Metal Music Reviews from Nightfly

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.

TAPHOS Come Ethereal Somberness

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Taphos created quite a buzz with their 2016 demo MMXVI and even more so with their MMXVII EP in 2017. The EP was particularly good retaining that old school death metal vibe evident on the demo but with added clout with a more bottom end production.

With their debut album, Come Ethereal Somberness they’ve just got even better. These Danes know that raw organic heaviness is far preferable to processed precision, especially if you’re going for that old school sound. In fact it’s essential. Not counting three instrumentals including a short intro and outro we get six raw and ferocious songs of atmospheric blackened death metal . Nothing original for sure but what they lack in originality they more than make up for in conviction. These riffs are truly crushing, often tremolo picked. There’s no shortage of blastbeats but they’re not overdone with plenty of rhythmic shifts to keep things interesting aided by a crushing production. Not as doomy and dirty as Incantation can be but I hear an influence in here. The standard of musicianship is also impressive with drummer U – yes they all use initials, driving the compelling riffs of M and D on with ferocious precision. H’s vocals, who also supplies bass, are also impressive being suitably dark and dirty sitting between a death growl and a blackened rasp.

For a debut album in particular this is very impressive and I can only see this band going from strength to strength. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

INGESTED The Level Above Human

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Things have been a bit quiet lately on the new release front from my death metal favourites. Whilst I’m always looking to check out bands I’ve never heard before this current dearth has encouraged me to look a bit wider. One such album I’ve recently come across in my search is The Level Above Human by Ingested. It’s the fourth from this brutal Manchester bunch but the first I’ve heard by them.

Whether there’s any musical growth from their earlier releases I couldn’t say and maybe I should have done my homework and found out. What I can say though is while it doesn’t offer anything original, something that’s not necessary anyway if you’ve got the songs to back it up, if brutal/slam death metal and deathcore is your thing then you probably will find much to enjoy here. The playing is tight and pretty complex at times with tempos ranging from the expected breakneck blasts to slower breakdowns and slam death parts. There are plenty of strong riffs throughout though the opening riff of Invidious sounds like a rip off of Iron Strengthens Iron from the last Dyscarnate album, With All Their Might. Individually each song sounds fine but nothing jumps out particularly to distinguish it from the rest despite the bands efforts to inject plenty of changes into individual tracks. After a while one song tends to blend into another and after the full 44 minutes I was feeling like I’d had enough. The more melodic instrumental Obsolescent offers some welcome respite from the overall bludgeon and alternating growl/shriek vocals making a good choice for closing the album.

Overall then, The Level Above Human whilst certainly no classic is a pretty good album. I’m sure plenty of people will love it but my own preference for my death metal being served straight up makes it more an album I admire rather than love. One that I’ll be happy to give a spin from time to time though for sure.

AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.53 | 5 ratings
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AT War With Reality, 2014’s comeback album from At The Gates was criticized by some for being too safe and clinical sounding. Personally, I had no problem with it at all and welcomed the bands return to the upper echelons of melodic death metal. In fact I thought it so good I voted it my album of the year on this site and felt that many songs such as The Night Eternal and Eater Of Gods, to name just two, were showing the band at the top of their game.

No such criticism is likely to levelled at To Drink From The Night Itself. It’s a heavier, darker and murkier sounding album. In fact my eyebrows were initially raised over the production where the vocals and drums sound like they’re coming from the opposite end of a very long room to the rest of the band which took a bit of getting used to. I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed but after spending quite a bit of time with it my opinion has changed a hell of a lot. The biggest concern prior to the album’s release was how much of difference it was going to make to the band’s sound minus original guitarist Anders Björler who left in 2017. Fortunately, none at all. This is clearly the sound of At The Gates – the melancholic and melodic riffs, tremolo picked guitars and of course Tomas Lindberg’s distinctive high register growl. New guitarist Jonas Stålhammar has fit seamlessly in, no doubt an advantage having already played in The Lurking Fear with Lindberg and drummer Adrian Erlandsson.

As I said earlier this album did take a few plays to fully reveal itself, in part down to the production. The title track was the first song I heard when the band released it 2 or 3 months back. I must admit that despite being good I wasn’t blown away by it, it being pretty much At The Gates by numbers. It has since grown on me more but there’s much better on offer here, the second half of the album being particularly impressive where they barely put a foot wrong, with songs like In Nameless Sleep and The Mirror Black, after a slow start, having a vibe similar to The Night Eternal, my favourite song from At War With Reality with their use of guitar arpeggios and Erlandsson’s triplet double kick pattern. The latter closing the album in a similar fashion until the strings kick in at the very end. The first half still has some impressive moments though with A Stare Bound In Stone and Palace Of Lepers being particularly good.

To Drink From The Night Itself may bring nothing new to the table, it may not be better than At War With Reality overall, but that’s more to do with my love of that album than any weaknesses here and the production was certainly better last time around. It does however prove to be a consistently excellent album and contains some of the bands finest moments. I keep getting drawn back to it and I can’t give it a better recommendation than to say it’s my most played album since it was released.

SKELETAL REMAINS Devouring Mortality

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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I was pretty impressed by Condemned To Misery, the second album from Californian death metal band Skeletal Remains and three years later album number three, Devouring Mortality seems set to surpass it in my esteem.

Plain old school death metal which when done well is pretty hard to beat amongst the genres various subs or in metal in general for that matter. Skeletal Remains fortunately do it very well. On Devouring Mortality they may not surprise you with any great leaps forward or genre developments but what you get is an album of songs with classic old school styling with just enough of a modern edge to not sound totally retro. During the next forty five minutes they run through eleven tracks with plenty of variety – i.e. constantly shifting tempos from groove laden slower double kick drum led riffing to fast blast beats and inject moments of brutality into the mix. The riffs are totally compelling and kick ass but let’s face it, metal without great riffs is crap metal right. They’re made all the more powerful by the organic production and are well thought out and executed with precision, the guitar solos likewise which made me sit up on more than one occasion. Chris Monroy’s vocals may not be to everyone’s taste – they aren’t your typical low growl being higher pitched in the vein of Martin van Drunen of early Pestilence/Asphyx fame but work well within the songs being a good counterpoint to the low tuned guitars.

Picking favourites is a pretty futile exercise as the overall quality is very high with barely a weak moment. The only track that doesn’t earn its place is the short instrumental Lifeless Manifestation which sounds like the opening of a song and then fades out without going anywhere. A minor quibble though.

Such was my enjoyment of this album that when receiving it I played it three times solid and many times since. Devouring Mortality is definitely one of my favourite death metal albums of 2018 so far.

PAT TRAVERS Heat in the Street

Album · 1978 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Heat In The Street is arguably the best album Pat Travers has ever released. It’s certainly the heaviest. The introduction of Tommy Aldridge on drums and bringing in second guitarist, Pat Thrall seems to have given Travers a good kick up the backside after the disappointing Putting It Straight.

The songs on Heat In The Street burst with energy, the title track kicking things off in fine style laced with great riffs and infused with accents, clever rhythmic shifts and time changes. I doubt there are many Travers gigs where this song hasn’t been played. As brilliant as the title track is it wouldn’t be such a great album if the rest of the songs fell short. The dual guitar partnership of Travers and Thrall is put to good use – these guys play off each other really well, both equally adept at rhythm and lead and throwing in some dual guitar runs to good effect – check out Killer’s Instinct for proof. Even the semi-ballad I Tried To Believe kicks ass in the hands of this line-up. Aldridge fills up the album with some fantastic drumming including his double kick drum work on Evie and instrumental Hammerhead and Mars Cowling proves that he’s one of the best and most under-rated bass players in hard rock, his sound being powerful, funky and clear cutting, often with quite a toppy sound. Go All Night is the band at their funkiest and another highlight. Prelude is another instrumental, lacking the punch of Hammerhead but a good vehicle for some melodic dual guitar runs. The album finishes with One For Me And One For You and after the incendiary nature of most the tracks is a bit of a let-down, bringing it out with a whimper instead of bang.

The same line-up would go on to release another studio album together, Crash And Burn as well as the live Go For What You Know which was one of the best live albums of the era but as far as studio work went this was Travers finest hour and there really isn’t a better place to start if you’re new to him.

PESTILENCE Hadeon

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 5 ratings
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Pestilence has not had the easiest of rides over the years, from fans and critics alike. It could be argued that this is their own doing as they have shifted styles almost on an album by album basis. From their early critically acclaimed death/thrash days they moved into a less raw sounding and more technical form of death metal with Testimony Of The Ancients. They then alienated a lot of fans with the jazz laden Spheres with mainman Patrick Mameli being highly influenced by the guitar work of Alan Holdsworth and other jazz/fusion players. A split followed but a return in 2008 led to the 2009 album Resurrection Macabre which seemed to signal a return to less experimental days. However, it was short lived with following album Doctrine lacking direction and re-introducing the jazz elements to a certain extent though less successfully than on Spheres. The more cohesive Obsideo followed and whilst not ditching the jazz/tech aspects entirely was a far more satisfying collection of songs and one of my favourites from the band.

Roll on to 2018 and Hadeon, studio album number eight. Perhaps they’ve grown tired of the critics but for whatever reason Hadeon is their most straight forward death metal album for a quite some time. It’s certainly doesn’t have the raw sound of Consuming Impulse having an up to date production. Nor does it ditch the technical aspects altogether and with players of this calibre I wouldn’t want them too. Old school death metal it ain’t but they focus more on delivering a collection of songs with great riffs and groove. The riffs are tight and they occasionally throw in a bit of thrash into the overall death metal sound. There’s a healthy dose of dissonance in many of these riffs as well, Oversoul being a prime example which drives along with a strong mid pace groove. All the songs are pretty short with nothing reaching the four minute barrier but they manage to inject plenty of changes into them. There’s still the odd moment of jazz creeping in like the bass led instrumental Subvisions and on some of the guitar solos too which generally have a strong melodic sensibility. Mameli is singing in a slightly lower register to my ears and far more satisfying than the screeching on Doctrine. My only gripe, which is minor, is I could have done without the robotic vocals that appear on a couple of songs like Ultra Demons though they are short lived.

Hadeon should keep most Pestilence fans more than happy (unless you only like Spheres) which doesn’t mean it smacks of compromise. Myself, I thought Obsideo was a great album, but this is equally so, just a more streamlined version of the band.

PAT TRAVERS Putting it Straight

Album · 1977 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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It’s easy to forget in these days of the internet where it’s possible to hear just about any album you want via Youtube, Spotify etc, but back in the seventies (and even eighties and nineties) when Putting It Straight was released you didn’t get to hear an album unless you bought it or knew someone who owned a copy. If you were lucky you might get to hear a song or two on one of the radio rock shows and that would be about it.

For the reasons above Putting It Straight was an album that I didn’t get to hear in full until quite a few years later although I knew and liked the rest of his seventies output well. I knew Life In London and Gettin’ Betta which were both live favourites, both great tracks, the later in the Pat Travers funky rock mode and the former a driving rocker with a killer riff. When I did finally get to hear it, it was a big disappointment and falling short of his greatest seventies work. Time has revised my opinion somewhat but I still think apart from the two previously mentioned songs it’s his weakest album from that decade. Songs like Runnin’ For The Future and Speakeasy are okay rockers, Lovin’ You is verging on AOR and Off Beat Ride a mediocre Instrumental. Dedication is in two parts – starting with an Organ driven instrumental before descending into a rather dull ballad. Better is the syncopated rhythm of It Ain’t What It Seems though it still pales in comparison to his best work. The liner notes of the CD re-issue state that the band went into the studio with most of the songs not written so this goes to a long way to explaining why it’s not up to the usual standard being a bit of a rush job. Of interest to Iron Maiden fans, it’s the second of two Travers albums to feature Nicko McBrain. Apparently Travers was having (undisclosed) trouble with him at the time and replaced him with Tommy Aldridge shortly after the albums completion.

Overall then Putting It Straight is the least essential of Pat Travers seventies albums despite containing two classic tracks. Fortunately following album Heat In The Street was a great return to form and regarded by many as his strongest album ever.

IMMOLATION Harnessing Ruin

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 9 ratings
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It just goes to show how important it is how you listen to your music. Until recently Harnessing Ruin was the only Immolation album not in my collection. I always intended to get it one day for completions sake but until I finally bought it I’d only ever heard it on the computer through crappy speakers or headphones and felt it to be one of their less essential albums. Having had the opportunity to crank it up on a good Hi-Fi, it proved to be a revelation with the sound really opening up and my opinion has changed considerably.

Released in 2005 it was on the tails of two of Immolations most highly regarded albums – Close To a World Below and Unholy Cult. Whilst it doesn’t reach the heights of those two classics it‘s more than a worthy follow up. By Immolation standards at least it’s a bit of an easier listen for the uninitiated than the last two, though of course this being immolation we’re talking relatively speaking. Whilst the sound here is generally a bit denser and muddier and there’s still plenty of their trademark dissonance on display but musically its slightly more melodic and accessible. Robert Vigna still manages to conjure up some incredible off the wall riffs aided by second guitarist Bill Taylor with new drummer Steve Shalaty, who remains with them to this day, filling Alex Hernandez’s shoes admirably as he lays the foundations for all the rhythmic twists and turns you’d expect from these death metal geniuses. Ross Dolan’s low register growl is another instantly recognisable factor, his bass is more felt than to the fore but none the worse for it. Whilst there are no particular stand out tracks it’s a measure of overall quality than weakness and it’s fair to say that in a career that goes back to the early nineties they have yet to release a bad album.

Harnessing Ruin still wouldn’t make my favourites list of Immolation albums but it is up against some pretty stiff competition and whilst not the best place to start in exploring them (for that why not try latest release Atonement) is more than worth a listen.

UNLEASHED Midvinterblot

Album · 2006 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 5 ratings
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For some reason and I'm not sure why, Unleashed never seem to have got the respect they deserve. Speaking personally, these days at least, I always expect that when they release a new album it will be very good, even excellent, old school death metal and they have been on a roll for years now. There was a time though in the late 90’s/early 00’s that they released a few whilst not dreadful by any means, less than stellar albums. On 2004’s Sworn Allegiance they really upped their game and Midvinterblot which came two years later was even better, perhaps their best album ever in fact.

Midvinterblot is a fantastic album brimming with memorable old school Swedish death metal laced with a healthy dose of thrash. Most of the songs are pretty short, fifteen in total but barely a bad one amongst them. Unleashed are on fire with an arsenal of great riffs and incendiary musicianship. Most of its up tempo but when it’s not like the (relatively) slow grind of the title track it’s just as compelling due to the catchy as hell riff. Despite the shortness of most of the songs they still manage to pack a lot in with plenty of changes and a healthy dose of melody without resorting to becoming a melodic death metal band. It’s difficult to pick favourites down to the overall great consistency but the first four of Blood Of Lies, This Is Our World Now, We Must Join With Him and Midvinterblot are a grand statement of intent. Equally good is The Avenger with its crushing riffing, the frantic short sharp Psycho Killer, The thrashing I Have Sworn Allegiance and Age Of The Warrior with numerous tempo changes from a slow grind to all out blasts.

The musicianship is as expected top notch with a special mention to drummer Anders Schultz who whilst not overly technical drives it all along to perfection with an explosive performance throwing in all the right fills when required. Johnny Hedlund’s vocals are easily recognisable and stand out amongst death metal growlers and more accessible than most which is no bad thing and you can hear clearly what he’s singing even if they may not be the most thought provoking lyrics.

In the years that followed Midvinterblot I’ve enjoyed all of Unleashed’s albums and thinking about it there must be a new one coming along soon as it’s been three years since Dawn Of The Nine. This to my ears however remains their creative highpoint.

PAT TRAVERS Makin' Magic

Album · 1977 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Makin’ Magic is the second album from Pat Travers and the album that introduced me to him having first heard him on a local radio show back in 1977 when this was released. It’s notable for featuring a young Nicko McBrain who we all know would go on to join Iron Maiden a few years later.

Travers had introduced his funky hard rock style on his eponymous debut but here he really establishes it from the off with the driving title track. He shows what a great guitar player he is and McBrain drives things along with tight but loose drumming. Of special mention is Mars Cowling’s busy and to the front bass work which I always thought was integral to the Travers sound. Rock ‘n’ Roll Suzie is pretty much what you’d expect from the title, Rock ‘n’ Roll being something Travers dipped into from time to time. You Don’t Love Me was the first Travers song I owned which featured on a Sounds Magazine freebie album I had at the time – still have it to this day as far as I Know. It’s not one of the best tracks here though being a somewhat ordinary rocker. Stevie is a ballad and would become a live favourite. I never quite got what the fuss was about to be honest and found it a bit dull and dragged out at over seven minutes.

On his debut Travers had overdone the cover versions with four in total. Here there’s only one and it’s well chosen - the Blues classic Statesboro Blues. Perhaps the definitive version of this song was made by The Allman Brothers Band but Travers does it justice with a pacey and lively version making it a very worthy inclusion. Need Love is excellent – an understated piece of syncopated funk rock. Hooked On Music is a Travers classic – more funk and perhaps the best song here and a quick listen will say all you need to know why it was a live staple and often opened his set I believe. The album closes with What You Mean To Me, an instrumental with Travers tasteful guitar work augmented by fender rhodes piano, a keyboard that I’ve always enjoyed the sound of but overall its less than essential though pleasant enough.

To this day Makin’ Magic remains one of my favourite Pat Travers albums, only equalled by Heat In The Street which may just have the edge. This would make a great place to start exploring his extensive back catalogue for sure.

PAT TRAVERS Pat Travers

Album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.95 | 2 ratings
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Although he would go on the make much better albums in the next few years Canadian guitarist/vocalist Pat Travers self-titled debut was a promising start. It laid the ground for the trademark Pat Travers funky hard rock sound aided by the forceful and funky bass playing of Peter “Mars” Cowling who would play on all the classic Travers albums. Sadly I’ve just learnt he has passed away just over a week ago.

The album kicks off with Stop And Smile which is not the best way to announce your career, being a somewhat ordinary piece of 70’s hard rock. Much better is following track Feelin’ Right which is where Travers introduces his funky chops. Written by J J Cale, Magnolia is a rather dull ballad but Makes No Difference is much better and a driving hard rocker that would remain a live favourite for years. Another song that features here that would become a live favourite is Boom Boom (Out Goes The Lights) which was a cover of the Little Walter blues classic. It’s a worthy inclusion and works better than the Chuck Berry cover of Mabelline and the Charlie Ryan song Hot rod Lincoln that follows it here.

As My Life Flies gets things back on track after three consecutive covers . Short and sweet at only two and a half minutes but a decent mid-paced rocker nevertheless. The album closes with what I think is the best and generally overlooked song on the album. Medley Parts 1 & 2, after a start that makes you think you’re in for some jazz rock soon develops into a driving rocker notable for Mars Cowling’s to the front of the mix driving bass work. In fact the song goes through a number of changes and shifts into slower funky mode. A fair part of its instrumental but keeps the listeners interest with a number of twists and turns.

A few too many covers and a couple of ordinary Travers originals rob this album of greatness but when it’s good it’s very good and laid the ground for the better Makin’ Magic that would follow the next year in 1977.

BLACK MOTH Anatomical Venus

Album · 2018 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Having been impressed by Black Moth’s 2014 album Condemned To Hope’s blend of doom, stoner and garage rock (which showed considerable growth over their debut) I was looking forward to hear Anatomical Venus, their first in four years. It sees a line-up change with guitarist Federica Gialanze taking over from Nico Carew. She previously played in a Black Sabbath tribute band whose influences can be heard in the grooves of this latest release as they were on the last album. The title Anatomical Venus was inspired by the wax models of women created by Clementi Susini which whilst being accurate anatomical figures for medical study also unsettlingly beautified them in death.

Istra kicks things off in fine style with powerful riffing and Harriet Hyde’s authoritatively biting vocal delivery but the song also manages to introduce some light and shade which works very well. A strong start and equally good is Moonbow, a pre-album single release, with a captivating and hypnotic 6/8 time riff. They clearly like playing in 6’s as Tourmaline later in the album does too. Whilst most of the influences that made Condemned To Hope such a strong release are in place they do seem to have toned down the purer doom touches, which were never particularly prevalent anyway, with most of the album being more in the stoner metal/rock vein with the garage rock still rearing its head from time to time. Black Moth are showing a lot of maturity as songwriters too with much of the album being their strongest work to date. The only lapse into ordinariness is Buried Hoards which whilst not bad creates a momentary lull though pleasingly short lived. Songs like Severed Grace more than make up for it though. A truly remarkable, haunting and powerful song, delving into the subject of the album title.

Anatomical Venus whilst I didn’t originally think so is the bands best work so far. A few listens however soon revealed what a compelling collection of songs this is with a few clever and unexpected twists and turns and deserves to give them wider recognition and success.

KING WITCH Under The Mountain

Album · 2018 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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From Edinburgh, Scotland come King Witch out of the ashes of Firebrand Super Rock which featured vocalist Laura Donnelly and guitarist Jamie Gilchrist, a band I must admit to knowing nothing about despite releasing two albums. Still I’m certainly glad to have discovered King Witch fairly early in their career, Under The Mountain being their debut album coming after their 2015 EP Shoulders Of Giants.

I approached King Witch expecting a doom metal band and to an extent this is true. Songs like album opener Beneath The Waves and Solitary do nothing to dispel that. However for every song that fits the doom label there’s another that treads in more traditional retro metal territory – take the title track and Carnal Sacrifice for example and some of these songs crack along at a fair pace. This album is certainly heavy with nods to Black Sabbath littered throughout and the dense and organic production aids this. Vocalist Laura Donnelly is a revelation – definitely more of an old school singer with a powerful and soulful delivery shown to full effect on the excellent ballad Ancients which offers a bit of diversification and a brief break from the overall heaviness. The rest of the band are no slouches either and turn in strong performances with the rhythm section of Joe Turner and Lyle Brown laying down a strong foundation with plenty of syncopated rhythms whilst guitarist Jamie Gilchrist has an arsenal of memorable and inventive riffs at his disposal.

I just discovered on the day that King Witch were playing 35 miles up the road from me last Saturday but sadly it was too late to organise a trip to see them. Hopefully catch them next time but for now I’ll make do with this great debut album.

NECROPHOBIC Mark Of The Necrogram

Album · 2018 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Necrophobic have been releasing quality extreme metal albums since their 1993 debut The Nocturnal Silence, a highly regarded by many, old school death metal release. They shortly afterwards adopted a more blackened death metal sound which is pretty much where they have remained since. All of their albums have been at least good, if not essential listening, though I must admit to my recollection with some mid period releases vague.

It’s been five years since Womb Of Lilithu and Mark Of The Necrogram sees the band remaining faithful to their blackened death metal sound which means no surprises I guess but it’s still a quality release. The sound is nearer to 2009’s Death To All than WOL which is not surprising when you know that it marks the return of guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck who last played on that record. It also sees the return of original vocalist Anders Strokirk.

The first thing that hit me with the opening title track, apart from the crystal clear production, is they appear to have upped the melody quotient and as the album progresses it proves to be the case. There’s no shortage of catchy riffs, which I must admit to a large extent didn’t hit me straight away but once they did I was hooked. It doesn’t get any better than Odium Caecum which after a moody guitar arpeggio intro kicks in full throttle, more death than black until the chorus and is one of the heaviest songs too. There’s no shortage of great songs though played with strong musicianship. Ever present drummer Joakim Sterner throws in the expected array of blast beats and double kicks with expert precision and the guitar work is impressive with some melodic solo work too.

I’ll stick my neck out here and say that Mark Of The Necrogram may just be the bands best and most consistent album in their career. It’s also their best sounding too. I’ve never felt the need to own all Necrophobic’s albums, having cherry picked their back catalogue but this ones a keeper for sure.

SAXON Thunderbolt

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 7 ratings
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For many it will always be those early albums like Wheels Of steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim And Leather that define Saxon’s status as one of the UK’s greatest heavy metal bands. In truth though, apart from a few glitches along the way, mainly late 80’s, Saxon have been churning out high quality metal albums all the way with some even matching those early classics like 2015’s Battering Ram.

Thunderbolt is another winner with the band on fine form aided by an in your face production, a bit more organic sounding than the last one, Battering Ram. It’s the usual mixture of fast and mid paced traditional metal with the occasional slow one (Sons Of Odin) full of compelling guitar riffs that hit hard and immediately with minimum fuss. The title track is a killer as is the Motorhead tribute They Played Rock and Roll – both Saxon at their up tempo best. I’ve always liked Nigel Glockler’s inventive drumming who as usual drives the band with mechanical precision. Biff Byford is still on incredibly fine vocal form, especially for a man of his age and has only lost a bit of his range over the years. He brings in Amon Amarth vocalist Johan Hegg on Predator for a bit of growl assistance but he can’t hold a candle to Biff. It’s all good stuff with only Roadies’ Song being a bit under par but even that in a lesser bands hands would be considered a success.

Overall then Thunderbolt is another great album to add to Saxon’s already impressive discography that any fan of the band is sure to be delighted with.

RAGE Seasons of the Black

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 7 ratings
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Rage have been kicking around for an eternity releasing their debut album Reign Of Fear back in 1986. They’ve also been on my radar for almost as long with albums like Black in Mind particularly impressing me but for some reason I’ve never actually bought much by them. There’s a few of their albums on my ridiculously long Amazon wishlist but there always seems to be something that takes precedence and there they stay.

Seasons Of The Black is studio album number twenty two if my maths is correct. If you know Rage then you’ll know what to expect here – Power metal injected with thrash and traditional touches. Probably because they’re old school they manage to a large extent to avoid the cheesy clichés and excesses of much European power metal which is fine with me. SOTB has a smoother production than their last album, 2016’s The Devil Strikes Again and whilst not totally absent they’ve reigned in the thrash elements here. It’s good for sure but not great as a whole and they’ve certainly done better. It has great moments though like opener Season Of The Black which pelts along at a fair pace with some strong riffs and hooks. In fact it’s the faster stuff that works best for me like the thrashier Walk Among The Dead and All We Know Is Not. The biggest problem with SOTB is that nothing after the opener really grabs me in a big way until Walk Among The Dead. Songs like Time Will Tell and Septic Bite whilst not bad by any stretch leave no strong lasting impression. Nevertheless it can be very good at times. Apart from the previously mentioned highlights songs like Justify impress with strong melodies and Bloodshed In Paradise packs plenty of punch. There’s also a bonus six tracks available on the vinyl and digipak versions and songs like Faster Than Hell are better than some that made the final cut so if you’re buying I’d recommend getting one of these versions.

There’s too many gaps in my knowledge of Rage’s albums to start talking about where SOTB sits in terms of their best. What I can say though is despite my previous reservations the strong moments impressed me enough to buy it so that’s got to be thumbs up.

HAMFERÐ Tamsins Likam

Album · 2018 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.77 | 4 ratings
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I’ve only just discovered Faroese doom metal band Hamferð. Their first album Evst released in 2013 having totally passed me by. Still, better late than never and I’m certainly glad to have caught up with them now as Tamsins Likam is the best album I’ve heard in the doom realm for quite some time.

Tamsins Likam is part three of a trilogy that began with their 2010 EP Vilst Er Siðsta Fet. It’s the story of a man who’s racked with guilt over the fate of his family. The story however goes backwards, starting with his death on the EP. Evst was the run up to his death and Tamsins Likam goes back to an earlier time where he and his wife are dealing with the loss of a child. You’ll have to take my word for this however as all the lyrics are sung in Faroese.

Funeral doom is a genre that I generally can only take in small doses despite enjoying work from Evoken, Shape Of Despair and Ahab in particular. The deathly slow tempos wear a bit thin with me after a while and it can sometimes come across as a little one dimensional with little room for variation despite many bands injecting atmospheric and mellower moments between the crushingly heavy riffs. Whilst Hamferð take funeral doom as a starting point, there is more to them than this. Sure there’s the expected doom drenched guitar riffs but drummer Remi Johannesen has a musicality not often seen in the genre amongst drummers with some inventive patterns shaping the song structures. I know very little about the Faroe Islands other than it’s around 200 miles north of the top end of Scotland, but through their music they manage to convey a feeling of cold stark beauty echoing my impression of the place, or what I imagine it to be anyway. This gives their music a unique flavour making them stand out from the doom crowd.

The album kicks off with Fylgisflog in a very understated way. Sparse guitar work and Jón Aldará’s clean mournful vocals take centre stage until it explodes into more familiar doom territory with Aldará using growls for the heavier sections. The music has a cinematic feel for want of a better way of putting it, aided by atmospheric keyboard work, with big riffs displaying a melodic sensibility with much musical tension present. There’s a beauty in this music that in a way reminds me of the way Opeth used to do it in their metal days – the way they could inject beauty in and around the most heavy riffs. Don’t mistake this for thinking they sound like Opeth though but you could say Hamferð are to doom what Opeth were to death metal. This sets the scene for much of the album with quiet restraint juxtaposed against the heavier sections. An exception is the death doom of Hon Syndrast which sounds huge from start to finish with some imaginative chord progressions, riffs and time changes making for a totally captivating listen and is perhaps my favourite of the entire album.

Tamsins Likam is a complete masterpiece of metal and I was so impressed I immediately ordered their last album Evst and plan on doing likewise with their first EP shortly. So early in the year yet I can already declare with confidence that this will be one of the best albums I’ll hear in 2018.

WATAIN Trident Wolf Eclipse

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 2 ratings
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It’s been five years since Watain last released an album. The Wild Hunt divided opinion with many praising the growth of the band, which to be honest was nothing new and has been an ongoing thing since Rabid Death’s Curse. Others thought it a band aiming for a more accessible sound and losing something along the way. It was certainly epic and sprawling at over an hour in length and a big production sound certainly made it easier on the ears than many black metal albums. Whatever, I think it was the equal of anything they’d previously done in the past and joint contender with Lawless Darkness as my favourite from the band.

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

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

JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES The Horse And Other Weird Tales

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The hard rock/metal scene seems somewhat flooded these days with female fronted bands on the dark side with occult leanings. Blood Ceremony, Avatarium, Devil Electric, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Witch Mountain, Jex Thoth…. The list goes on. All these bands have a strong retro vibe to their sound going back to the late sixties/early seventies period, most worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath to a greater or lesser degree, at least at some point in their career. Jess And The Ancient Ones stand out because they haven’t ever really been there even if earlier material was more riff based than of late, but they still have a strong retro feel to their music – in their case the late sixties.

The Horse And Other Weird Tales is album number three from JATAO and sees them continue to hone their sound to an even more authentic sixties feel. It’s less of a hard rock/ heavy psych sound than their debut, something they seemed to be moving away from on Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes though the psychedelic elements remained. This is no doubt partly down to the fact that they have slimmed from a two guitar line-up, losing Fiend along the way leaving Thomas Corpse as the sole guitarist. This has made room for keyboardist Abrahammond to move to the fore and in fact the keyboards now dominate though Corpse expertly plays off this weaving his guitar runs into the sound. Their music these days seems to bear more resemblance to the likes of Jefferson Airplane aided by Singer Jess displaying a not dissimilar timbre to Grace Slick and both having a powerful set of pipes. In fact she is a better singer than ever with improved phrasing and depth than previously displayed and she was no slouch before.

The songs are noticeably more streamlined these days, mainly around the three minute mark with only You And Eyes and closer Anyway The Minds Flow at eight minutes reaching the longer lengths previously favoured. They also have more immediate melodies but with titles like Your Exploding Heads and Death Is The Doors clearly still retain the quirkiness and darkness of earlier material. Despite overall consistency my album highlight has got to be Anyway The Minds Flow which is a beautifully haunting piece with Jess and keyboardist Abrahammond particularly excelling, a great way to close the album.

I haven’t quite made my mind up yet but this may be my favourite JATAO album so far. Having said that Second Psychedelic Coming was almost twice as long as this and certainly had plenty of moments to match what’s on offer here but for an immediate hit The Horse And Other Weird Tales is pretty hard to beat.

TCHORNOBOG Tchornobog

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 9 ratings
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Reviewer’s Challenge entry Dec 17.

Markov Soroka clearly likes doing things on his own having released music under various solo projects including Aureole, Slow and Enternium to name a few, none of which I’m familiar with by the way. From a bit of research it’s apparent and not surprising that he has a liking for the more extreme sub-genres of metal from black metal, doom and also death metal. Tchornobog is his latest where he brings in elements of all three.

This self-titled debut album for Tchornobog only contains four tracks but they’re all pretty long, the longest being opener The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods Of Cognitive Dissonance) which breaks the twenty minute barrier. Much of the time death metal takes the driving seat where he enters the realms of Australians Portal with an incredibly dense wall of noise approach. A few plays are required before the riffs reveal themselves, often getting lost in the murk, but at times they’re pretty inventive displaying a pleasing dose of dissonance. Soroka writes and plays everything bar the drums, piano, sax and trumpet (the latter three only briefly appearing) and perhaps therein lays the problem. With a few band members to bounce off he might have had someone to tell him that some of these compositions outstay their welcome and a bit of trimming might have been in order. Being a prog fan as much as metal I’m all for long songs but there needs to be dynamics and plenty of musical twists and turns for it to hold the interest. Here there are light and shade moments amongst the apocalyptic barrage but all too often a part outstays its welcome, even on some of the stronger moments and at times where it wanders a bit aimlessly I found myself losing interest quickly. This is particularly true on Non-Existence’s Warmth (Infinite Natality Psychosis) which seems to take an eternity to get going. There are moments however where it’s pretty good, occasionally very good, particularly on The Vomiting Tchornobog, the best track on offer with a compelling collection of blackened death metal riffs injected with some well-placed doom adding variety. My former criticisms of aimless wandering apply here too though to a lesser extent. As this is the first track though it’s a little disappointing that we’ve already heard the best this album has to offer with another forty minutes plus ahead of us.

So overall then, a good album with each piece having its moments though none are totally satisfying as a whole making it less than essential listening. Having said that Soroka is not without talent at creating extreme metal and I’d certainly be interested in checking out some of his other projects as well as any future Tchornobog releases.

TEMPLE OF VOID Lords of Death

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 4 ratings
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I’m a bit of a fan when death metal and doom collide, especially when the balance is in favour of death metal as the combination of the two seems to provide some of the most crushingly heavy music. Lords Of Death, the second album from USA five piece Temple Of Void proves to be a case in point.

I’ve not had the benefit of hearing the debut album from this Detroit band – something I must put right, but if it’s half as good as this I’m in for a treat. Lords Of Death features eight songs (including a short intro and a mid-album acoustic interlude) of some of the heaviest music I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year. After the short instrumental The Charnel Unearthing, Wretched Banquet kicks things off proper and alternates between a slow grinding riff and a more up tempo one. It’s pretty intense stuff and a strong statement of intent as to what you can expect. A Watery Internment is equally good featuring a slow tempo that also has plenty of groove. A mid song lull of cleaner guitar parts not only add dynamics, but also serves to heighten the drama when all hell breaks loose again. If you’re going to release a short album (34 minutes here) it had better be damn good with no weak moments. Fortunately that’s the case here as each subsequent song keeps the quality high making picking favourites almost pointless.

The key to this albums strength lies in the mighty riffs which are for the most part incredibly strong, placing bludgeon above complexity. They give Incantation a run for their money which in the best possible way completely pulverise the listener with their thick dirgy sound. Aided by a sympathetic production they really crush as does the rhythm section which has a great in your face organic drum sound and bass that has the presence to really cut through. Mike Erdody’s low guttural growl is a perfect partner to all the ferocious instrumental work here.

I’m a bit late getting round to reviewing this one but better late than never I guess as I can’t think of an album of this sort of doom infused death I’ve enjoyed more than this in 2017 and one that’s sure to make my top albums list when we do the end of year poll shortly. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

FLESHKILLER Awaken

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

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

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

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

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 10 ratings
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I’ve always viewed the development of Opeth and Enslaved as running parallel with each other. Both started as extreme metal bands, death metal for Opeth, black metal for Enslaved and both even at an early stage displaying progressive influences. As they have developed the progressive elements have come to more to the fore. One of the areas where they differ though is whilst Opeth these days bear no traces of death metal Enslaved have never entirely lost touch with their roots. Sure, they’re much more of a prog metal band these days but their black metal roots can still be heard.

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

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

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

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

XIBALBA Diablo, Con Amor​.​. Adios.

EP · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 3.69 | 3 ratings
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Reviewers Challenge Nov 17.

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

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

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

DYSCARNATE With All Their Might

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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It’s been five years since Dyscarnate released an album, the last being 2012’s excellent And So It Came To Pass marking them as one of best death metal bands to come out of the UK.

Roll on to 2017 and With All Their Might sees them returning with a more accessible sound. We are talking relatively speaking here of course as this album is still pretty brutal and complex at times but the riffs are more immediately memorable and they’ve injected plenty of groove into songs like opener Of Mice And Mountains and Iron Strengthens Iron. This definitely works to the albums benefit with most of the songs displaying strong hooks that beg for the repeat button to be hit. The playing is absolutely incendiary as fans of the band will expect with all showing their mastery of their chosen instrument. Best of all there’s not a single weak moment, the material showing plenty of diversity from the almost doom pace of Traitors in The Palace to the more explosive All The Devils Are Here, this really is death metal played at its best with a crystal clear modern production displaying the songs to great effect.

In case you hadn’t figured yet I’m loving this album and as the year draws to a close it’s pretty clear this will feature pretty highly in my album of the year list here on MMA.

ARCHSPIRE Relentless Mutation

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 5 ratings
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Relentless Mutation is the third album from Canada’s Archspire. Having not heard them until now I thought I’d better check out the first two before reviewing this one, at least in part, which I did selecting a few random tracks from each.

Relentless Mutation is more of the same – that is to say high precision technical death metal displaying admiral musicianship. Most of it’s played at breakneck speed through a blur of blast beats supplied by the impressive Spencer Prewett. Unfortunately it’s marred by a thin boxy drum sound whilst high on definition lacks power. Having said that his busy playing style could have ended up getting lost in a more organic sound so I guess you can’t have it all. The guitar work of Tobi Morelli and Dean Lamb is equally dextrous as they reel off riff after riff and solos of the most complex variety. The opener Involuntary Doppelganger is the perfect case in point and sets the scene for pretty much what you can expect from the rest of the album. Midway however there’s an unexpected surprise with a short but sweet arpeggiated guitar part which adds a bit of colour to the largely relentless onslaught. Similar parts make a welcome appearance now and then throughout the album, most notably on the title track marking it as one of the highlights.

Whilst this kind of stuff can often come across as cold and clinical, as it does fairly often here, there is an injection of melody here and there, more apparent in the lead guitar work which adds some warmth. The vocals have a staccato attack that can sound a little one dimensional at times but nevertheless Oli Peters displays some fairly impressive phrasing. The production whilst lacking a bit of power is at least clear which is pretty essential for music of this complexity. Jared Smith’s dextrous bass work pleasingly cuts through aided by quite a toppy sound.

I’m usually pretty selective in my choice of tech death listening but at only thirty minutes Relentless Mutation doesn’t outstay its welcome. The musicianship is faultless and compositionally it’s good and quite inventive throwing in a few curveballs here and there. Having said that it’s still more an album I can admire rather than love, my preference generally being for something more organic sounding. If this is your thing however there’s plenty to recommend here.

ARGUS From Fields of Fire

Album · 2017 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 7 ratings
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My introduction to Argus came with their second album, Boldly Stride The Doomed, an album that received such universal praise it was impossible to not want to check it out. My initial impressions were good but it was to take a few plays before it really hit home with its combination of doom and old school metal. After a while though I couldn’t leave it alone and it became a firm favourite in my collection. Its follow up, Beyond The Martyrs arrived in 2013 and listening to that after BSTD I have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, it was good, sometimes very good but they’d reduced the doom element which might have been part of the reason but overall some of the songs lacked that killer punch, only occasionally reaching the greatness of its predecessor.

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

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

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

ARCH ENEMY Will to Power

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.23 | 10 ratings
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When Angela Gossow left Arch Enemy in 2014 it could have quite easily been the end of the band but in came Alissa White-Gluz and stamped her mark on the War Eternal album with an impressive and professional performance as if she’d been there all along, such was the seamless transition. War Eternal whilst having a few weaker moments robbing it of greatness was nevertheless a solid melodic death metal album with a plentiful supply of hooks and strong riffs. Shortly after War Eternal was released former Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis joined the band and I was eager to hear what the first studio album to feature him would be like as he never failed to impress me with his incredible playing in Nevermore.

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

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

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

CONTRARIAN To Perceive Is To Suffer

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

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

INCANTATION Profane Nexus

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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2017 has been a great year for New York death metal. We’ve had brilliant albums from Immolation and Suffocation and now comes Profane Nexus from Incantation. Arguably between them they are the three most important and best death metal bands to come from the region.

What can I say about Incantation that hasn’t already been said? Not a lot really. There’s no sudden shift of style or sound here, just Incantation doing their thing. These guys are just so fucking heavy with a sound so thick and dark if it was treacle you’d be sucked under unable to move a muscle. Like their two other New York contemporary’s mentioned above they have rarely put a foot wrong, consistency being the key word. Profane Nexus is the latest in a line of great albums and where it sits in terms of favourites will be down to the individual. There’s the usual mix of blast beat driven sometimes blackened death metal riffs with the slower doomier moments never less than crushingly heavy capped by John McEntee’s low guttural growl. I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of death growls when they get this low and unintelligible but there’s no denying they suit the dark depths the music takes you too. On a musical level though I have few complaints. Kyle Severn’s inventive drumming is definitely worth a mention and McEnfee is joined on guitar by the welcome addition (though he always does a great job on his own) of lead guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi. The bottom end is kept suitably heavy by Chuck Sherwood’s pummelling bass work. The only weak moment comes with Incorporeal Despair which is one of their slow doom based songs but down to the sparse sound is not as crushingly heavy as I like my Incantation and drags somewhat. Apart from that, highlights? Take your pick but for diversity Visceral Hexahedron encapsulates everything that’s great about this band.

Profane Nexus is another winner from Incantation and after getting on for thirty years these guys are still on top of their game which takes some doing. In a year with many excellent death metal albums Incantation are up there with the best of them.

THRESHOLD Legends Of The Shires

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.57 | 9 ratings
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I’ve followed Threshold for most of their career and during that time they’ve released some truly excellent albums. There have also been a few treading water moments that were always at least solid but they’ve never released a bad album for sure. Pick of the bunch for me would be 2001’s Hypothetical and March Of Progress from 2012. It was on these that they got the balance just right between the progressive and metal elements as well as some damn fine songs that as well as packing considerable punch contained strong melodies. Now of course melodic progressive metal has always been these guy’s style but I found 2014’s For The Journey, whilst not a disaster by any means, a little ordinary after March Of Progress. It also marked the last album to feature vocalist Damian Wilson. To most bands this would be a major blow but fortunately they were able to recruit former Threshold vocalist from the Psychedelicatessen (I spelt that without checking – impressive hey!) era Glynn Morgan. That was another excellent piece of work from the band and probably their least prog album. Ironically Morgan has returned for their most progressive album yet and I’m pleased to say it joins that elite club of Threshold favourites for me.

Legends Of The Shires is a long album – a double no less stretching to over an hour and twenty minutes. It could have gone pear shaped but fortunately Threshold mainstays Karl Groom and Richard West have crafted some of the best songs of their career. Bassist Steve Anderson also gets a look in composing On The Edge, one of the less proggy moments, but a good driving piece of metal nonetheless. An album of this length needs diversity, dynamics plenty of time/tempo changes to keep the listeners attention for this long and they’re in no shortage here. One of the albums strengths is the inventive use of melody with sometimes clever twists and turns taking the song in an unexpected direction. This happens both vocally and musically with some excellent solos from West and Groom, his searing guitar work impressive as always. Morgan proves to be an inspired choice and a more than worthy replacement for Wilson. He’s nearer to sadly deceased former singer Andrew “Mac” McDermott in style and able to deliver a strong melody with plenty of power. The material ranges from the acoustic intro of The Shire (Part 1), the obligatory ballad in State Of Independence to the heavier Threshold metal like Small Dark Lines and Superior Machine. Much of the material as is the way with more progressive songs contains elements of all the above, no better exemplified than in the two longest compositions – The Man Who Saw Through Time and Lost In Translation. Both are album highlights, the latter in particular blowing me away, but there’s still no shortage of diversity in some of the relatively shorter pieces with some compelling twists driven by the excellent drumming of Johanne James.

By upping the prog quotient this is not one of the heavier Threshold albums which is not a problem at all for me, especially with melodies this strong. There’s not a weak moment on the entire album – okay The Shire (Part 3) is a bit throwaway but it only lasts just over a minute. Anyone who has a liking for Threshold should love this. The only problem is how they are going to top it next time.

DARKHER Realms

Album · 2016 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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Darkher is the name used by Yorkshire based musician/songwriter Jayn H Wissenberg in partnership with her husband/guitarist Martin T Wissenberg. Whilst sounding totally unique if you were looking for a reference I guess you could include Darkher in that group of female songwiters/musicians like Chelsea Wolfe and Julie Christmas who whilst not metal per se manage to transcend boundaries and are sometimes of interest to metal audiences because of the heavier elements introduced.

I’ve lived with Realms, the debut album from Darkher for quite a while now, since last year in fact and been meaning to review it for some time. Even after repeated plays it still manages to surprise me with its captivating unearthly songs brimming with stark beauty. Musically it ranges from sparse minimalism like the ethereal drone on Spirit Waker and Burried Pt I to heavier doom laden guitars like on Hollow Veil and Burried Pt II. Drums are present, supplied by a number of drummers, but are kept simple and under strict control with no room or necessity for fancy fills. Guitars range from the afore-mentioned doomier riffs, cleaner sounding parts too, but also for effect with ambient textures, Foregone being a prime example. Acoustic guitars add a folk feel at times as well. The icing on the cake though is Jayn’s vocals. The evocative album sleeve shows Jayn stood ghost-like in the middle of the moors conjuring up images of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – they’re both from the same part of the Country incidentally, giving an indication of what to expect. Her voice has a haunting melancholic beauty perfect for the stark autumnal atmosphere pervading the album. Lament, which closes things, is the perfect vehicle for this and a suitably memorable ending to a remarkable album.

Realms is a stunning piece of work. As already said this is not a metal album but if your musical taste’s stretch to include the likes of Myrkur then I strongly recommend checking out this incredible album and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

BEASTMAKER Inside the Skull

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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USA doom/stoner metal band Beastmaker impressed me with last years Lusus Naturae. Their Black Sabbath infused retro metal was on heavy rotation in my house quite a while. Sure, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking but what matters the most with this sort of stuff is how good the riffs are right? There it scored pretty highly with me.

Inside The Skull is a quick follow up by today’s standards. History is littered with rushed second albums that have fallen flat in an attempt to capitalize on the any momentum built up by the first. Well fortunately that’s not the case with Beastmaker as they’ve released an album at least as good as Lusus Naturae, quite possibly better. There’s not much in the way of musical growth, the band adopting the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it ethos, but the new songs display more confidence and maturity. The sound is brighter but the riffs are still as crushing as ever but there’s still room for some melody. Pick of the bunch is opener Evil One, Heaven To Hell, Now Howls The Beast and Inside The Skull simply for having the best riffs but to be honest there’s very little to choose between most of the album. Give Me A Sign is more dynamic with the heavier chorus riffs being preceded by the cleaner guitar tones of the verse adding some welcome colour. Trevor William Church’s mournful Ozzy style vocals are perfect for this sort of stuff and he’s also responsible for the solid guitar work. Equally solid is the rhythm section of Andres Alejandro Saldate IV and John Michael Tucker who largely keep things simple but add enough variation with syncopated rhythms to keep things interesting.

There are loads of bands out there doing this sort of stuff but Beastmaker are one of the better examples. If you enjoy the likes of Sabbath, Cathedral and Pentagram these guys are for you.

DEMONICAL Servants of the Unlight

Album · 2007 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Released in 2007, Servants Of The Unlight is the debut album from Swedish death metal band Demonical. It’s clearly of the old school persuasion featuring the raw guitar sound pioneered in death metal circles by the likes of Entombed and Dismember. Whilst you won’t find anything original here and it’s pretty much death metal by numbers, Demonical have a clear grasp on what’s required to pull off a decent old school style album.

All the trademarks are present and correct aided by strong musicianship with the usual array of frantic blast beats/double kick drums, crushing and raw guitar riffs and decent vocals. Whilst there’s nothing that particularly stands out, equally there’s nothing bad either. Songs like Revel In Misanthropia, Slaughter Of All Hope and United In Torture are enjoyable enough but just lack that edge to make them particularly memorable. Some changes of pace add some variety like on Burned Alive, its intro having a doom feel until it kicks in to top gear. A bit more of this would have been most welcome.

I found this review quite difficult to write, not because Servants Of The Unlight is a bad album, it is in fact quite a good one. It just lacks a distinctive edge to set it apart from the pack and therefore it was difficult to say anything original or particularly meaningful about it. Nevertheless you could do far worse than devote just over half an hour of your time checking this out.

VENENUM Trance of Death

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 3 ratings
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Reviewer’s Challenge Selection.

The best thing about these Reviewer’s Challenges is that you often get directed towards an album you may not have otherwise heard. Some of them have been good, occasionally great and of course some not so. As I try to check out all things death metal from the yearly additions here on Metal Music Archives I would have probably got around to Venenum eventually but this has certainly sped up my association with the band. I’m very grateful for it too as this has got to be the best album I’ve heard in a Reviewer’s Challenge from a band I don’t know so far.

Trance Of Death is Venenum’s debut album (though an E.P. was released six years back) and a remarkably mature piece of work considering. Okay the band have previous experience in playing extreme metal in bands such as Abhorrot, Immured and Delirium Tremens (none I’m familiar with) to name just a few but that takes nothing away from the fact that Trance Of Death is an ambitious and skilfully executed album. It obviously hasn’t been rushed, taking as much time as they needed to make the best album possible judging by the lapse since the E.P. The four members, all going by initials, draw on their no doubt considerable experience and have produced a death metal album that isn’t restrained by genre boundaries incorporating most notably black and progressive elements.

The album opens with the instrumental Entrance, a mournful piece dominated by cello. It’s not long though before all hell breaks loose as Merging Nebular Drapes kicks in. Blackened death overlaid with F.S.A’s raspy growl leaning more towards a black than death metal style. The music exudes a haunting menace with dark melodies infused with atmospherics. It’s pretty long at over eight minutes but musical twists and turns and injected with light and shade it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The Nature Of The Ground and Cold Threat are no less compelling following similar lines.

Most of the attention though is bound to be on the three part title track where they really let loose. Between them they add up to over twenty six minutes of the album so it needs to be more than good. Fortunately it is. The first part, Relections hits hard, driven by driving riffs with the now familiar pattern of changes but still has space for a suitably impressive instrumental break. It’s all aided by the production which is powerful, at times cavernous and laced with atmosphere – perfect for this type of stuff. Most surprising is part two, Metanola Journey which is heavily laden with clean guitars and organ. Along with heartfelt guitar soloing and time changes it shows Venenum at their most progressive. Awesome indeed! Just when you think it can’t get any better along comes Part Three, There Are Other Worlds… and is the longest track at just over fourteen minutes. Dynamics are the key here alternating between brutal riffs, cleaner arpeggios and tremolo picked guitar parts with some excellent solos. Much of it is instrumental but interest never is allowed to wander as it constantly shifts through a myriad of changes.

To put it bluntly I’m stunned. Totally blown away by how great this album is. Due to the diversity of influences it’s likely to appeal to fans of most forms of extreme metal as well as prog listeners who don’t mind venturing into heavier territory. Do yourself a big favour and check these guys out soon, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

THE LURKING FEAR Out Of The Voiceless Grave

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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I don’t know where Adrian Erlandsson, drummer with The Lurking Fear finds the time. He always seems to have something on the go – At The Gates (naturally), The Haunted, Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre to name just a few bands he’s played with and now this. He’s joined by At The Gates/ former Lock Up vocalist Tomas Lindberg, guitarists Jonas Stalhammar and Fredrik Wallenberg and bassist Andreas Axellsson who between them have played in the ranks of Edge Of Sanity, The Crown, Skitsystem, Disfear and Tormented. I guess this makes them some kind of supergroup. Sadly supergroups don’t always add up to the sum of their parts and can be disappointing. Fortunately that’s not the case here and The Lurking Fear, named after an H.P. Lovecraft short story, have delivered a class album of old school style death metal. This was their self-imposed remit, the band saying they wanted to create an album inspired by the likes of early Death, Morbid Angel, Autopsy and Possessed to name a few. It’s to the bands credit that it hasn’t come across as sounding contrived with these self-imposed limitations, but then these guys are all experienced players with years spent in the extreme metal arena.

The list of bands above should give you a clue that this isn’t going to sound like At The Gates style melodic death metal. Instead of the Gothenburg sound it has far more in common with what came out of the other side of Sweden from Stockholm. That is dirty, crushingly heavy punk infused old school death metal. The sympathetic production is perfect – thick, powerful and organic but with enough clarity to hear those killer riffs which are not in short supply. The songs are short and to the point but still have room to develop ideas and changes of tempo from blast beats to slower doom infused riffs, though in the main the pace is kept fast. Vortex Spawn and The Starving Gods Of Old, which open the album after the short instrumental title track, are as good an example as any as what you’re in for here. Straight to the point and packing considerable punch with tons of energy and the riffs to match. Fortunately they keep coming one after another with barely a weak moment throughout the entire album. In fact if anything it gets better, The Cold Jaws of Death being another highlight. Song titles like this and Tentacles Of Blackened Horror are in keeping with the Lovecraftian imagery the band clearly want to convey. Winged Death kicks off like Judas Priest’s Exciter but there the similarities end. No disrespect to Priest who I love greatly, but they have never released anything sounding this evil or dirty – a suitable sense of dread and foreboding doom intact throughout brought to an effectively slower conclusion on closer Beneath Menacing Sands. Great stuff!

I really hope that Out Of The Voiceless Grave doesn’t turn out to be a one off. Sure, I’m looking forward to the next At The Gates album but at the moment I’m more than happy to have The Lurking Fear to be going on with. I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t make my top 10 at the end of the year.

GOATWHORE Vengeful Ascension

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sometimes, for no obvious reason other than the sheer number out there, a band can just pass you by. Such a band for me is Goatwhore and with the release of their seventh album Vengeful Ascension I’ve finally got around to checking them out. This is all a bit annoying to say the least as a listen through most of their back catalogue has revealed I’ve been missing out on some great music. Still, better late than never I guess and I’ve made up for it by buying a few albums including this latest.

Goatwhore are clearly a band who refuse to be tied down by any sub-genre as all their albums I’ve heard (haven’t managed to track down the first two yet) incorporate black, death and thrash metal as well as hard rock. They’ve found a winning formula and are sticking to it with the main changes being in the balance between the subs from one album to the next. Constricting Rage Of The Merciless (the album preceding this) has been my favourite where they rarely put a foot wrong with song after song of hook laden blackened death/thrash with the odd hard rock moment – Baring Teeth For Revolt reminding me of Motorhead. Vengeful Ascension is another winner with all the same ingredients in place. Forsaken kicks things off and is a somewhat subdued piece of death/thrash initially until the blast beats kick in. Not an obvious choice for an opener - not bad by any stretch but the driving thrash/hard rock of Under The Flesh, Into The Soul which follows would have been a better option. Still, there’s no shortage of great songs on offer including the full throttle Chaos Arcane and Drowned In Grim Rebirth, the latter in particular packing a lot into its four minutes with numerous changes of pace from excellent drummer Zack Simmons. The blackened death of Abandon Indoctrination keeps the energy level of the second half high but again the band refuse to sit still in one place for too long which is one of this bands strengths. Listening on my vinyl copy, which really suits the organic production by the way, it’s pretty apparent that the overall energy level is higher on side 2 as The mid paced title track and Where The Sun Is Silent, both on side 1, whilst both worthy additions are relatively sedate affairs. Goatwhore seem at their best for me when they up the thrash quotient. The standard of musicianship is excellent. I’ve already mentioned the drumming but the guitars and bass of Sammy Duet and James Harvey are equally inventive and compelling. Vocalist Louis B. Falgoust II adds a very convincing blackened rasp also.

I’m probably not yet familiar enough with Goatwhore’s back catalogue to make any sweeping statements about where Vengeful Ascension sits in their back catalogue but because the hooks aren’t quite as strong and because it takes a while to fully get going I would place it behind Constricting Rage Of The Merciless and Blood For The Master at least, but to be honest there's not much in it. Nevertheless it impressed me enough to go and check out their other albums so that in itself says a lot for it. I definitely won’t be missing any more of this great bands album’s in the future. Now to track down those first two.

DOOL Here Now, There Then

Album · 2017 · Heavy Psych
Cover art 3.96 | 3 ratings
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It was real shame back in 2014 When Selim Lemouchi , guitarist with The Devils Blood took his own life. Although they’d already split up it brought to an end any chance of a reformation of a band that showed real promise with their melodic occult rock showcasing the captivating vocals of Farida "F. The Mouth of Satan" Lemouchi. Dool features two member of that band, drummer Micha Haring and bassist Job Van De Zande and maintain the female vocal element by teaming up with Ryanne Van Dorst formerly known as Elle Bandita. The band is completed by guitarists Reinier Vermeulen and Nick Polak.

Here Now, There Then kicks off with the slow burn of Vantablack which at over 10 minutes drags on a bit not particularly going anywhere. Being a prog lover I’m certainly not averse to longer songs, in fact I love them, but I want a bit more substance to maintain my interest than is on display here, though it’s far from a disaster and saved by its dark melody. From here on in things get a bit more direct though they sometimes hit the six minute mark but with most of the songs being very melodic with strong hooks you barely notice. Van Dorst has a good voice and is able to carry the insistent and inventive melodies with ease. It doesn’t get any better than Words On Paper, In her Darkest Hour (perhaps the best of all) and Oweynagat which follow in succession. The Devils Blood were never as heavy as their name suggested and Dool are even less so. Although they have a hard rock element they also have a pop sensibility and could equally appeal to people who usually listen to indie music as rock fans.

Although She Goat is one of the least satisfying songs and not the best way to close an album, overall Here Now There Then delivers a strong collection of melodic rock with memorable hooks that get under your skin. Well worth checking out and a band to keep an eye on in the future.

CONTAMINATED Final Man

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Got to admit I don’t have a lot of Australian death metal in my record collection. A bit of Portal and er… well that’s about it really though there’s been some Be’Lakor kicking around on my wants list for ages that I’ve not got round to buying yet. I recently came across Final Man, the debut album from Melbourne based Contaminated. Like fellow Aussies Portal these guys clearly don’t want to give you an easy listen though they don’t plumb to the depths of hell that Portal take you too.

Instead they opt for a raw old school sound though infused with a Lovecraftian sense of dread. The guitars have that Swedish sound pioneered by the likes of Entombed and Dismember though if anything things get even dirtier here. Musically this is pretty good stuff, not ground-breaking by any means, but the nine tracks over a shortish thirty four minutes are dense and loose with a decent collection of riffs. This is dark and heavy stuff! It’s actually the songs that incorporate slower sections like Their Future that works best for me, which somehow manages to convey that sense of impending doom that’s not in short supply here more effectively.

I’ve never been much of a fan of that low guttural unintelligible grunt style of death metal vocals and that’s what we get here. Despite this minor setback the thick and organic production is perfect for this kind of music and each band member acquits himself well though we’re not talking complex - an extremely heavy and dense atmospheric sound taking precedence which is no bad thing.

I quite enjoyed my time listening to Final Man, the only problem being that with so much great new death I’ve come across this year there’s not enough here to draw me back in a hurry. Nevertheless, it’s early days for these guys yet and I’ll be keeping an eye out for future releases from them.

VALLENFYRE Fear Those Who Fear Him

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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Vallenfyre started as a side-line and a bit of fun for Paradise Lost guitarist Gregor Mackintosh and now ex-My Dying Bride guitarist Hamish Glencross, but since their debut album “A Fragile King” released in 2011, they’re still going strong and back with their Third outing “Fear Those Who Fear Him”. Adrian Erlandsson no longer occupies the drum stool, no doubt too busy with At The Gates, the Haunted etc, so in comes current Paradise Lost drummer Waltteri Väyrynen. The band has now shrunk to a three piece with Glencross also taking on bass duties.

It’s pretty much business as usual with once again a strong retro Swedish death metal influence prevailing with its raw guitar sound - think Dismember and Entombed. There’s also a hefty doom element capped off with a dose of punk. It’s another winner – this is heavy as hell and if anything they’ve gone and made the sound even rawer. The first couple of plays didn’t click with me but as soon as I cranked it up it began to make sense – this stuff needs to be played loud. Full of riffs that’ll pummel you into the ground, whether it’s the faster songs like “Messiah”, “Temple Of Rats” and the short sharp burst that is “Nihilist” Or doomier tracks like instrumental opener “Born to Decay” and “Cursed From The Womb”, either way its sledgehammer approach really hits the spot. Tracks like “Degeneration” add some Celtic Frost groove to the proceedings. It’s all aided by a thick organic production and an immense drum sound. Mackintosh once again supplies a convincing death growl and the band as a whole put in a strong performance.

I think I might slightly prefer last album “Splinters”, mainly down to the overall sound rather than anything lacking in the songwriting, which wasn’t quite as raw. Don’t let that put you off though as this is a great dose of retro doomy death metal.

DECAPITATED Anticult

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 5 ratings
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The demise and resurrection of Decapitated is well documented in the realms of death metal with the tragic death of guitarist Waclaw "Vogg" Kieltyka’s brother Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka, drummer extraordinaire in a bus crash in 2007. Then vocalist Adrian "Covan" Kowanek has still not made a full recovery from his injuries. The previous year the band had released perhaps their best album Organic Hallucinosis, the only one to feature the vocals of Covan. Forward to 2011 and Vogg returned with a new line-up and Carnival Is Forever, an album marking a considerable change in the band’s sound that wasn’t well received by some fans.

Not surprisingly Anticult is clearly in the tradition of the last two albums but with added groove. I’ve heard a lot of talk lately that Decapitated have abandoned death metal and turned into a groove metal band. Well this clearly isn’t the case – sure, this has more groove than Blood Mantra, in fact more than any album they’ve released but go back and take a listen to Organic Hallucinosis or The Negation and you’ll find groove. Though the balance has been tipped Decapitated are still making technical death metal. The sound of Anticult is huge – very percussive and I don’t just mean Mlody’s driving drum patterns but also new boy Hubert Więcek’s bass and Vogg’s razor sharp riffs. Rafał Piotrowski’s vocals echo this with his aggressive staccato delivery. The album of course was going to live or die by Vogg’s guitar playing and he delivers on all fronts with jaw dropping riffs, licks and some incendiary soloing. Earth Scar is my pick of the bunch and as good an example as any as to define Decapitated’s current sound with driving double kicks behind precision riffing and a brutal ending with the snare mirroring the riff to perfection rounding it off.

If you still mourn for the old style Decapitated then forget it – this is a different band and they clearly aren’t planning on making any U-turns. Out the last three, including this, I’d say I’d still rate Blood Mantra as my favourite, an album I gave four stars to, but in all honesty I couldn’t award Anticult any less.

NECROT Blood Offerings

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Although they’ve been kicking around for quite a few years now, releasing three demos that were eventually brought together for the compilation album The Labrinth, Blood Offerings is in reality Necrot’s first studio album.

Necrot play old school death metal. Now these days if you’re going to release an old school death metal album it had better be good if you want any hope of being anything other than an also ran as it’s already been done to death (no pun intended) numerous times before. Fortunately Necrot haven’t wasted the last six years and released an excellent album of solid as a rock no frills death metal. Bolt Thrower immediately come to mind with their thick chunky riffs, not over-playing the speed card but most important of all memorable riffs that stay firmly in your head. Sure these guys can play fast when required but they’re smart enough to realise that an album of relentless blast beats can become a bit dull so they change the time/tempo regularly, even slowing it down to almost, but not quite, a doom pace occasionally. The old school vibe is helped by the organic production with a drum sound that sounds powerful and real. The Blade kicks things off and by death metal standards the pace is measured but packing plenty of punch with rolling kick drums and some killer hooks. It proves to be an album highlight but it’s far from downhill from here as most of the album is similarly compelling as perfectly demonstrated on Rather Be Dead which immediately follows. And so it goes – I keep expecting the quality to dip but pleasingly it doesn’t, well not to any great extent anyway, with only Beneath not hitting the spot fully. The standard of musicianship is excellent including some strong guitar solos and great drumming. The vocals are standard death fayre but well done nevertheless.

Overall then, a great start with hopefully even better to come in the future and it impressed me enough to order a vinyl copy – what better recommendation can I give. Check them out if you’re after some old school death metal that still manages to sound fresh and vibrant, you won’t be disappointed.

ULSECT Ulsect

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 4 ratings
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As soon as Fall To Depravity, the opening track on the eponymous debut album from Dutch death metal band Ulsect kicks in, it’s pretty apparent that we’re not going to be in for an easy listen. This band features a couple of members of Dodecahedron for starters, an avant black metal band who as it happens I only discovered a few months ago. Well you could say that Ulsect are the death metal equivalent.

So what you get here is those chiming dissonant guitar riffs that seems to be quite a thing these days. Now I’m all for a bit of this sort of stuff and have albums by the likes of Deathspell Omega and Gorguts (an immediate reference) in my collection but it’s fairly easy to descend into total chaos without structure when playing this avant style. Fortunately Ulsect have the necessary chops and writing skills – they’re not new at this after all despite this being their debut, to pull it off. Kings of the atonal riff for me are Immolation but Ulsect aren’t anything like them being a much looser proposition. Their riffs chime and resonate and are soaked in atmosphere with the black metal leanings of guitarist and drummer Joris Bonis and Jasper Barendregt showing through though at times they tighten things up with some unison syncopated rhythms. This is great stuff and Ulsect create an uneasy tension in their music, seemingly on the verge of falling apart at any minute but the inventive drumming of Barendregt holding it all together nicely.

By anyone’s standards this is a very good album, all the more remarkable it being their debut. Definitely a band worth keeping an eye on for those into this sort of thing and a band I’ll watch with interest in the future.

FIRESPAWN The Reprobate

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 3 ratings
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Firespawn are a band, a death metal supergroup even, born from a desire to play more brutal and complex death metal than their day job bands. Vocalist L-G Petrov and guitarist Victor Brandt (Entombed A.D.), drummer Matte Modin (Defleshed), bassist Alex Friberg (Necrophobic) and guitarist Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed) to name just some of the bands these guys have played with. Back for their second outing, with the same line up as on their 2015 debut Shadow Realms, the Reprobate sees them consolidating the positive start made on their debut.

I remember Shadow Realms receiving mixed reviews at the time, though I greatly enjoyed its energy and strong collection of songs with intricate riffing and compelling hooks. The Reprobate whilst not exactly showing any changes in style and maintains (not surprisingly) the Swedish influences improves in the writing department delivering a collection of songs more brutal and technical than before. Not that this in itself makes them better but whilst Shadow Realms had plenty of killer riffs a few less memorable moments made for the occasional lull. Here though from opener Serpent Of The Ocean onwards the intensity rarely lets up, the band seemingly out to silence any naysayers of the debut. The playing is incendiary, the songs nearly always busy with some fantastic guitar work both rhythm and solos and Petrov’s vocals if anything are even more guttural. The rhythm section of Modin and Friberg lay a solid as a rock foundation though busy and complex as well when required. Best of all though a strong consistency is maintained throughout.

The Reprobate has many old school death metal traits but a sharp and modern production clearly mark it as an album of the times and one of the better death metal releases of the year so far. It wasn’t immediate though as the hooks took a few plays to come through as this is pretty busy stuff, so don’t give up on the first listen as this albums well worth quite a bit of your time.

AVATARIUM Hurricanes and Halos

Album · 2017 · Heavy Psych
Cover art 4.10 | 13 ratings
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By today’s standards Avatarium are pretty prolific being onto their third album in four years. Founder member and main songwriter Leaf Edling, suffering from ill health in recent years, is taking more of a backseat roll these days handing over bass duties to new guy Mats Rydström. He has however written most of the songs.

If The Girl With The Raven Mask saw the band taking a step away from the more pure doom direction of the first album then Hurricanes and Halos sees them almost abandoning it entirely. This may not come as good news to some people but Avatarium have still delivered a quality piece of work. Whilst it was already there on the last album the sound is much more retro 70’s hard rock no better demonstrated on opener Into The Fire/Into The Storm. Fans of Deep Purple should lap it up with impressive organ work from Rickard Nilsson. There’s plenty of diversity on the eight compositions with the band also injecting blues and pysch elements with no shortage of melody. The two songs not written by Edling, Road To Jerusalem and When Breath Turns To Air, certainly aren’t inferior in any way and not out of place, showing the band can have a future without him, the former being particularly impressive. Medusa Child might slightly outstay its welcome dragged out with a slow build at the end but overall weak moments are few and far between. The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea gallops along nicely with a Uriah Heep Easy Livin’ vibe and When Breath Turns To Air is at the opposite end of the spectrum being a slow blues piece. A Kiss (From The End Of The World also has a Uriah Heep feel and probably the albums heaviest moment with its slow insistent riff.

As always, the playing is of a high standard, the newer direction perhaps lending itself better to the expressive and soulful vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith. Marcus Jidell once again shows what a class guitarist he is both on rhythm and lead abandoning the crushingly heavy riffing of the debut for a fuzzier retro sound.

As good as Hurricanes And Halos is I still find it the weakest of their three albums so far but this is no reflection on the quality here, simply a mark of the strength of the first two. However, anyone not happy with the direction the band are heading in these days and wanting more doom can always go and check out Leif Edling’s latest project The Doomsday Kingdom.

SUFFOCATION ...Of The Dark Light

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 5 ratings
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Like fellow New Yorkers Immolation, who’s latest album Atonement is the best album of 2017 as far as I’m concerned, Suffocation can always be relied on to deliver the goods. Their brutal death metal laden with complex and crushing riffs never fails to hit the spot. … Of The Dark Light is the latest in a run of strong albums since their reformation in 2003.

A couple of line-up changes seem to have done the band no harm. New drummer Eric Morotti (Killitorous) is a more than able replacement for the short lived Dave Culross who only stuck around long enough to play on one album. In also comes second guitarist Charlie Errigo, who wasn’t even born when Effigy Of The Forgotten was released, but has the necessary chops to play alongside the legendary Terrance Hobbs. Of course Vocalist Frank Mullen is still here supplying his guttural growl, though this time aided by Kevin Muller, as is bassist since the reformation Derek Boyer.

If you know Suffocation then you know what to expect here. Nine songs in total of the sort of complex brutal death metal Suffocation are famous for. The songs constantly shifting in time and tempo, twisting and turning with stop/start accenting punctuating the precise staccato riffing. There may not be a lot of variety from one track to the next but that’s mainly down to the fact that they pack so much into each short-ish song. This makes picking favourites a bit of a pointless exercise but The Warmth Within The Dark is one of the many highlights. If you’re looking for melody look elsewhere though as the only time it appears is occasionally in a guitar solo. As expected the standard of playing is second to none and the production whilst more clinical these days is powerful and balanced with plenty of bottom end cutting through so no complaints there.

Where …Of The Dark Light sits in terms of favourite Suffocation album is difficult to say, with only one or two relatively speaking weaker records, such is the consistency of this legendary band. I’m certainly more than happy with it and whilst it may not be better it can comfortably sit alongside their strongest work.

TROUBLED HORSE Revolution On Repeat

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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After a solid but unspectacular debut album of retro rock in 2012, Swedes Troubled Horse are back with a far more convincing collection of Songs.

Revolution On Repeat is released on Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above Records, a label I always check out new releases on as they’re rarely less than interesting, it marks considerable growth over Step Inside. They’re working from the same template of sixties/seventies hard rock and psych but with a more diverse collection of songs and improved writing skills as well as generally kicking more ass. Opener Hurricane and second song The Fithy Ones are a grand statement of intent packed full of strong hooks, killer riffs and full of energy. High octane rock ‘ n roll is the name of the game for much of this stuff but Troubled Horse seem to take influences from all over the place. Check out the country rock of Desperation and there’s even a cover of Warren Zevon’s My Shit’s Fucked up and very convincing it is too.

Despite only vocalist/guitarist Martin Heppich remaining from the debut album these guys have obviously still had time to hone their chops and the organic production reveals a tight band on top of their game.

This retro rock thing may be a bit overdone these days but down to the diversity of the material on offer here Troubled Horse stands out from the pack. With barely a weak song these guys deserve some of your time if this is your bag.

HELSTAR Vampiro

Album · 2016 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 8 ratings
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Over more recent years Helstar have been responsible for some very good to excellent thrash/power metal albums, the last being 2014’s This Wicked Nest. Whilst this leant heavily towards thrash their earlier work was more in the traditional metal and US power metal style. I have to be honest and say I never knew what all the fuss was about with A Distant Thunder which I know is loved by many but for me things improved when the thrash started creeping in. I know a lot of fans prefer this era but I feel they’ve hit a rich vein of late releasing much of their best work yet. Vampiro sees a partial return to earlier times with less emphasis on the thrash elements.

Not for the first time have Helstar visited the realms of Vampires. Long-time fans will remember 1989’s Nosferatu, a firm favourite of many and their debut also contained a song called Dracula’s Castle. Awaken Into Darkness kicks things off and compared to Fall Of Dominion, the opener on This Wicked Nest its relatively subdued with a more melodic sensibility though with James Rivera’s histrionic vocal style it’s business as usual. Now don’t get the idea that this isn’t still heavy stuff and if confirmation were needed mid-song they up the pace and hit thrash mode. Following track Blood Lust also sits well with recent albums but overall a more measured approach is the order of the day on a fair proportion of the rest but we are talking relatively speaking here. Nevertheless, this is still great stuff packed with powerful and memorable riffs and there’s plenty of pace in much of the material. The rhythm section is solid as a rock with drummer Michael Lewis being joined by new bassist Garrick Smith. Andrew Atwood is the other new member joining life sentence original member Larry Barragan in the guitar department making an impressive pairing with some compelling lead work too.

Vampiro is an excellent piece of work and anyone who’s enjoyed Vicious Rumors more recent albums should also find plenty to get stuck into here. As already mentioned, whilst not abandoning the thrash there’s more of a US power metal feel to much of this, but the albums none the worse for it and although not necessarily better is the equal of most of their past releases.

VAMPIRE With Primeval Force

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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It’s always great to discover a new band, especially one as good as this. When I say new, of course I mean new to me as these guys have been kicking around since 2011. I missed out on Vampire’s eponymous debut album back in 2014 (though I did have a quick listen retrospectively) so With Primeval Force is my first taste of this Swedish band.

There’s a distinct 80’s vibe here though Vampire still manage to sound like a breath of fresh air in these days of often clinical precision production. They don’t sit easily in one particular genre either – Tribulation’s Children Of The Night, another album that didn’t sit easily in one place, came to mind but listening to that masterwork later, apart from the organic production and a slight vocal resemblance, sitting between Mille Petrozza of Kreator and a black metal rasp, there wasn’t as much common ground as I first thought. They do share a similar sense of dark melody though. These guys are from Gothenburg but they certainly don’t have that cities melodeath sound. Sure there’s death metal here but equally they have one foot in the thrash camp which is where the retro vibe comes in.

Nine compositions in total with not a weak one amongst them. These guys have plenty of aggression, pace and pack a considerable punch and whilst there’s not a massive amount of variation between one song and the next they inject them with plenty of accents and tempo changes. This along with the dark melodies makes for a very enjoyable forty minutes. As I said earlier I’ve only had a quick listen to their debut but initial impressions are they’ve upped their game considerably here. In fact the more I listen to this the better it gets, which is not always the case with albums that hit you straight away as this did. The musicianship is also great and with a drummer called Abysmal Condor and a vocalist called Hand Of Doom you’ve got to be drawn in.

Overall then this is one hell of a good album which should appeal to lovers of the old school of extreme metal, though don’t let that put you off if you’re firmly in this century, With Primeval Force has much to recommend.

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