Metal Music Reviews from Nightfly

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 3.99 | 6 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 4.00 | 2 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 4.25 | 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 3.75 | 2 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 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 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 3.41 | 7 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 4.60 | 7 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 4.48 | 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 3.00 | 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 4.50 | 1 rating
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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 4.25 | 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 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.99 | 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 3.75 | 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 3.98 | 4 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 3.67 | 3 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 3.76 | 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 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.08 | 11 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 4.48 | 4 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 | 1 rating
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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 4.00 | 1 rating
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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.

MORTIFICA Atrocious Autopsy

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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As I sit listening to Atrocious Autopsy, the debut album from USA tech death metal band Mortifica I’m immediately impressed by the high standard of musicianship on show. This however is a pre-requisite for any band setting foot in this territory so no surprises there then. The same could be said for the music which is exactly what you’d expect and have probably heard many times before if this kind of stuff is your thing. Whilst for the most part it’s fair to good it lacks the sophistication and inventiveness of Nile or the melodic flourishes that make Allegaeon’s take on the genre more memorable. Any initial enthusiasm soon wears thin as one song merges into the next without leaving any lasting impression. This a real shame because there’s clearly plenty of talent here. Pick of the bunch is Mutilate The Invalid and Lack Of Remorse For The Unknowing which come late on but is not enough to make Atrocious Autopsy stand out from the myriad of other albums vying for your attention in this genre.

Although they have previous band experience it’s early days for these guys yet and I’m sure they’ve got it in them to produce something that leaves a more lasting impression. For now though I don’t see myself returning to this in a hurry.

EVOCATION The Shadow Archetype

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Although they formed back in 1991 and had a reputation as a great live band in their native Sweden Evocation split up in 1993 without releasing anything more than a couple of demos. Reforming in the mid 00’s the finally got around to releasing an album in 2007. Tales From The Tomb was a solid if unspectacular record of old school mixed with melodic death metal. Helped by a better production follow up Dead Calm Chaos was a considerable improvement with stronger songs though offered nothing that hadn’t already come out of Sweden years earlier. A further two albums followed, the latter Illusions Of Grandeur sounding a bit too much like Amon Amarth for its own good at times.

Roll on to 2017 and a new guitarist Simon Exner and use of session drummer Per Moller Jensen seems to have done the band no harm. In fact The Shadow Archetype may just be their best album yet. They’ve come back with a thicker heavier sound - the riffs are more crushing as Condemned To The Grave perfectly demonstrates with less emphasis on melody. Modus Operandi quickly lets you know that Evocation still have an ear for melody though, but it still retains the requisite heaviness quota. In fact much of this album is pretty melodic but you do have to dig a bit deeper to find them in comparison to Illusions Of Grandeur. The album is well paced containing moments with plenty of groove like the title track aided by the punchy production. Sure,The Shadow Archetype isn’t the most original album you’ll hear this year but its strength lies in the sheer consistency with most songs hitting the target.

Overall then, an impressive release which at thirty eight minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Anyone who enjoyed their previous work and fans of Swedish death metal in general should be more than happy with this.

DREAMING DEAD Funeral Twilight

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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This is my first encounter with Dreaming Dead, a melodic death metal band from the USA. They’ve been kicking around since 2006 and Funeral Twilight is their third album.

Funeral Twilight is a competent piece of work, the band can certainly play and vocalist Elizabeth Schall comes across like a female version of Chuck Schuldiner. What you get is eight tracks of melodic death metal with quite a bit of thrash thrown in for good measure. Good it is but there’s little here that makes me want to revisit the album as I’ve forgotten most tracks pretty much as soon as they’re finished. My favourite go to band when I want a death/thrash hybrid is Revocation who perfectly blend their razor sharp thrash riffs with the bludgeon of death metal into their creative and electrifying compositions making for an exhilarating musical ride. Dreaming Dead don’t quite have the riffs to pull it off though they make a good stab at it here and there like on opener Your Grave. Most of the rest of the album though is solid but unremarkable. There’s a couple of instrumentals thrown in where they slow things down considerably which might have made good intro pieces but on an album of only twenty eight minutes they seem more like filler, particularly closer Unseeing which drifts along aimlessly for over two minutes before there’s a hint of a decent riff.

There’s no shortage of competition out there for your hard earned cash so sadly Funeral Twilight is likely to fall by the wayside pretty quickly. Nevertheless Dreaming Dead are not without potential and I’d certainly take a listen to their future offerings as well as checking out their first two albums when I have a moment.

SVART CROWN Abreaction

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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French extreme metal band Svart Crown have been releasing solid blackened death metal since their debut album Ages Of Decay back in 2008. All three of their previous albums contained plenty of atmospheric and oppressive death metal and with Abreaction they’ve made another very good addition to their back catalogue. Certainly as good as any of their other releases and quite possibly their best yet.

Golden Sacrament kicks things off but is not really representative of what’s to follow with its slow doomy opening riff. It’s not bad but is somewhat subdued compared with what follows and the weakest track on the album. Carcosa is much more representative of what you’re in for here with its dissonant chord structure over complex rhythm’s that twist and turn and fortunately they have the chops to pull it off effectively. I’m reminded of a more blackened version of Immolation with some Behemoth thrown in. Brooding atmospheric parts are well placed at regular intervals perfectly demonstrated on The Pact: To The Devil His Due before things return to more intense realms. There’s plenty of faster death metal out there but there’s no denying the intensity on show with things getting more so as the album progresses’. That’s not to say that pummelling blastbeats are abscent here but these guys are clearly smart enough to realise that doctoring them with slower brooding sections and inventive rhythmic variation only heightens the intensity.

Abreaction has moments where it’s better than anything in the bands past but the second half is where it’s at its most captivating. A little more evenness and we could have had an absolute classic but as things stand it’s still a very impressive piece of work.

HIDEOUS DIVINITY Adveniens

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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Sometimes with technical death metal bands it can be a case of style over substance with a dazzling display of technique taking precedence over great songs with a bunch of killer riffs, one of the reasons why I generally prefer the more organic old school stuff. However with Adveniens, album number three by Italians Hideous Divinity you can have both. The moment Ages Die kicked in I was hooked. Incredibly fast, brutal and complex, yet displaying plenty of maturity in the songwriting department with hooks and captivating riffs aplenty.

A new band to me but a bit of research and I discover that ex-Hour Of Penance guitarist Enrico Schettino is a member and new Aborted bassist Stefano Franceschini too so if proof were needed these guys are clearly no slouches. Best of all Ages Die isn’t a one off as the album whilst completely relentless manages to stay inventive throughout. The brutal onslaught is occasional broken by strategically placed atmospheric sections adding to the overall tension before the song once again explodes with more precision riffing and drumming from the brilliant Giulio Galati with machine gun blastbeats, breakneck double bass drum patterns injected with fills George Kollias would be proud of. Nothing you haven’t heard before of course but so well executed you can’t fail to be impressed. Avenians certainly has more in common with the likes of Nile, minus the Egyptian influences, but they throw in moments of Immolation style dissonance at times which always works for me.

This type of brutal technical death metal can become a bit wearing and tedious with the never ending barrage of blastbeats but such is the quality of the songs here its edge of the seat stuff all the way making picking favourites futile. Impressive indeed and for now at least my favourite technical death metal album of 2017. Now to check out those first two albums.

ROYAL THUNDER Wick

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Royal Thunder’s second album Crooked Doors, released in 2015, was an object lesson in how to release a hard rock album in this day and age by retaining a sense of originality without adopting tired clichés. Of course vocalist Mlny Pasonz immediately set it apart from the pack with her visceral emotive delivery marking her as one of the finest singers today in rock. Also of note was the clean organic guitar tone of Josh Weaver, prevalent much of the time, who despite the lack of effects still packed considerable punch into his intelligent riffing. Most of all though it was the great songs that made it such a compelling return to time and time again album. Packed with strong melodies and inventive riffs it was one of the best albums released that year.

Forward to 2017 and whilst Wick retains much of what made Crooked Doors so great the band have clearly tried to diversify their sound. The first thing you notice is that Wick doesn’t rock as hard, not necessarily a bad thing but with songs like Tied they have got a little more experimental with its swirling chorus and syncopated rhythm but its lack of a strong hook lets it down. The same can’t be said of We Slipped, Burning Tree and The Sinking Chair to name three, all songs with strong melodies and plenty of drive, in keeping with the best moments of Crooked Doors. Unfortunately about a third of the album just doesn’t connect with me, usually the mellower tracks as it happens. Crooked Doors had its share of these, One Day immediately springs to mind, its insistent hook making it an album highlight, but here some of these songs fall a little flat like Plans for example. When it’s followed by a song as strong as Anchor though it’s soon forgotten.

Once again Mlny Parsonz voice is stunning and the band all play well with some inventive drumming from Evan Diprima. Josh Weaver, this time aided by new man Will Fiore keep the guitars largely clean sounding but still kick ass when required. The production is clear but could do with more bottom end and the drums sound a bit boxy with the kick drum a bit low in the mix.

So whilst Wick has some truly excellent songs and whilst there’s nothing bad here its lack of consistency robs it of greatness. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed the first two albums then there’s still much to recommend, though sadly not quite the follow up I was hoping for.

MEMORIAM For The Fallen

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 4 ratings
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I doubt there’s anyone with even a passing interest in death metal who doesn’t know of the sad premature death of Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns in 2015 bringing to an end perhaps the greatest death metal band to come out of the UK, the band feeling they couldn’t continue decided to call it a day. Memoriam is the next venture of vocalist Karl Willetts who has teamed up with Benediction bassist Frank Healy who suffered a loss of his own with the death of his Father not long after Kearns’ death. Completing the line-up is original Bolt Thrower drummer Andrew Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax.

Neither Bolt Thrower nor Benediction had released anything new for years so For The Fallen is a welcome return for these guys. It follows in their tradition of old school death metal , more akin to the sledgehammer no nonsense approach of Bolt Thrower than the busier and generally faster sound of Benediction it’s a very good solid release which whilst not the equal of the best Bolt Thrower had to offer I prefer to anything I ever heard from Benediction. In the Bolt Thrower tradition the riffs are solid as a rock with an excellent performance from Fairfax throwing in a few Zack Wylde style licks, demonstrated no better than on War Rages On, the second track in after the underwhelming and ordinary opener Memoriam. Fortunately after this things only ever really dip again for the more simplistic punk injected Corrupted Sysytem with most songs having strong and memorable hooks, with a doom element creeping in at times. Some of the songs are pretty long though fortunately there are enough twists and turns with changes of tempo to keep things interesting.

Overall then, For The Fallen whilst treading old ground with no pretence of originality, not necessarily a bad thing, is a promising start with a strong performance from all which hopefully won’t turn out to be a one off.

PALLBEARER Heartless

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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Pallbearer’s particular brand of doom is relatively speaking an easy listen. The riffs aren’t heavily drenched in fuzz a la Electric Wizard or overlaid with growl vocals like Evoken or Ahab for example. Their riffs can be crushingly heavy but they also inject plenty of melody making them a band that could appeal to more traditional metal and hard rock fans. If those observations were true with 2014’s excellent Foundations Of Burden then with Heartless they’ve even taken it a step further towards more mainstream territory.

Now don’t get me wrong, Pallbearer can still be pretty heavy and perhaps using the word mainstream might be a bit misleading, but you can probably get my drift. There are moments on here though where they are positively mellow like the eight minute Lie Of Survival where they virtually leave doom behind. Dancing In Madness starts off similarly but over its twelve minutes has time to kick in and enter heavier territory. Pallbearer still have plenty of great riffs though and alongside them the more melodic and mellower passages work well making Heartless a very mature piece of work. The vocals are also still on the melodic side and have improved with occasional harmonies thrown in which work well. The longer songs not surprisingly have some welcome diversions and twists to keep things interesting, even injecting some prog elements. Album closer A Plea For Understanding shows the greatest use of dynamics of all with some particularly melodic sections. Cruel Road whilst one of the shorter songs still packs a lot in to its seven minutes with some particularly captivating riffing. Followed by the slightly more upbeat title track they make the best side of the album on my beautifully packaged double vinyl version. The production is excellent – heavy and organic with a particularly open drum sound, perfect for this sort of stuff.

Whilst Heartless is a band showing growth for which they should be applauded I think I still slightly prefer the heavier Foundations Of Burden. Their debut Sorrow And Extinction I’m less familiar with and haven’t heard in some time so I won’t do any comparisons there. Nevertheless, Heartless is still a very good doom metal album that most Pallbearer fans should be more than happy with.

PILLORIAN Obsidian Arc

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 3 ratings
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After the demise of folky black metal outfit Agalloch in 2016 guitarist and vocalist John Haughm has wasted no time and early 2017 sees the release of Obsidian Arc by his new venture Pillorian. He’s joined forces with drummer Trevor Matthews (Infernus, Uada) and bassist, guitarist Stephen Parker (Maestus, Arkhum).

Anyone still mourning the loss of Agalloch should be cheered up by the fact that Obsidian Arc is a cracking album and dare I say it, without taking anything away from them, better than anything Agalloch released. Whilst there’s inevitably going to be a connection and some of Agalloch’s sound in here, though still present there’s much less of the folk elements and Obsidian Arc is more of a pure black metal album. Apart from Agalloch probably the nearest reference in sound from the member’s previous/currently active bands is Uada. Seven tracks in total of black metal with strong hooks, haunting and melancholic melodies with crushing riffs. Pick of the bunch has got to be Archaen Divinity with its spine tingling slow opening riff packed with plenty of groove until it slips into ferocious blast beat territory. The rest of the albums not far behind though, each song packing considerable punch with memorable hooks that have me hitting replay as soon as it’s all over.

Whilst those drawn to Agalloch for the strong folk elements might be slightly disappointed with the reduction in them here. Nevertheless, most fans of any of the bands associated with the three members of Pillorian should find plenty to get stuck into and enjoy on Obsidian Arc.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.37 | 7 ratings
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I must admit that I don’t usually get excited at the prospect of a new Obituary album, interested yes but rarely more than that. Considering their importance in death metal, one of the originals etc, I find this strange to say the least. First of theirs I ever bought was Cause Of Death back in 1990 (didn’t hear Slowly We Rot until later as it happens), generally regarded as one of their best and my penchant for Celtic Frost style guitar riffs certainly helped me enjoy that but John Tardy’s strangled growl wasn’t an easy listen for me, though time has tempered that feeling and his voice for that matter. Since then I’ve heard good and not so good Obituary and there’s at least a couple of their albums I don’t recall hearing at all. Now don’t ask me why but some reason my interest was piqued by this eponymous new release and I even pre-ordered a vinyl copy. I’m really glad I did as it’s brilliant!

There’s no particular reason why this self-titled album should be better than the last few as they haven’t deviated from their formulaic no-nonsense traditional death metal with groove approach. It’s Obituary doing pretty much what they’ve always done. That Celtic Frost guitar sound is still present - not quite as obvious as in the past, though there are moments where it’s unmistakeable and Tardy’s vocals are less extreme these days too. Why it’s so good is for starters the production is spot on - Clear and powerful with everything sitting well in the mix. Mostly though it’s a killer collection of songs that make it. Ten songs at only thirty three minutes is a short album but fortunately they don’t waste any of it. Brave and Sentence Day make a strong start. Both pretty pacey, packing powerful and memorable riffs and the pair of them all done in less than five minutes. There’s also the slower groove based stuff the first being A Lesson In Vengeance and features some fine lead work from Kenny Andrews. End It Now is the best of both worlds with its fast rolling triplet kick drum pattern though slowing down for a more groove orientated section. Without going into every song individually the rest of the album maintains the high standards set early on making it one of, if the not the most consistent Obituary album since the early days.

If you’re looking for innovation look elsewhere, there’s no great leap in style from past Obituary but if you enjoy this band this is an essential album for you. Right now I’m enjoying this more than any Obituary album and put it up there with their best no problem. My only complaint is at the length of the album the bonus track No Hope on the CD could have easily fit on the vinyl version too.

RITUALIZATION Sacraments to the Sons of the Abyss

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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With so many new bands coming along and new albums from old bands for that matter it’s easy for something to pass you by. France’s Ritualization have been kicking around for a while now with a couple of EP’s released in 2011 and 2013 and even earlier demos which I haven’t heard. Fortunately I’ve picked up on Sacraments To The Sons Of The Abyss, their recently released debut album. Fortunate because it’s pretty damn good.

After the suitably dark intro Conjuration of the Howling Depths it’s we’re into Last Rites Of The Damned and it’s relentless barrage of riffs and blastbeats make for a strong statement of intent. I’m not hearing anything particularly original here – they’ve no doubt been brought up on the old school death metal of the likes of Morbid Angel and Incantation but this stuff is played with such energy and conviction it’s hard not to be won over. They wisely slow it down now and then like on the intro of Herald Of Betrayal, one of the albums strongest moments as it happens, but this album’s largely a blackened death metal wall of sound. The vocals are typically low death growls but a black metal rasp occasionally rears its head. The standard of musicianship is excellent - inventive guitar solos but it’s more about the complex intricate riffing that’s constantly shifting as ferocious drums follow suit. This album is pretty much relentless from start to finish with the exclusion of the aforementioned Intro and outro Ashes Pouring From The Chalice, an effective way to open and close things. At 43 minutes it’s just about the right length, gets in there and kicks the shit out of you and buggers off. Perfect!

Whilst I was initially impressed it took a few plays for STTSOTA to fully reveal itself. There’s a hell of a lot going on in these grooves but it’s shaping up already to be one of the best death metal albums of 2017 so if you like your death metal on the black side you should really check these guys out. As a side note my vinyl copy came beautifully packaged with an album sized booklet and poster.

PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA U.M.A.

Album · 2013 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 7 ratings
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MMA Reviewer's Challenge: Album selected by 666sharon666.

Released in 2013 U.M.A. is the debut and so far only album from Italian post black metal duo Progenie Terrestre Pura. Duo’s seem more common in black metal and I sometimes wonder how these bands can pull it off in a live setting. However, it’s of little consequence here as it’s all about the album.

Only five tracks in total though all are pretty long from thirteen down to seven minutes. This is black metal of the atmospheric variety with a strong spacey feel. Progenie Terrestre Pura aren’t in a hurry and prefer a slow burn approach. Opener, named after the band gives us over three minutes of trippy cosmic ambience before anything resembling black metal kicks in. You could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a Tangerine Dream album to this point. When the metal does kick in its initially fairly generic black metal with blast beats flailing away, tremolo picked guitars and typical rasping vocals. No bad thing in itself but my ears picked up more when the pace slowed somewhat with heavier riffing augmented by the spacey synth lines adding some haunting melody to the proceedings. At thirteen minutes Sovrarobotizzazione is the longest of the lot and follows a similar approach. Whilst it sometimes feels like the parts are randomly thrown together as if you could mix and match in any order you like the number of changes does help maintain interest and some of the quieter sections in particular become quite captivating at times with some well-placed clean guitar parts.

The instrumental sections generally take precedence over the vocals. In fact La Terra Rossa Di Marte has none and is seven minutes of ambience overlaid with spacey synth lines and tasteful guitar picking. Whether this has a place on a black metal album is debateable and likely to alienate fans of the purer variety but then it is a genre that covers many bases and not generally afraid to experiment so why not. I’d have preferred real drums over what almost certainly sounds like programmed but I guess in the context of the songs they add to the futuristic feel of the album. Droni is one of the best song on the album. Whilst is doesn’t deviate from the general formula of the first two tracks it seems to gel and flow better and packing more punch too. Whilst prog elements are a feature of the album as a whole they’re most apparent in Sinapsi Divelte and also features some cleaner vocal work and instrumental sections less typical of black metal at times.

Overall despite one or two moments where I was shouting get on with it! I enjoyed U.M.A. quite a lot. Certainly enough to keep an eye open for future releases. Not your typical black metal by any stretch and probably will go over the heads of many fans of the genre but more prog orientated metal fans could find much to enjoy here.

IMMOLATION Atonement

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.44 | 7 ratings
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How many bands are there like Immolation who’ve been going for thirty years or so and keep releasing great album after great album? Not too many I suspect. Atonement is album number ten and once again they’ve done it – one of their best in fact and up there with the likes of Close To A World Below, Unholy Cult and Majesty And Decay but in truth you could add just about any Immolation album to that list such is the consistently high standard this band keep delivering.

If you know Immolation then you know what to expect – Robert Vigna’s incredibly inventive atonal riffing and soloing. How he keeps coming up with them is amazing. Ross Dolan’s deep guttural growl and not forgetting his thunderous bass playing. Then there’s Steve Shalaty’s complex rhythmic drum patterns following or leading every twist and turn of the constantly shifting song structures. This is death metal as it should be played and at its very best, heavy as hell with riffs that’ll pin you to the wall. Every single song delivers making picking highlights completely futile. These songs have a menace about them that is sometimes lost when bands try to play relentlessly fast all the time. Sure, there’s moments of incredible speed but Immolation play it smart and temper it with captivating grooves, tempo and time changes that will enthral all who have a love of this stuff. This is clearly the sound of Immolation and no band out there can beat them at their own game with the atonal and dissonant thing.

You’ve probably gathered by now that I love this album. I’m even thinking it might be their best but I don’t want to say that as many of their previous albums have had a similar effect on me. Let’s wait for the dust to settle. What I will say though as the benchmark has been set for best death metal album of 2017. I’ve just listened twice today while I’ve been reviewing it and now I want to play it again! If you love death metal you need this album!

KREATOR Gods of Violence

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 9 ratings
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When I first heard Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill back in the mid-eighties I was blown away by its sheer intensity and speed. It may have lacked finesse but made up for it with sheer aggression. As far as my memory goes I don’t remember hearing a more extreme slab of metal at the time and that’s putting it up against the likes of Slayer who were the benchmark for full on thrash as far as I was concerned. Since then I’ve bought some and even missed some of Kreator’s albums but when I hear them they rarely disappoint. Forward to 2017 and Gods Of Violence is their fourteenth album. I was pretty impressed with 2012’s Phantom Antichrist – like Testament and Exodus here was one of the thrash originals that could still deliver as good if not better than they ever did. Gods Of Violence is another winner. Similar in feel, if perhaps not quite as intense it’s equally strong.

After the short intro piece Apocalyticon, World War Now kicks in with its ferocious riffing, a reassuring statement of intent. These days though it’s not all about sheer speed and the tempo varies here and indeed throughout the album. Something of a benefit I feel but fear not, this is still one hell of an aggressive album – check out Totalitarian Terror if proof is needed. Mille Petrozza’s snarling vocals are still incredibly strong and one of the best in thrash. Likewise drummer Ventor, there from the start with only a short break is still a force to be reckoned with. These songs, the title track being the perfect example, also contain plenty of melody – there’s even a touch of Iron Maiden at times, which to their credit takes nothing away from the ferocity and also feature some stunning guitar solos too. Mille Petrozza and second guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö are certainly the equal of most guitar partnerships in thrash metal. Even when they slow things down like on Fallen Brother they still pack a considerable punch.

Overall then Gods Of Violence is another strong addition to an already glorious back catalogue of benchmark thrash that’s sure to please fans of the band. A great start to the year for thrash metal.

SCENARIO II A New Dawn

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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A New Dawn is the second album from Scenario II, a melodic death metal band from the Netherlands. They’ve been around for some time now having released their debut album; Uniforms Of Death back in 2009 though only guitarist Mark Van Doren appears to remain from that line-up. Now if I was doing my research properly I’d be going back and checking out that debut album out before diving in headlong into this one, but having had A New Dawn blasting in the car the last week or so I’m eager to share what a great album this is.

The cover and title leave no doubt about a post-apocalypse world being the subject matter. The album kicks off with The Darkest Hour, a short intro piece. It’s symphonic nature and semi-operatic female vocals from Myrthe van Beest give the impression that we may be in for some symphonic metal in the Epica vein. While there are elements of that it soon becomes clear that A New Dawn is a much heavier beast more in the melodic death metal tradition. The bands influences include In Flames, Soilwork, At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity amongst others (they even include an In Flames cover, Stand Ablaze to close the album). Pleasingly, whilst these influences can sometimes be heard they inject plenty of their own identity. For example, although Bas de Kruyff growls are never far from the front of the mix, Mythe Van Beest’s more melodic female tones are on an even footing most of the time rather than the token gesture many bands give to them which considering the quality of her voice is a wise decision. While the guitar riffs hit hard, they contain plenty of melody with the symphonic elements adding additional melody and drama. However, whilst the symphonic touches are welcome additions they don’t take over keeping the guitars to the fore where they belong. The music is extremely well played by all with a versatile and solid as a rock rhythm section complementing the dynamic and explosive nature of much of the material. The Promised Wasteland is a nice mid-album touch being a short instrumental adding some light and shade being more subdued than most of the tracks.

Whilst A New Dawn may not be the most original album – and probably has no pretence to be, the strong compositions, overall consistency and enthusiasm the band inject is infectious and any fan of this type of stuff should have no problem enjoying this. Well worth checking out.

METALLICA Hardwired... to Self-Destruct

Album · 2016 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.63 | 29 ratings
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Like many I’d long since given up caring about whether Metallica released another album or not. Years of releasing mediocrity when around them others were releasing vital and brilliant pieces of work. I’m not just talking about newer bands here either. Take Exodus and Testament for example – two bands from the same era as Metallica who have still been releasing incredibly good albums for years with only the occasional misstep. The last Metallica album I was remotely excited about was the so called Black Album and even that paled in comparison to their 80’s output baring the poorly produced …And Justice For All. Load and re-Load would have made one strong album between them. St Anger was another album marred by bizarre production decisions, mainly in the drum sound but contained a few inspiring moments. Death Magnetic was a step in the right direction though lacking killer material again and an overly harsh production. Lulu was a brave experiment that delivered little but I have more time for it than most seem to, it has to be said, though it rarely leaves the shelf.

The initial signs were promising, Hardwired was the first song to be released and it showed Metallica as a vital force again with a strong performance from all and a return to their thrash roots with some killer riffage – total shock! Not quite as good but not far behind were the next two pre-album releases Moth Into Flame and Atlas, Arise!, both packing plenty of punch. I was really getting interested now and November the album finally arrived. First off, let’s say that it’s a very good and often excellent album. It’s also a long album spread over two discs on both vinyl and Cd versions. Many have said it’s too long at almost eighty minutes but as far as I’m concerned that’s only a problem if it’s sub-standard. For the most part here that’s not the case though a bit of careful editing wouldn’t have hurt. Hardwired…To Self-Destruct as most will know by now is not however an overall return to their thrash roots which is hardly surprising really. Most of the material plods along at a mid-pace the way much of their 90’s output did. The first sign of this comes three songs in with the seven minute Now That We’re Dead. Fortunately it’s still a great song with a memorable hook. Am I Savage, Halo On Fire and Confusion to name a few occupy that similar Black album/Load territory. Some of them slightly outstay their welcome at the seven/eight minute mark with not quite enough variation to sustain them, Halo On Fire being a case in point, though in the main are saved by strong songwriting. A late surprise is last track Spit Out The Bone which is the best song on the album belting along at a fair pace with a killer riff and capturing them in full on thrash mode. The seven minutes fly by!

Hardwired… is also the best sounding Metallica since Re-Load with a thick and powerful production lacking the harshness of Death Magnetic. The band play well throughout with moments of brilliance and the often maligned Lars Ulrich plays his best drums for at least twenty years. Not in terms of complexity but solid as a rock with a strong groove.

I’m happier with this album than I ever dared hope but a couple more up-tempo songs placed mid album could have helped with the overall pacing. If you want ground-breaking however don’t come here, but Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is certainly a strong traditional metal album intermittently delving into thrash. No doubt many will still dismiss it but it’s an album they can be rightly proud of.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD The Stage

Album · 2016 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.89 | 7 ratings
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Two bands in particular have surprised me in 2016. The first was Metallica who actually got me enthusiastic about them again; something I thought would never happen and released their best album in 25 years. The other was Avenged Sevenfold who after years of shrugs of nothing special from me have finally released an album that I think is really pretty good and impressed me enough to actually buy it. Whilst I couldn’t claim to be an expert on their back catalogue The Stage is the best thing I’ve heard from the band after more recent mainstream generic metal offerings.

The Stage is a much busier and heavier album than 2013’s Hail To The King’s simplistic approach. Some of it may be down to an injection of energy from new drummer and former Bad Religion member Brooks Wackerman who seems to have given them a good kick up the arse, but there’s also clearly a prog influence going on here most noticeable in the eight and a half minute title track and the fifteen minute album closer Exist. Sure they’ve done longer songs before but here the band really do nail it and get the opportunity to stretch out. The Stage in particular stands out as the best thing I’ve ever heard from them with strong hooks and a captivating arrangement with plenty of changes. Exist, if for nothing else than its length is sure to capture attention. Fortunately, it’s a winner with plenty of twists and dynamics, compelling riffs, strong melodies and instrumental work. Shorter pieces like God Damn and Creating God also pack a considerable punch and the mellower Angels sounds a bit like Soundgarden or solo Chris Cornell in more reflective mood.

There’s a few less than stellar moments like Sunny Disposition and ballad Roman Sky - pleasant enough but dull. Also the production whilst clear is a little clinical and could do with a bit more bottom end to my ears but these are minor gripes. Overall though The Stage should more than please fans of the band and most likely win them quite a few new ones too. If they keep going down this road I might even buy the next one too.

RUINOUS Graves Of Ceaseless Death

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Graves Of Ceaseless Death is the debut album from death metal band Ruinous, the three members all having played with Funebrarum amongst others too numerous to mention so no lack of experience here then.

It’s a dark and brooding album leaning towards old school death metal with some doom thrown in. More concerned with heaviness than speed and the band aren’t afraid to slow things down when required though the cacophonous sound is relentless, even in the slower parts. Plenty of rhythmic variation keeps things interesting and the riffs are thick, heavy as hell and brutal. The vocals from guitarist Matt Medeiros are indecipherable ranging from a growl to a scream and of the more extreme variety, even by death metal standards, that some may find it hard to get past. This is the kind of apocalyptic death metal I like best though with inventive chord changes and a fair amount of dissonance thrown into the mix and it delivers throughout.

If you don’t like death metal forget it but for those who enjoy the more extreme variety, you owe it to yourselves to check these guys out.

POSSESSED Seven Churches

Album · 1985 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 16 ratings
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Back in the mists of time, in the 80’s, I had my first introduction to extreme metal with the thrash metal movement and quickly became a big fan of many bands of the genre my favourites being Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Celtic Frost and Exodus. At the time the true significance of Possessed never really hit home with me and I thought of them as simply another thrash metal band, albeit one at the more extreme end of the genre. Inspired by Venom and Exodus in particular, in retrospect it was clear that if any band had a claim on being the first death metal band then they could be it. Their first demo had even been called death metal!

Seven Churches is their debut album and with song titles like The Exorcist, Pentagram and Burning In Hell their image was more Satanic than most bands around at the time. The music still stands strong today with great playing, especially in the guitar department and is complex, relentlessly fast, brutal and incredibly heavy aided by a thick organic production. The riffs ooze evil and does vocalist Jeff Becerra’s high end growl which sits between what would later come to regarded as the standard for death growls and black metal ‘s harsher rasp. Best of all the quality of the material barely dips.

The band clearly had a big influence on the death metal genre when it kicked in fully as can be heard in the likes of Death, Morbid Angel and Deicide. Even if that were the only reason Seven Churches deserves its place in history. The fact that it’s also one hell of a great album only adds to its importance.

GLENN HUGHES Resonate

Album · 2016 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Resonate is the thirteenth solo album from former Trapeze, Deep Puple, Black Country Communion vocalist/bass player Glenn Hughes. Most of his best work comes from his more collaborative efforts from the afore-mentioned bands and not forgetting the legendary Hughes/Thrall album, melodic hard rock at its best. His solo career contains some fine albums as well as some patchy ones but all contain at least some good stuff. They generally contain hard rock, funk and soul music to to a greater or lesser degree. Resonate is his first solo album since 2008’s First Underground Nuclear Kitchen.

Whilst Resonate has a funky vibe and Hughes’s soulful vocal delivery, which is as good as ever, it ups the hard rock quotient and is one of his heavier solo works reminding me of 1996’s Addiction. Most of the songs have a slowish pace but plenty of groove and driving riffs and the overall consistency makes it one of his best. The injection of Hammond organ on songs like Steady, which also ups the tempo after the first four tracks, is a welcome addition. Songs like Heavy, Flow, God Of Money, How Long and My Town pack plenty of punch with strong melodies and hooks all with that stunning trademark soulful Hughes vocal delivery. He’s one of the few singers from the seventies era who’s managed to keep his voice as good as it was back then. Things don’t quieten down until When I Fall arrives seven songs in and would fit on his more soul orientated albums. Landmines would suit one of his more Funky ones but generally this album rock!

Overall then Resonate is as good as any of Hughes’s other solo albums and better than most, if not even his best yet. Any fan of the man should be delighted with this.

DARKTHRONE Arctic Thunder

Album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 6 ratings
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Whilst most Darkthrone fans would probably point to their early ground breaking black metal albums like Transilvanian Hunger as the pinnacle of their long career my own preference is for 2013’s The Underground Resistance which to this point remains a bit of an anomaly in their back catalogue. There’s no denying the importance of those early albums but the injection of traditional metal into The Underground Resistance, especially after a run of more primitive sounding crust punk infused records, was a breath of fresh air and featured some of their most potent and powerful riffs ever. I was hoping for more of the same with Arctic Thunder so was initially a bit disappointed when the band appears to have made a U-turn and returned to a more mid-period streamlined sound. The production is more of that era too; in fact it’s positively slick by Darkthrone standards warming up the cold atmosphere of the album.

A few plays though and Arctic Thunder is growing on me. It’s a simpler and more direct album than The Underground Resistance but there’s still much to enjoy and is unmistakably the sound of Darkthrone so fans should be generally happy. This time round there’s no shared vocals with Nocturno Culto taking the lot. Songs like opener Tundra Leach, Arctic Thunder and Inbred Vermin make the biggest impact with the strongest riffs, the latter being particularly potent. Boreal Leach slows things right down until near the end and despite some fairly fierce tremolo picked and doom laden riffing is quite atmospheric. Throw Me Through The Marshes doomy riff belies its simplicity turning it into an album highlight. Whilst there’s nothing bad on Arctic Thunder songs like Burial Bliss and The Wyoming Distance are less memorable being Darkthrone by numbers and with only eight tracks on offer you want them all to be killers.

Arctic Thunder probably won’t end up being anyone’s favourite Darkthrone album but despite a couple of lack lustre tracks it’s still a very good one and I prefer the overall sound to that of their early classics, not being much of a fan of that harsh and thin second wave black metal sound. Definitely worth a listen then.

VADER The Empire

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 4 ratings
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You can always rely on Vader to deliver the goods and studio album number eleven, The Empire, is no exception. Vader don’t make bad albums. Sure, some are better than others – De Profundis and Welcome To The Morbid Reich being particular high points for me. Equally though, you don’t get any surprises, Vader adopting the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach. I’ve no problem with that if they continue to release albums as good as this.

Anyone who knows Vader will know what to expect here - old school death metal with a dose of thrash thrown in. What sets the better Vader albums apart is the quality of the riffs and The Empire has them in spades. The album is paced well from faster blast beat to more mid-tempo material, sometimes in the same song which to my ears is far more appealing and engaging than relentless blast beats from start to finish although they are obligatory to a point. Angels Of Steel is a killer opener which packs a lot into its slightly over two minutes length. From then on things remain on a high with not a weak song in sight which is just as well as the albums over in thirty three minutes. Best of the bunch? Prayer To The God Of War and The Army-Geddon both have a compelling groove, Feel My Pain and the aforementioned opener are other highlights but there’s not much in it to be honest.

The icing on the cake is the fantastic production job which is powerful and clear without being clinical allowing everyone to be heard and of course the playing is solid as a rock. The Empire may not be my favourite Vader album but I’d put it in their top five. My only complaint is the short length, especially as Parabellum and Prayer To the God Of War have already appeared on the Iron Times E.P. released earlier this year. Nevertheless, essential listening to anyone who’s ever enjoyed the band.

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