosspell, which is effectively the finale not counting the acoustic outro piece Undoing, which to me sounds as if it's actually part of the same song with an unnecessary track divider.

While the self-titled debut was a very good effort, I have to say that Servants of the Countercosmos makes for a much more instantly compelling release from Wode. The more concise writing certainly helps in that regard, but it's the more aggressive playing style the band has employed that really does it. The music is largely lacking the more atmospheric black metal elements of the debut, favouring the direct approach in every aspect. Far from a one trick pony release despite the fairly traditional style they play, Wode more than make up for the lack of additional influences this time by jam packing the album with hard hitting riffs and songs that use them to quickly establish themselves as distinct compositions. The lead growling vocals are also delivered with a similar power as the riffs, coming across like an oppressive presence that commands the sounds of blackened brutality. Though not exactly polished to melodic black metal standards, the album certainly benefits from a decent production job that avoids the excessively raw and/or cold sounds associated with the style, which really allows the guitar riffs to stand out and make their mark.

It's an experience that is over all too soon of course, but that also makes Servants of the Countercosmos a very easy album to keep going back to, one that also stands out for me as one of 2017's best traditional black metal offerings. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from Wode, because if their evolution so far is anything to judge by, album number three will be a real monster.

SPECTRAL VOICE Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 5 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Once upon a time, someone hit upon the great idea of pulling together death metal’s distorted heavy guitars and gargled vocals with doom metal’s pedestrian pace to create one of metal’s most vital and creative, but simultaneously depressing and gloomy, genres. As with all things metal, there could be more than one answer as to who came up with the idea first, but it matters not. What matters is the legacy of this momentous combination, from its earliest tentative steps through to today.

Paradise Lost’s debut album, the rather unimaginatively named “Lost Paradise” was one of the first examples of the genre to actually gain a wide release. It took death metal tunings and vocals, and played them at doom metal speeds. The band really hit their straps with the more gothic sounding “Gothic” (hmm, is that a pattern forming?) which also introduced the element of clean sung female vocals, and less of the deathly side of things. The band’s third album “Shades of God” saw the doom starting to dominate, as the death metal influences started to disappear.

There were also Paradise Lost’s great buddies from the north of England My Dying Bride and Anathema. Just about every early release by My Dying Bride was an exercise in soul crushing despair, with wonderful titles like “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium” and “The Angel and the Dark River”. With less of a death metal sound than Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride were still crushingly heavy. Were? They still fucking are!

Anathema were just as despairingly heavy as the other two, although they lost their death metal influence a lot sooner. No matter, their later works like “A Natural Disaster”, “Judgement”, or “A Fine Day to Exit” are far more subtle exercises in desperation.

Skin Chamber threw an industrial element into the mix. Although inspired by Napalm Death, Skin Chamber came out sounding like Godflesh raping The Swans (ooh, The Swans! I forgot the fucking Swans!). Created by Paul Lemos, and Chris Moriarty of experimental band Controlled Bleeding, the original intention was to produce short, sharp sonic blasts, like Napalm Death was doing, under the name Fat Hacker. However, given time, a recording budget, and the aforementioned Swans’ album “COP” on heavy rotation, the result was two legendary albums of industrial doom-death which have rarely been emulated since. The project was put to bed after just the two albums, but was about to be resurrected in 2008 when Moriarty’s untimely death put paid to it.

Disembowelment er, or diSEMBOWELMENT, as they spelled it, was an Australian band formed in 1989 from the ashes of grindcore band Bacteria. The band became famous for their funereal tempos interspersed with occasional bursts of speed. Their only album “Transcendence into the Peripheral” is still regarded as an essential album of its kind today. In 1993, band members Renato Gallina and Matthew Skarajew formed the highly respected ambient/fusion/world music outfit Trial of the Bow. All in all, this was quite some achievement for a band which only existed for four years and never performed live.

Closer to home, (well, my home anyway) there was Sinistrous Diabolus from Christchurch, New Zealand. The three piece band produced an absolutely stunning demo in 1993 named “Opus One”. The three tracks were far beyond the realm of what any other band in New Zealand was doing at the time, combining doom and death metal with anti-Christian black metal imagery. Like many a great band at the time, if Sinistrous Diabolus had been based in Europe or the US, they would have snagged a record deal, but New Zealand was and still is too far from the rest of the world. The band lay dormant for many years, but was revived in the 2010s, and has been emitting occasional slabs of filthy doom-death ever since.

So why a mention of all these excellent albums of days gone by when this is supposed to be a review of Spectral Voice’s “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing”? Because “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” is unbelievably tedious, and all the previous selections mentioned are better examples of doom-death metal.

All the ingredients for a good sound are there. Spectral Voice are undeniably heavy. The sound is utterly crushing and extreme. Somehow, it still doesn't work.

There is so little inspiration or effort in the music its surprising even the musicians themselves don’t get bored with it. Yes, it is supposed to be slow and heavy. Yes, it is decently executed doom/death. Yes, the band members in Spectral Voice are highly skilled musicians. These things are not what’s at fault here. The biggest problem is it is unoriginal, predictable, interchangeable, and ultimately dull.

This album has had a lot of praise from social media, but it seems like another case of hype building up the mediocre to a status far beyond that it deserves. Music is supposed to inspire some sort of strong reaction in a listener. “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” inspires apathy.

That’s not to say “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” is a total loss. While slow-paced plodding gets a bit monotonous, when the band uses a bit of tempo things improve. “Dissolution” blasts into life after a dreary opening passage, but this is over 40 minutes into the album. There is little to offer which has not been done before. While near faultlessly performed, “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” has no character or vitality, and is just not an essential release.

ATHEIST The Best of Atheist

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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aglasshouse
Ever wanted to own a major chunk of Atheist's discography without needing to purchase 2005's The Collection for upwards of $60? Fear not, a solution is here!

After seven long years following Atheist's last studio album Jupiter, the band finally decided to digitally release their first ever compilation album to date- and what a compilation it is! In true-to-form fashion Atheist grab the most sonically insane and cosmic songs from their studio albums (as well as a live version of 'Mother Man' from Live At Wacken 2009) in a massive 22-track corpus. Forthright this puts The Best Of leagues ahead of other death metal contemporaries' works like Death's Best Of in '92 or Nile's Legacy of the Catacombs in '07, granted both rather good releases, simply from the vastness of the song selection. Especially considering Atheist's relatively small discography, 90 minutes of pure action may seem a bit hefty at first, but for only $10 (roughly €8.50 for you Europeans) from Bandcamp it is a fairly free-and-easy deal compared to another compilation that would front you the same price but with half the content.

This album is a perfect introductory release for beginners and also a good pickup for familiars. The only gripes I have with it are the fact that there's no physical release, because I prefer lending actual tangible material to a hypothetical beginner depending on the circumstances, and the fact that my favorite song 'Why Bother?' from Piece of Time is not present. Maybe they took the title a bit too literally?

MISS LAVA Sonic Debris

Album · 2016 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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ElNapalmo
"Sonic Debris" is the third studio album of Portuguese rockers Miss Lava. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to listen to "Red Supergiant", so I can not compare and comment on musical evolution. However the sound seems to have changed a little since the 2009 debut "Blues For The Dangerous Miles" and the evolution is notorious. The new sound of Miss Lava is spontaneous, strong and above all, more appealing. The influences are still there, but the band has managed to create their own identity and, although the disc is heterogeneous enough to keep the listener interested, it is perfectly cohesive. "Sonic Debris" was produced by Fernando Matias along with the band itself, mixed by Benny Grotto (Slapshot, Sasquatch, Lo Pan) in Boston, and mastered by Chris Goosman (Greenleaf, Acid King, Wo Fat, Night Stalker), in Chicago. In total there are 10 tracks that sum up to 50 minutes. It will surely please fans of Kyuss, Corrosion Of Conformity, Monster Magnet, Soundgarden, Clutch or Fu Manchu. Rock is alive in Portugal and it is recommended.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Symphony Of Enchanted Lands

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 36 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Ludicrously over the top, pompously bombastic, cheesy as hell. With Power Metal these things can either be used as insults, or as compliments depending on what you like to listen to.

There are few bands more OTT, more pompous or more cheesy than Italy’s Rhapsody (Who were later re-named Rhapsody Of Fire due to legal issues, and later still split into two bands, Rhapsody Of Fire and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody with different members in different sides continuing things on separately). Pompus, cheesy and OTT sure, but that’s exactly what’s so great about them. The band are the very spirit of over-dramatic, flowery, sword and sorcery themed Symphonic Power Metal. Just take a look at the dragon on the front cover. Hey people told you dragons and stuff were ridiculous back in the ’90s but nowadays everyone’s calling their newborn kid Khallesi and you can buy Game Of Thrones t-shirts in Asda. (That’s Wallmart for my non-British readers).

Singer Fabio Lione (currently in Angra) has an absolutely stunning voice, with such ridiculous power, range and control. The perfect man for the job of delivering the cheesy OTT story, over this cheesy OTT music. He has the perfect skill for delivering the immense drama the band have to offer. Lead guitarist Luca Turilli’s insane virtuoso mastery of his instrument is beyond impressive. The shred level is off the charts. The combination of both those things is bound to have been a huge influence on modern bands like Firewind and Dragonforce.

This 1998 effort is the second entry in their series of concept albums set in a Lord Of The Rings style fantasy world, continuing the story of their The Emerald Sword Saga. The music is a mixture of Hollywood soundtrack style orchestration and glorious rampaging melodic European-style Power Metal. There’s speedy numbers, mid-paced stuff and lavish string & wind driven atmospheric passages, all working next to each other in perfect harmony. Sometimes they just go ahead and blend it all together too. The fast songs will have flutes and acoustic guitars as intros or outros or middle-eights, the slow songs will have orchestral moments or narration at the end, the mid-paced stompers will speed up later on. It all works so well together.

After a minute of dramatic classical music and chanting in the intro ‘Epicus Furor,’ the band kick off the album with a bang, on possibly the finest track on the whole album and one of the finest of their early career… the absolutely storming ‘Emerald Sword,’ with one of the catchiest choruses you’ll ever hear (it sticks in my head for days at a time). The album is crowned by an epic 13-minute title track which encompasses pretty much all the many styles this album has to offer in one single place. Everything in between, the ballads, the fast ones and the orchestral stuff is all up to a very high standard. Highlights include ‘Wisdom Of The Kings,’ ‘Riding The Wings Of Eternity’ and ‘Beyond The Gates Of Infinity.’

Overall; Symphony Of Enchanted Lands is a ridiculously bold and spectacular album brimming with effort, with enthusiasm and drama. The musicianship is immense, the songs are memorable and as long as you don’t mind that its cheesy as hell, I highly recommend you check it out. Fans of symphonic bands would like it, fans of Power Metal would like it and fans of fantasy fiction would like it.

ARGUS From Fields of Fire

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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adg211288
I'm sure that most metal fans, like myself, when they think of the genre's base sound, traditional heavy metal, their first thoughts are drawn to the classic acts from the seventies and eighties. Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Judas Priest. Accept. Motörhead. The list could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. If you go on music rating websites and call up a chart of traditional heavy metal releases it'll be the rare album that is newer than being from 2000 and most that are will be by the long established groups. Newer traditional metal acts may obtain a small but loyal following, but seem to be doomed to forever sit in the shadow of their forebears. As good as the classics are this is a shame, because there's quite a few bands formed this side of the year 2000 that proudly fly the flag for unmodernised traditional heavy metal and play the style convincingly. The latest of these to make my shortlist for being the 'real deal' is US act Argus, whose fourth album From Fields of Fire (2017) is ready to assert them as one of the contenders to be heir to this classic genre's crown.

I first became aware of Argus with their second album Boldly Stride the Doomed (2011). Back then, they had a sound that was more of a blend of heavy metal and traditional doom metal, leaning more on the latter to my ears. But with their next album Beyond the Martyrs (2013) the group focussed more on their heavy metal side. Rather than being the kind of coincidental writing fluke that can happen with acts who blend two genres more or less equally it looks like the change was intentional, since From Fields of Fire features a similar approach; occasionally doomy traditional heavy metal played with distinctive, meaty guitar riffs and topped by powerful vocals from Brain 'Butch' Balich.

After a brief intro instrumental, the first full song Devils of Your Time starts up and it's an instant winner that sets the tone for the album. Argus must have been recording in these fields they keep harping on about because they really are on fire here! This is classic sounding heavy metal done with such strength and conviction that had Argus been around in the eighties they'd surely have been a major name today alongside the other eighties greats. And it continues through another seven songs, including the eleven minute epic Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors without skipping a beat, finally drawing to a close with a similar instrumental to what it opened with. Though very classic in style, the album does benefit from modern production standards, which makes it sound all that more potent.

While I didn't like the predecessor Beyond the Martyrs quite as much, I have to say that From Fields of Fire certainly represents a step up for Argus and while it hasn't topped Boldly Stride the Doom as the band's best album for me, it certainly provides ample proof that Argus has a future playing this semi-doomy style of heavy metal and also elevates the band in my regards in relation to other newer heavy metal acts such as Dark Forest (the UK band) and A Sound of Thunder. Undoubtedly this album is the best heavy metal album I've heard from 2017 so far or am likely to for the remainder.

BATHORY The Return......

Album · 1985 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 22 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Ah, Bathory! The Return.... Is that a double epsilon? I remember that day, that exciting day of going downtown with my paper route tip money and heading straight to the metal section of the music store, searching for something new to discover. And there amidst all the album covers of skulls, musclebound barbarians, acts of violence and blood, and Siamese twins tearing apart, was a simple cover of a gibbous moon shining through a gap in the clouds, a scene I had easily observed many times in my life. What kind of album would this be? I snatched it up!

Ah, Bathory! Some 32 years later and I finally decided to delve into black metal and see what there might be to captivate my constant craving for more diversity in my music collection. I brought home Immortal and thought, “The vocals really sound a lot like Quorthon of Bathory.” I brought home Darkthrone and Enslaved and thought the same. I checked out Emperor, Marduk, Gorgoroth, Satyricon, and more and each time I was reminded of Bathory. It soon dawned on me that if there was one band that inspired the sound of the second wave of black metal, it had to be Bathory.

You’ll find out very quickly that this is true when you watch any documentaries on YouTube or read anything about the development of the black metal scene. Bathory’s debut album and especially “Under the Sign of the Black Mark”, the third album, are frequently cited as the most highly influential albums in the developing black metal scene. The dark, distorted guitars and sinister riffs, the low production quality, and the back-of-the-throat, angry-burning-witch vocal style set the parameters of the black metal to come. For a riff-lover like me, “Born for Burning” had the most dread-inspiring and powerful guitar riff to make it to my cassette collection yet back in 1985, and songs like “Total Destruction”, “Sadist”, and “The Rite of Darkness / Reap of Evil” affirmed my love for this album.

On the plus side, I found the tracks I had forgotten, like “The Wind of Mayhem” and “Son of the Dammed” were at least worth hearing again, while the intro, “Revelation of Doom”, which once conjured up images of a demon in destructive rage approaching from afar, now sounds more like a giant baby crying for its formula bottle. Or is that a mammoth, Satanic tit?

Listening to this album now after at least three decades, I am reminded how the drumming mostly just keeps the beat and how there are few fills, though when one does come in, it sure feels effective. I also recall reading one single review of the album ever and the author saying that the band had an agile bassist. However, I am not hearing that bass so well. But perhaps it doesn’t matter. The real stars of the show are Quorthon’s original vocals, the heavy assault guitars, and the fuzzy production. This album impressed me much more than the debut and “Under the Sign of the Black Mark” actually turned me off the band. No one ever seems to talk about “The Return......” but for me this was/is an essential album in the tale of black metal and extreme metal in the eighties. Quorthon may have died far too young but his legacy can be heard in so many bands of the 1990’s. That’s gotta count for something!

CRADLE OF FILTH Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay

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


It is hard to believe that Cradle of Filth have now been making a nuisance of themselves for more than 25 years, but here they are back with their 12th album, their second for Nuclear Blast. True, they have been through one or two musicians during that period (okay, so it’s the best part of 30, but who’s counting?), and while Dani has been there since the very beginning, only drummer Marthus can also claim to have been with the band for more than five years. Somehow it never seems to matter, as Dani has a very strong view on what the band should sound like, and the image they should portray, and to my ears it seems like all the travails and efforts have been leading to this point as to my poor abused ears this is the finest thing they have ever done.

For me there has always been a fine line with CoF as to whether they really mean it, or if they are in danger of becoming a parody of the very thing they are trying to represent, but here their blend of symphonic gothic black metal hits every mark, every time. I just can’t fault this album, as from beginning to end I found myself deep inside the dark world of Dani’s creation, where the drums pummel when they need to, the guitars are clean and melodic or distorted and riffing as the need arises, the symphonic histrionics are just right, the female vocals create just the right amount of balance (congratulations to Lindsay Schoolcraft who has large shoes to fill – I was always a huge fan of Sarah Jezebel Deva – but here she gets it spot on) and then there is Dani. Now solidly into his forties, young(ish) Mr. Filth has created an album that takes the bands to new heights, and while I have always had a soft spot for ‘Dusk...And Her Embrace’, I know this has taken the #1 slot for me. If you love CoF then rush out and get this now, as it is everything you have ever enjoyed about the band, just taken to the next level. If you have never been too sure, then now is the time to give them another try.

STRATOVARIUS Intermission

Boxset / Compilation · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.27 | 3 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Intermission is a mish-mash compilation album by the Finnish Power Metal band Stratovarius from 2001. It was released as a stopgap between their commercially successful Infinite album from 2000 and their ambitious and slightly Prog Metal double album series Elements Parts 1 & 2 from 2003.

Its got linear notes from the band about the release and a very well designed cover art referencing previous albums (kind of like Pink Floyd’s Echos compilation does).

The album opens up with four brand new songs, first of which is the slightly power ballad style ‘Will My Soul Ever Rest In Peace?’ Its nice solid melodic Hard Rock stuff. Next comes ‘Falling Into Fantasy’ which starts off with a shimmering Empire-era Queensryche style vibe. Think ‘Della Brown.’ It sounds like the sort of stuff the band were doing on the popular Destiny album. Speaking of Queensryche the chorus is quite reminiscent of ‘Jet City Woman’ too actually. The song livens up further with a nice energetic guitar solo and a fun drum pattern underneath with a very nice tom fill at the end of the solo. At the start you thought it was just another ballad (Statovarius do a lot of ’em) but really it turned out to be one of the best songs they do in this particular direction, if a little derivative of Degarmo and company (for me that’s a good thing really).

That’s followed up by the traditionally power metal track ‘The Curtains Are Falling,’ a speedy double-kicks-a-flailin’ headbanger with a catchy chorus and memorable neoclassical keyboards. Its got a lot of energy and probably would have been the smarter choice to open the album with, I think. Probably would’ve worked better going from most to least energetic, but hey, its sequenced how its sequenced folks, I don’t make the rules.

Finally there’s a track called ‘Requiem’ which is essentially just a typical instrumental intro or outro. The sort thing most people will skip after the first few listens. A slow, keyboard driven atmospheric build up with no Heavy Metal payoff.

That’s it for the brand new specially written for this songs. The rest are gathered from mixed sources during their classic period. There’s two demos ‘Neon Light Child’ and ‘Freedom’ both of which are OK but forgettable (just the same as the final versions but with less polished production really). Then two live tracks, ‘Hunting High & Low’ (their very fun hit single) and ‘I Surrender’ (which is actually a Rainbow cover, and very fun, if a bit out of place), which are nice but kind of pointless on a compilation as opposed to a proper full-length live album. There’s two studio cover songs; ‘Bloodstone’ originally by Judas Priest (which they nail) and ‘Kill The King’ originally by Rainbow again (which has been done better by other bands, but its decent if you aren’t over-familiar with it).

The majority of the rest is all the bonus tracks from deluxe editions of the last few albums etc. ‘Keep The Flame’ is a very somber and emotional piano ballad. ‘Dream With Me’ is a power ballad that gets very jaunty towards the end when the solo kicks in. Then there’s another power ballad called ‘What Can I Say?’ which is slightly similar to track one, but with a bit more bite to it. OK yes, sensing a theme here? There are a lot of ballads on here. Its not all ballads though…

‘Its A Mystery’ is a very strong more commercial Power Metal tune in the vein of ‘Hunting High & Low’ which sounds like it would’ve fit perfectly on Infinite and probably would’ve made a great single if they’d released it that way. Its one of the best songs on this compilation. ‘Why Are We Here?’ the bonus track from Infinite is similarly just another really strong track from them in their commercial direction, and also baffling that it wasn’t a big single either. ‘Cold Winter Nights’ is typical perfect up-tempo Stratovarius, with that sort of Judas Priest’s Electric Eye vibe only with more keyboards and melody. Its also one of the best songs here and a nice surprise if it wasn’t on your version of Destiny already. ‘When The Night Turns To Day’ is a stomping mid pace track with a whiff of Queensryche’s Empire about it, just like the new track mentioned above. It would also have fit best on Destiny (even though it was initially from as far back as Episode, if you can believe that).

As you can imagine, Intermission is just a jumble of odds and ends with no particular theme or flow or consistency. Its not a must-have release or anything. Hey, if you like ’em doing ballads and covers you’re quids-in. If you want ’em doing more of a Speed Metal thing there’s not so much of that on here though, so maybe don’t start here if you are new, pick up one of the records in their glory run from Episode to Elements Part 2 instead.

If you like the band already though, and just want a cheap, easy and quick way to get the bonus tracks and b-sides in one place then this is great for that purpose, and hey there’s four solid new songs too to flesh it out. Nothing life changing, but worth a look if you’ve ran out of other Stratovarius products to check out from this era.

STATIC-X Machine

Album · 2001 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 6 ratings
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martindavey87
2001 was the year nu metal fully conquered the world, pushing heavier music to the mainstream and reaching all new heights of popularity. Sadly though, it was a fad that wouldn't last, and any band looking to make an impact had to strike while the iron was hot. For every Disturbed, there was a dozen Spineshank's, for every Korn, there were multiple Adema's. With a cult following building since their 1999 debut, it was now-or-never for Static-X. Go hard or go home.

Which brings us to 'Machine'.

A huge step up from its predecessor, Wayne Static and his ragtag misfits are back with this crushingly brutal yet innocently simplistic assault on the senses. 14 year-old me had never heard anything so aggressive, and to this day, it still amazes me how an album so stripped bare can be so heavy. Sure, it's overproduced to hell and back, with various electronic tracks and effects giving the album such a massive and fat sound, but the compositions themselves are all very laid back, with basic arrangements, no overly complex passages, and barely more than three or four chords in any one song.

It's a classic case of "less is more". And in a case of great timing, the album was released during nu metal's heyday, ensuring it would appeal to a new generation of young metal fans that were introduced to the genre by bands such as Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit.

Overall, 'Machine' is an incredibly polished release, with a great sound and some infectious tracks. In particular, 'Otsego Undead', 'Structural Defect', '...In a Bag', 'Machine', and the two hit singles 'Cold' and 'Black and White', are all standout moments that helped firmly establish Static-X as one of the bands that would outlast the nu metal fad, and more importantly, one of the heaviest bands from my childhood.

SERENITY Lionheart

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
At this point, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of symphonic power metal, and it’s also no secret that out of all bands to play that style of music, Austrian band Serenity is easily my all-time favorite. Ever since I heard their third album Death & Legacy for the first time, I’ve been absolutely in love with their brand of epic, cinematic symphonic metal mixed with speedy power metal, and everything they’ve done before and after that album has left me almost as impressed as that release did. Their previous release Codex Atlanticus was perhaps their weakest release since their second album Fallen Sanctuary, which came before their current sound had fully developed, yet it still kept me thoroughly entertained, so obviously I was excited when I heard the band was planning on releasing their sixth full-length album, Lionheart, less than two years later. Well, that release is now almost here, and I can say once again the band has delivered in a big way! In fact, this time I’d say they’ve stepped up their game once again, delivering a more consistently impressive album than Codex Atlanticus, and even perhaps matching Death & Legacy (only time will tell on that one.)

One thing working in the band’s favor this time around is that Lionheart is actually their first release since Fallen Sanctuary to not feature any lineup changes, which has allowed more time for the current members to work together and build off what they had going on their previous release. In particular, guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer showed a lot of potential on Codex Atlanticus, throwing in some heavier riffs than expected at times, and also including some very nice solos, but throughout most of the tracks, it felt as if he was being limited a bit. This time around, while the orchestras and vocals are obviously still as important to the music as ever and remain the main focus, Chris has been given a ton of room to work with on most of the tracks, and he uses a thicker, more modernized guitar sound at times, which adds an extra edge to the music, and some of the riffs here are quite aggressive but they fit in with the songs perfectly, while his solo work is very beautiful and melodic, like it was on the previous album, except even better. It does make sense that the guitar work would be a bit heavier and have a more expanded role on this album, as the overall theme of the album tells the tale of Richard 1 (often known as Richard the Lionheart) and so a lot of the songs talk about epic battles and achievements, which allows room for the heavy guitars to come in, while the orchestras and vocal melodies are still as epic and ever, and also very much fit in with the tone of the lyrics.

Of course, this being a Serenity album, there’s also a softer side to the music, which comes through on many of the tracks, and there are some very emotional lyrics at times, especially on tracks like the ballad “Heaven”, the sort of power ballad “My Fantasy” and the epic closer “The Final Crusade”. These are all tracks where the vocals take the leading role, and of course, Georg Neuhauser delivers the goods as always. He has a warm, beautiful tone to his voice that works perfectly on the softer tracks, allowing the melodies to really shine through, and as always he sounds like a much calmer, smoother singing version of Tony Kakko. At the same time, he can put in a bit of extra power to fit in well during the heavier passages, and as always he does a fantastic job on the epic choruses, which are very much in full supply on this album. As always, though, he also gets a bit of extra help on a few tracks, both from bassist Fabio D’Amore, whose more aggressive, animated vocals fit in well on the heavier track “Stand and Fight”, as well as from two female guest vocalists, who both work very well with Georg and help provide some of the biggest highlights of the album.

As expected, the album kicks off with a brief but epic orchestral intro, which very much feels like it would fit in perfectly as part of a film score, with epic choir vocals used to add extra flavor. This feel carries over to the start of the opening song “United”, which opens softly with orchestras and keys, before the lead guitar kicks in with some nice melodic leads, and the album officially gets underway. Like some of Serenity’s classic openers, this is a more mid-paced affair, though the presence of heavy guitars during the verses helps add an extra layer to the music, to go along with the orchestras and Georg’s vocals, which are both as epic and amazing as ever. The heavy verses give way to the chorus, which is of course insanely epic and well sung as always, as well as being engaging and very catchy. The guitars actually get even heavier during the second verse and Georg sings a bit deeper and with more power than usual, which is pretty awesome. Towards the end of the track there’s an epic guitar solo, which really shows Chris’s skills off, and then we get an incredible final run through the chorus. All in all, it’s a perfect album opener, which at times brings back memories of when I first heard “New Horizon” from Death & Legacy, and was immediately blown away.

In case that song didn’t already set the bar high, the title track comes next and is an absolute masterpiece! It comes flying out of the gate with some nice folk melodies, and the verses keep the momentum going, charging along at a very fast pace, and overall it’s a track that very much feels like classic Euro power metal, complete with an epic, very speedy chorus that is of course as insanely catchy as one would expect from a Serenity single. Georg is in top form as always, the choir vocals are epic, and the guitar work is again heavy in bursts, and Chris once again delivers an excellent melodic solo in the middle. The end of the track is also a highlight, as the folk melodies return and we even get some epic marching drums to close out the track. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, though things hardly go downhill afterward. Next is “Hero”, another track where the guitar work really stands out. It kicks off with easily some of heaviest, most brutal sounding riffs I’ve ever heard on a Serenity album, and after a brief calmer section where Georg steals the show, the song continues moving at a fast pace, and is another instantly memorable track, where the orchestra, guitars, and vocals blend together to create something truly special. The chorus is once again a highlight, and the heavy riffs are used pretty much constantly throughout, especially in the middle right before giving way to an extended softer passage where the orchestra and vocals take over. After that is yet another speedy track in “Rising High”, though on this track the guitars are a bit softer and have more of a classic power metal sound. It’s another fast-paced track with energetic verses, complete with one of the catchiest choruses on the album, and another excellent guitar solo in the second half.

Things settle down for a bit after that track, with the only full ballad on the album, “Heaven”. It’s the kind of epic, folk-infused ballad the band always does well, with some nice folk melodies throughout, which blend in well with the piano and orchestra, and of course, Georg’s beautiful vocals feel right at home on this kind of song. The chorus is again excellent, very catchy and very beautiful at the same time. There’s a nice guitar solo in between verses, before we get the first guest appearance on the album from Faun vocalist Katja Moslehner, who has a very soft and lovely voice that carries the second verse and chorus for a while, though the song gets, even more, epic when Georg comes back in and the two sing together for the final chorus. Serenity is always excellent at delivering ballads, and if anything this is one of their very best efforts to date. The following track may disappoint some folks, as the title “King’s Landing” is sure to make fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones excited, with that being the name of one of the show’s main settings, but in fact the song has nothing to do with that series at all, and is instead a simple, but very beautiful piano interlude that offers a slowed down take on some of the melodies found on the next track.

Which takes us into the second half, where “Eternal Victory” kicks things off at a high tempo once again, following another nice folk section at the beginning. It’s another very speedy track, with some excellent guitar leads to go along with the epic orchestras, and it has another fantastic, super catchy chorus, which uses choir vocals effectively, as well as some very fun verses, and another great guitar solo. The final run through the chorus dials the choir vocals up to an 11 and is simply incredible. Next, is “Stand and Fight”, perhaps the catchiest song on the entire album, and yet another speedy track that delivers the goods. It begins with a brief tease at the chorus before the guitars kick in and we get some heavy riffs during the verses, to go along with some very animated vocals performed by Fabio, before Georg takes over just in time for the chorus, and sings along with some epic choirs. The instrumental section is again brilliant, as first, we get an extended orchestral section where the symphonic elements are used in full force, and then we get another amazing guitar solo. Overall, it’s yet another major standout track and for sure one of my favorites on the album.

After that the track, the pace slows down a bit for the final four tracks, though the quality doesn’t let up at all. Next is “The Fortress (of Blood and Sand)”, the kind of hard-hitting mid-paced track the band had a ton of on their earlier albums, and here it’s done very effectively, with the verses offering a nice contrast between aggressive guitars and Georg’s soft vocals, while the chorus is melodic and very catchy as always, and of course the solo section gets heavier again and is pretty awesome. The following track “Empire” is slightly speedier and more melodic, though it’s still more mid-paced than many of the earlier tracks. It has some very epic vocal melodies as always and features another one of the stronger choruses on the album, especially the final run through. Though it’s a softer track, Chris is again given room to showcase his skills during the middle section, with some heavy riffs, and as always he adds an extra guitar presence that I felt was missing a bit from the previous three albums.

Things go softer again as we head towards the end, with “My Fantasy” starting off feeling like a ballad, with some nice piano work and soft male vocals. I can’t tell if these are performed by Fabio or someone else, but they”re definitely not done by Georg, as they sound different from him. Whoever is singing there, they do a nice job of setting the tone for the song, before the guitars kick in and the track turns into more of a power ballad, with Georg leading the way as always, providing some of his best vocals during the chorus. As always, there’s some great guitar work, later on, this time with a very emotional guitar solo, which leads the way to the final run through of the chorus, and ends the song on a high note. Last, but certainly not least, we have the epic closing track “The Final Crusade”. This is a lot calmer than most Serenity closing tracks, opening with some nice acoustic guitar work before settling into a mid-paced groove, and it stays at this tempo the whole way through, with some relaxing but fairly engaging verses, which give way to the most surprising section on the album, that being a brief extreme metal passage where some harsh vocals are included. The growls sound pretty cool and add extra flavor to the track, leading into a very emotional and exciting chorus, where Georg delivers some of the most powerful vocals I’ve ever heard from him. It’s a beautiful song the whole way through, but the highlight of the track, and perhaps even the entire album, comes in the final two minutes, as Sleeping Romance vocalist Federica Lanna comes in at first during a beautiful piano section, then sings with Georg during the chorus, and she closes out the album with an absolutely beautiful final run through of the chorus, along with some amazing guitar work in the background. Serenity has always delivered some amazing closing tracks, but I think this one may be their very best yet.

I always have very high expectations when I listen to a Serenity album, as they’re far and away my favorite symphonic power metal band in the world, and that happens to be my favorite genre of all, but once again the band has managed to blow me away with Lionheart, delivering one of their very best albums to date. It contains the kind of epic, orchestral symphonic metal fans of the band have come to expect, with some very melodic and emotional tracks, enhanced by excellent female vocals on a couple tracks, and it, of course, has the epic mid-paced tracks the band has always excelled at, but it also has some of their best speedier tracks to date, as well as an increased use of heavy guitar work to further enhance the songs. It’s easily the best album of its kind I’ve heard since Death & Legacy, even surpassing the two previous efforts from the band, Codex Atlanticus and War of Ages. Longtime fans of the band are sure to love it, and I’d highly recommend it to any fans of symphonic power metal as well, as the genre doesn’t get any better than this!

originally written for myglobalmind.com (https://myglobalmind.com/2017/10/25/serenity-lionheart-review/)

MEGADETH Rust in Peace

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 211 ratings
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martindavey87
Ushering in what would become Megadeth's "golden era", 1990's 'Rust in Peace' was the album where all the pieces fit together perfectly. Dave Mustaine was sober (again... for now...), a new line-up was in place that was superior to any that had come before (and probably after...), and the music was a perfect bookend to the thrash metal scene that was on its last legs (for the time being...).

1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!', with only a couple of notable songs and pretty rough production, was a bit of a disappointment, and with mainstream success on the horizon, it was time for the band to get their act together. With another new line-up change (their third over four albums), main man Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson were joined by drummer Nick Menza and guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman. And the difference is noticeable immediately.

'Rust in Peace' sees the band really step up the intensity and precision in their playing, with some of their most technical and relentless compositions. The chemistry between Mustaine and Friedman is incredible, with both men given ample time to shine, though it's Friedman's exotic guitar licks and ripping solos that truly raise the game for Megadeth. A much-improved production means that every note is crisp and clear, and with the 80's thrash boom coming to an end, this would at least ensure the subgenre would go out with a bang!

However, transcending the thrash genre and often cited as one of the best metal albums of all time, period, this is where I feel 'Rust...' tends to become slightly mired by hyperbole. Don't get me wrong, 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due', 'Hanger 18', 'Tornado of Souls' and 'Rust in Peace... Polaris' are all absolute classics. And that's an understatement. These are truly some of metals finest and most endearing pieces, having stood the test of time and still being as impactful today as they were in 1990. But let's be honest with ourselves here... 'Five Magics'... 'Poison Was the Cure', even 'Dawn Patrol', which serves as a breather from the barrage of headbanging mayhem, are all fairly average tracks, and while they're not awful, they're not all that memorable, either.

This doesn't take much away from 'Rust in Peace', though. It's status as a classic metal album is fully warranted, and while I may not rate it as highly as most others, there's no denying that this is Megadeth's best, most beloved and most innovative work.

NECROMANDUS Necromandus

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Although it's become somewhat prevalent for bands of the seventies and eighties who never really made it while they were young to make a comeback years down the line, one group that it probably wouldn't have been expected of is UK hard rockers Necromandus. After all, most of the band's original line-up is now deceased, with only drummer Frank Hall still around. Necromandus were only active between 1970 and 1973 and the lone album they recorded was released posthumously in various forms, originally without the band's permission or even knowledge until after the event. Hall has been quoted as being 'staggered' to discover the recordings on the market (having been told by his mother) and being 'happy and annoyed at the same time'.

It probably shouldn't have been that way. In the early seventies hard rock/heavy metal scene they had just about the best endorsement that a band could get having been taken under the wing of none other than Tony Iommi, who managed them and had them open for Black Sabbath, but things were not meant to be. Guitarist Barry Dunnery quit the band in 1973, which resulted in a rapid downward spiral that saw record label Vertigo drop them and the debut album shelved.

Revived in 2016 by Frank Hall with the aim to record a new album based off of the old material from the seventies, the new Necromandus line-up was born, including the son of late vocalist Bill Branch, John Branch, filling his father's role in the band. Necromandus (2017) is the result of their labours. At least some songs will be familiar to those who heard one of the various versions of the original debut, even if the titles aren't: opener Don't Look Down Frank was Nightjar on those releases (Don't Look Down Frank being the actual title that would have been used had the album been released in the seventies, apparently).

Though newly recorded, the music on Necromandus remains faithful to the seventies style of hard rock and even in some places actual heavy metal, often with a progressive twist. Despite the ties to Iommi and Black Sabbath back in the seventies I'm reminded more of Budgie during the heavier and more metallic parts of the album. The guitar riffs have an excellent sound with plenty of bite, though there are also plenty of softer and melodic parts. There are also heavy psych elements to be found, especially in the parts of the album where the keyboards are more prominent. They never actually had a keyboardist back during their original career, this new line-up being a five-piece rather than a four, but they certainly fit in well and offer up additional variety in the album, of which there is plenty of to begin with: the songs have no issue with individual identity.

The songs themselves are both hard rocking and catchy, with Hymn To Her, The Warriors and the closer And She Smiles in particular sticking in my head for ages after the event, while other highlights are the opening duo of Don't Look Down Frank and Alauna. The vocals from John Branch are crystal clear and his voice is very similar to his father's from what I've heard of older Necromandus recordings. It definitely feels right that he is singing on this record and not someone else and in fact this album is in itself a fitting tribute by Frank Hall to his original bandmates. It's like both the album that should have been finally seeing the light of day (despite those various versions of the original debut) and the beginning of a new chapter. It remains to be seen of course whether this will go down as one last hurrah for the Necromandus name or if, like others before them such as eighties NWoBHM act Hell, they'll continue to produce new material. I hope so, because this one is a keeper.

CANNIBAL CORPSE Red Before Black

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
With a band like Cannibal Corpse, it would be entirely reasonable to expect to find a body buried in the back yard, or a disfigured sibling kept locked in the attic, but it just hasn’t happened. Despite the themes of murder, mutilation, cannibalism, tracing back to the band’s earliest days, there are no true life horrors like "St. Anger", "Cold Lake", or "Risk" lurking anywhere in their back catalogue. The days of a tour de force like "Butchered At Birth" or "Tomb of the Mutilated" seem to be a long time ago, but “Red Before Black” proves that the same band which recorded those slabs of maggot riddled carrion still exists today.

Metal has evolved since the heady days of the early 1990s, and Cannibal Corpse have also evolved, while still keeping the essence and vitality which made them unique. This is a band which started out playing death metal and is determined to keep playing it until the bloody end.

“Only One Will Die” blasts off, no horror movie or acoustic intros needed, and it’s death metal bliss. Ah, fuck, you know what it’s like. Hammer smashed face drums, monolithic bass, hatchet to the head guitars, and vomit the soul vocals, and the aural horror show is back for another instalment. “Code of the Slashers” is one of those songs which should become a live favourite, with an impending doom crushing opening riff, followed by Corpsegrinder’s bestial vocals, and then a fast section kicks in. It’s uncompromising as fuck. It’s hard to imagine five guys all aged around 50 are still making such fucking brutal, complex, crushing, unearthly, thunderous music, but they are.

“Remaimed” is, if anything, heavier than “Code of the Slashers”. Once again, it seems Cannibal Corpse are going to sacrifice speed for the sake of heavy, but the song changes gears effortlessly between the two. And that’s one of Cannibal Corpse’s great strengths. They make this seem easy, when it’s anything but. Screaming “head shovelled off!” at the top of your voice along with Corpsegrinder is great fun, and that is exactly what “Red Before Black” is all about, albeit a dark sort of amusement. There are still plenty of elitists out there who wrote off Cannibal Corpse a long time ago, and can’t or won’t change their opinion. The band’s crime? Becoming too popular through their controversial artwork and lyrics, and even popping up as “thrasher band Cannibal Corpses” in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. That’s like judging a beer by the bottle and not what’s inside. Fuck ‘em. They are the ones missing out on some of the finest crafted death metal there is, and the band’s longevity has proved beyond doubt that any hint of gimmickry is long gone. Cannibal Corpse is no longer the most brutal and vicious band around (and fuck off once again to the elitists who say they never were) but fucking hell, how many bands are still creating such killing riffs 14 albums and nearly 30 years into a career? And look at the regularity of those albums too. There are no half decade gaps anywhere in the discography. This is a band that lives, breathes, and shits death metal. “Red Before Black” is for the fans who do the same.

TANK Honour & Blood

Album · 1984 · NWoBHM
Cover art 4.10 | 8 ratings
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aglasshouse
"Do you remember that I felt so bad that you'd been blown away for good?"

Tank's story is one of frontman and bassist Algy Ward slowly detaching himself from his past in The Damned- slinking slowly farther and farther away from the punk rock he had been playing a year prior to him forming Tank. But, just like contemporaries Motörhead, the band stayed attached to their roots firmly, combining the newborn New Wave of British Heavy Metal with the youthful exuberance of punk.

As Tank moved more and more onward however so evolved their music. The punk sensibilities became thinner and thinner as they broached further into the 80's, and by the time 1984 rolled around Tank had dropped the tomfoolery. This new album, brazenly embossed with an explosive military-style cover that would make even Sabaton blush, shows Tank at their most balls deep in this new medium. The vivacious Honour and Blood bears the brunt of some of the most badass metal to come from the early 80's. Each drum hit clicks like the hammer of a gun, no matter how simplistic the beat (which they are often not, thank god) may be. Each layered guitar lick reflects off itself and it's rippling bass counterpart to create a cacophony of chaos at each turn. This is of course without mention of Ward's vocal work, which is reflected particularly well on the force ten hurricane opener 'The War Drags Ever On' and the title track. No screeching or castrato stuff here- just brash, primitive growls...as it should be.

The sharp sonic assault created on multiple occasions are some of the finest that this particular scene has to offer, and can work in both a rapid gallop, or a slower, sludgier jog like 'Chain of Fools' or 'When All Hell Freezes Over'. Whatever your preference, it's likely Tank has you covered fairly well. But with almost every album, a few listens-through provide a few strikes against it. Ward's vocals, while almost always good, can get a bit silly the more guttural he goes. This is sometimes a shame because his clean vocals (seen on 'W.M.L.A.') are often equally as fitting for the music as his bellow. As a NWoBHM album, Honour and Blood occasionally delves into contrivances with some of the guitar work, but it remains almost always creative even at it's worst (even 'Too Tired to Wait for Love', possibly the closest they get to a ballad is fun as all hell). Of course we also have to take into account the time period; it's pretty obvious that the 1980's inanity would weave itself into the music at certain points, such as the glam vocal choruses and sometimes ridiculously cheesy lyrical themes (though 'Kill' is an extremely dark tune lyrical-wise for the time). These factors might bog a lesser album down to a much lower quality, but Tank's sound and presence is just so much more creative than others that, even through the lowest points, you're still cheering these boys on.

And so, the war drags ever on.

SPECTRAL VOICE Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 5 ratings
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666sharon666
The fusion of doom metal and death metal can result in a number of vastly different sounding albums all being branded under the same 'death-doom metal' banner. From more melodic and gothic stuff like the recent (and early) Paradise Lost outings to slowed to a snail's pace crossovers with the funeral doom metal style and even something like Exuvia by The Ruins of Beverast that throws in all kinds of unusual influences like tribal ambient. Then you get an album like Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, the 2017 debut full-length by US act Spectral Voice, which instead of feeling like a doom metal album with death metal influences like a lot of death-doom metal can be described as, is more like a true fusion of the two: in some ways it's a death-doom metal album, in others it's a doom-death metal album.

I say this because there's plenty of instances during the album where Spectral Voice's music is much more death metal based than it is in doom metal, especially during tracks like Lurking Gloom where they pick up the tempo and go beyond what is normally considered acceptable for doom metal, even the more heavy metal influenced so called 'traditional' style. Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise when most of the band's line-up also belongs to the death metal act Blood Incantation, so they're hardly greenhorns (Spectral Voice themselves have also previously released no less than five demos and two splits) in the genre.

Yes, more often the music on Eroded Corridors of Unbeing is slow to mid-paced, but it certainly equally has the sound of a death metal album in terms of riffing style. And it sounds like a particularly filthy death metal album at that. There's no modern squeaky clean polished production work been done here and the band show everything they can do offer perfectly without it. Through it all though the album builds an atmosphere of oppressive menace, which is in no way mitigated by the inclusion of melodic guitar lines and notes and ambient sound effects during the brief moments the album allows you to come up for air. I can't understand the vocals, but in this case I don't need to: they function perfectly as an extra instrument, adding an extra layer to the evil cacophony of guitars, bass and drums.

Eroded Corridors of Unbeing is a mid-length album, containing five songs. I find that some death-doom metal albums can end up seeming like they've been drawn out for too long, but there's no danger of that impression forming here. These five songs are packed to the brim with quality riffs, and though it sure doesn't sound pretty the unpolished production gives the album a certain kind of charm that has me instantly hooked in Spectral Voice's style. I really think this one is a special album. It's quickly become my new personal favourite doom and death metal album of the year. Play it loud and often.

PRONG Carved Into Stone

Album · 2012 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 4 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
One of the absolute best Prong albums is Carved Into Stone. It was released in 2012 by Steve Evetts (Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, Sick Of It All) on SPV records, and features the bass talents of Tony Campos (Fear Factory, Ministry, Soulfly etc.)

Prong are a really interesting band. They cover a lot of different ground. Early in their career they were a Hardcore Punk band, after that they crossed over into more Thrash teritory. Then they released some seminal Groove Metal albums before going into a much more Industrial direction with some slight Nu Metal overtones. Then they broke up and came back, and went in a few more slight alterations of combinations of all of these styles over their next few albums. Some are more raw, some are more polished, some lean more heavily in one direction, some lean more heavily in another.

The music here, on Carved Into Stone, is terrific. The album opens with two faster ragers, drops into a punkier number and evens out with a mid-paced groover in the spirit of Black Label Society (only with an alternative rock style chorus). This little run is really a mixture of all the different eras of their career. There’s a few moments of industrial flavours here and there. There’s plenty of Pantera, early Machine Head and ’90s Sepultura sounding stuff. There’s tiny little pieces of Fear Factory on the odd occasion. There’s straight up Thrash used sparingly, and moments of punk. It all mashes together smoothly and perfectly both within the songs themselves, and along the album as a whole. It flows really well and all the parts gel together within individual songs.

If you are a new Prong fan, the common consensus is that you should start with their classic 1994 album Cleansing. In my opinion the next place you should go after that is here, Carved Into Stone. I was about to list highlights, but really the aforementioned first five tracks are all absolute must-hears. They show off different parts of the Prong sound. If you wonder if this album is for you then check out any but preferably all of those. ‘Eternal Heat,’ ‘Ammunition’ and ‘Carved Into Stone’ in particular are like three different bands and no one on their own showcases the band fully, yet all of them are absolutely brilliant examples of what Prong do (in part) and really good tunes in and of themselves.

Overall; if you like bands like Fear Factory, Pantera, Machine Head, Pissing Razors or ’90s Sepultura you may seriously want to check out Prong. If you check out Prong you may seriously want to check out Carved Into Stone. It is a very well mixed combination of a few different styles within their arsenal, but what tips it over the edge is the brilliant performances, punchy production, level of consistency and better than usual songs from the band.

MONOLORD Rust

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Monolord's Rust (2017) has a simple yet eye-catching cover: two up-ended cars against a cloudy sky with, aptly, a great deal of rust in evidence. It looks not unlike like something you might run across when playing post-apocalyptic video game series Fallout (in fact, google Fallout 4's carhenge to see something that could easily be an extension of this album cover). What does that have in common with rust? Decay. Something that's past its prime, left to rot or simply put out to pasture. Despite it's name, Rust, which is this Swedish band's third album, is certainly not music that can be accused of such things and is actually some pretty compelling and heavy doom metal work that nevertheless displays a subdued vibe that fits with such themes.

The music on Rust is built on the simple premise that its listener is going to want to hear fuzzy guitar riffs that are heavy on the bass and then delivers them in abundance. Also containing elements of stoner metal and even a little bit of psychedelic rock, this doom metal record keeps the pace slow and the guitar tones heavy for most of its duration, but doesn't lack for melody either. The record can get a little samey at times, though in a hypnotic kind of manner, but is certainly engrossing at its finest moments such as early highlight Dear Lucifer, which is definitely one that will stick in many heads once they hear it.

Decent through it's first four tracks, Monolord then really hit their stride with a pair of long tracks to close the album, Forgotten Lands and At Niceae, which take up a little over half the running time between them. The band are clearly skilled at making the long track format work, but there is an unfortunate side-effect here where most of what came before, except Dear Lucifer whose title line will still be repeating in your head at that point, is eclipsed by them. It would be wrong to call Rust a patchy release since it's solid work all the way through, but it does feel like one that's clasping at but never grabbing true greatness.

I haven't heard Monolord's earlier albums Empress Rising (2014) and Vænir (2015) to say how well Rust compares, but I do know that despite some minor issues I enjoyed this one quite a lot and any who appreciate the more fuzz-drenched acts of the doom genre will certainly find something to love here.

ANAL CUNT 40 More Reasons to Hate Us

Album · 1996 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.29 | 7 ratings
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DamoXt7942
Another shocking album to change my music life and thought drastically. This nasty album “40 More Reasons To Hate Us” by industrial hardcore gang A.C. has been released in 1996 for such a cheap, dull musical scene, veiled in a dirty, vulgar sleeve. Each of 42 tracks except one of Manowar’s masterpieces “Gloves Of Metal” is quite momentary, launched via Seth’s magmatic mouth and loud, distorted, but strictly-played instruments .... as everyone says, might be heard similarly to another one in this album indeed, but at least for me, sounds like every single track should have a potential different from others.

From the beginning "Face It, You're A Metal Band" until "Everyone In Allston Should Be Killed", we can feel a smooth stream of a crazy loud mass. Not known such a fantastic foolish shout, produced with Seth’s mischievous and diverse, excessive voice appearance. Laugh out to listen to “Kill Women” (the title is not laughable though). And sing together the song "I Just Saw The Gayest Guy On Earth" featuring cheap Karaoke-ish falsetto voices and downtempo chorus, one bass chop. Some tracks are against renowned persons or older members of A.C. but who cares? They might play like heels or villains always on stage or on material, I imagine.

Perfectly they make a fool of the audience all around the album, but mysteriously we cannot get upset at all ... the reason is obvious as mentioned above. On the other hand, please listen to “Gloves Of Metal” filled with magnificent power and serious attitude for a metal masterpiece. Why not impressive, excellent?

EXODUS Blood In, Blood Out

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 8 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Exodus have had a lot of line-up changes over the years. Not as many as say Cradle Of Filth or Annihilator but certainly not as stable as the likes of Rush or Clutch. They've had three lead singers on record; firstly Paul Baloff on their immortal debut album Bonded By Blood, who was replaced by former Legacy (the band who would go on to be Testament) vocalist Steve 'Zetro' Souza. Zetro saw them through the rest of the '80s and early nineties (on, in my opinion, their most important and seminal work and some of the best Thrash Metal by any band at all). He himself was then replaced by Baloff again in the late '90s until Baloff passed away.

The band got back together with Zetro and released one of the best albums of their (or anyone's) career in 2004's Tempo Of The Damned. (Incidentally; If you don't love 'War Is My Sheppard' then I just don't know what to do with you). Then, just a year later Zetro was out and replaced by the then little-known Rob Dukes, who we were all very skeptical about but who fit the band monstrously well and eventually won a lot of people over, during the course of his tenure, lasting three studio albums, a live album and a remake compilation of Bonded By Blood. After two singers zig-zagging there was finally vocal stability and the modernized band was the going concern that would see them through to retirement.

[Before the angry comments flow in I know I mentioned line up changes and then just discussed the singers. It wasn't only the singers. Guitarists have changed, bassists have changed. Drummer Tom Hunting has left and returned a few times (although that's more understandable as he has a health condition). But for the last few years things had been nice and stable within the group more or less.]

Where was I? Yes... to see them through to retirement. ....Aaaaaaaaand then Dukes was out and Zetro was back again. What the hell? Do you know how hard it is to get fans to accept a third singer!? And to do so this late into their career. Imagine if Blaze Bailey actually won over Maiden fans. Do you know how rare that is? And then they go start over again. I didn't buy this album for a full two years after I wanted it just out of sheer mourning for Dukes. 

Oh well, at least it wasn't a new singer again. As much as I love Dukes' vocals on that run of albums its hard to deny that Zetro is an absolute legend and the definitive voice of Exodus for me. He's who I'd want to see live and my dream setlist by the band is 80% Zetro era songs. It just makes sense. In fact, it took me catching the band live to get over the shock and realize things weren't just reunion for reunions sake. Yes it is mentally untidy that their current singer is on their was their singer, then not, then he was again, then he wasn't again and then he was again, and that his time in the band was '86-94 and then not until '02 and out again in '04 and then not on the superb trilogy of albums between then and 2014.  Its untidy, but that's Steve fucking Souza! That's the guy who sang 'Accelerating faster, devastating plaster, fabulous disaster.' How can you deny him?

Anyway. That's all a very long-winded bit of background to Exodus' tenth studio album, 2014's Blood In, Blood Out. The name presumably a cheeky wink to their history with line-up changes. The only reason to even mention all this background is that it sits there swirling away in your mind as you listen to this album. Can it live up to the monster of Tempo Of The Damned? Can it live up to their '80s glory period? How will it affect their absolute top run of form on those previous Rob Dukes albums, are they just going to throw away all that good work?

Well the good news for all of us is that this album absolutely kills. After a strange industrial intro courtesy of guest star Dan The Automator (which if you didn't know about beforehand would make you fearful Exodus have taken a funny turn and decided this album is going to go a bit Static X) the band burst into an absolutely ferocious and concise hour of blistering, up tempo Bay Area Thrash.

The songs are very catchy and memorable without letting up on the intensity. Its very restless, aggressive and pounding. Yet somehow there are tonnes of hooks to grab on to. The chanting gang vocals on some songs are undeniable. On some songs the razor sharp guitar solos get stuck in your head. Some songs have that one riff that is just irresistible and breaks a huge smile across your face. I mean just listen to the chorus to 'Collateral Damage.' You aint forgetting that any time soon! Hell; listen to its guitar solo. That's not just any other guitar solo, its really rather unique. And that's just one song. I can't emphasize this enough: each and every one of the songs on the album, all of them, are catchy and memorable. There's nothing that needs removing from the album. Nothing that should've been trimmed to make it more punchy.

The songs are generally less long and feature less repetition than on the previous few albums, and what is left is really just all the best parts. It may be less ambitious and less adventurous but it makes up for it in snarling, barking, high speed uuumph. It really is the pure essence of Thrash Metal writ large in modern production, triumphantly performed by absolutely bad asses who have only gotten better with age.

An interesting point here is the guest appearance from Metallica's Kirk Hammet who we all remember was in Exodus before he joined Metallica (Tempo Of The Damed featured a song he'd written on). Kirk adds some guest guitar to 'Salt The Wound.' Its a nice touch. Speaking of guest appearances, Testament's Chuck Billy also comes in and does guest vocals on 'BTK' and the title track. He is always a great guest. I loved it when he showed up on Forbidden's reunion album Omega Wave and I love him showing up here (just as Zetro guested on Testament's First Strike Still Deadly). I love the whole Bay Area Thrash camaraderie thing.

Side note: Does anyone else remember that fun, weird, N64 game 'Body Harvest' ? I can't forget it now. Exodus have a song by that name here and now all I can think of is giant blocky praying mantis-looking aliens. Every time I spin this album all I can think of is those aliens, Chuck Billy's smile, and how weird it is that Rob Dukes is out of the band and yet they totally make their discography make sense with this album. Oh, and while we're at it; Best guitar solo on the album? Body Harvest!

After a brilliantly strong opening, the guest appearances, the great stomping 'Body Harvest' and its great solo and 'BTK' and all that stuff, you'd think the album may start to lag towards the end. That is a remarkably good first half, and by anyone's standards they could dump a bunch of filler at the end and most people would still go away thinking it was a great record. Well, that is exactly what they do not do. The second half arguably mirrors the first for quality, for ferocity, for catchiness and for interesting memorable moments: 'Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage,' 'Honor Killings,' 'Food For The Worms' ...these are all raging tunes.

Overall; despite line up drama, this is an absolutely ripping album from the Bay Area legends, and people like me were wrong to doubt them. The band are arguably in much better shape than three quarters of the rest of '80s Thrash bands are at the minute, arguably stronger than ninety percent of new Thrash revival bands, and this album is arguably in the top half in not top quarter of their entire discography (and those are damn big words, but I genuinely mean it). If like me you are skeptical of yet further line up changes or just plain sad to see Rob go, don't hesitate like I did. Blood goes in, Blood goes out, but Exodus are always bloody brilliant.

CALIGULA'S HORSE In Contact

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Australian band Caligula's Horse are a group I've often heard good things said about, but more from the progressive rock crowd than the metal crowd, despite the group's equal association as a progressive metal act. Indeed, when I recently spotted their latest album (their fourth) In Contact (2017) in a music store, it was filed in the Rock & Pop section. This led me to believe that, much like groups such as Enchant, that they were the kind of band who applied a metal edge to an otherwise progressive rock sound. So upon deciding that I'm in the mood to see what progressive rock can offer me in 2017 and choosing Caligula's Horse's In Contact as the first album to check out, I have to say that I've completely misjudged them. Though the band also offer up plenty of softer sections of music/tracks to provide contrasting sounds more often than not they're as heavy and metallic as non-extreme progressive metal gets. What is the point this introduction is making you ask? Well, it just seems to me that there's been less association between the band and metal, when In Contact is an album that fans of progressive metal shouldn't be overlooking.

The vocals by Jim Grey may be exceptionally melodic (I've very much reminded of Haken's Ross Jennings), but the riffs from Sam Vallen and new member Adrian Goleby are heavy and punchy. Sometimes it's in a classic way à la the Dream Theater school, in others it's in a noticeably modern way, even pushing djent at one point. At another there's even a speedy power metal section. The band's instrumentalists certainly don't skimp on the progressive technicalities and intricacies the way some so called modern progressive metal bands do either. Unlike many which get saddled with this overused label, In Contact actually deserves the description. The album is like the perfect fusion of both the progressive rock and heavy metal worlds, offering up the kind of merger that will hold appeal to fans of both crowds without either feeling that it's made a little more for the other.

For the last few years I've found a lot of progressive metal, especially of the more traditional kind like this, to be completely stale, so it shouldn't be understated how quickly this album manages to impress. I'm hooked long before the opening track Dream the Dead is concluded. There's only one track on In Contact that I really don't care for, which is Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall. This one is a spoken word theatrical piece that serves as little more than an interlude. Though convincingly performed, with it running for almost three minutes I'd ready for Caligula's Horse to start up the music that they're so good at before even a third of it is through. It's a disruption to what is otherwise an album that flows together excellently, with the songs quickly asserting their own identities through use of great riffs and equally strong melodic parts. The opening trio of Dream the Dead, Will's Song (Let the Colours Run) and The Hands are the Hardest are especially good, as is the 15:31 long epic closer Graves.

I'm certainly going to have to backtrack and check out Caligula's Horse's earlier albums now, because if they are half as good as In Contact I've been missing out on one of modern progressive metal's best bands. A highlight for their genre in 2017 without a doubt.

EDGUY Theater of Salvation

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 18 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Ask me what either the best or my favourite album by Edguy is and nine times out of ten I’ll tell you its Theater Of Salvation (the other one time its the 2000 remake version of The Savage Poetry). Ask me what my favourite Edguy song is and one hundred out of one hundred times I’ll tell you its ‘Babylon.’ Heck, I’ll probably tell you that uninvited most days because I’m just that enthusiastic about it.

Something magical was in the air in 1999 when the German Power Metal band burst out of Rhoen Studios in their homeland of Fulda. Their first two albums showed potential. Vain Glory Opera saw them truly find themselves. Then they absolutely cemented their legacy with this magnificent release. Talk about knocking it out of the park. It was their first record with the famous rhythm section of Tobias Exxel and Felix Bohnke on bass and drums respectively, who’ve been there ever since.

The album begins strongly with the aforementioned ‘Babylon’ and ends on a high with the 12-minute diverse mini-epic Title Track. There’s some nice speedy heavy Power Metal tunes in ‘Arrows Fly,’ ‘The Headless Game’ and the excellent ‘Falling Down’ (another of the must-hear tracks here). There’s some slower quieter moments too with ballad ‘Another Time’ and power ballad ‘Land Of The Miracle.’ If you only like Power Metal at its most pounding and chest beating, these two might be a bit wet for your tastes, but they add variety.

As you can see from a lot of those titles, there’s a sort of religious theme going on here. It doesn’t just show up lyrically but also in the keyboards and vocals a lot. You know how ‘Suite Sister Mary’ by Queensryche has a sort of religious sound to it? That sort of thing, but if that was dark, this is very very bright and colourful and shiny. You may think, “well how the heck does that fit into Power Metal? I can’t imagine a mixture between the background music in The Borgias and the galloping of Iron Maiden” but I assure you it gels really well with these particualr songs and how the band have constructed them.

Speaking of vocals, these would have to be in the running for a career best from mainman Tobias Sammet. Its a very different style to whats used in their later more hard rock albums like Rocket Ride and Tinnitus Sanctus, and slightly less adventourous than his work in his other project Avantasia, but it is really one of the finest recorded examples of the pinnacle of him/the band doing this style of music.

There are other Edguy albums that show off raw charm, that show off adventure, or that go down fun and silly routes. If you want them at their absolute perfect core, with their absolute best set of brilliantly made and catchy, memorable and musically impressive songs, then go for Theater Of Salvation every time. This album for me is up there in the pantheon of absolute Power Metal greats. When I’m thinking of Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Nightfall In Middle Earth, Land Of The Free, Glory To The Brave and their likes, I’m definitely thinking of Theater Of Salvation too.

LETHAL Programmed

Album · 1990 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"Programmed" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Hebron, Kentucky based progressive/power metal act Lethal. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in October 1990. Lethal was formed by the Cook brothers Eric (on guitars) and Glen (on bass) in 1982 and after a couple of lineup changes and the release of the 1987 "Arrival" demo, they got signed to Metal Blade Records for the release of "Programmed". A promotional video was released for the "Immune" track.

The music on "Programmed" is a guitar/vocal driven type of progressive power metal, not far removed from the 80s releases by acts like Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, and Queensrÿche. In addition to the artists mentioned above I´d also add a slight Iron Maiden influence when describing the music.

The 10 track, 46:54 minutes long album is loaded with well written material. Each track is intricate, relatively catchy, and melodic yet heavy when that is called for. Lead guitar themes and solos are a major part of the band´s sound as well as a tight and well playing rhythm section. It´s mostly the very high pitched vocals and ornamented vocal melodies by Tom Mallicoat, which are in focus. With a vocalist like that fronting the band it´s nearly impossible to focus on anything else when he sings. A passionate and very convincing vocal delivery throughout. The instrumental part of the music is also very well played and it´s clear from the opening notes of album opener "Fire in Your Skin", that we´re dealing with a professional and talented band.

I called the music progressive power metal above, but in this case the word "progressive" doesn´t mean complex song structures or demanding instrumental sections, but rather just that the compositions are quite intricate and played with a rare sophistication (although most tracks do feature some pretty demanding playing). When examined a bit closer most of the tracks are actually pretty regular vers/chorus structured.

Overall "Programmed" is a high quality debut release by Lethal, and while they never broke through commercially and is seldom mentioned as one of the seminal progressive power/heavy metal acts from those days, the album is still highly recommendable to fans of the genre. Definitely a high quality release deserving more attention. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ANTHRAX Spreading The Disease

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 49 ratings
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UMUR
"Spreading The Disease" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US heavy/thrash metal act Anthrax. The album was released through Island Records in October 1985. It´s the successor to "Fistful Of Metal" from february 1984. Quite a few things have happened in the 18 months between the two albums. There have been a couple of lineup changes as lead vocalist Neil Turbin has been replaced by Joey Belladonna, and bassist Dan Lilker has been replaced by Frank Bello. Lineup changes which formed what most probably consider the "classic" Anthrax lineup. In addition to that Anthrax also had time to record and release the "Armed and Dangerous" EP in February 1985.

So things moved fast for the band in their early years, and that includes changes to their musical style. While "Spreading The Disease" isn´t a 100% pure thrash metal release, the band have begun the process of moving away from their original raw heavy metal/speed metal style towards a more thrash metal oriented style based on catchy groove laden riffs and rhythms. The most thrashy tracks on the album are probably "A.I.R." and "Gung-Ho" which are the two tracks that bookend the album, while tracks like "The Enemy", "Medusa", and "Lone Justice", lean more towards traditional heavy metal (the former featuring a heavy Iron Maiden influence). So I´d say "Spreading The Disease" is a 50/50 heavy metal/thrash metal release.

The material is generally well written and for the most part instantly catchy. Joey Belladonna is a very versatile vocalist able to sing really high notes when that is called for, but also more rough sounding vocals. Always with a melodic sensibility to his delivery though. The 9 track, 43:46 minutes long album features 8 new original tracks, and "Armed and Dangerous", which had already appeared on the "Armed and Dangerous" EP earlier in the year. It´s a great track though and fits well on "Spreading The Disease", although it stands out a bit with it´s clean guitar intro and slow building structure.

"Spreading The Disease" is packed in an organic and powerful sounding production, and paired with the high level musicianship, and memorable songwriting, it makes for an enjoyable listening experience from start to finish. I still view "Spreading The Disease" as a transitional album though, and there are a couple of more questionable features on the album, which would be weeded out on the next couple of releases, but for what it is a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

GOJIRA From Mars to Sirius

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 33 ratings
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UMUR
"From Mars to Sirius" is the 3rd full-length studio album by French progressive death/thrash metal act Gojira. The album was released through Listenable/Prosthetic Records in September 2005. It´s the successor to "The Link" from 2003. While "The Link (2003)" had already made the world well aware of who Gojira were, "From Mars to Sirius" further helped raise the band´s profile on the metal scene. They took the successful formula of the predecessor and expanded upon it. When listening to the stylistic development between the first three Gojira albums, it´s obvious the band were going through a fast moving development process and "From Mars to Sirius" was the culmination of the early stage of the band´s career. The next upward step to greatness and success.

Stylistically the music on "From Mars to Sirius" is technically well played and progressive death/thrash metal. The main vocal style is raw shouting/semi-growling, but there are sections featuring clean vocals on the album too. The music is rooted in the groove laden part of the thrash metal movement of the 90s and artists like Sepultura, (early) Meshuggah, and Machine Head, but there are some death metal traits in the music too. Considering all the heavy and sharp riffs and rhythms featured on the album, "From Mars to Sirius" is actually a very atmospheric release though. There´s often a melancholic "the world will go down the drain if we don´t do something to stop the environmental issues and world conflicts" type atmosphere present, and I´m reminded of an artist like Killing Joke. So the various elements which make up the whole, aren´t necessarily that original, but the way the elements are combined and the tracks are constructed, provide Gojira with a relatively unique sound.

Highlights include tracks like "Backbone", "Where Dragons Fall", "The Heaviest Matter of the Universe", and "To Sirius", but "From Mars to Sirius" is a highly consistent release. It´s both a positive and a negative, but more about that in the conclusion below.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Gojira are obviously very skilled, but they are also passionate about delivering their music and that´s audible too. "From Mars to Sirius" features a powerful, detailed, and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion it´s a high quality release by Gojira. Featuring 12 tracks and a full playing time of 66:58 minutes it outstays its welcome a bit and a few tracks could have been left off the album and it would most likely have been a little more concise and "sharp", but as it is, it´s still a great quality release and the extra minutes of playing time is a minor issue. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Wrong One to Fuck With" is the 8th full-length studio album by US, Maryland based death metal act Dying Fetus. The album was released through Relapse Records in June 2017. It´s the successor to "Reign Supreme" from 2012 and features the same three-piece lineup as the predecessor: John Gallagher (guitars, vocals), Sean Beasley (bass, vocals), and Trey Williams (drums). In fact Dying Fetus has featured this trio lineup since "Descend into Depravity (2009)", and it finally looks like the endless lineup changes of the past are behind them. A stable lineup for three albums in a row is definitely some sort of a record for the band.

Stylistically almost nothing has changed since the inception of Dying Fetus in the early 90s despite of the many lineup changes throughout the band´s history. Band leader/guitarist/vocalist John Gallagher has steered the ship through various storms with a clear musical vision of playing the most crushingly brutal and groove laden death metal he could possibly produce and has for the most part succeeded in doing just that. Every release up until now has been high quality death metal, although some albums stand out more than others. That trend is continued on "Wrong One to Fuck With", which is another example of how one of the elite artists of the genre deliver brutal and technical well played death metal on a level that only few similar styled contemporary artists can dream of reaching.

No compromise is the first thing I think when listening to "Wrong One to Fuck With", which is a vicious attack on the ears. Given a few listens, hooks begin to appear and there are definitely some pretty catchy moments here and there on the album, but initially you´ll probably be blown to pieces by the ultra brutal music and uncompromising nature of the material. Dying Fetus are not the type of band to cater to accessibility and you´ll be hard pressed to find anything resembling a melody on the album (which of course is a bit of an exaggeration, because there are actually brief hints of melody featured on the album). Fast blasting, sharp riffs and rhythms, and those trademark ultra brutal groove laden breakdowns, paired with the brutal growling vocals of Gallagher and Beasley (who compliment each other with a deep unintelligible growling type and a slightly more intelligible aggressive growling type), are the basis of the band´s music.

It´s not album where it makes much sense to mention one track over another, because all tracks on the album are consistent in quality and style. It´s both a strength and a weakness. A strength because you know that you´ll be exposed to high quality brutal death metal played with great technical skill for the duration of the album, but a weakness because the album is a bit of a one-dimensional listen. It´s more or less the premise of this particular style of death metal though, and it´s a matter of locking on to the brutal hypnotic grooves and enjoying the sharp riffs and precision drumming, rather than expecting stylistic variation and development.

"Wrong One to Fuck With" is a well produced album. It´s raw, powerful, and detailed, and the sound production suits the material perfectly. The triggered bass drums are maybe a bit too "thin" and "clicky" sounding, but it´s not a major issue, and overall the album sounds great. So upon conclusion "Wrong One to Fuck With" is yet another high quality brutal death metal release by Dying Fetus. They are still one of the elite artists of the genre, and prove it once more here. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ELDER Reflections of a Floating World

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.76 | 7 ratings
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adg211288
Active for a little over a decade now and US band Elder have certainly changed along the way. Starting life as a stoner/doom metal band and releasing the self-titled debut album Elder (2008) in this style, they've become increasingly more based in psychedelic and progressive sounds, which is the flavour of the day on the group's fourth full-length album, Reflections of a Floating World (2017).

Much like their last album Lore (2015), Reflections of a Floating World is a lengthy album made up of a short track list. Six tracks, each lasting for extended durations where the shortest offering is 8:39 long, with most surpassing ten minutes. The title track of Lore was longer than any of these here, but overall Reflections of a Floating World stands as Elder's longest record to date. With long running times like these it's obvious that the band wasn't writing with catchy tracks in mind, but something more atmospheric and intricate that requires the teeth to be sunk into and given several listens before it can really be appreciated.

Some elements of the band's earlier metal sound is still in evidence on the album, such as during opener Sanctuary, which starts off in such a way that you'd be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed since the debut, but mostly Elder have moved away from metal at this point and are better described as a heavy psych group with strong progressive rock influences in the structure of their compositions. They're still pretty heavy though. Plenty of vocals are used, but quite often there are extended instrumental sections, which prove to be the most interesting aspect of the band's music. Quite the range of different sounds can be heard within the same song from keyboard parts, clean tone guitars and metallic riffs. When the vocals are featured it's of note that frontman Nicholas DiSalvo's singing style has changed a lot since the band's early days, being much more melodic and in keeping with the more rock based music the band is playing now.

Reflections of a Floating World is certainly the kind of album that is a slow burn. There's a lot going on and a listener may be several listens deep before they've even started to get a grasp on the scope of the work Elder has created. It's pretty grand. The biggest issue facing the release though is that despite being very accomplished there isn't actually all that much to give the tracks identity from each other even after several complete listens. This makes it the kind of album that is best taken in a single sitting to get its full effect, but it's long duration may be a barrier to some listeners. The one track that really stands out as different is the much lighter and hypnotic instrumental Sonntag. Though the album as a whole can be described as an atmospheric work, that song takes it even further. Technically speaking though it's the least interesting of the bunch, slowly building and changing up small ideas in what's otherwise a fairly repetitive pattern. Fortunately it's the shortest song, but as mentioned earlier, that still makes it 8:39 long.

An intriguing album that I have to say does live up to its name in the way it inspires reflective contemplation in me, Reflections of a Floating World is not perfect by any means, but it's clear to me that the trio that make up Elder are a group of talented guys. They seem to still be in the transitional stage from their earlier stoner/doom metal sound though and haven't yet completely honed their new craft. For my part I find this album quite the pleasure while its running and can recognise the number of quality riffs found within, but after the event it's failing to leave too much of a lasting impression, and that's the kind of thing that is going to elevate Elder's music to the next level.

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