Metal Music Reviews from Warthur

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM Thrice Woven

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 5 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 4.57 | 8 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 4.47 | 10 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 4.50 | 12 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.

A FOREST OF STARS Opportunistic Thieves of Spring

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.45 | 6 ratings
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A Forest of Stars offers up a broader range of sounds than expected for black metal, even in the experimentation-happy realms of the "atmospheric" subgenre of it. Between them Mister Curse on shrieked vocals, T.S. Kettleburner on guitar and bass, and John "the Resurrectionist" Bishop on drums provide all the tools for the black metal side of the equation, but the inclusion of the Gentleman on synths and pianoforte and Katheryne, Queen of the Ghosts on violin and flute allows them to incorporate ambient, folk and Victorian chamber music influences into their sounds.

On this second album, they indulge themselves with long song structures that allow all of these diverse sounds to come together in a psychedelically-tinged blend. Like much of the atmospheric black metal subgenre, this isn't an album for dipping into and out of - you'll want to listen to it all the way through to get its full effect - but I'd say it's decidedly worth setting that listening time aside for.

THY CATAFALQUE Rengeteg

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 16 ratings
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This is the first Thy Catafalque album crafted by Tamás Kátai as a solo performer (with guests on vocals and cello), rather than as a collaboration with Juhász János on guitar - and to be honest, if I hadn't looked that up I wouldn't have guessed, because this pristinely produced exercise in blackened avant-metal with ample folk, prog and electronic influences and experimentation feels like a whole-band effort. The entire scope of Thy Catafalque's sonic universe is brought together in album centrepiece Vashegyek, a 14 minute tour de force which should win you over to Thy Catafalque's approach even if no other composition on here does. Pick it up if you like the idea of atmospheric black metal by way of early Tangerine Dream as performed for an Eastern European folk festival.

SWANS The Glowing Man

Album · 2016 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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A solid followup to To Be Kind, and a substantial improvement on it. Swans' post-rock sound here remains strongly influenced by other artists in this realm - substantial sections of The Cloud of Unknowing in particular make me think of this incarnation of the group as Godspeed You Black Swans! - but the musical twists and turns into other styles feel better judged and the material is less padded out. At points they go to places you never expected to visit with Swans; in particular, at one point The World Looks Red/The World Looks Back shifts gears and starts sounding booty-shakingly funky, but it somehow works within the wider context of the composition.

SWANS Filth

Album · 1983 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.34 | 9 ratings
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With Jonathan Kane and Roli Mosimann's duelling percussion creating the impression of an angry heroin-addicted trash can stomping down the street intent on mugging you, the Swans' debut album is as pure an expression of their early No Wave sound as you could expect to find. Though subsequent releases like Cop can become introverted and impenetrable, the sound of Filth hooks you instantly with its raw ugliness; far from being indirect or oblique, it comes at you straight and true and confronts you with a hideous musical vision.

Whilst heavier albums in terms of sheer downtuned riffage have emerged over the years, few releases have ever felt so misanthropic and violent. I am fairly sure nobody was bloodily beaten to death during the recording of this album, but if they were I'm not sure it would change the sound appreciably.

ULVER Childhood's End

Album · 2012 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 6 ratings
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The "covers album" tends not to get a good rap, but anyone who knows anything about Ulver would know full well that they'd take an off-beat approach to the idea. Here, they take a leaf from David Bowie's Pin-Ups and give a highly individual spin to a brace of 1960s psych and garage rock deep cuts.

Just as Bowie gave his selection a glam rock spin in keeping with his musical approach at the time, here Ulver recast the songs they select into a distinct mode of their own - a mixture of psych-aligned proto-prog and gothic darkness, like what might happen if the Doors and the Cure got to jamming.

As the cover art implies with its incorporation of one of the most iconic and harrowing images of the Vietnam War, this reinterpretation with the aid of hindsight teases out the darker aspects of the flower power era - a time when the sunniest pop to ever grace the airwaves was churned out even as a war that traumatised a generation and made the whole world question the innocence and good intentions of US foreign policy raged.

The end result is a classic example of how a distinct and original artistic statement can be put together even if it doesn't wholly constitute original material - plus the individual interpretations of the songs are some great goth-psych stuff on top.

SABBAT Karisma

Album · 1999 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.49 | 4 ratings
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With its six tracks tending towards respectable lengths, the Japanese Sabbat clearly hadn't lost their appetite for long-form songwriting since The Dwelling but didn't take it to such an extreme here, instead presenting a terser album of high-energy, thrashy, catchy as hell black metal. The production drags out the guitar front and centre, and Temis Osmond makes good use of the spotlight.

Where the line is drawn in Sabbat's discography between thrashy black metal and blackened thrash is a tricky one, but here I'd say that the uncompromisingly aggressive stance of the second wave black metal spearheaded by the Norwegian cabal (and, of course, Sabbat's fellow countrymen Sigh) it sits on the black metal side of the equation, particularly since Sabbat's well-honed love for Venom doesn't quite extend into the sort of carefree sloppiness of Venom's classic releases.

MUDVAYNE The End of All Things to Come

Album · 2002 · Nu Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 13 ratings
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Unfailingly catchy, Mudvayne's second album stands as a rebuke to anyone who'd argue that the nu metal scene lacks songwriting chops - you just don't get infectious hooks like this by sheer accident. The main barrier to enjoyment, to me, are Chüd's vocals. It's not that they are bad as such - and lyrically speaking the album is at least a bit smarter than the swear-happy lazy cliches of all too many nu metal also-rans.

It's just that the vocals, whilst competently delivered, just don't do very much for me. The general approach varies between a fairly generic semi-spoken style (especially in the more melodic sections) and a fairly generic semi-shouted style; rinse, repeat. It could be that his vocal approach has ended up becoming a victim of its own success. with enough subsequent alternative metal bands following that style that it no longer seems as fresh as it used to.

The upshot of this is that just as Mudvayne's music hooks me in, the vocals push me away again. If you aren't that fussy about vocals then tack on an extra half-star or two.

NOCTURNUS Thresholds

Album · 1992 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 11 ratings
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On their second album Nocturnus leaned even harder on the sci-fi aspects of their debut, dialling back the death metal Satanism but keeping the technical death metal virtuosity intact. With a clean production style and carefully judged keyboard work from Louis Panzer emphasising the spacey aesthetic, it might not have as gripping a concept as The Key but it's far from a major musical step backwards. As an evolution of Nocturnus' sound, it hints at the directions that the band might have gone in were it not for an extended hiatus and lineup fragmentation derailing them for much of the rest of the 1990s.

KILLING JOKE Night Time

Album · 1985 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.51 | 6 ratings
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Killing Joke dial up the synthpop and new wave influences on this one, dragging their distinctive post-punk style into more classically gothic territory as a result - but if the extra polish represents a shift away from the harsh sound of their debut, it also takes Killing Joke into a distinctly warped pop landscape where their prickly ethos makes for something richer and darker than your typical mid-1980s pop ditty. Infectiously danceable, the album never quite goes fully electro-industrial with its approach but at the same time feels like an aesthetic cousin of the early work of Ministry or Nine Inch Nails.

ULVER Wars Of The Roses

Album · 2011 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.39 | 8 ratings
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For their Wars of the Roses, Ulver shapeshift once again. It's a bit harder to get a handle on their sound this time around, partly because it's a bit more wide-ranging and experimental, but if you obliged me to have a stab I'd say its their bid at producing melancholic melodic art rock - it's not quite baroque enough to qualify as full-blown prog (or even neo-prog), but it's the sort of thing which wouldn't seem wholly out of place out of an opening act for Marillion or something. The major exception is album closer Stone Angels, a spoken word poem read over an extended ambient musical backing. On balance I'd say that Ulver don't quite have as strong a direction here as they usually do on their projects, which makes it a bit of an oddity in their discography.

GUAPO History Of The Visitation

Album · 2013 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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A comparatively terse album for Guapo - in its physical incarnation the release is made a bit more tempting with a bonus live DVD - finds the band exploring its usual vast range of sounds. The epic Pilman Radiant finds them bridging sounds ranging from the brutal prog of Five Suns or Black Oni to more jazzy, lighter affairs, reminiscent of the Canterbury-tinged early sound of RIO pioneers like Samla Mammas Manna or Henry Cow. Complex #7 is a harshly electronic intermission before the foreboding Tremors From the Future plays us out. Not quite as groundbreaking as Five Suns or Black Oni, but it's still nice to see Guapo keeping their hand in the game.

GUAPO Black Oni

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.70 | 5 ratings
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Guapo's Black Oni is much in the same vein as the preceding Five Suns - an intoxicating blend of mid-1970s King Crimson, early Univers Zero, classic-era Magma and a whole bunch more besides. Once again, the band take a Magma-inspired approach to compositional structure, producing an album-length suite which is full of twists and turns and remains vivid and entertaining right to the end, and on the whole I think there's a bit more of a Univers Zero vibe about this one than the previous one, but really they're much of a muchness - if you like one, you'll like the other, if you don't like one you'll most likely like neither.

GUAPO Five Suns

Album · 2004 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 5 ratings
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Sure, the influences of Guapo might be fairly typical for RIO bands - Magma, the mid-1970s incarnation of King Crimson and Univers Zero - but it's the way they bring these influences together on Five Suns which makes it such a fun trip. You have the Magma influence in the deep, pulsating rhythms and the epic song structures (the main event here being a 45 minute track), you have the wild guitar excursions and Mellotron-mania of Red-era King Crimson, and you have the mysterious and frightening aesthetic of Univers Zero, all brought together in an avant-prog attack which will also appeal to many symphonic prog listeners.

GODFLESH Pure

Album · 1992 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 7 ratings
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Industrial metal pioneers Godflesh advance their sound by incorporating influences from the very earliest phases of the industrial music subgenre, with pieces like Love, Hate (Slugbaiting) and Pure II at points drifting out of metal territory entirely into the sort of sickly, rotting from the inside musical landscapes first exposed to the world in the most disturbing works of Throbbing Gristle or Nurse With Wound. A rather transitional, experimental album, it isn't quite as immediately arresting as Streetcleaner, but it's a decent enough listen for industrial metal fans and suggests a band whose creative process is still very much alive and ongoing.

EVOKEN Embrace The Emptiness

Album · 1998 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.49 | 6 ratings
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Standing athwart the thin borderline between death-doom metal and funeral doom, what Evoken offer up on Embrace the Emptiness combines the glacial pace and sombre tone of funeral doom combined with the gutteral malevolence of death-doom. The sophistication offered by Dario Derna's keyboard work and Charles Lamb's maudlin cello sits next to and adds texture to the slow, bloody dissection Nick Orlando engages in with his guitar solos. The pace is a bit more varied than some funeral doom releases, which will help those less familiar with the genre get into it, but it's never too fast for long - like a momentary twitch of life in a dying body.

ARCTURUS Aspera Hiems Symfonia

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 28 ratings
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The debut album by Arcturus finds the band not quite reaching the symphonic intricacies of La Masquerade Infernale, instead yielding something more like a mingling of black metal and melodic prog - in particular, some of Steinar Sverd Johnsen's keyboard passages in the quieter moments put me in mind of the likes of early Marillion and other Genesis-influenced neo-prog projects. This unlikely fusion yields intoxicating fruit here, with the album neatly blending the styles at a time when the idea of sophisticated Norwegian black metal was still not yet entirely given credit. A majestic counterpoint to the more kvlt efforts of their contemporaries.

LOCUST LEAVES A Subtler Kind of Light

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 5 ratings
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A brief burst of dark progressive metal - I'd even call it blackened progressive metal at points considering the influence it takes from the atmospheric black metal subgenre - Locust Leaves' debut album finds them tackling extremes of moods. Vocalist Nick K. varies between clean and harsher vocals to match the varying styles of the album, which hit a peak of aggression on the death metal-influenced Fall (Ptosi), but instrumentalist Helm is the MVP here, with the six minute ambient outro Flight (Ptisi) being an all-instrumental last word. It's an interesting and novel style and it makes me hope to hear more from the project.

FANTÔMAS Delìrium Còrdia

Album · 2004 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.60 | 9 ratings
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Inspired by the very rare but terrifyingly real phenomenon of people remaining immobile but conscious through surgery due to an odd reaction to anaesthesia, this album-length track from Fantomas is a strange ambient metal opera taking the listener through the twists and turns of this predicament. It isn't just surgery sound effects, though - a diverse range of musical sounds pass by on the journey, yet at the same time I find that most of them aren't particularly memorable. As a project Fantomas has always been one to live or die by its concept, and here the idea is fun in theory but not so hot in execution.

FANTÔMAS Suspended Animation

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 13 ratings
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A weirdly sunny album for the crushingly heavy Fantomas - don't worry, the riffs and vocal work are still as bizarre as ever, but they are augmented this time by the beeping and booping of children's toys, playful cartoon music, and giggling kids. Maybe Patton, Osborne, Lombardo and Dunn were in a particularly chirpy mood, but this is like candy floss for alternative and extreme metal fans - a brace of experimental brief tracks (with titles inspired by various holidays and festivals during the month of April) displaying a joyous playfulness and even a certain happiness which the dark aesthetic of extreme metal tends to spurn. Happy times.

FEN The Malediction Fields

Album · 2009 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 17 ratings
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Though I found that the followup, Epoch, suffered from a little sophomore slump, I was impressed enough by Fen's Winter to want to go back and explore more of their discography, and I find that The Malediction Fields is a superior example of their early sound. It's still atmospheric black metal with some blackgaze elements, but what makes this a keeper for me is the slightly more prominent post-rock influences, making Fen a sort of UK answer to the likes of Agalloch. Deftly balancing harsher and more gentle musical stretches, Fen display a deft command of atmosphere here, which of course is the name of the game in this particular black metal subgenre.

FANTÔMAS The Director's Cut

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 8 ratings
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The second Fantomas album improves on the first by offering a more distinct concept - it's Fantomas doing various movie soundtracks, focusing on but not limiting themselves to the horror genre. Naturally, you wouldn't have expected them to play these without substantial rearrangement and reimagination (plus here and there the insertion of some appropriate lyrics to keep Patton in the loop), and it's the off-kilter take on the various material here which keeps things fresh and original and allows it to rise above the status of your typical album of cover songs. Terse and troubling, The Director's Cut sees Fantomas finding its feet and purpose.

FANTÔMAS Fantômas

Album · 1999 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.32 | 8 ratings
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The debut album by Fantomas doesn't stake out an enormously distinct identity for the new supergroup, consisting of Patton and Dunn of Mr Bungle fame joined by Slayer's Dave Lombardo and Buzz Osborne of Melvins. Given the makeup of the group, it's not surprising that this starting point feels largely like a continuation of Mr Bungle by other means. (Dunn and Patton were spreading themselves thin at the time too with actual Mr Bungle work - California, the final Bungle release, came out only a couple of months after this.)

The album consists of short sonic snippets, more extreme metal-oriented in style than much of Mr Bungle and with a flair for the dramatic. I think the concept is that it's a soundtrack to this movie that does not exist, but to be honest that doesn't quite come through here (fellow Mr Bungle offshoot Secret Chiefs 3 would, via their Traditionalists alter ego, tackle a similar concept with a bit more flair some years later) - but that doesn't mean it isn't an intriguing listen, just that it's a bit obtuse compared to later Fantomas releases whose concepts are somewhat more upfront.

ULVER The Assassination Of Julius Caesar

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 3 ratings
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You'd think that by this point in their career, after all the twists and turns they've taken us down, the prospect of Ulver trying out a radically different genre from their former work would be utterly unsurprising - I mean, this is the same band which bounced from kvlt black metal to dark folk across their first two albums, after all.

And yet, somehow The Assassination of Julius Caesar manages to be another whiplash-inducing swerve from Ulver, shifting into the realm of honest-to-goodness synthpop. The secret to it, which makes it perhaps my favourite Ulver release ever, is that this is a style of gothy synthpop which feels distinctly Ulver, particularly in terms of their electronic and ambient works of their post-metal era.

After all, Dressed In Black on Blood Inside verged on the electro-gothic, so this isn't an evolution entirely without precedent, and whilst 80s nostalgia synthwave stuff is in vogue at the time, Ulver are able to artfully defy expectations by making the most 80s-tastic cut on here a tribute to 1969. Moreover, just because they've gone synthpop doesn't mean they've gone simplistic with it; there's complex, ornate passages here which reveal hidden depths to their sound, and I'd urge anyone turned off by the synthpop approach to at least give cuts like Rolling Stone or Coming Home a chance before writing off this album out of hand.

Is this what we wanted or expected from the next Ulver album? Almost certainly not, but by this point we'd be fools to expect Ulver to do what we want or expect - better to simply let them do their thing, and celebrate it when that results in creative masterstrokes like this.

BLACK FLAG My War

Album · 1984 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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Delayed by contractural issues, Black Flag's follow-up to Damaged doesn't even try to follow the quirky, accessible hardcore style of that album, but instead works on expanding the sonic palette of hardcore. The influence of SST stablemates Saint Vitus crops up here, as Black Flag embrace fuzzier, slower, more downtuned riffs and doom influences to produce an album of two halves. Side A consists of a brace of hardcore punk songs with Greg Ginn's downbeat guitar playing adding a more morose spin to proceedings, and Henry Rollins no longer offering quirky jokes like TV Party. (Instead, over the whole course of the album it feels like the emotional wounds evident in the title track from Damaged have been festering all this time.)

On the second side, everything slows way the fuck down, and as Henry wails and moans his way through his tortured lyrics Greg goes full-on sludge metal with the listener; indeed, it's the blending of hardcore aesthetics and doom metal slowness here which arguably created the blueprint for sludge metal to follow.

Overall, My War is a much more challenging album than Damaged, and hardcore punk purists may find it disappointing - but as a twisted, sludgey, doomy bit of metal-tinged punk, it's a classic.

BLACK FLAG Six Pack

EP · 1981 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Damaged and the Rollins reign are just over the horizon, but this second EP from the Dez era provides a fascinating alternate version of one of the iconic tracks from that album along with two furious B-sides. "Six Pack" as a song finds the satirical eye of Damaged really coming together, the band's sense of humour shining through - whilst pieces like American Waste demonstrate that they still haven't given up any of their rage and fury. With releases like this it's clear that Rollins was stepping into the driver's seat of a well-tuned and capable machine; it's the perfect prelude to Damaged.

BLACK FLAG Jealous Again

EP · 1980 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Is You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You the first diss track in hardcore punk? Maybe, maybe not, but it's the punchline to a really solid EP here. ("White Minority" on the face of it seems to steer into a decidedly dodgy area, but if you unpack the sarcasm of the lyrics you find that it's the white power anthem that its title might otherwise imply but is, rather, an outright rejection of it and an embrace of the rise of dissenting voices.) With no song extending to two minutes, this is some archetypal hardcore right here, and a foundational EP in the genre's history.

BLACK FLAG Nervous Breakdown

EP · 1979 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Hardcore punk - where if it's the length of an EP you can call it an album, and if it's the length of a single you can call it an EP. So much of hardcore was shaped by the good ol' SST label, and whilst detractors of the Rollins era may wish hardcore had different founding fathers, the Black Flag showcased on Nervous Breakdown is a better foundation for the genre than we might otherwise have hoped for. Note how the EP offers a comparatively conventional song on side A (at least in terms of length) before going for a brace of three hardcore micro-songs on side B.

BLACK FLAG The First Four Years

Boxset / Compilation · 1983 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Black Flag's The First Four Years is a mean little companion piece to Damaged, collecting all of the band's single and EP releases preceding their classic debut. It actually works fairly well as an album in its own right - partly thanks to its modest 25 minute running time - and the evolution of the band from a mildly harder than average punk band to the hardcore punk demigods beginning to dabble in other musical territories they were on Damaged is intriguing to witness. I won't get too deep into the arguments over which vocalist is best because all of them have a broadly similar approach to spitting out the band's lyrics and lay the groundwork for Rollins to come in admirably.

If you are really addicted to alternate versions of songs from here and Damaged you can take a look at Everything Went Black, but for most I think this is the only significant compilation of pre-Rollins material you need - not least because the overlap of material between this and Damaged is comparatively slight.

BLACK FLAG Damaged

Album · 1981 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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Future albums would see Black Flag becoming increasingly devoted to various experimental directions which never quite yielded the same benefits as the simple, straightforward hardcore approach as shown on this album and on the various preceding EPs and singles. Say what you like about what Henry Rollins has done since then, but here he's the perfect furious punk frontman, vomiting forth his lyrics with a hefty dose of bile whilst showing enough versatility to give the more comedic satirical songs such as TV Party the spin they require - the audio equivalent of a knowing wink to the camera. And of course the band, having honed themselves on these songs for four years or so, are on brilliant form.

ACID BATH When the Kite String Pops

Album · 1994 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 11 ratings
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Boasting Jon Wayne Gacy cover art and an incredibly appropriately dirty and sludgy production, Acid Bath's debut album offers up crushingly heavy sludge metal whose subject matter, as you might guess from the cover, combines the jocular with the morbid. (Dr. Seuss Is Dead is outright terrifying.) Dax Riggs' vocals can take the strangest subject matter and make it sound deadly serious, especially in the context of the doleful sonic territory explored by lead guitarists Sammy Duet and Mike Sanchez. At points it's almost psychedelic, a bad trip into dark territory. As far as the 1990s pioneers of sludge metal go, Acid Bath certainly don't deserve to be overlooked.

ESOTERIC Subconscious Dissolution Into The Continuum

Album · 2004 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 7 ratings
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Subconscious Dissolution Into the Continuum is a case of evolution rather than revolution; it essentially finds Esoteric working their way further down the cleaner-sounding and more experimental trajectory that had started with Metamorphogenesis. Like that album, it's somewhat shorter than the epic slabs of funeral doom we've learned to expect from Esoteric, and that works to its favour, allowing them to tinker with an unusually subdued atmosphere for them without the album outlasting its welcome in the way it might if it had been padded out to the double CD length of some of their more epic works. The end result is another solid release.

DISEMBOWELMENT Transcendence Into the Peripheral

Album · 1993 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 11 ratings
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It's always a bit of a shame when a band puts out a single album and then dissipates without trace - but when that one album is as solid a piece as dISEMBOWELMENT's Transcendence Into the Peripheral, maybe it makes sense. The Australians clearly only needed one album to make their point: this showcase of their particular take on the death/doom style, with dark ambient elements gently incorporated, offers a solid hour of entertaining death/doom which is long enough to allow them to explore their sound fully and short enough not to outlast its welcome - much like their career. Whether taken in by itself or as part of their self-titled whole-career compilation, this is an excellent listen for anyone keen on the early 1990s death/doom sound.

CANAAN A Calling to Weakness

Album · 2002 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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A Calling to Weakness finds Canaan adeptly weaving their way through numerous neighbouring musical genres. Sometimes they are in solidly gothic rock territory, with a bassline worthy of early Bauhaus, but then a guitar riff will creep in and cross the line from early Cure to something more metallic (particularly when one considers that borderland between doom metal and gothic metal that bands like Type O Negative occupy). Interweaved with this are moments more reminiscent of dark ambient artists, or perhaps moments of sinister darkwave glory worthy of Dead Can Dance. The overall mixture has Canaan displaying a remarkable versatility within this twisted family of subgenres, and creates something that should be appealing to a broad cross-section of fans of dark, gothic music.

PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA U.M.A.

Album · 2013 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 7 ratings
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After hearing their oltreLuna, which is surely a 2017 album of the year candidate if there ever was one, I wanted to go back to hear Progenie Terrestre Pura's debut album, UMA. This boasts a different lineup to the followup; whereas that was recorded by a trio, this consists of instrumentalist Eon[0] (who'd drop the nickname and be plain old Davide Colladon for the next album) and vocalist Nex[1], who would leave the project after the Asteroidi EP.

What is presented here is a solid first step on the road to the blend of psybient electronic music and atmospheric black metal that made oltreLuna so brilliant. At points the rough edges between the genres are still evident, but otherwise it's an intriguing genre mashup which manages the trick of integrating atmospheric black metal's occasional fascination with ambient music with the furious power of it, rather than keeping ambient and metal tracks separate as is so often the case in the subgenre.

MOTÖRHEAD Inferno

Album · 2004 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.14 | 20 ratings
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Everyone remembers Whorehouse Blues from this one because it's Motorhead's left turn into rootsy blues. The studio version here is OK, though if you were lucky enough to catch them performing it live it doesn't measure up to that. (There's some production treatment on Lemmy's voice to make it sound a bit more like an old-timey recording which feels a bit heavy-handed.) Preceding this interesting experiment is a set of fairly standard Motorhead songs which largely hold up, though the very clean mid-2000s production values makes them feel a bit sanitised compared to their rough and ready early years. Still, if you want proof that Motorhead could simultaneously still surprise you and still deliver exactly what you want out of a Motorhead album this later in their career, Inferno offers it.

FATES WARNING Disconnected

Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 39 ratings
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As with A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Disconnected had Fates Warning working as a core creative trio of Alder, Matheos and Zonder, with Joey Vera and Kevin Moore working on a guest musician basis. Whilst some prefer the preceding album, I admit that I quite like this release.

On the surface, it comes across as one of those millennial "Oooh, the Internet is scary, will it truly offer us a closer connection to each other or will it all leave us more disconnected and isolated?" concepts that proliferated back in that slice of time after the Internet had become ubiquitous but before Facebook and other social media platforms had definitively answered the question. ("Yes, the Internet will connect you to other people and their innermost thoughts and feelings. You will quickly get sick of them.")

The genius of the album is that rather than approaching the subject like they have an axe to grind, or limiting themselves to that narrow concept, Fates Warning instead take it as a jumping-off point to explore all sorts of different types of interpersonal connection and disconnection, being wise enough to realise that actually, interpersonal connection tends to pan out differently for different people. Some songs, such as One, outright celebrate the emotional bonds between people - others note how they can be mentally draining and sometimes you *need* your alone time to recharge your batteries, whilst others are sung from the point of views struggling to reach out.

It's kind of like its Rorscharch blot of a cover. Some might see it as capturing two people seeking intimacy but being blocked from it by the very devices they have chosen to apply to themselves (or have been forced to by circumstance); I see it as a happy scene of two gasmask fetishists finding each other in a world where it's never been easier to find someone who shares your kinks.

Musically, we're dealing with a nicely matured version of the 1990s Fates Warning sound, the band entering the new millennium with the confidence to simply sound like themselves and not worrying about then-current trends in metal. (Then again, given the rise of nu-metal between Pleasant Shade and this, deciding not to go down that route may have been a no-brainer - I've got nothing against nu-metal, but I can think of few styles less compatible with Fates Warning's approach). The combination of all these features makes Disconnected, for me, the best Fates Warning album since No Exit.

VATTNET VISKAR Settler

Album · 2015 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 5 ratings
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The artwork for Settler by Vattnet Viskar (who'd drop the "Viskar" after this release) seems unusually bright and sunny for a black metal album, which prompted raised eyebrows at its release, but don't be fooled - we're not quite out of the howling darkness yet. See, the cover art depicts Christa McAuliffe, one of the astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster, on a zero-G training flight, so if you want gory, firey death, there's an implication of it right there.

But as others have noted, the album isn't solely about that. Following the trend in American atmospheric black metal bands to broaden the emotional palette of black metal-inspired music, Vattnet Viskar use the disaster to contemplate themes of exploration, competition, and the sacrifices people make for both. As you might expect, some Deafheaven-esque blackgaze influences make it in here and there, and the spaceflight theme prompts the band to seek to not only inspire terror but also convey an awe of the cosmos.

It's all well and good, and not as far from black metal tradition as purists might make out - cosmic and space themes have crept into black metal frequently over the years, and Darkspace have made a career out of just that - but the fact that the album isn't the major sonic departure from precedent that purists were afraid it would be is, in and of itself, a bit of a disappointment. Yes, there's sludge and blackgaze influences creeping in here and there, but all too often it slips back to a more generic atmospheric black metal sound, which when you consider the more audacious space trips groups like Darkspace and Progenie Terrestre Pura have each offered in their own distinct way feels like a missed opportunity.

It's still a very solid four-star album, but I feel like Vattnet have yet to truly break free from the atmospheric black metal pack. You only need to listen to one album from those other bands I've mentioned to get a really firm idea of what their sound is; I'm still not sure I know what the Vattnet sound is.

SAILLE Gnosis

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 8 ratings
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Melodic black metal ruminating on the musicians' personal occult interests is hardly new - Dissection were all about that, after all - but on Saille's Gnosis they offer a solid and enjoyable example of the form. Guest performer Dries Gaerdelen's keyboards and other features add some tasteful symphonic touches, but these are neither bombastically prominent enough to drag the album into symphonic black metal territory or clumsily heavy-handed enough to overwhelm what the rest of the band is doing.

With the sort of tributes to Biblical fallen angels, Norse gods, H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley that have littered innumerable metal albums over the years, you'd think that this would have entered the realm of utter cliche, but whilst there's nothing lyrically new under the sun here, musically there's plenty for melodic black metal fans to sink their teeth into.

RUNNING WILD Death or Glory

Album · 1989 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 36 ratings
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By this fifth studio album, Running Wild had left their rough around the edges early speed metal releases in their wake, and had successfully claimed the uncharted power metal realm of Pirate Metal Island for their very own. Having done two studio albums and one live album in this full-on pirate-happy style, it's safe to say that by this point they'd settled into this new direction for the band and committed to it wholeheartedly, and it shows here with the confident set of songs.

Running Wild's pirate schtick seems to strongly divide audiences - some people love it, some people find their take on the subject cheesy, and some landlubbers just don't like pirates; I'm in the second category, but even so I have to acknowledge that this is a rather fun early power metal album which offers an accessible point of entry into Running Wild's particular aesthetic universe.

PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA oltreLuna

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 6 ratings
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Progenie Terrestre Pura are probably secretly aliens. Sure, they claim to come from Italy, but they give the game away with this album. See, Earth people typically wouldn't consider psybient and other electronic/ambient genres to be a natural fit with black metal - even in the world of atmospheric black metal, which has been known to dabble in the synthesiser from time to time - and they certainly would have picked up on the fact that if every member of your band has a role in working the synthesisers and/or drum machines your metal credentials are going to be questioned by purists.

And yet here they come with this bizarre industrial-black-ambient head trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy, taking the listener through a calvacade of different moods ranging well beyond the usual cold misanthropy of black metal, and they expect us to believe they're just ordinary human beings like the rest of us? Come off it, Progenie Terrestre Pura: just 'fess up and give us the secrets to faster than light travel so we can go visit your home planet and learn where you learned to play like this.

OBITUARY The End Complete

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 18 ratings
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Having hit their brutal stride on Cause of Death, Obituary took a "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" approach to The End Complete, offering up nine more morbid meditations on the lapse into oblivion and putrescence that awaits us all. At 36 minutes it certainly can't be accused of outlasting its welcome, and to be honest this was probably a smart move - otherwise the lack of significant musical development over Cause of Death might have become an issue. As it stands, to a certain extent The End Complete boils down to "Cause of Death, only with Allen West back in the guitar position", and on balance that's all it really needed to be.

NASUM Human 2.0

Album · 2000 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.65 | 9 ratings
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Grindcore often goes with a lo-fi aesthetic that leads some to conclude that it's just a morass of unpolished noise. Any grindcore fan probably has a portfolio of albums they could play you to try and dispel that impression, but one of the best for this purpose might be Nasum's Human 2.0. Nasum smash the notion that grindcore necessarily implies poor production values by presenting a very clean sound, in which the technicality of their compositions can be teased out - particularly on the longer songs - whilst not compromising an inch when it comes to that good old screaming, bellowing grindcore rage.

MOTÖRHEAD 1916

Album · 1991 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.58 | 29 ratings
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Motorhead don't do bad albums, but that doesn't mean every one of their releases was a classic. 1916 is a solid album of Motorhead-style rock 'n' roll - that's what Lemmy always called their music at gigs, and in some respects the production and compositional approach on here really teases out that side of their sound - this is perhaps best audible on the triptych of I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care), No Voices In the Sky and Going to Brazil. That's cool if it's an aspect of the band's character you're particularly keen on, but if you can take it or leave it the album can feel a little lightweight next to monsters like Bomber or Overkill.

After this set the album begins to get bogged down; Love Me Forever is a slow ballad which mostly illustrates why people tend not to think of slow ballads when they think of Motorhead, whilst Angel City seems unusally vapid by Motorhead standards. Closing number is a serious-minded tribute to the dead of World War I, which by itself is an interesting number, but it's both very uncharacteristic of the band and doesn't really seem to fit the rest of the album, feeling incongruous as a result.

In short, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. Were it all like the rock-and-roll focused material of side 1 I'd probably give it three stars, since it's in a style I'm not keen on but which is clearly competently done, but as it stands the patchy second side drags it down another half star.

EMPYRIUM Songs of Moors & Misty Fields

Album · 1997 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.49 | 8 ratings
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Dialling back on the symphonic elements of their debut album, leaning on the folk metal aspects more and teasing out the doom metal undercurrents of their sound, on their second album Empyrium produce what may be the finest release of their metal-oriented years. With the next album onwards, they would shift into the dark folk territory they already find themselves on the threshold of here, but this last incorporation of metal aspects into their sound is quite excellent, and sets a precedent for musical territory later explored by the likes of Agalloch. An enchanting 45 minutes and an album that truly deserved to put Empyrium on the map.

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