Metal Music Reviews

AGALLOCH Faustian Echoes

EP · 2012 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 18 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
AGALLOCH hit the metal scene in 1999 just in time for the turn of the millennium and soon became one of the 21st century’s most revered bands as they found the perfect formula to meld their black metal sensibilities with dark neofolk a la Death In June with a post-rock compositional prowess in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band bedazzled the world with masterpieces such as “The Mantle” and “Ashes Against The Grain” and even managed to keep their musical mojo flowing when they decided to up their metal creds on 2010’s “Marrow Of The Spirit” which deemphasized but didn’t destroy the dark neofolk properties that made this Portland, Oregon band stand out amongst the contemporary crowded metal universe.

Sticking to their guns and releasing an EP (or two) between their full-length studio albums, AGALLOCH followed up their fourth album “Marrow Of The Spirit” with yet another EP, this time taking inspiration form Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play “Faust.” While this is a mere EP with a running time of only 21 and a half minutes, it is actually a single track titled FAUSTIAN ECHOES that borrows the lyrics directly from the English translation of the original German text. Lyrics exist in the form of the familiar emphatically shrieked black metal style to actual film samples from Jan Svankmajer’s 1994 film adaptation. Originally only available as digital downloads, the vinyl and CDs were sold at live shows. The cover art displays the Salvador Dalí etching of “Faust Lisant (Faust Reading).”

AGALLOCH have always had crossover appeal by implanting roughly equal doses of dark neofolk, post-rock and atmospheric black / doom metal but beginning with 2010’s “Marrow Of The Spirit,” the band got the itch to create a more ramped up version of their visionary style which adrenalized the tempos, distorted the guitar riffage and vocally shrieked like there was no tomorrow. The metal bug had hit the band big time no doubt due to the addition of ex-Ludicra Aesop Dekker joining the cast to bring some black metal life to the scene with extreme guitar riffing aplenty and more drum abuse graced by lengthy ever-changing workouts.

FAUSTIAN ECHOES is their 5th EP and continues the love affair with the heavier side of their music but much like the album that it follows keeps the folk and post-rock vibes bubbling beneath the surface. In fact, “Marrow Of The Spirit,” despite ramping up the extreme metal effects still eschewed it for much of the album. FAUSTIAN ECHOES sounds like AGALLOCH were trying to correct that and in the process created the most extremely metal release of their career.

While dark neofolk hasn’t been booted out of the overall compositional scene, it sure has been forced to take a backseat and merely supply brief intermissions and a backdrop for moments of spoken poetic prose that provide brief interludes of spoken word storytelling between the moments of extreme metal bombast.

Lyrically, a tribute to one of Germany’s most celebrated and well-known writers whose “Faust” play is perhaps one of the nation’s most revered contributions to the literary world, musically FAUSTIAN ECHOES shows a band losing their grip on the grandeur of its tight and diverse four album run that launched AGALLOCH into the top dog realms of the folk metal universe. For the first time, this band of seemingly endless ambition sounds a bit stagnate. At least for this band.

True that a 21 minute track dedicated to one of the non-English world’s closest competitor to Shakespeare is a bona fide tour de force to tackle, however the problem is that the music doesn’t quite measure up to the expectations laid forth. While the EP isn’t bad per se, it does echo a bit of been there done that and has a hard time delivering the expected (by now) multitude of diversity that AGALLOCH had mustered up quite successfully in its noughty heyday.

AGALLOCH’s selling shtick has always been a carefully crafted and calculated mixing it up between their folk and metal elements that were all laid out in post-rock fashion, however on FAUSTIAN ECHOES, it seems they try to hard to stick to the metal aspects of their sound and practically suffocate the dark ambient neofolk that has always been a key element to their overall vibe. Vocal tradeoffs of clean and shrieked are shattered in favor of the latter and while black metal remains a favorite pastime of mine, AGALLOCH don’t have the black metal chops to pull off a kvlter-than-thou purity party that they are attempting to achieve.

While FAUSTIAN ECHOES is by no means a throwaway release, it does seem to demonstrate that the band hat peaked and can no longer sustain its essence which seems to be rooted in the dark neofolk as evidenced on the brilliant “The White EP.” Sorry guys, try as you may, you are a folk band which dons a metal cape but a bona fide metal band you are not. I’ve given this EP more than enough spins to let it grow on me and it always comes out the same. OK but not outstanding. The reign of AGALLOCH ended with “Marrow Of The Spirit” and on FAUSTIAN ECHOES, the band seems to have found itself on a downward spiral that it would never recover from.

DREAM THEATER New York City 3/4/93

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2006 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.40 | 7 ratings
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martindavey87
‘New York City 03/04/93’, released in 2007, is the fifth album in the live series of Dream Theater’s official bootlegs. With only two albums under their belts, this is an interesting look at the band in their early days, especially as there are some who consider the Kevin Moore years their best.

Featuring most of the songs from their first two releases, ‘When Dream and Day Unite’ and one of my all-time favourite albums, ‘Images and Words’, the set list is incredibly strong, despite the limited material they had on hand. The performances are (mostly) impeccable (hey, it’s Dream Theater!), and the sound quality is really good, considering this is a “bootleg” lifted directly from the soundboard. The band all sound clear, and the audience is audible enough without sounding fake.

With the likes of ‘Pull Me Under’, ‘Metropolis’, ‘Take the Time’, ‘A Fortune in Lies’, ‘Learning to Live’ and ‘The Killing Hand’, it’s evident that even after only two albums, Dream Theater had a wealth of solid material to choose. Also included is a work-in-progress of ‘A Change of Seasons’, the 23-minute epic that’d end up getting its own EP release. It’s for this alone that most die-hard fans will be interested in hearing this album, especially as the version played here is quite different from the finished product.

However, since I’ve always preferred studio albums to live ones, I can only look at what I get out of this release, and in that case, it’s the things that I’ve learned:

1. Even Dream Theater make mistakes! (Yep, it’s true, there’re quite a few bum notes in there!!!)

2. Even in his younger days, vocalist James LaBrie struggled replicating all the recorded vocals live. Bless ‘im for trying, though.

3. Dream Theater’s early shows had intermissions. Weird.

Strange things to take out of this, I know, but there we go. ‘New York City 03/04/93’ is a nice little nugget of joy for fans of Dream Theater, but as far as live albums go, it’ll take a lot to improve upon ‘Live at Budokan’, ‘Score’ or ‘Live Scenes from New York’.

KISS Dressed To Kill

Album · 1975 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.63 | 26 ratings
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martindavey87
Another Kiss album, and not a lot different than the previous two. Short, sleazy, rock songs about the usual 1970’s affair... sex, women, partying, sex, drinking, women, and occasionally, something different, like sex, women and partying all at once.

It’s easy to see how this might have been a bit more revolutionary in the 70’s, but these albums sound pretty tame and immature by today’s standards. The production is decent enough, and the playing is consistently good (though again, pretty laid back), but after two previous albums of similar material, ‘Dressed to Kill’ just tends to bore.

‘Room Service’, ‘Getaway’ and ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ (admittedly, an early Kiss classic), are the only really half-decent tracks here worth remembering. Still, it’s only half an hour long, so it’s not doing any harm, and Kiss will always be a guilty pleasure of mine, and everyone else’s.

With that said, despite three pretty mediocre releases, the next album is where my fandom for the band really begins, for it’s the album that changed my life. The best is definitely yet to come...

ADRENALINE MOB Omertá

Album · 2012 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 13 ratings
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martindavey87
I knew immediately upon their formation that I would love this band! Formed by three of my all-time musical heroes, Rich Ward of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy, Mike Portnoy, one year removed from his tenure with Dream Theater, and Russell Allen, powerhouse vocalist of Symphony X. Some of my favourite bands right there. This was amazing!

Except, their debut self-titled EP was a bit of a disappointment to me. Not only was it the most expensive single CD I’ve ever bought (being sold directly by the band themselves and having to be imported from America), I was gutted to find out that Rich Ward (my hetero man-crush) didn’t actually play on the recordings, but merely posed for the pictures. Unfortunately he’d already left the band by this point, leaving sole guitar duties to virtuoso Mike Orlando.

And with that, the band recruited Disturbed bassist John Moyer and released their debut album, 2012’s ‘Omertá’, a hard-hitting, pull-no-punches and take-no-prisoners affair, which offers traditional heavy metal with a huge dose of groove and energy. Brimming with driving guitar riffs and a pounding rhythm section, the music is unapologetic in its raw aggression and attitude. And vocalist Russell Allen, renowned for his incredible range and passion, really nails the anger and emotion needed to bring the music to life.

The production on this album is fantastic as well, giving the music an incredibly heavy and thick sound, and helping the band live up to their name. Tracks like ‘Undaunted’, ‘Indifferent’, ‘Psychosane’, ‘Feelin’ Me’, ‘Hit the Wall’, ‘All on the Line’, ‘Believe Me’ and ‘Down to the Floor’ are all massive metal anthems that can make you feel unbeatable, and not only do they make up for the rather shoddy EP the group had released the year prior, but establishes Adrenaline Mob as more than just another supergroup side-project, but a legit band with a bright future ahead of them.

AGALLOCH Marrow of the Spirit

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 45 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
AGALLOCH’s first three albums had a lot of crossover appeal that allowed those who usually don’t dabble in extreme metal to find something to latch onto via catchy folk laden melodies, post-rock compositional constructs and healthy doses of interesting electronic segments with an overall brilliant mix of all the elements simmering into a unique product. Add to that the diverse lyrical delivery that showcases John Haughm divvying his vocal dynamics into clean, shrieked and whispered enunciations that allowed a wider spectrum of emotional connection to be conveyed. On “Ashes Against The Grain,” the band ratcheted up the metal aspects a bit to add more Isis inspired post-metal riffs to ride the waves of the atmospheric tides of the Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspired post-rock sensibilities. However the band still complained that despite all efforts, the album was still over-produced and not what they had hoped for.

Add to that the fact that “The White EP” which immediately precedes their fourth full-length album MARROW OF THE SPIRIT was almost entirely acoustic folk-based and it’s no wonder that the band was wanting to up their metal creds a few notches which is exactly what they achieved (for the most part) on this installment of six tracks teased out into an hour and six minutes of full AGALLOCH glory. There were also many other changes afoot. Not only did they end their contract with The End Records and sign with Profound Lore due to personality clashes but ex-Ludicra drummer Aesoop Dekker was brought into the scene to replace Chris Greene. Having his history as a black metal drummer provided the necessary percussive backbone that allowed AGALLOCH to soar above and behind their folk metal roots and implement some extra rambunctious gusto throughout MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. However, make no mistake about it. Despite the fortified black metal aspects, this is an AGALLOCH album through and though and the metal is only one ingredient in a varied recipe.

As the opening track “And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness” slowly creeps in with a sole cello (provided by Jackie Perez Gratz of Gracyeon) in the company of a babbling brook and chirping birds, it seems as if AGALLOCH had employed the talents of Yo-Yo Ma to do his best interpretation of the soundtrack to “Schindler’s List,” however after nearly four minutes of Pagan ritualistic remorse music, “Into The Painted Grey” blasts onto the scene with some of the most intense and bombastic black metal of AGALLOCH’s entire career as it strikes with a blitzkrieg vengeance in the vain of Krallice or Weakling but soon enough reverts to the familiar past glories of melodic dual guitars painting an atmospheric folk inspired melody accompanied by tribal drumming. The track continues to parade through a variety of styles that fit the AGALLOCH brand name quite well, namely shrieked lyrics under the soaring post-rock textures which only happen to implement a higher octane of distortion and adrenalized tempo marches with the usual unexpected changes and cool production techniques.

All is good as the album begins with the usual high level AGALLOCH quality shining through but the band hits their first major hiccough with “The Water’s Monolith.” Nothing bad about the track per se but despite a really strong launching into a more aggressive musical scene, this track seems to have gotten cold feet and sounds more like an unreleased leftover from “The Mantle” as it engages a familiar acoustic folk guitar strumming with atmospheric guitar sweeps to augment the emotional depth. Likewise it engages in the same call and response of clean and shrieked vocals with the latter finding the heavy distorted grooves and familiar melodic developments. The distorted guitars attempt to disguise this malapropos piece that evokes a statue of a stag in a city park more than a darkened bleak landscape depicted on a brilliant relief surface of the album cover. A musical faux pas? Not for mere mortals, but for AGALLOCH, a major no no in their impeccable streak of perfectly designed albums.

The album regains its character with one of my favorite tracks of the band’s career. “Black Lake Nidstang’ is a whopping seventeen and a half minute composition of utter brilliance. It begins with a dramatic timpani and atmospheric ratcheting up effect that evokes a true Pagan ritual is about to take place, much like “The White EP,” but with more emphasis on the metal distortion. Add to that the Pink Floyd type echo guitars as heard on “The Wall” and brilliant transitions between segments and all is forgiven for the third track’s seemingly out of place role. This track goes through many transitions but the most bizarre comes around the eight minute mark where the track turns into a scary and depressive black / doom metal dirge where Haughm’s vocals seem on the verge of breakdown as the doom metal tempos evoke some of the most gut-wrenching performances of his career. The track cedes into a claustrophobic yet hypnotic trance inducing electronica sequence that allows a creepy Moog to allow a vibraphone and glockenspiel to ratchet up the next chapter which emerges as an echoed guitar sequence that evolves into a black metal finale, well more like a sludge metal finale with blackened overtones. Sludge riffs, sludge percussion, black metal shrieks. Outstanding track!

“Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires” continues with more of the echoey Pink Floyd inspired guitars but adds some metal guitar grunge accompaniment and the expected atmospheric mastery. As a near ten minute track, the first third is a build of to the second third where it ratchets up the black metal fury which despite a similar sound that started the album had been neglected for the most part up to this point. While employing the sickest guitar antics providing the necessary atmospheric compositional flare, the entire track retains a soaring melodic majesty that is augmented by an ambient backdrop. The closing ten and a half minute “To Drown” takes MARROW OF THE SPIRIT full circle and reverts back to the Pagan folk ritualistic aspects with a cello reprise, sound samples of nature and also includes unique tones and timbres from petrified bones and glass and metal sheet percussion that create a majestic dark ambient finale replete with whispered poetry, soaring atmospheric guitar and a bleak depressive epic and atmospheric overall feel. While the piano parts are abundant on MARROW OF THE SPIRIT, they significantly contribute to this last track that for the most part sounds like a classical piece that happens to employ some noise, metal and dark ritualistic elements.

AGALLOCH successfully added new layers of complexity to each of their albums. By the time you get to the end of MARROW OF THE SPIRIT you are wondering if you have stumbled into a Holst’s “The Planets” recital that has taken on a Wagner-ian bombast as it slowly staggers out. While not as perfectly implemented as “The Mantle” or “Ashes Against The Grain,” MARROW OF THE SPIRIT is an amazingly brilliant slice of genre bending fusion that keeps AGALLOCH at the top of their game. While the black metal aspects have been turned up a few notches and might scare aware the crossover crowd only swayed by the abundant folk, this album is more non-metal than metal. The atmospheric prowess is the dominant force that just happens to implement more bombastic metal to add even more dynamic forms of contrast. The album was produced by Steven Wray Lobdell who found the perfect balance between the myriad elements that could easily derail into a cacophonous mess but each strand of sound stands proud as it takes its turn in the great folk/rock symphony that constitutes MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. Did AGALLOCH gain their metal creds? Well, sort of. AGALLOCH was never a pure metal band. This Portland, Oregon bunch is much, much more and on this one they take their game to a staggering new level. Only the third track stands out as lackluster.

SAVATAGE Japan Live '94

Live album · 1995 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.73 | 7 ratings
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martindavey87
This album is a perfect example of why I’ve always preferred studio albums to live ones. Savatage are without a doubt one of my all-time favourite bands, but ‘Japan Live ‘94’ just doesn’t do their music justice.

Recorded while touring for their 1994 album, ‘Handful of Rain’, this was a short-lived line-up of the band which was reeling from the tragic death of original guitarist Criss Oliva. With Zak Stevens totally owning it on vocals, and guitar master Alex Skolnick of Testament fame stepping in on guitars, the band members are on top form, and the performances from everyone are solid throughout.

The production is pretty good, and everyone can be heard clearly, however, there’re two things about this album that bug me. Firstly, I just feel that the album versions sound a lot bigger, grandiose and epic, especially as the studio can allow for multiple layers and dubs, whereas live, they all sound a bit flat. Secondly... ah... the audience... Like so many similar live releases, the audience at times just sound piped in. It’s when Stevens is talking and the crowd are constantly screaming and yelling, I know metal fans can be a rabid bunch, but at times it just sounds a bit fake (and if it isn’t, well... there’s always reason one to fall back on).

Coming at a time just as the band were starting to become more progressive, theatrical and bombastic with their music, ‘Japan Live ‘94’, (sometimes also known as ‘Live in Japan’) does have a pretty decent set list. With the likes of ‘Chance’, ‘Edge of Thorns’, ‘Gutter Ballet’, ‘Taunting Cobras’, ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Watching You Fall’ and ‘Sirens’, there’s plenty of good material here, making this is a decent enough album, but as a whole, I think I’ll probably ignore it and just listen to the bands studio output instead.

SHAMAN Ritual

Album · 2002 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 13 ratings
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martindavey87
Formed by former Angra frontman Andre Matos, Shaman is another one of those typical power/progressive metal bands that are pretty unknown and only have small, cult followings to go by. I’d seen ‘Ritual’, their 2002 debut album, pop up on a number of websites such as Amazon and eBay, where it was being compared to prog metal pioneers Dream Theater, and while I was never under any illusion that they were as good or prominent, it just seemed like they were a bit of a cult band that had something special to offer.

Unfortunately they’re not really anything out of the ordinary when it comes to this kind of music.

That’s not to say they’re bad, in fact, ‘Ritual’ took quite a few listens to get used to, but it’s actually a pretty decent album. It’s not overly “progressive”, but is definitely a typical power metal record with fast, upbeat songs (with an almost “happy vibe”), incredible musicianship, and in fairness, Matos vocals are damn impressive too. The tracks are all well produced, and with solid songwriting that takes influences from Brazilian music, it’s an interesting enough debut, if not generic, but still pretty good none-the-less.

Tracks like ‘For Tomorrow’, ‘Distant Thunder’, ‘Time Will Come’, ‘Here I Am’ and the title track are all pretty good songs that are definitely worth a listen if you’re into this kind of thing. While most of them employ the usual traits of the genre, there are a few moments that do make Shaman stand out. ‘For Tomorrow’ has a very nice, tribal sound, with some interesting vocals and guitar work, while ‘Time Will Come’ has some very tasty, speed metal-inspired riffs.

Shaman aren’t anything particularly unique or innovative, and while it took a fair amount of time to get into, I’m glad I stuck it out, because ‘Ritual’ is a pretty solid debut that shows a band that certainly has potential to improve.

NAPALM DEATH Words From the Exit Wound

Album · 1998 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 10 ratings
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DamoXt7942
Immersed in this shout "Go!". The first attack "The Infiltraitor" was really enough to knock me down, flooded with brilliant rhythmic explosion like "speed guru" and comfortable voice distortion. Quite surprised and amazed at this album veiled in such a burning pic of dread. Actually this album was my first NAPALM DEATH's one, in my younger days when I was not familiar with Metal at all. This is the reason why I considered this stuff should be quite death-metallic and this heavy, doom but strict, well-matured sound should stem from the core essence of NAPALM DEATH themselves, but I've found it would be wrong later. In their early days they've played more and more violently, dissectedly, and flexibly. Of course I do not think the "early aggressive" style should have been better than the "recent decent" one. Refined play is not bad indeed. Wish I could get immersed completely in this creation, after listening to various albums of theirs ... sadly. No suspicion this album is fantastic in the death metal world, though.

AGALLOCH The White EP

EP · 2008 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 14 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After three full-length studio albums and two EPs, it was clear that dark neofolk was a key aspect in the music of AGALLOCH which when combined with black / doom metal and post-rock, created their signature sound that won the world over beginning with the outstanding sophomore album “The Mantle.” After ratcheting up the metal aspects a bit on “Ashes Against The Grain,” AGALLOCH may have amped up the distortion and aggressive bombast a bit but it was still quite apparent that dark neofolk acoustic guitar was the underpinning of the compositional flare that the music was built around. While the first few EPs were basically a collection of leftover tracks that showed a little behind the scenes action of John Haughm and Don Anderson’s innermost musical leanings, THE WHITE EP, displays a completely stripped down journey into AGALLOCH’s most primal musical aspirations and in the process creates their first consistent EP, stylistically speaking.

Technically this is the second and final installment of a pair of EPs that began with “The Grey EP,” but really, screw that. The previous EP was fairly weak and uninspiring. It was nothing more than leftovers from “The Mantle” bin, but THE WHITE EP is something completely different. This collection of seven tracks that meander over the 32 minute mark has a complete life of its own and single-handedly showcases ALLOGACH as first and foremost a dark ambient neofolk band that just happened to dabble in metal on their studio albums. Oh, and these are completely original and have not appeared elsewhere. Unlike the previous offerings, this EP is majestic and sublime. It takes the listener on a journey and one that is a pleasant ride on every stop on the way. The passion is afire and quite apparent simply by reading the cast of characters involved. While the full-length albums were limited to four or five musicians at the most, this one hosts a whopping nine.

THE WHITE EP’s mission becomes obvious from the getgo with the voices of children on the opening “The Isle Of Summer” which were borrowed from the 1973 film “The Wicker Man.” Likewise, the album ends with these same vocal samplings and in the middle develops a rather ritualistic Pagan musical meandering that captures the merging of acoustic folk guitar, electronic ambience, tribal percussion and sounds of nature all intertwined to create an alternative soundtrack to the 1973 film that without a doubt was one of the primary impetuses in the creation of the overall AGALLOCH sound. Listening to this EP is like digging into the soulful essence of a musical act at its primary inspirational level and the fact that AGALLOCH pulls it off so well only showcases the evidence that these guys’ heart and soul was in this every step of the way.

This is primarily an instrumental EP with vocals, albeit whispered, spoken and chanted provide mere supplemental instrumental roles rather than lyrically based. While the acoustic guitar is the primary instrument that drives the parade of chords that coalesce into the melancholic melodies that emerge, there is ample additional instrumentation in the form of timpani based percussion, accordion, synthesizers, jew’s harp and even a Peruvian ceremonial horn. Oh yeah, there’s a goat horn too! While acoustically divine, the electric guitars emerge as an ambient backdrop to great effect and interesting piano runs emerge to create a rather classically inspired connection as well. Despite all these accouterments of timbres and tones, everything really connects seamlessly along with birds chirping alongside dark ambient installations. It seems that everything just flows perfectly from beginning to end.

By the end of this listening experience, it almost seems as if i went on a random hike through the woods in an undisclosed Oregon forest and just happened upon a Pagan ritual underway. Awed by the spectacle, i stopped to observe the entirety as i happened to catch it from its initial opening as i became caught up in the spectacle of it all. The music inspires reflection and inner contemplation upon the physical reality upon which i stand and allows the spirits of the Earth to evolve my consciousness. While neither technically demanding nor commercially distracting, THE WHITE EP nevertheless implements extremely addictive melodic hooks that are augmented by subtle electronic and production techniques yet makes me feel as if this is purely acoustic.

THE WHITE EP is all about atmosphere and emotional upwelling. This is Pagan ritual music at its finest. Perhaps their stint with Nest on they 2004 split inspired a more stripped down approach that eschews the adrenaline inducing emotional responses of metal, but all i have to say is that this is by far the best of the AGALLOCH EPs and despite dropping one of the most characteristic elements of the overall AGALLOCH sound, proves to be quite compelling in its introspective simplicity and soul stirring emotional tugs that inspire a true connection to the natural world much in the way the film “The Wicker Man” was supposed to. I’ve never warmed up to the soundtrack of that film despite its overall popularity and THE WHITE EP has emerged in my world as the perfect alternative soundtrack for what that movie was supposed to make me feel. No metal here at all. Headbangers beware. This is soul stirring dark ambient laced neofolk all the way with some extra layers of electronic sophistication. Brilliant.

CANCER Spirit in Flames

Album · 2005 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Spirit in Flames" is the 5th full-length studio album by UK death/thrash metal act Cancer. The album was released through Copro Records in June 2005. Cancer formed in 1987 and were part of the early UK death metal scene along with artists like Carcass, Benediction, and Bolt Thrower. They released four studio albums before disbanding in 1996. They reunited in 2003 and released the "Corporation$" EP in 2004, and "Spirit in Flames" is the follow-up to that release. Cancer disbanded again in 2006, but reunited once more in 2013. Since "Black Faith (1995)" there have been some lineup changes as bassist and founding member Ian Buchanan has been replaced by Adam Richardson, and guitarist Barry Savage has been replaced by Dave Leitch. The usual suspects are drummer Carl Stokes, and vocalist/guitarist John Walker.

While Cancer started out playing pretty straight old school death metal on their first couple of releases, they soon started incorporating thrash metal elements, and by "Black Faith (1995)" the death metal elements were almost gone. "Spirit in Flames" more or less continues down the thrash metal oriented path of it´s predecessor, so it´s not a "return to the roots" type of comeback album. The music still features a couple of vague death metal moments, but they are few and far between. Instead the band incorporate both industrial and stoner elements in their core thrash metal sound, and the outcome is relatively eclectic. I hear a lot of Prong influences in the music (I also hear a few nods toward "Grin (1993)" by Coroner), but Cancer are generally less groove oriented. The hoarse shouting vocals style is pretty similar to the delivery of Tommy Victor though.

The material on the 9 track, 39:03 is generally decent in quality, but there´s little here that stands out as remarkable beyond what´s standard for the style. The only time during the album´s playing time, where I´m really captured by the band´s sound is during the latter part of "Solar Prophecy", where Cancer suddenly go into stoner mode, plays some pretty great hard rocking riffs, and add a psychadelic touch to the music. Other than that the music tends to sound a bit stale and uninspired. It´s not particularly bad, but when the catchy and memorable moments are as few as they are here, it would be wrong to call this a high quality release.

The sound production is also of a pretty standard quality. Again it´s not bad, but it doesn´t exactly enhance the listening experience either. The musicianship is on a pretty high level though, and it does slightly save the day. So all in all "Spirit in Flames" isn´t the most interesting release out there and Cancer have certainly released better, but a 3 star (60%) rating is still warranted.

PILGRIMZ Boar Riders

Album · 2008 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Boar Riders" is the debut full-length studio album by Danish groove metal/hardcore act Pilgrimz. The album was released through I Scream Records in 2008. Pilgrimz were formed in 1998 and they released the two EPs "Goodday mister president (2006)" and "Small minds Great knowledge (2007)", before recording and releasing "Boar Riders".

The music on "Boar Riders" is a combination of hardcore, groove metal, thrash metal, and sweaty rock´n´roll. The material is extremely energetic and hard hittin´ but certainly not without melodic sensibility or cathy hooks. In fact some of the choruses are obviously written to make you shout along to them. The vocals by Max Vegas (Real name: Max Christensen) are aggressive shouting hardcore styled vocals, often delivered on the verge of hysteria. They can be a bit hard on the ears, but they suit the music perfectly.

The music is hardly original, as all elements are recognisable and have been used before by other artists (Fast thrashy riffing, punk´n´rolled hard rocking riffing, mid-paced groovy riffs, and heavy breakdowns), but the combination of elements makes "Boar Riders" stand out. It´s mostly the very convincing and aggressive delivery of the music which carries the album though. Even the few moments where it all becomes a bit generic sounding, are saved by the raw energy and fierce delivery. The fact that the band are all skilled performers isn´t exactly a minus either.

"Boar Riders" features a powerful and raw sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. Not surprisingly the album is produced by Jacob Hansen and mixed and mastered by Tue Madsen. Two very prolific Danish producers. Upon conclusion "Boar Riders" is quite the convincing debut album by Pilgrimz. Fans of high octane energetic groove metal/hardcore with a rock´n´roll twist should be able to enjoy this greatly. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ABORTED Slaughter & Apparatus: A Methodical Overture

Album · 2007 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Slaughter & Apparatus: A Methodical Overture" is the 5th full-length studio album by Belgian death metal act Aborted. The album was released through Century Media Records in February 2007. It´s the successor to "The Archaic Abattoir" from 2005. Since the predecessor the lineup has been completely revamped and the only remaining member from the lineup who recorded "The Archaic Abattoir (2005)" is frontman and founding member Sven de Caluwé. de Caluwé has among others recruited the quite prolific Australian drummer David Haley (Psycroptic, Pestilence, Ruins, The Amenta) to play on the album.

Lineup changes or not, "Slaughter & Apparatus: A Methodical Overture" pretty much contineus down the same gore drenced death metal path as its predecessor. The melodic elements (mostly in the form of guitar solos and themes) which were introduced on "The Archaic Abattoir (2005)" are also present here. The core style is still relatively brutal and technically well played death metal with de Caluwé´s aggressive and intelligible snarling vocals and deep and unintelligible growling vocals in front. Aborted have more or less played this style since day one, but the melodic elements are new, and bring a more sophisticated end result with them.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. The guitar solos are especially well played, but the many tempo changes are also handled with great skill by David Haley. The material on the 11 track, 42:43 minutes long album is generally well written although a bit more variation between tracks and more memorable moments could have lifted the music to an even higher level.

The sound production is a slight issue to my ears, as it´s not sharp enough and sounds a bit woolen. Sometimes rhythm guitar sections don´t reach the listener´s ear with all details, and often the music lacks punch. It´s too bad really as the other elements of the album are of a pretty high class. Still a 3.5 star (70%) rating isn´t all wrong.

AGALLOCH Ashes Against the Grain

Album · 2006 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 54 ratings
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Given that AGALLOCH took their name from aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) which is a fragrant wood used for incense, the band really have spent their career operating like a slow flowing resinous sap that such trees exude. Not only is this true in their shoegazy post-rock meets black and folk metal musical style but also in the fact that this Portland, Oregon based band really took their time to craft their studio albums. After the success of “The Mantle,” the band began performing their music live for the first time which meant even less time for song crafting and studio production values. It took four long years before they would follow up “The Mantle” with their third full-length album ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN (not counting the two EPs) but in that time the band came to a couple conclusions.

Firstly, “The Mantle” was a behemoth in its making with tons of extra non-metal instruments, electronics and production tricks which proved extremely difficult to replicate in a live setting therefore the band had to restructure much of that album to adapt to a live setting. This scenario resulted in AGALLOCH’s decision to scale back the bloated accoutrements and focus on a more stripped down approach that they could effortlessly convert from studio album to live setting without having to reconstruct the entire range of compositions. This proved to be a wise decision not only for adaptive purposes but also in the fact that it would’ve been a bad move to simply construct a “Mantle II.” Therefore ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN developed as a completely different beast from its predecessor, which in the long run proved to be a very good thing.

Secondly, as a studio only band, John Haughm not only contributed vocals but also played acoustic and electrics guitars as well as handling all the percussion duties. Clearly unable to tackle all these duties live, AGALLOCH brought in Chris Greene as the band’s official drummer and thus officially made the band a quartet. While Greene was added to the musical cast and joined before recording began on this album, he still didn’t perform drums on “Falling Snow” and “Not Unlike The Waves.” Due to his dissatisfaction of adapting to the band, he would depart after the European tour and replaced by Aesop Dekker ( of Ludicra). However, after ironing out the kinks in their studio / live performances ratio, AGALLOCH set forth to record their third album which was plagued with problems including the entire album being lost in a computer glitch that made them re-record from scratch. Ugh.

In every way, ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN is everything “The Mantle” wasn’t, at least in the context of the world of AGALLOCH. Yes, there are many similarities. This is still a skillful mix of black and doom metal with dark neofolk and post rock, however on ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN the entire recipe has been shifted. While “The Mantle” was primarily neofolk based with influences from Death In June and Sol Invictus dominated the sonicscape, on album #3 the focus was directed more in the sludge / post-metal camp. While Godspeed You! Black Emperor had always served as a major wellspring of creative juju, on ASHES, the band was beginning to blend in more with contemporary post-metal bands such as Isis, Neurosis and Pelican. While Godspeed had been subjugated to the underbelly compositionally speaking, heavy sludge metal riffing and upbeat tempos became the dominating factors on ASHES.

While the metal has been ramped up, there is no shortage of electronic freak outs, acoustic folk or moments of inner retrospection via catchy melodic hooks. Opposite of “The Mantle,” ASHES begins more aggressively with less catchy ear hooks but ultimately slowly weaves its magic as it progresses. While on “The Mantle,” it took a few tracks before the metal dominated, on ASHES the slower neofolk domination doesn’t kick in until the fourth track “Fire Above, Ice Below.” And also serving as the photographic negative duality is the fact that while on “The Mantle” the folk emerged beneath the grungy distorted din, on ASHES it’s the metal that has to emerge above the folk. I think i see a pattern here, hmmmm.

ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN does not provide the immediate satisfaction that its predecessor allowed. This one takes a bit more work to decipher. While “The Mantle” was an instant classic in my ears, ASHES had to prove itself but it has unleashed new magic every time i’ve spun it and created an alternative AGALLOCH perspective in many ways that to this day i’m not entirely sure as to how it has unleashed its magic. Somehow the band has woven another post-metal meets folk and electronic tapestry that shape shifts when least expected and manages to drag things out as long as possible and playing the ole switcheroo just before things become stagnate. While the band has stated that this is their worst album due to the fact that it relied on too much production mileage, i have to disagree. AGALLOCH is one of those bands much like Pink Floyd that have inherently entwined themselves into the production process and would be a lesser band for not having done so. There are no virtuosic instrumental moments on an AGALLOCH album. This band creates a larger than life listening experience that is all encompassing. That is a good thing.

Yes, this one is a grower unlike “The Mantle” which casts an immediate spell, however this one is well worth the effort. It requires several intense listening sessions but well worth the effort indeed. While i admit the initial opening generic aspects of “Limbs” may not evoke any passions of fire, it doesn’t take long for the majesty to sink in. ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN ultimately comes off as a classical music album dressed up in contemporary clothing such as post-rock, metal and folk. Much like its predecessor, ASHES maintains a distinct musical flow between tracks but unlike “The Mantle,” relies on a series of opposing forces rather than easily cooperative ones. There is more tension that results from a heavier post-metal dominated soundscape than the lush acoustic folk pastoral marches of the past, however careful listening will find similarly plucked acoustic elements imbued throughout albeit not in the forefront. This is particularly more noticeable in the midsection of the album with “Not Unlike The Waves” coming to the forefront.

The three part suite “Our Fortress Is Burning” concludes the epic journey in an entirely satisfying fashion. It begins with a prognosticator of how it will end, with a bubbling volcanic gurgle of electronic excitation but in the beginning it ushers in a post-rock guitar riff that slowly builds into a more recognizable Mogwai type of riffage with a Pink Floyd type of guitar performance tacked on. While unified in name only, this three part finale only reflects the entire nature of the album that tacks many suites together as a united whole and arbitrarily labels them linguistically, however these last three tracks that constitute this suite are the most magnanimous of the bunch as they effortlessly juxtapose countless styles of post-rock, black metal, space rock and folk. Overproduced? I don’t think so. This is musical perfection. Get over yourselves if you think otherwise. As Act I cedes into Act II, a little musical heft is added with the percussion. This is a slow burner so expect post-rock baby steps. The Third Act is entirely dedicated to an intense electronic frenzy of the quasi-formulaic world of quantum level electronic weirdness with guitar feedback or at least that’s what comes to mind when it eerily transpires.

Indubitably, comparisons between “The Mantle” and ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN will result since these were AGALLOCH’s peak years that defined them as the legends they have become. While similar in nature, ASHES takes a logical leap in ascension from what came before in that it doesn’t rely on instantly catchy melodies as the hook basis. In contrast, this one is a murkier affair that if one were to analyze the cover art of the two albums, perfectly reflects. “The Mantle” with its black, gray and white cover art easily portrays an image of a stag amidst a wintery tree-lined landscape whereas ASHES displays a nebulous unfocused image of a bird in a Van Gogh after a wild night on the town sort of way. Likewise, the musical constructs reflect a more surreal and less comprehensible manner of how the sonic parade of sounds is laid out. The result is a feeling of less warm and fuzzy melodies and an impending dread much like the feeling of that moment before the storm hits which while somewhat placid in the physical realm is mortifying in the anticipatory emotional factors that precede. ASHES perfectly captures that “bardo” state in between major events. This was a slow burner but when all is said and done, a more sophisticated slice of musical fusion than “The Mantle” and a more than worthy successor.

AGALLOCH The Mantle

Album · 2002 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 71 ratings
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AGALLOCH took their name from the resinous wood of the aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) and on their sophomore album THE MANTLE, this Portland, Oregon based band demonstrates how to let their musical cross-pollinations flow like sticky sap through an hour plus timespan that encompasses a wide spectrum of sounds and styles yet never outstays its welcome. THE MANTLE was a major improvement over the already developed and mature debut “Pale Folklore,” yet the first album was crippled by a lackluster production job that prevented the band’s true atmospheric prowess and uncanny ability to juxtapose disparate sounds in completely logical yet untried manners. THE MANTLE showcased the band in its comfort zone as it gracefully oozed out lusciously strummed acoustic folk guitar chords, electronic embellishments, black metal inspired doom and gloom and post-rock fueled compositional constructs that allowed the music to build to dizzying crescendoes and beyond.

Their first release of the new millennium, THE MANTLE has become one of those must-have albums in any metal collection as it embodies a perfection like few others before or since. Much in the vein of their debut, THE MANTLE tackles a wide range of influences that weave the possibilities of the dark neofolk sounds of bands like Death In June and Sol Invictus with the extra bombast of the metal world in the form of doom inspired riffing dressed up with black metal tremolo picking and shrieked vocals that played tag with clean sung lyrics sometimes resulting in whispered poetic prose. At first mistaken for a Scandinavian band for their use of guitar work utilized by bands ranging from Ulver, Katatonia and Amorphis, AGALLOCH allowed the black metal universe to expand beyond its second wave limitations of the legions of copycats and followed in the footsteps of the innovators that ultimately made them a part of the club that managed to craft a new hybrid of musical innovation.

The album’s signature sound is instantly addictive as the introductory acoustic guitar strumming of “A Celebration For The Death Of Men” demonstrates the band’s ability to create instant ear hooks augmented by subtle changes in atmospheric variation. The track cedes seamlessly into the following monster composition “In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion” which runs the gamut of metal meets neofolk possibilities and not only creates a seemingly infinite variety of subtle changes but demonstrates how the band ratchet up the band’s theme by connecting the tracks into a larger whole, in this case a pseudo-concept about how images can be conveyed through sound. The images in this case are real photos of Portland, Oregon landmarks beginning with the stag on the album cover in a shrouded mysterious blanket of foggy gray and nebulous murky atmospheric detachment. The music perfectly suits the assortment of photos that are included in the liner notes.

THE MANTLE is a slow burner and not one to be listened to in a hurry. This is not what one would deem a headbanger’s type of metal as it seems a vast majority of the real estate is dedicated to dreamy acoustic folk, shoegazy post-rock and hypnotic grooves embellished by electronic wizardry and outlandish production techniques. In fact only on the fourth track “I Am The Wooden Doors” does the black metal inspired fury have domination over the mellower aspects of the album and yet even here, is graced by unorthodox acoustic guitar solos that break in beneath the distorted metal galloping of the guitar grunge. Perhaps another amazing aspect of THE MANTLE is how the vocal harmonics create a whole other level of melodic counterpoint. Not only do the vocals range from the growled, clean, whispered and shrieked but in how they work together to create a larger atmospheric experience.

Sometimes one vocal style will dominate whereas other times clean and shrieked vocals will trade off by ushering in a call and response sort of forum. While many a black metal album’s shrieked vocals are indecipherable, AGALLOCH create almost the most perfect balance of lush melodic musical passages with grainy irascibly charge yet well enunciated periods of black metal magic embedded into the folk dominated soundscapes. The ratio between the sleepy time folk tranquility and the majestic metal heft is meted out in a satisfyingly elegant proportions and while there are points when certain hypnotic post-rock passages appear to be wearing out their welcome, AGALLOCH has a firm understanding of just how far to milk any certain idea before pulling out the rug and taking a 180 stylistically speaking.

THE MANTLE also masters the art of the reprise, that is, simple melodic hooks that are introduced early on and then find their ways back into the mix only with completely different variations but somehow bring the feel of an epic journey where one must revisit past destinations before moving on. In addition to the aforementioned influences, THE MANTLE brings the epic grace of Opeth to mind, especially from albums like “Morningrise” with the brilliant commingling of acoustic and electric elements but also finds epic bands like Pink Floyd-esque guitar solos and space rock feel in “The Hawthorne Passage.” The way that the entire album is laid out evokes a great rock opera and i detect many small touches that remind me of Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” not necessarily in musical delivery but in the compositional posturing and dynamic flow of one track to the next as they incorporate subtle sounds and themes (such as military march drumming and sound samples.)

AGALLOCH found musical perfection on THE MANTLE. All the elements that had been laid out so brilliantly on “Pale Folklore” aligned perfectly on this sophomore release. The album has become a classic in the metal world for great reason. This is one that has the double effect of being instantly addictive yet offers an infinite variety of details to offer satisfying repeat listens. In fact, this is one of those albums i can safely put on perpetual replay and never grow tired of hearing since it conveys such a vast array of moods, tones, textures and timbres graced with a sophisticated production that allows every little detail to shine through the grim, depressive atmospheric displays that permeate THE MANTLE’s post-apocalyptic soundscape. When it comes to a brilliant display of how folk, metal, post-rock and atmospheric ambient sounds are woven together, i cannot think of an example better than THE MANTLE. Just digging this out for a review led me to keep it on replay for several days straight and i’m still awed by it. THAT only happens when an album is friggin’ awesome beyond belief. Yep, THE MANTLE is just that.

AGALLOCH Tomorrow Will Never Come

EP · 2003 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.31 | 9 ratings
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After releasing the debut “Pale Folklore,” AGALLOCH started the trend of releasing EPs between their full-length studio albums. The second of these TOMORROW WILL NEVER COME emerged after the sophomore album “The Mantle.” However, instead of releasing one EP between “The Mantle” and “Ashes Against The Grain,” for some reason the band decided that two EPs would somehow be a good thing. Why? Since each one has only two tracks, the world will never know.

This one comes off more as a single than an EP. While the first EP “Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor” was 28 minutes in length, TOMORROW WILL NEVER COME consists of a mere two tracks that only last 7 minutes and 32 seconds. Hardly worth wasting resources over yet there were 500 copies that were initialed by Jason William Walton, so i guess a money making gimmick this was but in the end a really unnecessary addition to the AGALLOCH canon.

“The Death Of Man” (Version III) is nothing more than an alternative take of the famous introductory folk strumming that gracefully initiates “The Mantle” in all its glory. However, there is really nothing that great about this and only subtle atmospheric touches differentiate it from the original. After hearing this all i want to do is hear “The Mantle” and wonder why in the world this was released.

The second track, the title track is at least original and not found elsewhere. This is a nice dreamy folk track exclusively performed on acoustic guitar and shows a bit more classical guitar influence than the usual dark neofolk of AGALLOCH albums. While the guitar strumming is beautiful, the addition of field recordings in the form of a documentary don’t seem to fit in very well. This stylistic approach was originally desired for Don Anderson’s tenure in the band Sculptured but was rejected (for good reason.) This track also displays the massive influence the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor had on AGALLOCH’s post-rock aspects. The subtle freaky atmospherics that whiz by behind the folk guitar with the psychotic spoken ranting is right out of their playbook.

This is not an outstanding release. It is worth hearing for history’s sake but nothing redeeming at all. Only the second track is an original but nothing to write home about. A disappointing little tidbit following the band’s classic “The Mantle” and an obvious attempt to cash in on its unexpected popularity. For completist’s only.

AGALLOCH The Grey EP

EP · 2004 · Non-Metal
Cover art 1.91 | 10 ratings
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Since AGALLOCH took three years between their albums “The Mantle” and “Ashes Against The Grain,” the band released two short EPs in their stead. The first, “Tomorrow Will Never Come” in 2003 and the second THE GREY EP in 2004. This one was a released with only 1000 copies and contains a mere two tracks of reinterpreted mixes of two tracks from “The Mantle.”

“The Lodge (Dismantled)” takes extreme liberties by adapting the 4 minute and 40 second track into a 13 minute and 4 second noisefest. With a basic tripling of time length one would expect more variation but the track is very repetitive and quite uninteresting outside of the original album context. It does however prelude the harsher noise style that would define “Ashes Against The Grain” with the extremities that end it similar to those that would develop into “Our Fortress Is Burning… III - The Grain.”

“Odal (Nothing Remix)” is perhaps the greatest deviation from an original song ever. It is literally indecipherable as the track that appeared on “The Mantle” and is basically a 7 minute and 47 second electronic drone track that starts out with a receptive “washing machine” groove. It cedes into more of an industrial type of track with a haunting atmospheric organ and some clanging on some sort of metallic objects reminiscent of early Einstürzende Neubauten. This is the more interesting of the tracks if you like nebulous industrial noise sounds, however it is completely devoid of any of AGALLOCH’s signature sounds and doubtful that fans will be interested.

THE GREY EP was technically designed to complete a trilogy that included “The Mantle” and the the “Tomorrow Will Never Come EP” however i find the two EPs that follow “The Mantle” rather pointless as they convey nothing extra to “The Mantle’s” magnificent mix of cross-pollinating musical styles nor does it convey anything lyrical at all. This one is nothing more than a couple of experiments that probably would’ve been better to release years later as a compilation of weirdness after the band broke up. This is only for hardcore completists.

LINKIN PARK Minutes to Midnight

Album · 2007 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.46 | 21 ratings
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And so it was, that as quickly as the nu metal subgenre rose to prominence (and boy, did it ever?!), so too did it burn out. In 2000, nu metal bands were topping the charts and headlining festivals all over the world. By 2003, the genre was dead, with many bands either fading into obscurity or changing their sound to maintain relevance.

Which brings us to Linkin Park, arguably “the face” of nu metal.

2007 saw the band release their third studio album, ‘Minutes to Midnight’, and sees a huge departure from the sound they were best known for. The heavy use of samples, rapping and metal guitar tones have been replaced by a more traditional, radio-friendly rock, which focuses more on Chester Bennington’s impressive singing, and a more hard rock guitar sound. It’s evident that the band have matured and grown up over the years too. Long gone is the spiky dyed hair and teenage angst-ridden lyrics, instead, we have a more melancholic, introspective band, that are looking at bigger, worldly issues than just personal anxiety.

However, one thing remains unchanged, and that’s the group’s knack for writing easily accessible and catchy tunes. The songs are all fairly short, and with very simple structures and hooks aplenty, they’ve managed to update their sound with ease, and show an organic maturity bought upon by their own life experiences, as opposed to a means for the bands survival.

With highlights including ‘What I’ve Done’, ‘No More Sorrow’, ‘Bleed It Out’, ‘Given Up’ (huge props to Chester’s vocals on this one), and ‘Leave Out All the Rest’, it’s apparent that Linkin Park have managed to transcend the nu metal genre, and while ‘Minutes to Midnight’ may not be as innovative as their prior efforts, what it lacks in originality it more than compensates for with such well-crafted compositions, confirming that the band were more than a flash-in-the-pan, and are deserving of their spot as one of the biggest bands on the planet.

MEGADETH The System Has Failed

Album · 2004 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.48 | 61 ratings
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2004 saw the metal community rejoice, as thrash metal pioneers and all-round icons of the genre, Megadeth, returned from a forced retirement two years prior.

However, this wasn’t the Megadeth of old. With the band splitting up in 2002 due to an injury suffered by leader, vocalist and guitarist Dave Mustaine, the following two years in which Mustaine healed up would see himself and long-standing bassist David Ellefson fall out over legal disputes. As a result, while Mustaine was ready to return to the music world, with no band line-up in sight, he set out to record a solo album, which very quickly became another Megadeth project when it became apparent that his own name-value was nowhere near that of his bands.

While ‘The System Has Failed’ is a Megadeth album, it is essentially a Dave Mustaine solo release, with a load of session musicians. Albeit, one of which was returning guitarist Chris Poland, who had appeared on the bands first two releases back in the early 80’s.The two-year hiatus did Mustaine a lot of good though, as this is a return to form after a rather strenuous start to the new century. 1999’s ‘Risk’ saw them go pop rock to critical disdain (I love that album, for the record), and 2001’s ‘The World Needs a Hero’ was a rather stoic, rigid affair, that felt like the band weren’t really making too much effort at all.

But with ‘The System Has Failed’, Megadeth are truly back to their thrash metal roots with heavy, intense and driving guitar riffs, angry, spite-filled lyrics that lash out at politicians and war, and Mustaine’s vocals being more ferocious and venomous than ever. The production gives the songs a thick sound, with a thumping bass line and solid drumming, and the technical prowess of the musicians, along with the melodic approach to the songwriting, gives the album a fresh sound, not heard since 1990’s ‘Rust in Peace’.

Overall, while there are one or two filler tracks, this is a solid album, with songs like ‘Kick the Chair’, ‘Blackmail the Universe’, ‘Die Dead Enough’, ‘Back in the Day’, ‘The Scorpion’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’ showing that Megadeth are back with a vengeance, and more than ready to reclaim their spot as one of metals most beloved bands, and although this won’t ever be considered their best album, it’s a welcome return to form.

IRON MAIDEN Live After Death

Live album · 1985 · NWoBHM
Cover art 4.12 | 54 ratings
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Iron Maiden were on a roll. 1982’s ‘The Number of the Beast’ and 1983’s ‘Piece of Mind’ had shot the band to the top of the metal world, and if there was finally any doubters left that didn’t think the band belonged, then 1984’s ‘Powerslave’, the Brits’ fifth studio release, really established them as one of the top metal acts around. What followed was the “World Slavery Tour”, which saw Maiden embark on a trek around the globe with an elaborate stage show that encapsulated the energy and imagery of their music.

So what’s next? How about a live album to commemorate the tour? Which brings us to the first of many live albums the band would put out; ‘Live After Death’.

Split over two discs, the first recorded in California, USA while the second in London, England, ‘Live After Death’ highlights the energy and enthusiasm of the band in their early days. Featuring all the major hits from their first five albums, including ‘Aces High’, ‘Run to the Hills’, ‘The Trooper’, ‘The Number of the Beast’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’, the performances and production are all of a high standard, however, the audience can be a little hard to hear at times, which kind of ruins the experience, but as a whole, this is a good live release.

Though, with that said, I’ve always preferred studio albums to live ones, and as it is, ‘Live After Death’ does seem a little outdated today, considering the wealth of live albums the band would go on to produce. Still, it has its moments and isn’t bad by any means, there just isn’t really anything to entice me to choose this over any of Iron Maiden’s studio efforts instead.

REVOCATION The Outer Ones

Album · 2018 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Let’s face it, Revocation don’t make bad albums. So it is with album number seven, once again they impress with another dose of highly technical death tinged thrash.

They come in from the start with blast beats blazing on “Of Unwordly Origin” but in typical Revocation fashion they never sit on the same riff/drum part for long before changing to something else, usually equally complex and jaw dropping. Each song is full of time/tempo changes and musical twists and turns with each band member excelling at their individual instrument, never content to keep it simple. All this wouldn’t count for much if they didn’t have the songs to back it up but fortunately as always they deliver with compelling riff after riff and blistering yet melodic guitar solos. There always seems to be an instrumental on their albums and here we get “Fathomless Catacombs”, five and half minutes of stunning musical virtuosity. To be honest such is the complexity throughout that any song on here could work as an instrumental. With each song delivering the goods on all levels picking favourites is futile but if pushed I might just go for “Vanitas” where if at all possible, they manage just to just squeeze out a bit more ferocity.

While there’s no great leaps or growth since 2016’s “Great Is Our Sin” with music this good it’s irrelevant. In fact it would be hard to see where Revocation could take their music anywhere else without having a complete genre change as they’ve already at the top of their game and have been for at least four albums now. If you enjoy them then “The Outer Ones” is essential listening for you.

AGALLOCH Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor

EP · 2001 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 13 ratings
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To the casual listener of AGALLOCH’s albums, it may be unclear as to whether the band is a black metal band dressed in dark neofolk clothing or a folk band that happens to delve in the metal universe, however it becomes clearer if one is to explore beyond the full-length albums and into the equal number of EPs. While on the albums, the mix is pretty even, on the EPs, most are totally dedicated to dark neofolk with no metal at all. AGALLOCH’s first album “Pale Folklore” came out in 1999 and starting with their next release they began a trend that would continue throughout their career. They would release an EP between each album. While most would be completely folk based, this first EP titled OF STONE, WIND AND PILLOR is the exception in that it is an eclectic mix of five tracks that differ quite substantially.

This was intended to be AGALLOCH’s debut to be released as a vinyl 7” that would include only the first three tracks: the title track, “Foliorum Viridium” (from the demo) and “Haunting Birds.” The title track displays the unique mix of black metal, post-rock and dark neofolk that would catapult AGALLOCH onto the world’s stage and become their signature sound. The track is more upbeat than anything else on this EP and would’ve fit well onto “Pale Folklore” as it emphasizes the shrieked black metal vocals, heavily distorted guitar riffing and atmospheric doom and gloom. The following two tracks “Foliorum Viridium” and “Haunting Birds” are completely different as they are instrumental and non-metal. The former, a haunting orchestrated symphonic affair with choral effects and the latter a recognizable early prototype of the introductory acoustic guitar folk layout that would begin “The Mantle” and would become its signature defining characteristic.

Since the project was put on hold until 2001 and released after the full-length “Pale Folklore,” the band decided to add two additional tracks. The first was the Sol Invictus cover “Kneel To The Cross” which offers an orchestrated atmospheric folk tinged melody that is enhanced by the repetitive vocal chants that break into a more recognizable dark neofolk style similar to “The Mantle” but deftly incorporates an interesting clean / shrieked vocal dynamic over the acoustic guitar melodic drive. The last tune is a musical score titled “A Poem By Yeats” which incorporates poetic prose of W.B. Yeats poem “The Sorrow Of Love.” This track is another heavily symphonic neofolk offering that displays AGALLOCH’s mastery of the darkened acoustic world with layered atmospheric elements. It also includes a beautiful piano run that ushers in a shoegazy mix of keyboards, vocals and echo effects. The melodies are beautiful and soaring as the poetry is reciting in spoken prose.

Although OF STONE, WIND, AND PILLOR was intended to be the debut preceding “Pale Folklore,” i find that it works as the perfect bridge that leads up to “The Mantle” as it displays the logical extension from the black metal dominated debut to the more post-rock / dark neofolk laced sophomore album. While the EPs in AGALLOCH’s canon have been ignored in favor of their more lengthy full-length albums, this one is quite majestic in its short 28 minute time run. The melodics are melancholic and haunting and while eschewing the metal almost completely displays in perfect form how well AGALLOCH were at concocting sophisticated compositions based on heart-tugging melodies. The only complaint i have is that it has an annoying silent stretch at the end with some pig squeals that finish it off. I wouldn’t complain if it were longer either but it is an EP, but a really, really good one nonetheless.

AGALLOCH Pale Folklore

Album · 1999 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 36 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
American rock history has rarely been in the forefront of the European scenes as it seems the US has always been playing catch up rather than being innovators but every once in a while, a band or two happens to catch the rest of the world off guard with something completely bold, daring and original. This applies to the heavy metal universe as well. One example is when the Texas based Watchtower exemplified the bombast and fury of 80s metal and applied it to an adventurous progressive rock paradigm. The world would never be the same. One could also argue that the Portland, Oregon based AGALLOCH has had much of the same effect on the post-second wave black metal that has become a staple of the 21st century extreme metal world and has allowed a relentless explorative pursuit within the black metal world ever since.

This band dates back to 1995 when guitarist / vocalist John Haughm (formerly of Sculptured) and keyboardist Shane Breyer (formerly of Susurrus Inanis) began to take early explorative measures in the black metal universe that would amalgamate the disparate worlds of black metal, post-rock and progressive rock with the neofolk of bands like Death In June. As soon as guitarist Don Anderson (also formerly of Sculptured) joined, the band set out to record their first demo tape “From Which Of This Oak” which was released in 1997. While still deeply rooted in black metal, the band had hit upon their own style and with the addition of Jason Walton on drums, the band would forge their unique style that would be unleashed onto an unsuspecting world with their full-length debut PALE FOLKLORE in 1999 just in time for a new millennium.

AGALLOCH immediately scored a unique eclectic mix of musical elements that hitherto had only been attempted by Scandinavian bands such as Ulver, Opeth and Amorphis. PALE FOLKLORE features a mature homegrown integration of doom and black metal along with acoustic folk arpeggios and post-rock compositional structures that sprawled into lengthy melancholic tracks that exhibited a wide range of growled, clean, whispered and shrieked vocals. The pagan based themes in the lyrics focused on depression, nature, folklore and the supernatural all splayed in a post-rock nonchalance that set up mood altering passages that found closure with heavy black metal crescendocore. Unique to this debut was also the female operatic vocals that occasional pop in performed by Anderson’s girlfriend of the time. While the album took three years to write and record, only one track from the demo, “As Embers Dress The Sky” make it on PALE FOLKLORE.

The album begins with an epic grace of the “She Painted Fire Across The Skyline” suite which in three movements perfectly prognosticated the evolution of black metal into the new millennium. The juxtaposition of the disparate metal, folk, post-rock and doom elements took the compositional flow of post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the neofolk of Death In June and layered in doom metal marches, black metal tremolo picking and distortion with the occasional flare of neoclassical elements bleeding through. Likewise the atmospheric properties of the keyboards added a frosty veneer over the aggressive metal passages assuaged by acoustic folk melodies. Add the disparate vocal styles and the extraordinarily diverse drumming patterns and the result was one of the most unique metal albums of 1999. The band has cited that in addition to Ulver and Godspeed You!, influences include Katatonia, The 3rd And The Mortal, Swans as well as music from movie soundtracks.

All in all PALE FOLKLORE may not be as focused as “The Mantle” or other subsequent albums but in effect lays the groundwork for all that would come and proved to be an influential release in its own right. Entrenched with soaring atmospheric orchestrations, keyboard tinklings, metal bombast in contrast to acoustic folk melodies, PALE FOLKLORE found a unique niche in between the orthodoxy of 90s black metal and even the Neurosis styled post-metal of the same era. AGALLOCH simply took the cross-pollinating effects of all these elements to a new level and managed to put the US on the map within the black metal world. If you ask me, AGALLOCH probably has the most in common with Sweden’s Opeth. They both exhibited a unique trading off between sensual acoustic guitar passages and bombastic metal explosiveness that were cleverly woven together. Out of all the AGALLOCH albums, PALE FOLKLORE is the most diverse in tempos, timbres, time signatures, vocal styles etc. A more than competent debut.

KAMELOT Karma

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 37 ratings
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martindavey87
Power metal has always been the ginger-haired stepchild of metal. It’s cheesy, and full of corny lyrics about mythical lands and beings going on wondrous adventures. Lame, right? But occasionally, a band comes along who does away with the speed-metal roots and wailing vocals of the genre, and releases something with a bit more depth and substance.

Enter Kamelot, with their fifth studio album, 2001’s ‘Karma’, the group have really hit their stride, with a refined sound and more polished song writing, this is where the band truly begin a streak of strong releases that establishes them as one of symphonic metals true champions.

Building upon what they’d started with 1999’s ‘The Forth Legacy’, ‘Karma’ has a very rich sound that gives the band an amazingly fantastical feel. Brimming with lavish orchestrations and exotic musical influences, Kamelot have slowly stepped away from the medieval themes of past albums and gone for a more varied, worldly sound, and it works well with their upbeat and energetic performances. Special mention must go to vocalist Roy Khan, who’s incredible voice works very well with the music and gives it a warm and wholesome sound.

With highlights such as ‘Forever’, ‘Across the Highlands’, ‘Wings of Despair’, all three parts of a trilogy entitled ‘Elizabeth’, and the beautifully emotional ‘Don’t You Cry’, it’s clear that here is a band who, after a few albums tweaking their sound, have finally found their identity and established a style befitting a band named after the home of the legendary King Arthur. Kamelot may not be for everyone’s tastes, but if you’re okay with a bit of fantasy and majesty in your music, then this is definitely worth checking out.

SYMPHONY X Iconoclast

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 76 ratings
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martindavey87
2007’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is, in my opinion, one of the heaviest albums of all time, and having developed their sound over the years from a neo-classical progressive metal act to an extremely heavy, almost power metal-sounding band, it seems Symphony X have settled on a style that suits them perfectly, as ‘Iconoclast’, the bands eighth studio album, released in 2011, follows on from its predecessor as a possible candidate for one of the heaviest albums you’ll ever hear.

What makes Symphony X so heavy, you ask? While people measure heaviness in different ways, in my opinion, it’s the “weight” of the music. The production and the sound, and in this case, the massive and beefy-as-hell guitar riffs. ‘Iconoclast’ is like a ten-ton hammer crushing a thousand skulls at once, and incredibly, despite the sheer intensity and brutality, the album is full of wondrous and beautiful melodies too.

Taking the energy of power metal and the songwriting arrangements of progressive metal, Symphony X’s music is very upbeat and ambitious. With complex orchestrations and masterful musicianship, these guys are at the top of their game, and on par with the genres finest musicians. In particular, guitarist Michael Romeo and vocalist Russell Allen have an absolute synergy rarely seen these days, with Allen’s incredibly versatile range being a perfect match for the guitar riffs.

Released on two discs, or as a one-disc edition for people not willing to spend too much dollar (I wonder how many people actually bought that one), ‘Iconoclast’ is an incredible album with very few flaws. With absolute monstrous beasts such as ‘Electric Messiah’, ‘The End of Innocence’, ‘Bastards of the Machine’, ‘Dehumanized’, ‘Children of a Faceless God’ and ‘Reign in Madness’, this shows that, while Symphony X may not feel inclined to do many classically-inspired prog epics these days, they’ve refused to relent with age, instead, getting heavier and constantly finding ways to update their sound and remain relevant.

‘Iconoclast’ belongs in every metal fans collection. Simple.

ART IN EXILE Art in Exile

EP · 2006 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 1.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
‘Art in Exile’ is the self-titled debut release by the Australian gothic rockers of the same name. It’s one of those CD’s that you pick up in the bargain bin (I literally did, in Germany, for 50 cents!), and then have in your collection, forever wondering why you still have it despite not liking it.

It’s kind of gothic metal, kind of progressive at times, kind of death metal, mostly boring. The guitar riffs aren’t very interesting, and the gloomy keyboards don’t really add much. There are one or two moments where the music is alright, especially the intro of opening track ‘Magnetism’, which sounded intriguing for all of 45 seconds, until vocalist Mel Bulian starts screaming away. She sounds a bit like Dani Filth, but I don’t really care about Dani Filth. Her clean vocals are nice, and the band could have had a much better sound if they’d taken that approach, but all her screeching is hard to listen to, and certainly not for me.

Since this band have only released one album (at the time of writing this review, anyway), I’m guessing there’s not much demand for a gothic metal scene in Australia? Who knows? Either way, there’s a reason this was in the bargain bin...

BONZ Broken Silence

Album · 2015 · Rap Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
‘Broken Silence’ is the 2015 debut by Bonz, the original front man of rap-rock pioneers Stuck Mojo. After a second attempt at a reunion with his former band mates produced similar results as before (they’d attempted reunions in both 2005 and 2014, neither were able to sustain themselves for more than a number of shows), it was time for Bonz to step out on his own and break his silence.

Following on from his multiple tenures with Stuck Mojo, this is hard-hitting rap metal, with heavy, crunchy guitar riffs and energetic drumming accompanying Bonz’s spite-filled vocals, which are honest, brutal, and at times humorous. The raw and gritty production gives the album the sound it needs, giving everyone some clarity whilst not sounding overproduced, it sounds dirty, which is befitting of the lyrical themes, style of the music, and image of the band.

However, while there aren’t really any bad songs on the record, there is a major ingredient missing; “The Duke” Rich Ward.

Guitar mastermind of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy, Rich Ward’s groove laden guitar riffs were able to really get the best out of Bonz’s unique voice, which blended traditional rapping with punk and hardcore influences, and unmatched charisma. While ‘Broken Silence’ is a good effort, and certainly gives the man an avenue to voice his thoughts, everything seems just a little rigid without that swinging feeling of Ward’s songwriting and his signature guitar tones.

However, ‘Broken Silence’ is still a good album, and certainly has its moments. ‘Sinister Grin’, ‘Take It Personal’, ’30 Seconds to Swat’, ‘Godshine’ and the title track itself, which is no doubt a shot at his former band mates, are all decent tracks that make this record worth checking out. But if you really want to catch Bonz at his best, check out ‘Declaration of a Headhunter’, ‘Rising’, or ‘Pigwalk’ by Stuck Mojo. The guy is an absolute beast, and ‘Broken Silence’, while a good album, just doesn’t quite do him or his talents justice.

ABOMINATION Abomination

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Abomination" is the self-titled debut full-length studio album by US, Chicago based thrash metal act Abomination. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in 1990. Paul Speckmann (vocals, bass), and Aaron Nickeas (drums) were also active in Master, who released their debut album around the same time as this album. In fact Abomination undertook at 26 date tour as support to Master, with Pungent Stench sandwiched in between.

Where Master played a raw death metal influenced thrash metal, Abomination is more "straight" thrash metal, although there are many similarities between the two acts, which is of course only natural when 2/3 of the lineup play in both bands. It´s still a pretty raw and unpolished version of US thrash metal though, so don´t expect technical wizardry or anything particularly well played. These guys play loud, raw, and with a savage attitude. The lyrical themes are typical for the time and the genre, which songtitles like "Murder, Rape, Pillage and Burn" and "Possession" bear witness to. So nothing out of the ordinary there.

The sound production is raw, unpolished, and lacking a bit in the power department. It´s not the most well sounding thrash metal production out there, and the music suffers slightly because of it. It´s not a problem that it´s raw, but the lack of power is what kills it. The sloppy musicianship, which some listeners might find charming and authentic, is also a bit of an issue to my ears.

So while the material is as such decent enough even though it´s not exactly original sounding, the sloppy musicianship and unpolished powerless production do drag my rating down a bit. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

ULVER Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell

Album · 1998 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.34 | 15 ratings
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UMUR
"Themes From William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is the 4th full-length studio album by Norwegian experimental metal/rock act Ulver. The album was released through Jester Records in December 1998.

"Themes From William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is a 2 Disc conceptual release and as the title suggests the lyrical theme revolves around the novel "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" by William Blake. The album probably came as a big surprise for most fans of the band when it was originally released. The three albums that preceeded this one are all rooted in black metal and Scandinavian folklore. The acoustic folky second album "Kveldssanger (1995)" probably also came as a big surprise when it was released as the debut album "Bergtatt (1994)" is a black metal album. Most fans still saw Ulver as a black metal act though and when they returned with their third album "Nattens Madrigal (1996)", which also saw a return to the black metal style of the debut (but adding a grimmer more raw sound), that seemed to hold true. "Themes From William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" takes Ulver music in a whole new direction though and while they probably lost a few of their most conservative black metal fans they gained new more experimental minded music fans with this release.

Ulver´s music on "Themes From William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" can no longer be called metal. There are sections with distorted guitars but metal it ain´t. Instead there´s much focus on vocals (both male and female, and quite a bit of narration), ambient electronic elements, and a strong emphasis on dark atmosphere. Ambient and atmospheric industrial tinged rock/metal could be a valid description. It´s an album which is all about atmosphere, and listeners craving riffs and hard rocking parts should look elsewhere.

"Themes From William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is both well performed and well produced, and to those interested in dark atmospheric and ambient music, it´s quite an interesting and obviously well composed album too. Personally I find it lacking memorable moments and it´s a bit overlong too. When the band finally break the ambient monotony and play some louder more rock/metal oriented parts, it´s still pretty monotone and just goes on and on an on with little to hold on to. Subjective opinions and taste in music aside, it´s still obvious that "Themes From William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is a quality release performed by skilled and passionate performers, and therefore a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

DEICIDE Overtures of Blasphemy

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 1989, Deicide are responsible for shaping death metal at every level. When I first came across them I really wasn’t sure what to think of them, as I felt that metal was being taken into an area I personally wasn’t interested in, and slammed their 1997 album ‘Serpents of the Light’. But, over the years my musical tastes have broadened considerably, and in my fifties I now listen to music that may would consider too extreme for their tastes. Over the last decade I have revisited Deicide, and have discovered that I was a little hasty some 20 years ago, and that the band have consistently produced very good albums indeed. Glen Benton is still there of course, as is drummer Steve Asheim, as they have been ever since they formed Amon all those years ago. Guitarist Kevin Quirion has been joined by newcomer Mark English, and the band have yet again produced an album which is a solid example of the genre.

Interestingly, Benton has returned to songwriting, something that hasn’t happened since 1992’s ‘Legion’, with opening track “One with Satan,” “Compliments of Christ,” and “Consumed by Hatred,” the rest of the guys fleshed out the remaining nine tracks. “When we started the writing process,” says Benton, “I said to the guys, ‘This record doesn’t have to be boring, going-nowhere grind-all-the-time death metal. Let’s really focus on the quality of the songs, I wanted them to write tasty licks and catchy hooks this time. And let the vocals give it its definition.” No-one could ever imagine that this was anything but Deicide, Benton makes sure of that, but this is an album that actually contains a great deal of variety and styles. They never really slow it down of course, but there are times when it is more power metal than death, and these changes allow the music to breath and give the listener the opportunity to recover from the attack. If ever an album was meant to be played at 11 then this was it, and Asheim shows that he has lost none of his power and attack over the last 30 years, still pummelling the skins like an album. This may not make them any new fans, but all those who already enjoy Deicide will find that this album is one of their most disparate for a while, and all the better for it.



KRALLICE Krallice

Album · 2008 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.43 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
KRALLICE began in 2007 and was masterminded by two ultimate guitar nerds. The first was Colin Marston who had just graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music technology in 2004. He soon would put the band Behold… The Arctopus on the map for being a highly innovative progressively oriented technical metal band and soon would also display his bass playing skills in the metal trio Dysrhythmia. The other half of the KRALLICE equation was in the form of Mick Barr, who has become one of the best known avant-garde guitarists of the 21st century with such bizarre and twisted musical concoctions such as Orthrelm, Ocrilim, Octis and Crop-Tech. These two never planned a band together but decided to collaborate to test the waters and ended up liking the music so much that they turned it into a more permanent project, thus KRALLICE was born.

Both of these guitarists have been known for their hyper-technical math metal since their beginning and together they create one of those larger than life bombastic furies unlike their contemporaries. They wasted no time creating their eponymously titled debut and released it in 2008. Barr handles vocals, guitar and bass and Marston on guitar and bass as well. Lev Weinstein joins the duo to perform equally compelling drum antics and a few additional vocal parts were performed by Nick McMaster. The debut KRALLICE album is characterized by a pummeling and brutal raw black metal sound that adopts the classic second wave lo-fi approach with many feedback and reverb affects added for that extra dimension of devilish distortion. Barr and Marston have notoriously utilized multi-layered guitar effects for their surreal bombastic and brutal dual guitar metal attacks and all those tricks and trinkets debut here as well.

While noticeably rawer and less produced than future albums, KRALLICE engaged in some of the most technically challenging black metal that has been released with a veritable influence coming from the San Francisco based Weakling which only released one highly revered album “Dead As Dreams.” Like Weakling, KRALLICE performs dissonant speed of light riffs with a reversing atmospheric presence that zigzag through surreal time signature frenzies and engage in an extremely progressive technical prowess that provides the ultimate example of “difficult musical listening.” The vocal style is muffled screams that emerge from beneath the bantering din and the drums were tuned as low as possible and recorded from a distance. Another trick is that the bass was played through two amps with different effects to allow a strange merging of different distortions.

Technically speaking, KRALLICE is on the top of their game with all the crazy antics and orotund creative extremities whizzing by at a million miles per hour however for whatever reason, the music of KRALLICE has never been able to inspire me beyond the technical admirations that they present. While taking every liberty to expand the lengthy compositional approach of what Weakling began including a sprawling 15 minute plus closing track, KRALLICE simply lacks interesting compositions as they all sound quite samey throughout, a trait that haunts their music to the present day. While bands like Deathspell Omega and Gorguts amongst others have found a thematic approach as to wrap their technical chops around, KRALLICE on the other hand sounds very much like a technically oriented band that forces the themes onto the desired calculations. This debut is interesting in how it creates musical textures and timbres hitherto unexplored but like all of KRALLICE’s lauded works fails to inspire repeated visits.

AC/DC High Voltage (International Version)

Album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.94 | 49 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
AC/DC was formed in 1973 by the Young brothers, at the time Malcolm, Angus and George with a heavy rotating cast that found Bon Scott joining in 1974. The band released their debut album HIGH VOLTAGE in Australia in early 1975 and followed it up with their second “TNT” coming out at the end of the same year. In between the band found a more stable lineup with Phil Rudd joining in on drums and Mark Evans landing the role as bassist. While starting out more glam oriented with the 1975 version of HIGH VOLTAGE, the band had already developed their classic ballsy bravado that developed the bluesy hard rock into a sound all their own. Despite having carved out their own musical niche, the debut album didn’t quite have all the ingredients in perfect order yet and as a result the band quickly ironed out all the kinks that were fine tuned on “TNT.”

“TNT” found the band cranking out nine brash original rockers plus a Check Berry cover, whom the band claimed as a major source of inspiration. With this second release, the band became quite popular in their native Australia which attracted the attention of the international record label Atco which signed the band and preceded to release their international debut. Instead of doing something more sensible and concocting a new title, Atco decided to release a different version of HIGH VOLTAGE which would in reality take the seven tracks from “TNT” and only the two tracks “She’s Got Balls” and “Little Lover” from the Australian HIGH VOLTAGE. Just to make things more confusing, the title track “High Voltage” first appeared on “TNT,” NOT the debut!

When all was said and done, international HIGH VOLTAGE was nothing more than a compilation of the first two Australian albums which lifted the best tracks and compiled them into what most AC/DC fans of the world (including myself) have owned, loved and collected. To be honest, i have only experienced the Australian HIGH VOLTAGE in preparation for this review but in reality i have heard most of the tracks since many have been released as the compilation “74 Jailbreak” and elsewhere. International HIGH VOLTAGE is the much better product than the Australian debut. It shows the band in full bad boy boogie-woogie hard rock mode and already dripping in adrenaline fueled confidence. Graced by their garage rock sensibilities, AC/DC’s apparent middle-fingers-to-the-world attitude and hedonistic errancy found them being lumped into the punk rock scene as their debut hit the UK simultaneously as the burgeoning punk rock scene was getting underway.

While similar in many ways, the punk connection is one that the band bitterly deflected as they have always claimed that they were nothing more than a rock and roll band and accused punk of being nothin more than a fashion statement, not a musical one. The international debut of AC/DC found them instant success with tracks like “It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll),” “Rock N Roll Singer” and “The Jack” proving to be some of their best known hits that have found their way into the AC/DC playlist long past the premature passing of the late Bon Scott. AC/DC delivered a completely different style of hard rock that stood out from pretty much everything else that came out in the 70s. While the Young brothers were Scottish by birth, Bon Scott added yet another Scottish touch as he was pretty much the only bagpipe player to perform in a hard rock band as heard on the opener “It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll).”

While HIGH VOLTAGE isn’t the band’s best album, this combo version of the first two Australian releases was the perfect release to unleash on the world displaying their unique twin guitar riffing assault, Angus’ schoolboy persona and Bon Scott’s unique vocal style all coming together in perfect synergy. While the music is quite simple, it is addicting and dripping with attitude. AC/DC emerged as a band that took simple riffs, basic melodies and seemingly banal lyrics and animated them into a commercial powerhouse. While panned by the critics, the fans ate it up and catapulted the band to the top of the world in a very short time. The rest is history but outside of Australia, this is the album that started the whole ball rolling and the world has never been the same since.

AC/DC High Voltage

Album · 1975 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.57 | 17 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Celebrating my 1000th review on MMA! I began this journey with my first review of AC/DC’s classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” the very first album i owned that exists on this site. I haven’t done another review from this band since and figured that hadda change. So why not start with another AC/DC classic, the very first album that was released twice. Once in Australia as the debut and once again internationally only with completely different tracks.

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Ugh. How incredibly confusing are the early years of AC/DC. The 60s British Invasion of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was notorious for having dual identities of albums that were never supposed to be experienced on the other side of the pond but that was supposed to have died out by the 70s. However the record companies didn’t agree with that consensus and more pop oriented bands like The Sweet continued this trend into the 70s and the same happened to Australia’s AC/DC when they went international. The confusion in the case of AC/DC emerges from the fact that they released two albums respectively titled HIGH VOLTAGE and “TNT” in their native Australia, both in 1975. The problem emerges when considering the the band’s international debut which came out the following year in 1976 was ALSO titled HIGH VOLTAGE, however that edition was in reality a compilation album that contained tracks from both of the two Australian only releases.

AC/DC stood out from the crowd even from the beginning. While Australian, Angus and Malcolm Young were actually born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland but due to a massive freeze in 1963 ended up immigrating with their large family to the land Down Under. After going through the motions of warm up bands, the brothers (which originally also consisted of George) formed AC/DC in 1973 and went through many lineup changes before the classic band of Bon Scott joined in 74 in time to record their first album. At this stage, AC/DC was much more of a glam rock band although Angus Young already donned his signature school boy run amok look. What was lost on subsequent albums was the fact that Bon Scott too dressed in an alter ego but in his case a school girl complete with pig-tail adorned wig and a lovely dress to match!

The band released the Australian version of HIGH VOLTAGE early on in February 1975 and found almost instant success in their Sydney based homeland. This album stands out from the rest including the second album “TNT.” First of all, while Bon Scott was already at the helm on vocals and Angus and Malcom Young shared guitar and bass duties, the album includes different tracks that were recorded when George Young (bass, guitar, drums), Rob Bailey (bass), Tony Currenti (drums), Peter Clack (drums) and John Proud (drums) were still in the band, therefore creating a rather stilted debut album with a mishmash of performers on board. Despite the glam look and rather unstable lineup situation, AC/DC had pretty much developed their bad boy boogie-woogie swagger that implemented heavy blues rock riffing augmented by Bon Scott’s idiosyncratic vocal style.

While most fans in the world have most likely only heard the international version of HIGH VOLTAGE, since it’s by far the best known of the two, this homegrown first version still exists and has been reissued multiple times in Australia. The differences between the two include the fact that the international version was basically the second album “TNT” minus the Chuck Berry cover “School Days” and the track “Rocker” which would make it onto the international version of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” This Australian version only shares the two tracks “She’s Got Balls” and “Little Lover” with the international release. The rest of the tracks consist of the same hard bluesy rock that the following albums display only at this point, the band are a little less feisty and more emphasis is on the blues rather than the hard rock.

While the tracks are as catchy as ever, they don’t quite have the same ballsy bravado and would remain Australian artifacts for several decades before the majority of the tracks would finally make it onto the compilation release “74 Jailbreak.” This is probably the least essential of the Bon Scott era albums. Not only is it a bit harder to obtain since the YouTube videos are even blocked to most of the world but it is the least compelling of the band’s early albums as everything hadn’t quite gelled into place yet. The AC/DC that would climax into 1979’s “Highway To Hell” wouldn’t quite come into play until “TNT” hit the market at the end of 1975. Still through, if you are a hardcore AC/DC fan, this one is well worth the time.

NAPALM DEATH Scum

Album · 1987 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.08 | 30 ratings
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DamoXt7942
Exactly this. Such an unpolished, unrefined Napalm Death soundscape is definitely my favourite. This album “Scum” was released in 1987 as the debut full-length album of a British hardcore / thrash metal unit NAPALM DEATH. In those days Napalm Death's sound style was slightly different from the current one … Quite aggressive and violent indeed, but a bit awkward and charming (in a good sense of course). Their strict rhythmic stream and sincere voice distortion would be accomplished a couple of years later, and such a dissected atmosphere in a non-methodological manner sounds pretty unique and fascinating nowadays, let me say.

"Multinational Corporations” the first severely lethal attack of Nik’s “death” voices drives the audience mad definitely. No theoretical texture nor calculated flavour is here. The following "Instinct Of Survival” is another infernal revelation with superb metallic taste of blood. Very addictive is even 20 seconds short psychopath “The Kill”. The title track blended with downtempo heavy-meatllic vibes and speedy vital grandeur should express themselves thoroughly. Basically bombastic sound explosion along with meaningless (maybe) shout acts, gorgeously melodic guitar play, and powerful speedy drumming (Tim Morse might be incredibly inspired by Mick, I suppose). From “Life?” (namely upon Side B of the lp) Lee replaces Nik as a vocalist and Bill plays guitar in a more and more speedier manner. Their soundscape gets to be killa aggression and momentary sound discharge. Amazing power and torsion is in their inner world, but the same intention for thrash hardcore / deathcore like material upon Side A is here, and obviously not refined nor technical.

In conclusion, sounds like this album would be created and produced under a flexible, optimistic situation, at least for me. A young, promising combo might discharge such an enthusiastic stuff without breathing at all, I guess. Shall you enjoy the great debut creation with feeling so?

DYNAZTY Firesign

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes a band will make an album that’s so game-changing, it can earn the band a ton of new fans who would have otherwise not been interested in their music. For me, one such album is Renatus, the fourth full-length album from Swedish melodic metal band Dynazty. The band had started out as a melodic hard rock band, which isn’t a genre I follow too much, but when Renatus came around I heard people talking about it being a change to a much more modernized power metal sound, mixed with some prog, which of course is right up my alley. I gave it a few listens, and the rest is history. The band immediately became one of my favorites, so much so that I went back to hear some of their previous releases and was surprisingly impressed by them, as well, with vocalist Nils Molin, in particular, proving to be equally amazing singing both power metal and hard rock. When their fifth release, Titanic Mass, came around, I was excited to see how the band would progress, and while that release wasn’t the revelation its predecessor was, it was instead a very fun album that kept the momentum going, simplifying their sound just a bit, while still keeping everything that had worked previously. More importantly, it proved the previous release wasn’t a fluke, and so it left me excited to hear any future releases from the band. The band is now set to release their sixth album, Firesign, later this month, and while at this point it feels like they’ve settled into following an established formula, they’re doing such a good job of it, I can’t help but enjoy every second of the new album, just like with the two previous releases.

The biggest difference between Renatus and Titanic Mass, was that the former felt a bit more complex, with one particular track being much longer and more advanced than anything else they’ve done in their career, while the latter felt more simplified, relying on super catchy choruses and pretty much following the same formula for every track, just with varied sounds and tempos. Firesign is somewhere in the middle, in that the songs are still very straight-forward and extremely catchy, but there are a couple of longer ones, and there are times where the band gets more epic than they’ve ever been before, with an increased use of symphonic elements. At the same time, this is very much a formulaic album in the same way its predecessor was, with the verses being simple and fun and the choruses having huge vocal melodies, with the last run through always being especially epic, giving Nils a chance to steal the show right at the end. Every song on the album does this to great effect, just like on the last album, and while on the one hand, I can see it getting a bit repetitive, the band does it so well, I really can’t help but enjoy it every time. One slight difference I’ve noticed going from album to album is that the previous two were a bit heavier than this one, with the guitars having a more dominant presence, especially on Renatus. There’s still some good riffs and nice melodic solos here, but none of the tracks are quite as rocking as the likes of “Starlight”, or “Divine Comedy”. Instead, there’s an increased use of keyboards, with the light trance elements of Renatus feeling much more prominent on this album, especially on the title track, which almost feels like it could have come from Amaranthe, who of course now have Nils Molin in their ranks. One last change I notice is while Titanic Mass, in particular, leaned heavily towards faster-paced tracks, Firesign goes completely the other way, with the majority of the tracks being more mid-paced. This combined with the reduced guitar work makes for a very relaxing, very melodic kind of metal album, where the melodies truly shine, and so anyone looking for a hard-hitting kind of power metal may be disappointed. Personally, I took some time to adjust to this album, but once I did, I found myself loving it about as much as its predecessor, and almost as much as Renatus. Obviously, the performances are amazing across the board, and the production is quite good, as expected.

The best thing about Dynazty through the years has always been vocalist Nils Molin. Whether he’s singing an aggressive, modern power metal track or a softer melodic hard rock track, his voice is absolutely amazing, striking a perfect balance between being intense and powerful, and soft and melodic. He sings very smoothly when needed, and can deliver a chorus as well as anyone, but at the same time, when the intensity picks up, he absolutely kills it with some extremely powerful vocals, and he puts an incredible amount of emotion into his performances, especially in the later parts of tracks, where he gets to go all out. All of this is as true as ever on Firesign, and he once again delivers an incredible performance, that helps make some already great songs even better. He may very well be my favorite singer in all of metal, right now. He’s certainly high up there.

Another area where the band tends to excel is in the songwriting. I was initially a bit disappointed by Firesign, as the band seemed to be losing a bit of their intensity, but over time the album has grown on me a lot, as I’ve realized it still hits hard in place, but it’s definitely more focused on being an extremely, fun catchy and melodic metal album. It’s almost relaxing, in a weird sort of way. The album gets off to a strong start, with lead single “Breathe With Me”, an energetic, up-tempo track which does a great job of indicating what to expect from the album on the whole. It has the speed of the previous album, as well as some good riffs, though it instantly shows a greater focus on keyboards and symphonic elements, which are especially prominent during the chorus, while Nils shines as always, getting particularly intense during the final run of the chorus. It’s not quite as intense as some of the faster songs on the two previous songs, but it’s definitely just as catchy and even more epic, so it makes for a great start to the album.

Next is one of the tracks that took some time to warm up to me, that being “The Grey”, the second single from the album. It’s a slower paced track, and is very heavily reliant on keyboards, especially during the verses. It’s a very melodic track, with some rather unique vocal lines during the verses, before opening up for the unsurprisingly epic chorus. There’s some nice guitar work hidden in there, especially during the guitar solo in the second half, but it’s definitely a softer track overall, and a great indicator of what the overall album sounds like. The pace picks up again with “In the Arms of a Devil”, one of my personal favorites. It’s a hard-hitting, super fast track, which still shows off some flashy keyboards in spots, while overall being one of the heavier and more explosive tracks on the album, with fun verses and a very powerful chorus, especially the last time through, where Nils delivers some of his best vocals I’ve ever heard. It’s a super addictive track overall, and one of my personal favorites from the band.

Once again, the pace drops off immediately afterward, and this time it doesn’t really pick up again for a while. Next is “My Darkest Hour”, a very slow paced and heavily keyboard driven track, with some nice beats to it. I initially wasn’t too thrilled with it, but the vocal melodies eventually won me over, and Nils is amazing as always, while the guitar solo is also very nice. The first longer track is next in the form of “Ascension”, a track I already liked on first listen, though it has grown on me quite a bit over time, as well. It’s faster than the previous track, moving at a nice gallop, without fully speeding up, and it is perhaps the most epic track on the album, with the symphonic elements being especially noticeable throughout, and it has one of the strongest choruses on the album, which of course only gets even better at the end. It’s a fairly straightforward track but has some complex symphonic arrangements, as well as an excellent solo in the middle. It manages to be one of the heavier tracks here, while still showcasing the more melodic and epic and slightly calmer sound the band has gone for on this album. Next is a track which took several listens to impress me, which is the title track. It opens up with some very bouncy keyboards, and it’s definitely a more playful, very accessible track where the keyboards are extremely dominant. It’s by far the most trance infused track here, and has a chorus and vocal melodies that would not feel out of place on an Amaranthe album at all. I initially thought it seemed out of place here, but over time the stupidly catchy chorus and fun keyboard leads have grown on me, and I now find it to be extremely fun and addictive.

There aren’t a ton of surprises in the back half of the album, though everything is excellent. One of my favorites is next in “Closing Doors”, a speedier track, which still stays fairly calm and melodic through, aside from an intense and powerful chorus, which stands out as the highlight of the song, along with the excellent guitar solo. The next three songs are all more mid-paced, with “Follow Me” being particularly heavy and having some great leads, as well as a fun and upbeat chorus, “Let Me Dream Forever” is one of the most melodic tracks on the album, with an extremely strong chorus, and “Starfall” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, having some very chunky guitar work in quick bursts, while having a nice melodic chorus and overall striking a nice balance between the band’s two extremes of super heavy and super melodic. I initially wasn’t impressed by the last of these, especially the very chunky instrumental section later on, but it has grown on me a lot over time. Closing out the album is “The Light Inside the Tunnel”, one track which certainly did not need to grow on me much. It opens up with some beautiful keyboards and symphonic elements, before settling into a nice groove. It strikes a nice balance between some heavy guitar work and very melodic keyboards while moving at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It has one of the most addictive choruses on the album and is certainly one of the most epic, as well as the longest by a couple of seconds. It was one of my favorites right away, and it’s certainly an excellent way to close out the album.

Overall, Firesign is another excellent album from Dynazty, which once again continues with the sound they began back in 2014 with their breakthrough release, Renatus. The pace is a bit slower than I expected, and many of the tracks don’t hit quite as hard as I expected, but it’s yet another very fun and catchy album, full of huge vocal melodies, excellent keyboards and one of the best vocal performances of the year, as expected from Nils Molin. Fans of the previous two releases are sure to enjoy this as well, while any fan of modern melodic metal or power metal is highly recommended to give this and its two predecessors a listen, as Dynazty has become one of the best in the game over the past half decade.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/08/dynazty-firesign-review/

GRAVE DIGGER The Living Dead

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Few bands can claim to be either as prolific or as consistent as German heavy/power metal band Grave Digger. They’re up there with Rage as two of the most active and consistently great power metal bands, over an extremely long career. Celebrating their 38th anniversary earlier this year, Grave Digger has released 18 albums to date, managing to fit in at least once every two years since 1993’s The Reaper. They technically missed one in between 2014 and 2017 but did release a re-recordings compilation at that time, so one can hardly accuse the band of slacking off. Less than two years after the release of Healed By Metal, the band is back with their nineteenth full-length release, The Living Dead, set for release this week. Their past few releases have been very strong, with the band seemingly turning back the clock to produce music every bit on par with some of their best work in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so I was excited to hear what this new release would bring, and it’s safe to say: Grave Digger isn’t just surviving, they’re thriving, in a big way!

The band has developed their own signature sound over the past 38 years, playing one of the heaviest, most hard-hitting brands of power metal out there, with all their albums having some excellent guitar work and the ever rough and powerful vocals of Chris Boltendahl. Their past few releases, in particular, felt very similar to some of their classics from the 90’s, bringing back a lot of the raw intensity of those releases while adding in a bit more melody to make it just a bit more accessible and more modern sounding. All of this continues with The Living Dead, which once again contains a seamless blend between the band’s speedy power metal and slower heavy metal tracks, striking a perfect balance between the two, while also balancing nicely between heavy and melodic passages. I found Healed by Metal, in particular, had some huge choruses, and it generally felt like the band was making an effort to make their music just a bit more melodic, without sacrificing any of the riffs, and if anything The Living Dead has gone even further in that direction, featuring some of their biggest, most epic choruses ever, while still being as heavy and intense and fans of the band would expect. There’s certainly a ton of tracks here that will instantly remind fans of the band’s classic works while being just a bit more epic and catchy than usual. There are a few passages throughout the album that feel particularly fresh, and then there’s one specific track at the end that really takes things to a whole new level when it comes to surprising listeners, and I’ll get to that one in a while. Suffice to say, it surprised me in a great way. Performances are obviously strong across the board, and though longtime drummer Stefan Arnold parted ways with the band before the release of the album, he delivered one last great performance before doing so.

Obviously, one element of Grave Digger that will never change, because it just wouldn’t be Grave Digger without it at this point, is the voice of Chris Boltendahl. He has a very raw, raspy voice that sounds rather unique within power metal, and he brings a level of aggression and intensity not often found within the genre, yet he manages to make it work equally well on the faster, more power metal focused tracks, as well as the slower, more heavy metal tracks. His voice sounds as strong as ever on Fear of the Living Dead, and he does an amazing job on some of the bigger choruses, proving he still has what it takes to carry a band as well as anyone in the genre.

For a band that’s been around so long, you’d expect Grave Digger to struggle with songwriting at least a little bit, and yet that really isn’t the case. They had a bit of a rough stretch from 2005-2009 with a couple of slightly weaker albums, but they returned to form nicely in 2010 with The Clans Will Rise Again, and have been on another great run ever since. The streak continues with The Living Dead, which is consistently excellent from top to bottom, while still having a few particularly strong tracks that rank among my favorites by the band. First up is one such highlight, that being the title track. The track opens with a baby’s lullaby gone wrong before the riffs kick in and it turns into the kind of hard-hitting, speedy opener the band excels at. It slows down during the verses but still keeps the energy up with some great riffs, before speeding up again, for a huge, extremely epic chorus, which certainly stands among the band’s best in that department in quite some time. It manages to be equal parts, intense, epic, melodic and super catchy, and definitely gets the album off to an amazing start.

Next is “Blade of the Immortal”, a slower but equally hard-hitting track, with some very punishing riffs right off the bat, as well as another super epic and fun chorus, and an excellent instrumental section which has some rather unique melodies coming from Grave Digger. Overall, it’s an excellent track which blends classic Grave Digger with some fresh sounds in a great way. After that, the pace picks up again with “When Death Passes By”, another heavy track which stays pretty fast-paced throughout, delivering another fast and super fun chorus, as well as some excellent lead riffs and very fun verses. It’s certainly one of the more classic feeling songs on the album, in a great way. Some surprises come on “Shadow of the Warrior”, an epic track which starts out with a soft acoustic section, featuring some surprisingly calm vocals from Chris, before the riffs kick in and it starts moving at a nice pace, without going full speed. It has another very melodic, super catchy chorus, which ranks as one of the best on the album, and it has some more rather unique and awesome melodies during its solo section. Another excellent track.

There’s a couple tracks here will silly lyrics, as expected. The first of these is “The Power of Metal”, a fairly fast and hard-hitting track, which again mixes classic Grave Digger riffs with a big chorus. The lyrics get in the way slightly during the verses but are funnier than anything, and the chorus is amazing, so it’s still a great track overall. The other track with kinda silly lyrics is “Fist in Your Face”, which stays silly throughout, but thankfully it’s an excellent track musically, with some extremely powerful riffs and is an example of the band playing slow paced but energetic classic heavy metal at its best. In between those two are two more excellent tracks in “Hymn of the Damned”, another very classic sounding speedy power metal track with raw sounding riffs and a huge, epic chorus, and “What War Left Behind”, a very thrashy power metal track, which may be the most classic sounding track on the whole album It’s certainly very raw fast and energetic, in an awesome way.

Moving to the final stretch of the album, “Insane Pain” is another very raw and heavy track, which stays fairly fast during the verses, but slows down for a fun chorus. It’s not one of my favorite tracks here, but it’s still excellent and has some great riffs. There’s a very good bonus track called “Glory or Grave”, which is very speedy, hard-hitting and has an extremely epic and catchy chorus, so it definitely fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. One song that doesn’t quite fit in, but is a pleasant surprise, is the closing track “Zombie Dance”, released as the second single, after the title track. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat heavy metal track with some heavy riffs during the verses, and a stupidly catchy chorus, but what really makes it stand out is the fact that the band called in Austrian Russkaja to provide some folk influences to the music, delivering some epic chants as well as some backing music that strikes a balance between folk and polka, giving the song its aforementioned “Dance”, which also factors into the lyrics during the chorus. It gets even weirder during the middle section, and overall it’s a very bizarre experiment, which somehow works out perfectly and is probably the most unique and surprising thing the band has done in at least 15 years.

Overall, The Living Dead is an amazing album from heavy/power metal veterans Grave Digger, which continues a big resurgence they started eight years ago, and if anything, takes things even further, thanks to a delightful mix of the kind of classic, hard-hitting power metal and heavy metal the band excels at with some of the more melodic tendencies the band has picked up on more recent albums, as well as one hell of an epic surprise in the closing track. Obviously, it’s a must buy for any existing fans of the band and in case there’s anyone looking for an aggressive mix heavy/power metal who hasn’t heard of Grave Digger yet, this would certainly be a great album to start with.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/22/grave-digger-the-living-dead-review/

THE UNITY Rise

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It can be interesting to see what happens when members of big-name bands are given a chance to spread out and try something else for a while, either because the band is on hiatus or taking an extended break between albums. One recent example of this is German melodic metal band The Unity, formed in 2016, with Gamma Ray leader Kai Hansen busy reuniting with his former band Helloween, allowing for relatively new drummer Michael Ehré and longtime guitarist Henjo Richter to join a new band. The rest of the lineup features four members from the long-defunct hard rock/melodic metal band Love.Might.Kill, who was a pretty solid band in their own right. With such a strong pedigree, The Unity showed promise right out of the gate, and their self-titled debut impressed many when it released in 2017. Personally, I missed out on it at the time, but I have since checked out some songs from it and found it to be quite enjoyable, so I was interested to see if the band could keep the momentum going for the follow-up. Well, almost a year and a half later, their sophomore effort, Rise, is set for release, and it is another killer, containing 12 excellent songs, which offer up a ton of variety, while each being consistently entertaining in their own way.

The first thing that has to be addressed, for new listeners, is the musical direction on Rise. Anyone expecting a pure, classic power metal sound in the style of Gamma Ray is probably better off looking elsewhere, as while that does show up in bursts, it’s certainly not the main focus on this release, or for the band in general. In fact, for the most part, the music here can be described as a logical follow up to what Love.Might.Kill had been doing on their two full-length albums, and many of the songs on this album sound more comparable to modern hard rock like the past few Kissin’ Dynamite releases, than to any kind of power metal. Everything is executed wonderfully, though, with some hard hitting, classic sounding guitar riffs, mixed with some more modernized keyboard melodies and some strong vocal melodies. There’s definitely a classic feel to the guitar sound at times, but many of the tracks have a more modern hard rock/melodic metal vibe to them, with a few even being rather radio-friendly, while others hit a bit harder, without losing the melodies or catchy choruses. This is a very vocal driven album overall, though every musician in the band has given a great performance, as expected, with both guitarists keyboardist Sascha Onnen, in particular, being given plenty of chances to shine. Songwriting is quite varied, with a couple of speedy tracks that come close to power metal, while having some slight modern hard rock twists to them, some tracks that almost come close to radio rock territory, one ballad, and a bunch of nicely paced, heavy but suitably catchy and relaxing melodic metal numbers. It’s the latter that dominates the album, and the band excels at them, for sure.

It had been a while since I had last heard anything by Love.Might.Kill, and I didn’t check the full lineup before playing the album for the first time, so initially, I felt vocalist Gianbattista Manenti would be a perfect fit for a melodic rock band, so when I looked up the full band info and discovered his identity, I wasn’t surprised in the least. He has a very smooth voice, which excels during the melodic portions, but he can also sing with a ton of grit and power, with a very deep voice that works perfectly for a hard rock or heavy metal sound. He especially excels during the slower tracks, though he still sounds great on the few power metal portions as well, and simply does a great job throughout the album, being one of the band’s biggest assets.

One of the biggest strengths of Rise is in its songwriting, as it manages to be varied enough to constantly keep the listener guessing as to what will come next, as well as being consistently entertaining throughout, no matter what style the band is playing at the time. Following a brief intro track, the album kicks off with “Betrayal”, an up-tempo, high energy track that combines the speed and vocal melodies of a power metal track, with some decidedly classic hard rock sounding guitar riffs, which makes for a nice combination. It’s a fast-paced, very fun track with energetic verses and a huge, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Gianbattista gets to shine. It gets the album off to an excellent start and is a great track on its own. Next is “You Got Me Wrong”, a slightly upbeat, though more restrained track, which has more of those classic hard rock riffs, while being more melodic overall. It moves at a nice pace, without really speeding up, and definitely falls into more of a typical melodic metal sound, with another excellent chorus. Perhaps the most accessible track on the album is next, that being the second single “The Storm”. It’s a slower, very relaxed track, driven largely by keyboards and vocals. It’s a very melodic track, with an excellent chorus and some great vocal melodies throughout. There’s a slight hard rock edge to it, but it’s definitely a very accessible track, which I could easily imagine being played on the radio.

The longest track on the album is “Road to Nowhere”, which has a pretty cool voiceover intro, before the band kicks in and it turns into a hard-hitting, mid-paced melodic metal track, which moves at a nice tempo, without quite going full throttle. The riffs hit harder than on most tracks here, and it’s definitely a darker feeling track compared to most, while still having an excellent chorus. It’s definitely one of the tracks where the two guitarists get a chance to shine and are one of my favorites on the album. Next is the fast-paced, rather playful track “Welcome Home”, which has a slight power metal feel to it, while also still having some hard rock in its guitars sound. It’s another fairly accessible and fun track, with fun verses, a great chorus, and a sense of disrespecting the listeners’ intelligence, in a sort of tongue and cheek way, having to remind them when the second verse is about to come in. Aside from that oddity, the track is actually great overall, and of my favorites on the album. As expected, after a couple heavier tracks the pace slows down once again, with the very melodic, slow paced “All That is Real”, a largely keyboard-driven track, with a great guitar solo in the second half, though overall it’s another very accessible and radio-friendly track.

Moving towards the end, lead single “No Hero” is a hard-hitting, classic heavy metal track, with some slight modern touches. It moves a nice pace, features some very heavy riffs and a fun, catchy chorus, and is definitely one of the most instantly engaging, classic metal feeling tracks on this album, sure to please fans looking for something a bit heavier compared to most of the album. Following that, the band once again changes direction completely, offering up the lone ballad of the album, “The Willow Tree”. It’s a fairly simple track, with soft guitar work accompanying the vocals most of the way through, though it has an excellent solo in the middle, and overall it’s a very nice track which serves as a great showcase for Gianbattista, with the chorus, in particular, being amazing. Next is “Above Everything”, which is another nice mid-paced melodic metal track, with some great keyboards and a great chorus, and then comes the last speedy track of the album, “Children of the Light”, a very heavy guitar driven track, which is the closest the album comes to sounding like classic power metal, especially during the chorus. The band brings a harder rock infused sound back for “Better Days”, an upbeat track which moves at a decent pace, and it has a lot of energy to it, with some very smooth and fun verses, and one of the best choruses on the album, helping to make it one of my favorites. Lastly, we have the closing track “L.I.F.E.”, a slow-paced melodic metal track, with some excellent vocals, especially during the chorus. It’s a fairly soft and melodic track, relying heavily on the vocals, and Gianbattista delivers a great performance as always, helping to end the album on a high note.

Overall, Rise is an excellent sophomore release, which proves The Unity is here to stay, and that they’re capable of standing on their own and releasing some excellent music. In fact, while I enjoy classic Gamma Ray as much as anyone, I’d go as far as to say I enjoy this more than anything that band has done is well over a decade, maybe even going as far back as 1999’s Powerplant, as I find the songwriting here to be far more consistent and engaging, and the performances are just as strong all around. There’s a bit of something for everyone here, with some nice hard rock infused power metal, some mid-paced heavy metal crunchers, some slow paced melodic metal, a ballad and one track which I’d describe as classic power metal. Fans of melodic metal and hard rock with a slight power metal touches are sure to enjoy this, and overall I find it to be a very pleasant surprise. With Kai Hansen seemingly busy for a while yet, I hope The Unity can continue to produce more great albums in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/23/the-unity-rise-review/

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH And Justice for None

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Five Finger Death Punch albums are often fairly similar in terms of quality, musical direction and performance. Most of them feature bouncy groove-metal riffs balanced with melodic modern-metalcore loud/quiet dynamics and easy on the ear radio friendly production jobs. Maybe a ballad or two for variety.

Not all their albums are absolutely identical, and for example their debut is faster and rawer than their fifth album, but there is a general similarity between a lot of them and the basic rule of thumb is that if you like one of them, you’ll probably like them all. They do have a distinct formula if we’re being honest here.

For me, their first two albums and also Got Your Six are the strongest, and up until this point, The Wrong Side Of Heaven’ 2 and American Capitalist are the weaker ones in the catalouge, as there are possibly too many ballads and light tracks on them and not enough fast songs for my own personal tastes, but to be honest that’s all if you are getting nit picky and there’s not too much difference between them unless you sit there and analyse them.

In 2018; two years after it was actually recorded due to some record company shenanigans and legal wranglings and after a gap filling greatest-hits compilation, the band released their seventh full-length studio album, And Justice For None. You can get it in a standard edition, or one with the new songs they added to that aforementioned greatest-hits albums, the catchy single ‘Trouble’ and the cover song ‘Gone Away’ which is a reworking of a The Offspring song (which to be fair they put on the standard edition anyway in the end), as well as two further bonus tracks from the same era, ‘Bad Seed’ and ‘Save Your Breath.’

Now; remember when I said there’s too many ballads and lighter moments on the albums I’d rate as being not their best? Well, this one has two lighter songs that are both covers. It also has the ballad single ‘When The Seasons Change’ preceded by the very good but still ballady ‘I Refuse.’ It even ends on a power ballad with ‘Will The Sun Ever Rise?’ It also has the strange lighter electronic tracks ‘Stuck In My Ways’ & ‘Bloody’ which feel like a play to get on TV advertisements and are a lot lighter and less powerful than my favourite songs by the band.

Hey; I am no ballad-phobic caveman. I love power metal for goodness sake, where you can’t move for ballads. Its just, when there’s one very good ballad on an album, it is a nice piece of variety. When its like two thirds of the whole record it sort of weighs it down and they loose their efficacy. If it had only been say, ‘I Refuse’ for example, that would be fine. If there was only one cover it might’ve been aright. If they only had one song experimenting with electronics, it would have stood out. As it stands, its all a bit too much and it feels like overkill.

There are some groovier, heavier and faster tracks here. ‘Rock Bottom,’ has a rumbling menace to it, ‘It Doesn’t Matter,’ ‘Fire In The Hole’ and ‘Top Of The World’ are the traditional Five Finger Death Punch sound and the opener ‘Fake’ is pretty strong. There’s stuff to like here for sure, don’t let me make you think its a complete departure. I guess the album is a bit overlong though, and a bit unfocused. It also hits the strange ‘make-your-mind-up’ sweet spot between staying too close to the old formula at times and experimenting with new stuff too much, without really committing to either. The problem is that they don’t really suit the new stuff. Again, ‘Bloody’ is an excellent example of what I did not expect from this band. Another song that doesn’t sound like the band is the controversial lead single ‘Sham Pain’ with its lyrics basically complaining about being on tour and sounding ungrateful.

When I first got this album, it really felt like a let down after Got Your Six, and I will admit that it has grown on me a lot more with each repeat listen. If I hadn’t bought it and felt guilty about the money, I might not have listened to it quite so often and allowed it to grow on me. Even with this appreciation-raising slow burn, this is easily my least favourite album from the group. It may be due to the circumstances in which it was written and recorded, burned out and before getting clean and with the record label woes, it may have all impacted upon the quality of the record. Maybe the next one will be great. Or again, maybe its just a natural dip from a band working that hard pumping albums out and touring so often. They dipped a little on the fifth album and rose higher again on the sixth. Maybe it is just a natural fluctuation. Either way, while I am still going to be listening to this album in full over and over again to try and feel like I got my money’s worth, I feel like I won’t ever like it as much as Way Of The Fist or Wrong Side Of Heaven part 1. If you aren’t an obsessive fan, don’t feel bad if you want to skip this one, and if you are a new fan or aren’t a fan yet, I’d advise you leave this one until last, and try something like War Is The Answer first.

VOLBEAT Beyond Hell/Above Heaven

Album · 2010 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
My whole Summer this year has been about Volbeat. I started off with Outlaw Gentlemen’ and moved on to Seal The Deal’ and the next album I got was 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven as a very appreciated birthday gift.

The album is notably less slick, sheened and stadium sized than the two albums that followed it, but is on the way there. There is some really heavy material on here, such as ‘7 Shots’ and ‘Evelyn’ which have guest appearances from Kreator’s Mille Petroza and Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway respectively. The best song on the album in my opinion is undoubtedly the muscular groove metal track, ‘A Warrior’s Call’ which is totally crushing and memorable, a real fist pumping song if ever there was one. The chorus even sports the line ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rumble.’

Its not all heaviness though, Volbeat are famously diverse. The catchy single ’16 Dollars’ for example sounds like country music was the prime influence, and ‘Magic Zone’ could be a Green Day song. Its a very interesting album in that regard. There’s several songs that could be by totally different bands but somehow it all flows together seamlessly.

The album closer ‘Thanks’ is pretty noteworthy, sounding as it does a bizarre mixture of Rancid, Metallica and the theme tune from King Of The Hill. Its memorable ‘woah-oh-ah-oh’ lines and lyrics about being in Volbeat make for one seriously entertaining listen.

As with all the band’s albums I’ve tried so far, you can listen to it over and over again. A long drive or a week of commuting can be pleasantly enlivened with this record on repeat. If you have any interest in the band, don’t delay, get up on this and get ready to smile.

AMERICAN HEAD CHARGE Tango Umbrella

Album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
Back in the good old days of Nu Metal, one of the heavier and more credible bands, without the Hip Hop moments, sexually aggressive lyrics and overly simplistic music, was American Headcharge. Influenced by the likes of Ministry and Marilyn Manson, but not very derivative, they carved out a unique path on their two sublime studio albums, The War Of Art and The Feeding. Literally one of my favourite songs by anyone ever is their 2005 banger of a single, ‘Loyalty.’

I have very fond memories of catching them at the Irish Ozzfest in the early ’00s, even though I wasn’t a massive fan at the time and they were more my brother’s thing back then. I saw them again about a decade later when I went to see Soil when I was in Uni. (Memorable as singer Martin Haycock kept holding onto the building’s pipes in a very distracting way that made him look like a heavy metal plumber.)

I was quite impressed with their first single from their reunion, 2013’s ‘Sugars Of Someday’ which while not very heavy was still catchy and memorable. You can imagine then, with nostalgia and hype, how excited I would be for their proper reunion album. 11 years after their last one.

Unfortunately, Tango Umbrella is not exactly a breathtaking life-changing masterpiece, kicking down the doors of Heavy Metal and earning the band the respect and audience that they would deserve based on the quality of their 2001-200 period. Now, I am loathe to mug-off a band that have written one of my all time favourite ever songs, and you can probably notice from most of my reviews I’m reluctant to post a bad review of anyone at all most of the time, definitely coming from the ‘if you can’t say anything nice’ school of thinking. However, this album didn’t live up to my wide-eyed expectations.

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t suck. Its not bad. Its just that, like Bay Area Thrash legends Forbiden‘s comeback album Omega Wave; its more of an OK album that shows great potential for what can come next, rather than an absolute barnstormer in and of itself. On first listen it comes across as functional but nothing special. Admittedly, it gets better the more you listen to it and it has grown on me a lot since I first got it, but it still doesn’t sit tall beside the older material. It doesn’t even hold up that much as a great album in and of itself, being a bit repetitive and overlong.

There are some great moments here however, such as the depressing but majestic ballad ‘A King Among Men.’ There’s also several decent tunes, like the opener ‘Let All The World Believe’ and the noteworthy ‘Perfectionist’ and ‘Suffer Elegantly.’

The problem is, it isn’t all very memorable, some of it is good but some of it isn’t quite up to the same standard. Also; on the whole… It isn’t very aggressive, it isn’t very biting and it doesn’t really make you want to move. Their debut had songs like ‘Americunt’ that could strip the paint off your walls. This is all a bit more mid paced and tame. I imagine it was quite a cathartic album for the band, but it isn’t necessarily very fun for the listener. It is by no means bad, but is definitely not their strongest record either and I can’t see it winning over very many new fans.

It is not so much for-fans-only as, if you want to support AHC and keep them going, and get to have a few more songs from them along the way, then don’t avoid it. It feels more like an excuse to keep going rather than a career defining artist statement. I’d advise you buy it, but only so they don’t break up before making the next one which’ll probably be better. If you aren’t a fan yet however, start earlier. You wouldn’t get Hollyweird as your first Poison album or Generation Swine as your first Motley Crue album and this is the same kind of thing for the next generation of once popular now maligned metal subgenres.

ABORTED TerrorVision

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed more than 20 years ago, Belgian brutal death metal act Aborted are back with their tenth full-length release, following on from 2016’s ‘Retrogore’. One always knows what Aborted are about, and with this album they deliver, they really deliver. From the gentle introduction through the chaos and hellstorm they unleash, this is quite some album. It is easily the best album I have heard from them, and I have seen others also asking if it is better than their 2003 monster ‘Goremageddon: The Saw and the Carnage Done’, but everyone agrees it is the best album they have released in years.

The drums are being driven by a demented human octopus, the blast beats are everywhere, and there are many times when this album is moving into grind territory, such is its ferocity and unparalleled violence. The guitars crunch, the vocals come from the gut, but just when one thinks it can’t get any heavier they slow it down, or lighten it up, all so that when they come back and put the hammer down everyone gets punched with the change in pace and attack. They remind me somewhat of Cryptopsy in the way they understand dynamics and vary the pace, of Nile in the way they can bring the technical element to bear when they need to, and Carcass and Napalm Death in terms of unrelenting attack when it is required. Luckily, the production is up to the job, and the result is a brutal death metal album that any fan of the genre definitely needs to get.

POLTERGEIST Back to Haunt

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed out of the ashes of Swiss speed metal band Carrion, Poltergeist were formed in 1988, and proceeded to tour with the likes of Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, Tankard, Coroner and Voivod, and released three albums. However, after a 1993 tour with Coroner it was decided to call it a day, with some of the guys then turning up in Gurd. Fast forward to New Years’ Eve 2013, and bassist Marek Felis, guitarist V.O. Pulver and singer André Grieder met up and reminisced over old times. One thing led to another, and soon they had put together a new version of the band. Marek departed again in 2016, but André and V.O. are still the driving force, as they were all those years ago.

October 2016 saw the first new album from Poltergeist in 23 years, and it certainly doesn’t sound as if the line-up had only been together for a relatively short time, as here is a band that are determined to live up to their history. V.O. has been providing vocals and guitar in Gurd since Poltergeist broke up, who are very much an active unit, and while André hasn’t been nearly as active, he still has a good voice. The result is thrash that is incredibly melodic, reminiscent of elements of Iron Maiden together with Anthrax and Testament. The more I played this the more I found that there is something about this album which really appeals to me. There is a welcome naivete which combines with strong riffs and thumping backbone which ensures that this is something that delivers on so many levels.

HELSTAR Glory of Chaos

Album · 2010 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 10 ratings
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Warthur
Glory of Chaos is not quite as strikingly groundbreaking as Helstar's classic run of early US Power Metal albums - it's not even in the same style, to begin with, the band having shifted gear to an aggressive, screamy, Exodus-with a-bad-hangover style of thrash metal, and thrash is a field which feels like there's very little genuinely new to accomplish there. Nonetheless, despite shifting from one well-trod genre to an even more well-trod genre with more competition, Helstar still manage to turn in a quality album which stands out from the pack - not so much that I consider it particularly essential, but enough so that if you cannot get enough thrash you could do way, way worse than giving Helstar a fair shake.

IMMORTAL Northern Chaos Gods

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
IMMORTAL was one of the early pioneers of the second wave of black metal that found the brutal gut wrenching fledgling subgenre spawning from the deathened thrash leanings of the early bird evil ones such as Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer. After all this time though, bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Satyricon and Gorgoroth who launched Norway onto the world’s stage as the most aggressively fearful bands that the music world has ever been subjected to, have pretty much strayed from their roots of the early black metal orthodoxies and either disbanded in search of other musical endeavors (such as Ihsahn spawning a solo career out of Emperor) or have completely jumped into the world of the avant-garde or experimental alternate realities. While a few bands of that era such as Gorgoroth and Sweden’s Marduk have kept a relatively pure form of second wave black metal as their primary focus, none have done it so gracefully and elegantly as Bergen’s IMMORTAL.

As is well known in this sector of the extreme metal universe, all has not been well between founders Abbath and Demonaz who were founders of this darkened nightmare inducing dinfest and parted ways in 2003 after the release of “Sons Of Darkness” but found common grounds long enough to pump out yet one more release in the form of 2007’s “All Shall Fall.” Despite trying to bite the bullet and get along for the sake of the music, the collaborative efforts of Abbath and Demonaz hit a low point and resulted in the ugly legal battles as to who owned the coveted trademark band name. After years of “legalistic battles in the north”, Abbath finally jumped ship permanently and embarked in his own self-penned career move whereas Demonaz continued the legacy of the original band moniker. After nine years of fans’ nail biting and dismay, a new IMMORTAL album has finally hit the market. The band’s ninth studio album NORTHERN CHAOS GODS not only continues their love of a certain direction of geography (uh, “Battles In The North,” “Sons Of Northern Darkness” and this one) but shows a newly energized IMMORTAL on top of their game. Did you really think they went away forever? What exactly does their name mean anyway?!!!

Demonaz stated that this album was to be as grim, dark and cold as possible and that wish has been granted in full black metal grimy regalia. Right from the very first bombastic blast of the opening title track, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS evokes the pure essence of a 90s black metal band catapulted into the modern era. By retaining a sense of the lo-fi bombastic melding of guitar, bass and drums with that classic “shrieking from the depths” vocal outrage, IMMORTAL emerges from the underworld of uncertainty and back into the Earthly plane of existence to reclaim their throne as the most enduring and authentic examples of classic second wave Norwegian black metal. With recognizable and almost downright familiar compositional bombast that evokes their earliest post-death metal years with classics such as “Pure Holocaust” coming to mind, Demonaz unleashes a ferocious fury of guitar riffing, deranged hellfire vocal torture alongside Horgh’s percussive orotundity and the bass bombast of newbie Peter Tägtgren who has played with many extreme metal bands including Hypocrisy, PAIN, Exodus, Therion, Sabaton and Edge Of Sanity, JUST to name a few. He also serves on this one at the helm of the production and mixing room.

I honestly can’t say that IMMORTAL has been anything but consistent. While many claim one album or another is superior to the next, i personally find them all to be compelling and NORTHERN CHAOS GODS, while not deviating significantly from their standard formula of head banging earache inducing black metal from the 90s, still fucking crushes the soul like a ton of bricks. On this release, Demonaz, Horgh and Tägtgren deliver a collection of eight of the most crushingly heavy tracks that the band has unleashed on an unsuspecting world in a long, long time. I, for one, never expected to experience such a fine and quality laden product as this one. This is indeed classic no nonsense black metal that eschews all the frills. No atmospheric touches, no ventures into avant-garde weirdness, no Satanic gimmicks, no none of that.

In fact, this album seems like the perfect recalibration to a more simple return to the roots of the black metal early years. Much like the grunge did to glam metal of the 90s. This is a balls to the wall return to the basics that emphasizes what made second wave black metal so utterly addictive in the first place. With a production that is perfectly balanced between lo-fi middle fingers raised and modern stereophonic bliss dowsed in pyroclastic musical outbursts of black metal fury, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS not only unleashes the frigid wintery ice cold temperatures translated into sonic form but proves that IMMORTAL are the current CHAOS GODS that are living up to their name and are here for eternity. A surprisingly consistent and fiery comeback from one of Norway’s most enduring and constantly kickass black metal bands. Will they return you may wonder? What is their name? Tell me now, WHAT…. IS ….. THEIR…. NAME? I just hope it’s not another nine years.

ESOCTRILIHUM Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.74 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
Whereas Esoctrilihum's debut album was a more or less straight down the line atmospheric black metal number (though a rather pleasing example of that style), this compendium of forbidden formulas is a different matter. They might be working with forbidden formulas (formulas fatal to the flesh, perhaps?), but this is hardly formulaic - instead Esoctrilihum add a fat dose of death metal, embellishing their solid atmospheric black metal foundation with sickly, bestial grunting vocals and brutal guitar.

Death metal and black metal aren't miles apart to begin with, after all - how many bands have drifted from one to the other? - but few have managed a fusion of the styles quite as startlingly malevolent-sounding as this album. The quest to make extreme metal sound ever more evil is a difficult one, but Esoctrilihum here might have hit upon a stratum of darkness which we never before suspected.

TESTAMENT Souls of Black

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 37 ratings
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UMUR
"Souls of Black" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Testament. The album was released through Atlantic/Megaforce Records in October 1990. "Souls of Black" is the fourth album release by Testament in little over 3 years, and it was alledgedly written and recorded a bit faster than the band had originally planned, but as Testament had been offered to be part of the European leg of the now legendary "Clash of the Titans" tour, which ran from September 1990 - October 1990 (and also featured Slayer, Megadeth, and Suicidal Tendencies), Testament wanted to have a new album out before the tour. They didn´t quite succeed in doing that, but "Souls of Black" was released on the day of the Stockholm show towards the end of the tour. Conincidently it was released on the exact same day as "Seasons in the Abyss (1990)" by Slayer.

The music on "Souls of Black" is Testament taking a step back to a harder edged sound after the rather sterile and powerless sounding "Practice What You Preach (1989)". That sound production sets the two albums miles apart. "Souls of Black" features a pretty raw guitar tone, and a relatively powerful production, but the songwriting is also generally of a harder edged nature. Except for the short acoustic intro track "Beginning of the End" and the effectful power ballad "The Legacy". Other than those two tracks the material on the 10 track, 39:16 minutes long album is hard edged and thrashy in nature. It´s not all tracks which stand out upon initial listen, but repeated listens reveal more hooks (although the relatively one-dimensional songwriting is a minor issue, and the word filler does come to mind a couple of times too). Some of the highligts include the above mentioned "The Legacy", the heavy and groove laden title track, and the closing track "Seven Days of May".

The musicianship is generally on a high level (drummer Louie Clemente is as usual the weak link though), but I feel I need to give a special mention to Alex Skolnick, who plays one blistering guitar solo after another throughout the album. The musical foundation is alright, but he provides the icing on the cake. That little extra which makes the album stand out a bit more. Upon conclusion "Souls of Black" to my ears sounds like a slight return to form, and while it was alledgedly written and recorded in more of a hurry than the band had wished for, I personally think the more raw and immediate material works really well. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM No Place for Disgrace

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 21 ratings
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UMUR
"No Place for Disgrace" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Arizona based thrash metal act Flotsam and Jetsam. The album was released through Elektra Records in May 1988. There´s been one Lineup change since the debut album as Troy Gregory has replaced Jason Newsted, after the latter left to play with Metallica.

Stylistically there have been a few changes too since "Doomsday for the Deceiver (1986)". The basic musical style is still thrash metal, but "No Place for Disgrace" is generally a bit more heavy metal oriented than it´s predecessor, and even features a couple of rock´n´roll elements. Most notably in the inclusion of the Elton John cover "Saturday Night´s alright for Fighting", but there are other tracks too which feature that influence. When Flotsam and Jetsam thrash they do thrash pretty hard though, and the many genre elements make for a pretty varied listen.

The material on the 10 track, 54:40 minutes long album is also generally of a high quality, and the album features a relatively good flow despite the diversity of the material. Highlights include the opening title track, "Dreams of Death", and "Escape From Within". I think the quality of the material drops slightly the longer you get into the album, but it´s nothing serious, and there´s nothing really bad featured on the album, just a couple of tracks which don´t stand out as much as the ones mentioned above.

One of the greatest assets is the high class musicianship. These guys are very well playing, and Eric A.K. is a phenomenal singer. He is a pretty unusual thrash metal vocalist who sings more then he yells/screams. Sort of like listening to a mid-range Rob Halford (Judas Priest) singing thrash. Eric A.K. delivers a couple of piercing high pitched screams on occasion too. His performance throughout the album is of a high, high class.

So "No Place for Disgrace" is in many ways a great sophomore release by Flotsam and Jetsam. Unfortunately the sound production leaves a bit to be desired. It´s actally alright when it comes to vocals, bass, and drums, but the rhythm guitars features an unpleasant thin tone, that takes power out of the music. That aside "No Place for Disgrace" is still a great quality album, and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious

Album · 2009 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 27 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After dropping their avant-garde fusion bomb in the form of the debut “The Butcher’s Ballroom” onto an unsuspecting world in 2006 with their deliciously provocative fusion of swing jazz, heavy metal, classical opera and progressive rock, Sweden’s zany DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA returned three years later to present the world with an equally mind-bending, genre-blending mishmash of musical madness in the form of SING ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DELIRIOUS. While a few lineup changes occurred in the three years passing with new trombonist Daniel Hedin joining the cast and trumpeter Martin Isaksson replacing Tobias Wiklund, the general gist of this sophomore release pretty much carries on exactly where “The Butcher’s Ballroom” left off and continues the journey into the demented DSO universe.

While “The Butcher’s Ballroom” put DSO on the map as experimental rock and avant-garde metal pioneers, SING ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DEMENTED is the album that got them larger worldwide recognition. Once again this whacky band delivers the goods in the swing department as they not only captured the jazz swing revival that was propelled by such acts as the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies but they also scoured the planet to find other suitable types of swing genres such as that of European gypsy music and Balkan folk to add to their symbiotic stew of their metal fortified dancehall. Mix in some Middle Eastern, some tango and top it off with a heavy metal bombast of dual guitar heaviness and you have a recipe for true eccentricity delivered like no other. In fact, SING ALONG SONGS was nominated in 2011 for the Eclectic Album category in The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards.

While not exactly differentiating substantially from the debut’s unabashedly brilliant delivery, nevertheless SING ALONG SONGS continues in perfect form with a whole new batch of ten exquisitely designed heavy stompers that swing, sing and bedazzle with a million tiny details tucked into the nooks and crannies. The whole festive affair is polished into a squeaky clean production with In Flames producer Roberto Laghi at the helm. In short DSO created their second brilliant masterpiece of mind-melting fusion in a seemingly effortless fashion that damns, dements and distracts the listener from mere ordinary musical experiences. If anything, SING ALONG SONGS perfects the techniques of the debut and adds new subtle elements to the mix which to the careful attentive listener will find a mind boggling amount of brilliance embedded in every aspect. Set mind status to fully blown!

“A Tap Dancer’s Dilemma” starts things off sounding like a Satanically spawned version of the Glenn Miller Orchestra that was somehow abducted by evil forces and had their DNA cryogenically spliced and preserved only to find its way into a strange new millennium. The track really sounds like Glen Miller’s “In The Mood” with its swinging characteristics but augmented by the metal riffing, Spaghetti western trombone and trumpet as well as the vocal dualistic antics of the operatic soprano prowess of Annlouice Wolgers and Daniel Håkansson’s playful male vocal counterpoints. In fact the entirety of the album finds these two throwing the ball back and forth which gives a lively call and response conversational oomf to the process.

“A Rancid Romance” shows immediate diversity to the album’s flow as it takes a tango groove on piano and bass and adds super heavy metal guitar riffing. Wolgers’ and Håkansson create a lyrical dialogue and interesting variations between the verse / chorus and bridge construct as the melody recurs throughout but new elements piled up bringing the whole thing to an interesting chaotic crescendo where progressive touches kick in with time signature freakouts alongside tension inducing drones that ultimately end in a symphonic acoustic classical Paganini violin solo.

As the tracks continue they only get more interesting. “Lucy Fears The Morning Star” engages a Wagner-esque classical pomp, a heavy metal stomp and high C glass shattering vocal sublimeness from Wolgers. “Bedlam Sticks” has more of a cartoonish feel. Sorta like an Elvis Presley meets Dracula vocal style that cedes into a rather demented bouncy metal stomp. “New World Widows” finds a respite from the bombastic approach with a nice echoey clean guitar intro that cedes into another bouncy metal rocker with Wolger’s diva vocals soaring like a white-winged dove. “Siberian Love Affairs” takes the Eastern Europe polka as a short interlude while “Vodka Inferno” continues another swinging metal stomp with some of the oom-pa-pa polka rhythms. “Memoirs Of A Roadkill” adopts a Django Reinhardt style of gypsy swing with exquisite guitar riffing but takes an unexpected Radiohead-esque alt rock turn. “Ricerca Dell’anima” implements a surf rock approach to adapt to the DSO way of doing things.

The album ends with the longest track “Stratosphere Serenade” that begins with a dynamic cello workout followed by some stellar metal guitar riffing. This is probably one of the more progressive tracks as it is a dialogue between the metal and classical elements with more varied time signatures than most tracks. Yet another track that sounds unlike the rest with many interesting movements within. The track climaxes with a lengthy fadeout of a recurring riff that speeds up. Quite the satisfying end of the demented journey. While being pegged as avant-garde metal, DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA should be considered to exist in their avant-garde world. The metal bombast is supplemental only to add a level of heaviness to the underlying swing jazz, gypsy folk, tango and classical elements.

This is experimental music in every possibly way and the ultimate statement of a 21st band that effortlessly amalgamates disparate 20th century genres. This is music nerd’s paradise and pretty much designed for those who love the individual elements that went into it. Personally this is my sort of music and the dynamic catchy melodic hooks that SING ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DELIRIOUS means i get a lot of mileage out of this one. In fact, it’s one of those albums that works on many levels. It is truly ear worm hook music that guarantees a pleasing melodic sing-along style experience while on a deeper level is super-sophisticated as it unleashes treasures upon multiple visiting experiences. While many avant-garde metal leaning bands have come and gone, none have so successfully pulled off what DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA achieved on their first two albums. As far as i’m concerned both are flawless examples of commingled creativity taken to the highest levels.

GUNS N' ROSES Appetite For Destruction

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.25 | 88 ratings
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martindavey87
First impressions are everything. They can determine whether people like you or hate you, and while opinions can always change over time, there’s nothing quite like a memorable first impression. So how did Guns N’ Roses make theirs? They thought it’d be a great idea to release one of the most legendary, iconic and recognizable albums of all time.

Not a bad start, eh?

Released in 1987 (the same year as yours truly), hair and glam metal was in full swing, with countless rock bands living up the 80’s, prancing around with more makeup and hairspray than an L.A. hooker. And while there were some with the odd hit or memorable album here or there, the scene really lacked that one band that would transcend the genre and make their mark in music history. Enter Guns N’ Roses.

Instantly recognizable for Axl Roses impossibly high and powerful vocals, with their sleazy, spite-filled lyrics, and iconic top hat-wearing guitarist Slash’s fast and frantic blues-inspired riffs, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ has a solid production that really brings the music to life and gives the album nonstop energy and attitude. While it has a distinctive 80’s vibe, it’s still manage to age incredibly well, and even today is a very easy record to listen to, regardless of what music you’re into.

With its legendary front cover (I’m referring to the cross and skulls one which it is most widely known for), ‘Appetite...’ contains some of rocks most greatest moments, including ‘Paradise City’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘My Michelle’, ‘Mr. Brownstone’, ‘Out Ta Get Me’, ‘It’s So Easy’, ‘Rocket Queen’ and the monstrously huge megahit, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’. It took me a while to get around to really giving this record a proper chance, but now that I did, I can confirm that it does live up to its reputation.

An all-time classic, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ is one of those absolutely essential albums that should be in every music collection.

NAPALM DEATH Utopia Banished

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 15 ratings
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DamoXt7942
Harmonization of grindcore and thrash metal. ‘Utopia Banished”, veiled in a pic of infernal dread, was released in 1992, when the formation of NAPALM DEATH has got stabilized. Their settled period might let themselves introduce a novel music style - extreme grindcore blended with thrash metal. Their speedy, up-beated melodic and rhythmic distortion and dissection should’ve blow the audience deeply into addictive nightmare. This “Utopia Banished” can be thought as “Deathtopia Appeared”, and obviously our nightmare’s just got started at that moment.

Aside from detailed expression for every single track ... after infernal vocal madness and lazy, hazy dragging guitar play, Barney’s monotonous, distorted, deformed shouts open our inner brain in a forced or compulsive manner. Along with destructive, ultrafast rhythmic basis, Barney’s voices sound quite vivacious and immersive. Each instrument can get precisely synchronized and crystallized with others. Their crazy harmonies spin pretty violently but never broken nor collapsed. We, the audience should be attacked and tortured powerfully with such a distorted sound revolution for about 40 minutes indeed, but we would follow the “deathxplosion” completely I guess. NAPALM DEATH’s intensive attitude for us is serious and sincere, let me say.

BODY COUNT Violent Demise: The Last Days

Album · 1997 · Rap Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 4 ratings
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martindavey87
Rapper Ice-T and his merry men are back with Body Count’s third studio album, ‘Violent Demise: The Last Days’. Released in 1997, it follows the disappointing ‘Born Dead’, which failed to capitalize on the unexpected and surprising success of the bands self-titled debut. However, with ‘Violent Demise’, the Californian gangsters return to the more brutal, cynical, yet tongue-in-cheek approach that made their first outing so unique for its time.

Starting off with a radio interview skit which sees the host attacking Ice-T over the poor reception of ‘Born Dead’, it’s evident that the group recognizes this and are setting out to rectify any issues. And they do it with a vengeance. With opening track, ‘My Way’, the band are instantly back to their aggressive and violent roots, with guitar riffs heavier than a tonne of concrete slabs and profanity-laden lyrics that will make your mother blush. Covering a host of traditional gangster rap subjects such as gang violence, racism and sex, the band are lashing out at society with both humour and pure hatred.

The musicianship itself is pretty good, and while this style of music isn’t typically known for virtuoso performances, the band members are tight, and the production gives the album a thick, punching sound that really re-establishes Body Count as a solid metal outfit. Ice-T’s vocals are a blend of rapping and generally shouting, but overall it works fantastically with the hardcore-inspired guitar riffs.

With the likes of ‘My Way’, ‘Violent Demise’, ‘Strippers’, ‘You’re Fuckin’ With BC’, ‘I Used to Love Her’ and ‘Dead Man Walking’, Body Count may not be able to recapture the mainstream success they had with their debut album, but it’s clear with ‘Violent Demise: The Last Days’ that this is a band who are more than just a side project, with well-written music of a high standard, this is a solid release that more than makes up for its predecessor.

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