Metal Music Reviews from Warthur

DEVIL ELECTRIC Devil Electric

Album · 2017 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 8 ratings
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Devil Electric's debut album finds the Australian unit offering up yet another entry in the pantheon of doomy occult rock outfits. You know the sort - witchy lady on vocals, riffs borrowed from Sabbath and Led Zep, bigger dose of Satanism than the original 1970s bands they're riffing on ever actually indulged in themselves.

It's a short affair at only 36 minutes, but thankfully I think we've moved beyond that phase when people felt they'd been cheated unless an album filled the entire length of a CD (or at least broke the 1 hour mark); I'd always rather hear half an hour of an artist's best stuff than an hour padded out with filler. That said, I'm not wholly sold on Devil Electric. Maybe it's because they regularly lean closer to Zep than Sabbath in their riffage, and I never quite embraced Zeppelin to the same extent that others have, or maybe it's just because I've heard a lot of stuff like this and it takes a bit more than the basic occult doom formula to impress me these days, but I found my mind wandering well before the 36 minutes were up - and that's a bad sign.

ESOCTRILIHUM Mystic Echo From A Funeral Dimension

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 5 ratings
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The rather hard-to-pronounce Esoctrilihum is the solo project of one Asthâghul. Bedroom black metal projects run a wide gamut from lo-fi howling to more sophisticated symphonic or atmospheric black metal efforts, and Esoctrilihum firmly leans towards the latter here. It's not going to offer a whole lot you haven't heard before if you're into atmospheric black metal - particularly the cutting-edge material of the sort put out by I, Voidhanger labelmates Mare Cognitum - but it's certainly a competently put-together album with plenty of synthesiser, buzzsaw guitar, and all that sweet atmosphere you come to projects like this for. On the whole, a solid basis from which I hope Esoctrilihum are able to build on.

SLEEP The Sciences

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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After all this time, and particularly considering that its members had gone off to do other projects, did anybody expect Sleep to ever put out another album? No - but good things come to those who wait. A full decade after reforming for very occasional live gigs, Sleep woke up in a bleary haze on 4/20 and passed us some of the good stuff - namely, a set of six songs in the classic Sleep vein. Nothing here is quite as mind-crushingly heavy as Dopesmoker, but that's only to be expected - nothing is as heavy as Dopesmoker - but I'd say in general it's consistently heavier and slower than, say, Sleep's Holy Mountain. If you know your stoner doom, you already know what to expect from Sleep, and they deliver it here as though they'd never been away.

XANTHOCHROID Of Erthe and Axen Act II

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 3 ratings
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This is the second half of Xanthochroid's two-part concept album, the two between them detailing the origin myth of their homebrewed Dungeons & Dragons world (I think). As previously, we're in a blackened progressive metal territory here, with folk touches and an overall concept which seems to combine the storyteller's theatricality of the Decemberists with the fantasy worldbuilding of Immortal. To my ears, it sounds like it has a bit more fire and fury than its predecessor, in keeping with being the exciting climax of the story. On the whole, the two-album set was an ambitious project to undertake, but it has at least paid off in terms of prompting a maturing and development in Xanthochroid's sound.

SIGH Scenes from Hell

Album · 2010 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 14 ratings
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The first Sigh album to include the scintillating contributions of Dr. Mikannibal on saxophone and vocals, Scenes From Hell continues the band's explorations of symphonic avant-black metal frenzy. David Tibet of Current 93 is an unexpected but welcome guest this time around, offering spoken word recitations on The Red Funeral and Musica In Tempora Belli (roughly translating to "Music In Times of War"). It's all gruesome, rough fun, though I do wonder whether a more lively production job wouldn't have teased out all the ingredients of Sigh's bizarre stew a bit more evenly. That said, the air of murkiness does harken back to Sigh's earliest releases, setting this in a continuity of musical development that began in the second wave of black metal and has fruited in this bizarre hybrid.

YOB Clearing the Path to Ascend

Album · 2014 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 3 ratings
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Offering a set of four sludgy doom metal epics (not one track less than 10 minutes), YOB's Clearing the Path to Ascend combines the gnostic spiritual themes of the likes of Om with a crushingly heavy set of riffs. This isn't a matter of brushing some leaves off the path - this is about getting a bulldozer in to clear a serious blockage.

At any particular point there's often some other influence creeping in next to the doom metal - religious music, black metal shrieks, folk-tinged post-rock, all fuse somehow with the monolithic riffs in order to provide a richer than expected experience.

SIGH Scenario IV: Dread Dreams

Album · 1999 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 10 ratings
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Scenario IV by Sigh might be better entitled "Hail Horror Hail II", since it's largely a continuation of the general approach of that album, with extensive shifts of musical style and approach mid-composition being a regular occurrence. With a range of extreme metal styles and non-metal styles, as well as sections combining the two (there's bits which recall some of the more "black 'n' roll" segments of Hail Horror Hail, for instance), it's certainly as diverse an album as its predecessor, though the transitions here seem more abrupt and arbitrary than on that album.

It's still a very solid release, mind - "not as good as Hail Horror Hail" still leaves room to be very, very good indeed.

JESU Jesu

Album · 2005 · Drone Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 5 ratings
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Justin Broadrick of Godflesh and (briefly, in one of their earliest lineups) Napalm Death fame offers up the debut album of Jesu, a drone metal project exploring the sonic territory that lurks between industrial metal and a bank of overworked vacuum cleaners. Fat, doomy riffs keep things varied, but the underlying drone never ceases, it merely evolves and grumbles as it is passed from instrument to instrument. Shoegazey influences creep in here and there, particularly in the vocals, though to be honest I consider them the weakest aspect of the album. (Of all the sonic features of shoegaze you could seek to imitate, I'd say the customary shoegaze vocal style should be at the bottom of the list - it was endearing in its original context but is just irritating outside of it.)

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME The Parallax II: Future Sequence

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 22 ratings
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The Parallax II finds Between the Buried and Me plotting a strikingly fresh course after spending their previous few releases engaging in a controlled flip of their sound; whereas Colors had been a metalcore album infused with prog sensibilities, the Future Sequence finds the group putting prog metal first and foremost, with metalcore motifs and textures being merely part of a staggeringly diverse portfolio of tools and techniques available to them. Metalcore purists may feel somewhat left behind, but if you liked the prog elements on Colors you'll be well-served here. Conversely, if in the end you found that Colors wasn't quite to your tastes due to the residual metalcore influence, you may find that The Parallax II is more your speed.

XANTHOCHROID Of Erthe and Axen Act I

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 4 ratings
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This first part of a two-part concept album finds Xanthochroid slipping from the progressive black metal of their debut album to a sort of "blackened progressive metal" sound, with extensive symphonic and folk touches and even more emphasis given to storytelling than the debut. As with Immortal, Xanthochroid's music is focused on exploring the band's made-up fantasy world, but Immortal have never gone as full Decemberists as Xanthrochroid do when it comes to the theatricality of their composition. It might not be absolutely groundbreaking, but it's a more than pleasant prog metal-with-teeth piece which makes me want to listen to the second album to hear the rest of the story.

SIGH Hail Horror Hail

Album · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 8 ratings
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An early masterpiece from Sigh finds them shifting from the straight-ahead black metal of their early releases into what you might describe as symphonic black metal style - but only if the symphony in question were composed by Mr. Bungle or something. The opening title track almost resembles a hybrid power-thrash metal piece, with only the shrieked vocals keeping us anchored in black metal territory, and then the rest of the album takes us on a delirious tour de force, with moods ranging from the manic (like in the enigmatic 42 49) to the epic (like album centrepiece The Dead Sing, which conjures a landscape where "even the dead CRY FOR HELP!").

If you want find the spot where Sigh definitively stepped away from the second wave Norwegian black metal forces they'd been allied with in their early years and became their own unique channel of chaos and nightmare into the world, then Hail Horror Hail is where it all happens. Give it several listens, because you won't unpack everything in this movie for your ears right away.

OVERKILL Under The Influence

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 36 ratings
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Combining tight songwriting, straight-for-the-throat thrash aggression, and emotive lyrics taking a frank look at various issues, Overkill's Under the Influence stands out from the 80s thrash crowd less for its originality (there were a lot of bands throwing together similar elements at the time) and more for its execution.

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

VICIOUS RUMORS Vicious Rumors

Album · 1990 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 17 ratings
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Vicious Rumors' self-titled album was their first major label release, and as such finds them polishing up their style and steering it at points in a more accessible direction than the preceding album. It's a solid Iron Maiden/Judas Priest-influenced effort, though some of the songs outlast their welcome a bit (World Church gets rather repetitive) and the second side unfortunately seems a bit thin. In fact, I have to wonder whether deadlines imposed by the label or some other disruption caused them to hurry this album, with the more polished and accomplished songs clustered together on side A and side B being thrown together quickly to make the product.

PANTERA The Great Southern Trendkill

Album · 1996 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.69 | 43 ratings
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Compared to the subgenre-defining Cowboys From Hell and the staggeringly aggressive Vulgar Display of Power, I just can't quite get behind The Great Southern Trendkill. Oh, sure, it's another aggressive beast of an album, but it tries too hard at it; whereas Vulgar Display of Power was a disturbingly believable offering, here Anselmo's layered vocals feel a bit too overplayed - it seems more like cartoonish posturing than a genuine threat.

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

MOONSORROW Kivenkantaja

Album · 2003 · Viking Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 18 ratings
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I tend to find the whole "folk metal" thing highly hit and miss, particularly when bands don't integrate the two halves of that formula but simply play mediocre metal and mediocre folk music together and hope that the charms of both sides of the equation smooth over the holes. Moonsorrow's Kivenkantaja, on the other hand, absolutely does not do that, integrating the sounds and motifs of Scandinavian folk music into a majestic, sweeping, almost cinematic metal framework. The compositions tend towards longer tracks with epic, progressive rock-esque structures, and the overall effect wouldn't seem out of place as the soundtrack to an adaptation of some pagan saga of ancient days.

YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN Rising Force

Album · 1984 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 4.17 | 42 ratings
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It's rare that you can point to a specific artist and album and say that here, right at that moment, is where a particular musical subgenre got its start, but you absolutely can with neoclassical metal - Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force album is patient zero for this high-technicality, classical-influenced, guitar-worshipping brand of metal.

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

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

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

LOUDNESS Disillusion (English Version)

Album · 1984 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 10 ratings
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On their international breakthrough Disillusion, Loudness don't reinvent the wheel - they play traditional heavy metal, they wouldn't sound out of place opening for Judas Priest or Manowar, and they rock at it. The album comes in two versions; the original with Japanese-language lyrics sports by far the better cover art, though the English-language version is more complete, including as it does an intro which was cut from the original release. Either version offers a range of sounds from slower, gentler passages to more furious assaults - Esper, in particular, creeps towards the threshold of thrash metal. It's not an essential classic of the genre, but it's a more than solid effort which will entertain anyone who likes the harder side of 1980s metal.

EXTREME Extreme II: Pornograffitti

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 32 ratings
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Extreme come at the whole funk metal prospect from a glam rock background, and as such it's rather poppier than much similar material of the era. Primus may have been "Sailing the Seas of Cheese", but this is cheesier by far than their material, and flirts regularly with reverting into full-on glam metal. For those who don't mind the more pop-metal styles of the 1980s, it's a blast, and there's certainly some wit shown in the lyrics. The Van Halen-esque guitar heroics add a bit of technical prowess to proceedings which at least helps steer things away from the most vapid and insipid excesses of the glam metal era.

ALICE IN CHAINS Black Gives Way To Blue

Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 55 ratings
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Of course this Alice In Chains sounds older and wiser than the unit that had first emerged during the peak grunge period - just look at what they'd been through since their previous studio album. First there were the seven years whilst the band was in limbo as a result of Layne Staley's struggles with bereavement, drug addiction, and a retreat into a reclusive lifestyle suggesting that there were perhaps additional mental health issues exacerbating these; then there was the shock of Staley's death, prompting the band to temporarily dissolve itself until in 2005 they drew together again and decided to continue their legacy.

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

FLOWER TRAVELLIN' BAND Satori

Album · 1971 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 13 ratings
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Flower Travellin' Band's Satori isn't really the album-length song which the track titles imply that it is. It's essentially a series of hard-edge, heavy psych jams strung together, but the thing which really makes it is how tight those jams actually are. With brilliant guitar work which occasionally creeps into proto-punk territory before launching off into weird space rock like a stripped-down and edgier version of Hawkwind and a leaner, lighter version of Black Sabbath got mashed together in a black hole and spat out in the form of these guys. It's not a classic, but it's very very good as far as highly improvisational jam-based albums go.

HIGH TIDE High Tide

Album · 1970 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 3 ratings
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High Tide's second album feels like a bit of a step down from Sea Shanties. With the flowering of the progressive rock movement, the band seem to deliberately tone down the heavier side of their music in order to present a more sensitive and artsier image, and in doing so accomplish only the watering down of their material's power. Simon House's violin is still an important presence in the music and on the whole the jams here are pleasant enough, but there aren't any passages which leap out and grab me by the throat in the same way the best portions of Sea Shanties did.

HIGH TIDE Sea Shanties

Album · 1969 · Heavy Psych
Cover art 3.89 | 11 ratings
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About as heavy as an album could get in 1969 without being full-on proto-metal, High Tide's secret weapon on Sea Shanties are the nuanced violin performances by Simon House, who prog fans might have heard on albums by Third Ear Band or Hawkwind. This touch of gentle class amid the band's Atomic Rooster-meets-Hendrix whirlwind of acid-drenched fuzz creates an intoxicating mixture, like House is a lone violinist on the deck of a ship in the middle of a violent storm. The album structure might be simple - two comparatively shorter songs sandwiching a longer epic on each side - but the songs are engaging and vibrant and the longer pieces (Death Warmed Up and Missing Out) are incredible proto-prog offerings.

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

STRATOVARIUS Destiny

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 28 ratings
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Coming off the back of Visions - my personal favourite Stratovarius album, and a strong candidate for the best of their career - Destiny had a lot to live up to, and whilst it doesn't exceed the standards of its predecessor I think it's another extremely solid release from the band. As is often the case with Stratovarius, the power metal cheese factor is through the roof, but with their mild progressive flair here and there they're able to hook me to an extent which evades many of their competitors in the same subgenre. Though much of the album is business as usual, the opening track is a bit more of a departure, an epic with some truly eerie moments that surely earns a place in any "best of" Stratovarius collection worthy of the name.

SCULPTURED Embodiment: Collapsing Under the Weight of God

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.52 | 6 ratings
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Sculptured is the personal vehicle for Agallloch member Don Anderson's twisted brainwrongs of avant-prog metal strangeness. With Agalloch taking off to the extent that it's done, Sculptured releases have been few and far between, but 2008's Embodiment is a rather magnificent specimen which takes technical death metal as its launching-off point for wild and deep explorations of diverse musical territories. With a sound about as diverse as your typical late-period Mr Bungle album, it ranges from the atonally noisy to the blissfully melodic and calm, often within the same composition and occasionally, impossibly, at the exact same moment. A genuine avant-metal oddity which doesn't deserve to be left in the shadow of Anderson's Agalloch day job.

RAMMSTEIN Mutter

Album · 2001 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 48 ratings
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Fusing Rammstein's usual threatening industrial drive with the pomp offered by a decent string section, Mutter is Rammstein's imperial phase - an impressive collection of Neue Deutsche Härte anthems that really teases the best out of their early formula. Driving rhythms? Check. Stentorian vocals delivered in German that hover between dazed chants and furious rants? Check. With sounds ranging from the orchestral majesty of album opener Mein Herz Brennt to the synthesiser glitching that kicks off the stompingly heavy Rein, Raus, it's also one of the broader Rammstein releases in terms of the aesthetic palette they allow themselves, which is a big help in terms of maintaining interest.

PARADISE LOST Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us

Album · 2009 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 20 ratings
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Encouraged, perhaps, by the general applause received by In Requiem for its reintroduction of doom metal elements into Paradise Lost's sound, Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us finds Paradise Lost several steps further down their return journey. From the opening track, As Horizons End, Nick Holmes gives a more classic doom metal vocal performance rather than the more generic alt-metal/goth stylings that he'd been working as late as In Requiem, and the riffs are even heavier and doomier.

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

PARADISE LOST In Requiem

Album · 2007 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 21 ratings
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Paradise Lost's slow curve back to their original turf really picked up steam here. On the one hand, there's still little sign of the death-doom that they originally made their name with, but on the other hand the riffs here are unquestionably doomy, though still in service to a more gothic metal atmosphere. Nick Holmes' vocal approach is about as generically alt metal-ish as you can get for much of it, except when he shifts gear (as he does in the midsection of Never For the Damned) to a more stentorian, Andrew Eldritch-esque tone. On the whole, a solid gothic metal release with more doom in its DNA than Paradise Lost had displayed for quite some time.

BLACK FLAG The Process of Weeding Out

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

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

BLACK FLAG Who's Got the 10½?

Live album · 1986 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Recorded a year after the solid Live '84 release, this finds Black Flag in a downright odd mood. At points they slide into the macho cock rock posturing and bravado (the title itself refers to a sleazy dick joke) which they'd previously always seemed to have been satirising, but which here they seem to outright embrace. There's an honest to goodness drum solo at one point. Perhaps the somewhat second-tier song selection is to blame - aside from a few classics, most of the songs here consist of less favoured Black Flag songs (Live '84 having hoovered up the best of their repertoire) and the Loose Nut era not exactly being their smartest.

ARCTURUS Arcturian

Album · 2015 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 8 ratings
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Arcturus took a decade off of creating studio albums after Sideshow Symphonies and have returned with this, a pretty solid new release which, though it lacks any fully-fledged epics (with all the song lengths at less than six minutes), still offers a confection of progressive-minded metal with symphonic and black metal touches, with the inclusion of (unless my ears deceive me) an actual string section really allowing them to bring their symphonic aspect to the fore. Sebastian Grouchot guests on violin and adds a nicely melancholic touch to pieces such as Crashland.

Like the preceding Sideshow Symphonies, this does not feel like as striking and groundbreaking a release as any of their first three studio albums (up to and including the classic Sham Mirrors). Still, if you loved those you will probably enjoy this, and even if other musicians have caught up with the far-out territory of Arcturus, Arcturian is still a nicely polished example of this sort of black-about-the-edges progressive metal.

ARCTURUS Sideshow Symphonies

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 23 ratings
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As far as Arcturus album titles go, "Sideshow Symphonies" is rather apt. "Symphonies" are in play in the sense that the music is deep in progressive realms with, as in the classic Sham Mirrors or La Masquerade Infernale, only hints of their earlier black metal style present (and these are buried deeper than ever). And "Sideshow" in the sense that this doesn't feel like a top-flight, main event level Arcturus album.

Perhaps part of the issue is that the album explores a somewhat more mellow side of their sound, which following the bombastic moments of the previous two albums may feel rather restrained and meek. It's still an interesting enough release in its own right, with influences ranging from Pink Floyd (Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer) to, I swear, just a hint of IQ (just imagine Peter Nicholls singing Hibernation Sickness Complete and you might see what I mean), but I can see why it's an often overlooked album from them.

ELECTRIC WIZARD Wizard Bloody Wizard

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 3 ratings
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Having produced perhaps their heaviest post-Dopethrone release in the form of Time to Die, for this followup Electric Wizard have gone right back to the other extreme of their sound, incorporating extensive heavy psych influences. They don't go full psych, but the style of metal here is very much sat on the stoner-doom boundary, with a tone reminiscent less of Black Sabbath than it is of the various hard-edged garage rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Naturally, their customary subject matter hasn't changed all that much - "See You In Hell" pretty much sums up the manifesto of the album, and is called back to in a catchy chorus on the closing Mourning of the Magicians.

Certainly, this is a more accessible than average Electric Wizard - it doesn't instantly immerse you in the deepest depths of doom like Dopethrone did, nor has any Electric Wizard release been quite as toe-tappingly catchy as this one. Nonetheless, nobody could accuse this of being an especially commercial sound either. Perhaps it's simply Electric Wizard deigning to notice the wave of 1970s-worshipping horror/fantasy-reading occult rock groups who've grown up in their wake, and taking the chance to beat them at their own game. As far as I'm concerned, it's yet another essential release from them.

HELL Human Remains

Album · 2011 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 25 ratings
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Hell had existed since the NWOBHM days, having produced a string of demo releases in the 1980s, but it wouldn't be until this 2011 release that they were able to produce a full-length album. To my ears, and especially when comparing it to the excellent followup Curse and Chapter, they seem to be playing it a little safe here. The clean production is naturally going to be a stark contrast to the rough demos they had previously produced, and I get the impression that Hell were still cautiously feeling their way forwards, having spent a couple of decades on hiatus and being new to studio recording of this standard.

The end result is a competent but unremarkable traditional heavy metal release with a certain air of nostalgia for the NWOBHM era, but which lacks the sparkle of the followup. If they were keeping their powder dry until they'd felt able to execute something along the lines of Curse and Chapter, then the end result there justifies that, although it does mean this release ends up rather left in the shade by comparison.

GRAVE DIGGER Excalibur

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 20 ratings
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Sometimes it takes just one ingredient to be not to your taste or slightly off-kilter to ruin a musical performance for you. Take the example of Grave Digger's Excalibur; for the most part, the musical backing is tight, solid German-style power metal and pretty enjoyable for it. It all goes a bit wrong when vocalist Chris Boltendahl (taking on the "Sir Parcival" nom de guerre for this release) issues forth his vocals; these are in a harsh, brash, heavily accented style which throws me out of my enjoyment of the music, being both not especially to my taste and stylistically not really feeling like a natural fit with the music.

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 8 ratings
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A composition of a scale that was really only commercially possible in the digital age - physical releases are forced to split it up in various different ways - Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper is to funeral doom metal what Sleep's Dopesmoker is to stoner doom - a massive, sprawling exploration of the genre's basic principles cranked up to 11 and taken to their uttermost limit.

In this case, Bell Witch here offer a vision of funeral doom which takes it about as far as its death-doom-influenced roots as it can get; rather than fat, sick riffs, we are treated to sparse, gothic guitar tones and maudlin, melancholy lyrics. I hadn't heard that it was a tribute to Adrian Guerra, their deceased fellow bandmate, but it is certainly both suitable as a musical monument to a friend and as a distinct piece of art in its own right. Bell Witch take us here on a subdued, slow journey through their personal vale of tears, their grief overshadowing all, and what they have produced may not be the most heavy or extreme metal piece ever - it's almost a guitar-based approach to ambient music at points - but it is a powerful release which, whilst I'd want to be in the correct emotional mood to fully appreciate it, I am extremely glad to own.

PARADISE LOST Host

Album · 1999 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 20 ratings
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This is the furthest departure from metal Paradise Lost would ever make - after this they would spend the 2000s exploring a long, slow arc back via gothic metal to the doom metal they started out in. Here, their sound resembles electronics-happy gothic rock, like the Sisters of Mercy in a Depeche Mode sort of mood. It's a perfectly serviceable release in this sort of mode, but if you're here expecting metal you will be bitterly disappointed, and if you already have a taste for goth then you probably can name a dozen stronger albums in this particular vein. Worthwhile as an experiment, but not as a long-term port of call.

BLACK FLAG Live '84

Live album · 1984 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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An extensive live document of the Black Flag tour falling after the sessions that capped off Family Man and yielded Slip It In on the one hand, and prior to the sessions that would produce In My Head, Loose Nut, and The Process of Weeding Out on the other. Sound quality is not exceptional, which may perhaps have contributed to making this a cassette-only release in its original incarnation, but the song selection is decent, with a range of material from recent or soon-to-be recorded albums with just a few Damaged-era tracks sprinkled in to keep the fans of that period happy. Not a classic, but worth it if you are fond of this period of Black Flag's development.

BLACK FLAG Loose Nut

Album · 1985 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Another fruit of the March 1985 sessions which rounded out In My Head and also yielded The Process of Weeding Out, Loose Nut finds Black Flag in a somewhat more accessible mode than the avant-hardcore of the former or the jazz experimentation of the latter. Essentially a concept album about being horny and frustrated (the guitar tone at points seems to point in the direction of the noisy experiments of Big Black's Songs About Fucking), it's a much more straight-ahead and accessible album than any Black Flag had released since Damaged - which isn't to say that the skewed, oddball direction that they'd taken since then isn't reflected, just that it isn't quite as much at centre stage. It's a lot of fun, but suggests that Black Flag broke up at the last time - after spending so long blazing a trail through uncharted territory, it wouldn't have been fun to watch Black Flag continue in this direction for much longer.

BLACK FLAG In My Head

Album · 1985 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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Much of In My Head was actually recorded before the preceding album, Loose Nut. In My Head was recorded in sessions spanning from October 1984 to March 1985, Loose Nut was recorded as part of the March 1985 sessions along with The Process of Weeding Out EP, and some tracks from the cassette and CD versions of this album that later got an independent release as the I Can See You EP. However, In My Head was held back from release a little - partly because apparently Greg Ginn was contemplating releasing it as his first solo album, before the decision was made to just make it another Black Flag release.

So, what to make of the penultimate recorded and final released Black Flag album? (Let us not be fooled by the soulless cash-in which is "What the...?") Well, it's pretty much Slip It In Part 2, with the various unusual influences that Slip It In worked on incorporating into their baseline hardcore punk style further honed, and a decidedly Minutemen-esque sense of off-kilter experimentation continuing. It's somewhat more successful than Slip It In too - it doesn't have any missteps on the level of Rat's Eyes, for instance - making it perhaps the best album of Black Flag's experimental phase, just as Damaged was their best pure hardcore album and My War was their best proto-sludge/doom album.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 10 ratings
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Enslaved's latest release is E, as in "E bah gum, in't this one a beauty?" Once again it's sure to confound genre classification nerds (is this progressive black metal or blackened progressive metal), since like much recent Enslaved material it sits right on the dividing line, but what's particularly impressive is how Enslaved have been able to heighten both sides of that equation whilst still retaining the balance.

The prog is more progressive, the blackened parts are dark as a moonless night, and the dabblings in folk have lured Einar Kvitrafn of Wardruna out of the depths of the Dark Folk Forest to come and make little contributions here and there. In short, it's exactly the sort of frothing, Viking-themed genre cocktail that we've come to expect from Enslaved, but the taste is stronger and richer and more delicious than it's been for a while - and that's a high bar to hit considering their usual excellent standards.

BLACK FLAG Slip It In

Album · 1984 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Slip It In was recorded in a single group of sessions in June 1984, just as My War was recorded in a focused set in December 1983. That may make it more palatable to some listeners, because whereas Family Man (which emerged between My War and this one) was made up of a mass of unusual material recorded at different times during a period of extensive musical development, Slip It In has a much more cohesive sound.

That sound is pretty much "My War, Side 1, Part 2" - whilst there's some shots of the doomier sound of side 2 of My War, for the most part the material here more involves an attempt to return to a hardcore-oriented sound but with the various other styles that Black Flag had dabbled in over the past year - doom metal and jazz in particular - more fully integrated into that hardcore sound.

The end result is a fascinating trip through a darker and more hard-edged take on the sort of territory that their buddies and labelmates in the Minutemen were exploring at the same time, filtered through some absolutely furious emoting from Henry Rollins. Rat's Eyes falls flat - it's almost a good song, mind, but the repetition of the chorus section is a bit excessive and just loses its power after a while, and it could have done with extensive tightening up on that front. On the other hand, You're Not Evil - especially its delirious outro - is so excellent as to forgive most of those sins, and the instrumental Obliteration might be the ultimate counterpoint to anyone trying to claim that the hardcore punk scene lacked for strong musicianship.

BLACK FLAG Family Man

Album · 1984 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 2 ratings
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In some respects it's no surprise that Family Man doesn't quite get the props of the preceding My War or the following Slip It In. Both of those other albums were recorded at a particular time (December 1983 for My War, June 1984 for Slip It In), which gives them a nicely unified sound and sense of purpose. Conversely, the material on Family Man is a mixture of off-cuts from those sessions and a few other bits and pieces recorded in between them.

In principle, that only represents a gap in time of about six months or so - but for a band whose sound was evolving as startlingly rapidly as Black Flag's was at this time, that may as well represent six years. The end result is a rather disjointed album, offering three different flavours of fun.

The first flavour is the one which gets talked about the most - the Henry Rollins spoken word tracks that dominate the first side. They may well not be what many fans are after, but they're interesting poetry, and it's worth noting that whilst six of the 7 songs on the first side don't have any instrumental backing and just have Rollins talking, in terms of running time those are quite brief and take less than 8 minutes. The remaining 9 minutes of side 1 is given over to Armageddon Man, in which Rollins recites his poetry over an instrumental backing reminiscent of the doom metal/hardcore punk proto-sludge mashup of My War (the oft-overlooked second flavour here).

The third flavour consists of the second side, devoted to instrumental mashups of hardcore punk and jazz. This isn't something entirely unprecedented in the subgenre - the Minutemen put a great deal of energy into working jazz influences into their music - but those who yearn for the simple, punch-to-the-gut directness of Damaged or The First Four Years may feel a little lost here.

However, those who like me are intrigued by Black Flag's more experimental work will find that Family Man is a tasty triptych of material in various different styles. You might find that one part of it or another isn't to your taste - but if it is all to your taste, you'll be favourably impressed, and even if it isn't there may well be something here worth your time even if you tend to skip the rest.

ENSLAVED In Times

Album · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 16 ratings
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Ah, Enslaved. Are they purveyors of progressive black metal, or blackened progressive metal? They've wavered back and forth across that line over the years, but In Times to my ears sounds like it's sat on the progressive metal side of that line, largely consolidating the embellishments and improvements they'd made to their sound on albums like RIITIIR. The more aggressive and recognisably black metal-oriented compositions tend to be front-loaded to the start of the album, so as the runtime progresses you get less snarly blast beats and more progressive shoegaze-y sort of stuff.

It's unfailingly pleasant to listen to, but it doesn't do anything we haven't heard Enslaved already extensively dabble in. If you just want more Enslaved - and I can't fault your taste if you do - it's no disappointment, but it's not where I'd point people as a first port of call to explore their music.

BLACK FLAG Everything Went Black

Boxset / Compilation · 1982 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This is a sort of companion piece to the First Four Years; whereas that compilation is a quick port of call covering all of the band's official releases from before Henry Rollins joined the group, this spends its first three sides collecting various unreleased sessions from their pre-Rollins vocalists. The result of this that you get a lot of variant songs which you may already familiar with from First Four Years or Damaged, but it's actually kind of fascinating to hear how these songs evolved both with the shifts in vocalists and with the development of the band's early style.

Side 4, Crass Commercialism, is a sound collage made up of various radio spots advertising Black Flag shows; that's the sort of premise which looks awful written down like that, but it's actually a hoot to listen to given the sense of humour on display. Certainly, this compilation is worth grabbing if you want the whole story on the early years of the band.

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM Thrice Woven

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 8 ratings
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Wolves In the Throne Room took a good while to come up with a true black metal successor to Celestial Lineage; Celestite, the album that came between that and this, was fairly evidently a momentary diversion into electronic ambient music for the sake of stretching their musical muscles rather than a long-term future direction for the group.

With Thrice Woven, they return to the atmospheric black metal field with the lessons learned from Celestite integrated into their sound, with various ambient interludes woven into the album. These are always delicately and carefully constructed - we're not going full dungeon synth Casio keyboard early Mortiis here - and both the ambient sections and black metal sections are great, but at the same time they feel like just that - distinct sections which don't really feel like part of a cohesive whole. They do sit next to each other real purty though.

Whilst this isn't as essential as some Wolves In the Throne Room work, at the end of the day even second-tier Wolves represents a great ride as far as atmospheric black metal goes, and the wolves would seem to be secure on their thrones for the time being.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 17 ratings
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Harsh vocals and a deliciously poisonous death-doom murkiness make a big return to Paradise Lost's sound on Medusa - as does an unexpected dose of traditional doom metal at points. As the album cover suggests, the band here take a bit of inspiration from traditional doom metal throwbacks like Uncle Acid here - not to the extent of fully adopting some kind of Sabbath or Candlemass-worshipping sound, but at least to the extent that their death-doom material here isn't wholly devoted to slow, churning dirges like on Gothic but include livelier songs - Blood and Chains could be described as "death 'n' roll-doom" in its embrace of a catchy hook, whilst album closer Until the Grave is a pocket epic that perfectly fuses the slowest moments of death metal with the fastest of doom.

Highly impressive, this is a great little album which blows away all the memories of Sisters of Mercy-inspired synthpop from the middle of their career; listening to this makes me feel like Paradise Lost never left metal behind in the first place, and has convinced me that I really should give some more of their earlier album a second chance to win me over.

AHAB The Call of the Wretched Sea

Album · 2006 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 12 ratings
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This is the debut album by the German funeral doom outfit Ahab, and as you might guess from their name and the title it's a Moby Dick-inspired piece. Drawing heavily on the similarly-themed demo The Oath - The Hunt and Ahab's Oath are rerecorded tracks from there - it showcases a group with a delicate and nuanced understanding of their chosen subgenre, who are able to add their own twists and turns to the funeral doom metal formula and refresh it. Daniel Droste, in particular, is a star player on the album for his light but significant use of keyboards - check out that mournful droning organ tone that the album kicks off with and which excellently sets the atmosphere.

SWANS Omniscience

Live album · 1992 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The most melodic and accessible phase of Swans' discography came to a close with Omniscience, and whilst White Light From the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life have seen recent reissues it seems like Omniscience must stay out in the cold a little longer. That's a shame, because whilst I wouldn't call it essential Swans, it's an intriguing live journey into a musical realm that is suggested in part by those studio albums and the Burning World, and in part by the various Skin/World of Skin side project albums, ant yet not quite reached by any of them - a piece of the puzzle which stands by itself and has its own contribution to make.

XASTHUR Subliminal Genocide

Album · 2006 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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Continuing and intensifying the approach of To Violate the Oblivious (even the cover art looks similar), Subliminal Genocide finds Xasthur main man Malefic continuing his project of applying atmospheric black metal techniques to depressive black metal mood and subject matter. Oppressively doomy and refreshingly experimental by turns, the album feels like a sort of weird opposite of psychedelia - whilst psychedelic music tries to open up your mind to wild vistas, Xasthur's music is more numbing, yielding an anaesthetic haze in which everything winds down until only the music is left. Maybe it's not a wild divergence the from the rest of his black metal material, but it's a decent entry in his discography.

MELECHESH Emissaries

Album · 2006 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 13 ratings
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Who says black metal can't be catchy? Melodic black metal is, to an extent, a subgenre founded on questioning that assumption, but Melechesh on Emissaries really go the extra mile in demolishing it. Undeniably catchy and accessible and yet at the same time undeniably steeped not just in black metal, but in the esoteric ancient Assyrian aesthetic and mythology that Melechesh have made their own. The Middle Eastern folk influences that come out more prominently on other Melechesh albums are more towards the background here, but it's still a very smooth introduction to their particular sound and to current trends in melodic black metal.

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