Metal Music Reviews from Wilytank

ANTEDILUVIAN λόγος

Album · 2013 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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I find that as a connoisseur of metal music I don't listen to a whole lot of stuff that has a feel-good tone to it, and I find that I'd much rather music that conveys the exact opposite feeling. Now I don't mean depressive music per se (not all the time anyway) but rather music that is just downright unnerving. Music that makes me feel like there's something extremely wrong in this plane of existence, that something bad is going to happen to everything on an unfathomable scale, and that there's nothing anybody can do to stop it. Such is the experience with Antediluvian's sophomore release λόγος.

Antediluvian follow a death metal formula similar to that of Mitochondrion, Portal, and Impetuous Ritual. They make this chaotic and dissonant sound that also sounds ancient and esoteric due to the primitive sounding production on this album, and really that's what λόγος is all about. This whole album sounds like the destruction of the universe as inscribed on ancient stone tablets many eons ago, and the uneasiness that accompanies that idea is constant throughout the album.

As such, λόγος is one of those albums that's best listened to from beginning to end. However, each of the songs on here have their own discordant melody to make them memorable even if it's not particularly easy to pick them up on the first listen. Establishing them though gives some well needed landmarks throughout the album to give the listener a sense of progress such as the steady kick drum passages on "Towers of Silence", the crushing opening riff on "Nuclear Crucifixion (Turning the Spear Inwards)", or the pitch bending on "On the Tree of LIfe and Death". The guitars, besides laying down the relentless riffs, also provide some tormented sounding solos on each of the songs to compound the unease. Even the ambiance in between the songs is welcome; I'd almost call them a necessity because they actually provide a lot as the album passes through.

The vocals though are an absolute treat. They're this layered sounding low growl that sounds like the voice of a daemon lord whispering apocalyptic prophecies. That's what they'll sound like as you progress through this 34 minute path towards eschaton. They're dark, unsettling, and sound like they're reciting the lyrics in some D&D styled abyssal language. Even when they're relegated to quieter mumbling during the ambiance between the songs they sound excellent.

I have to give props to one track on this album more than the others though. As this album goes on through the chaos, eventually it reaches the final track "Death Meta" which is easily the cornerstone of the album due to how beautifully it brings the whole experience to a close. It's noticeably slower than the rest of the tracks, but this only makes the experience even more unnerving as the final push towards the end of time is made. It's apparent from the slow to start riff progression coming off of the interlude ambiance at the start to the distorted freestyle ending alongside the prophetic sounding spoken word passage that this track is the best way to end the album as the universe finally collapses.

Listening to λόγος feels like a bit of a trial, but it's an extremely fun trial once you get used to it and it's easily one of the better products of this niche of death metal. Antediluvian definitely have a good thing going for them right now, and after listening to this I just wonder what alternate tale of Armageddon they will tell in the future.

(89/100)

EVILFEAST Lost Horizons of Wisdom

Album · 2008 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 2 ratings
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It's always a good sign for me when a black metal album begins with a beautiful, spacey ambient piece before it actually dives into the riffs. Evilfeast's Lost Horizons of Wisdom falls into this niche of spacey atmospheric black metal that I enjoy and is easily one of the best albums in that niche that I've found in a long time. The band has released other albums, but even they don't strike me as strongly as Lost Horizons of Wisdom, mainly because I prefer this album's structure: 5 ten+ minute long tracks rather than 8 or 9 shorter ones including interludes.

The riffs themselves sound like a mix of Darkspace and Lunar Aurora during the faster parts, but it's not them alone that make the album. There's ambient bits thrown in throughout the album, not constantly, but just in the right places. The guitars may sound a little dry, but the ambiance in the right places gives them a booster shot to help them forward through each of these long songs.

When the ambiance plays by itself though it sounds the most mystical. The beginning of "Algol's Northern Lights and the break in "Grimspirit the Forest Wanderer" are the best examples of this especially the former as it's the intro to the album. The only time the ambiance gets carried away is in "My Tower Among the Timeless Mountains" because it goes on for way too long. It's a twenty minute long song, but it could have been cut a good five and a half minutes shorter because that's how long this intro is.

The best parts of the album though are when the metal instruments and the ambiance play together. And while there's plenty of that going on here, some of them are extremely memorable; in particular, the starry sounding part starting at the 6:10 mark of "Grimspirit...", the slower Elffor-esque parts after the intro on "Cold Chains of Despondency", and the outro of the same song which reuses the ambiance used in the intro. Hell even the intro to "Algol's Northern Lights" sounds great when it turns up again near the end of the title track when it's played with the rest of the instruments.

Lost Horizons of Wisdom is a great album for fans of spacey sounding black metal. It's great for fans of Kataxu, Lunar Aurora, Vinterriket and the like. Despite it being longer than Evilfeast's other three full-lengths and therefore may be a tougher nut to crack, when you do crack it it's well worth it.

(91/100)

IMPETUOUS RITUAL Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 3 ratings
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Atmosphere is something I really enjoy immersing myself in and describing in music. It's something I've found in many different forms throughout the heavy metal genre and there are plenty of examples I can write long metaphorical descriptions for. Although something that "sounds like Hell" or has a "Hellish" atmosphere might sound cliché, it's the best way I can describe the mood I feel for Impetuous Ritual's Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence.

And you know what? They get away with it. The cacophonous choir these guys make indeed sounds like Hell. The riffs are dissonant as as all fuck, and though that does make them harder to follow it doesn't matter much anyway because it just enhances the feeling of just pure chaos. Plus the guitar solos, while not the most memorable, are pretty good and thrown in at all the right places. Best of all though, the album flows nicely from start to finish and that's the best way to listen to this album, from beginning to end. None of the tracks feel out of place.

Actually, the best parts of this album are the first and last tracks, "Elegy" and "Dirge". Both of them are slower pieces with really dark atmosphere. "Elegy" features some diSEMBOWELMENT like chugging interrupted by some tremolo strumming with the steady drum beat making me feel as if I'm descending a spiral staircase toward Hell. "Dirge" on the other hand is an even gloomier sounding piece and the perfect track to end this album with; as an 8 and a half minute minute piece, I would hope so. It's really cavernous sounding that slowly trudges along. It steadily gets faster until the drums finally break into blast beating. The ending then is perfect: ominous chugging over double kick drums with some regular pauses slowly fading out.

Speaking of the drums, I don't know if Ignis Fatuus or Necros Craigos did the drums here, but whatever the case is the drums sound awesome. They're one of the biggest highlights on this album, outshining the guitar work the majority of the time. Just listen to the first minute of "Convoluting unto Despondent Anachronism". It's really awesome ferocious blast beating that also sounds perfectly on cue with the rest of the music. Even during they slower sections they sound great even with just the little things: kick drum fills, simply hitting the symbols and tom-toms during the low growl monologue on "Elegy", and the like.

Even the grim, deep growling vocals fit here despite lacking some depth. All things considered, Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence is a winner though it certainly isn't perfect. And yes, the Portal comparisons will be made especially with two members of this band later joining Portal, but believe me when I say Impetuous Ritual is a whole different beast. The drums certainly never sounded this good in Portal, plus whenever Portal does play slow they never sounded as heavy as Impetuous Ritual does. All of Portal's albums thus far are unique though and Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence is unique too and definitely worth a listen.

(86/100)

GRIMOIRE A Requiem for the Light

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Hey, guys; look what I found! An extremely obscure black metal band that only released one full-length album before splitting!

Even though there are plenty of these albums around the world over the many years, I have to admit that discovering a black metal full-length with very little publicity is still something of a treat for me. The fact that very few people know of one of these bands creates a sort of childish "I know something you don't know!" feeling for me. Doesn't matter if the band's really good, the feeling is still there (though if they're really shitty, the feeling disappears quick). Today's example is Grimoire from Israel whose only real ties to other bands are their drummer who is currently in The Bishop of Hexen and their keyboard player who spent some time with Orphaned Land and some other bands. Their sole album A Requiem for the Light depicts a silhouette of a guy with a big stick and a giant pony tail jumping on the sun for their album art, which is really weird.

As for the actual music, Grimoire play atmospheric black metal kinda like early Dimmu Borgir or Ancient Wisdom. The low-fi production is there but doesn't sound totally raw, and it suits the music's moderately mournful fantasy atmosphere well. What also helps the atmosphere is the keyboards which are really prominent and really well done, probably the highlight of the album. They don't play every minute of the album, but they fit into the music so well. The opening track "A Requiem for the Light" demonstrates how the keys are used throughout the rest of the album; they don't overpower the guitar and bass, but provide a nice additional layer of music and occasionally create some really beautiful passages like the outro of "At Dark". There's even a nice sounding Mortiis-esque ambient interlude called "Nevuath Ha Tom" where they really show off.

The stringed instruments are also well done. The guitar riffs contain a fair amount of variation and the bass parts are audible and follow a nice groove to support the guitar, sometimes even sticking out more than the guitar as hinted in "In the Darkwoods Sovereignity". The drums are also well played and sound nice throughout the album. All the instruments are mixed together nicely to make a really immersive atmosphere. Even the vocals sound nice in here since their delivery is quite diverse with the traditional black metal screams mixed with spoken words, growls, and some (admitedly weaker sounding) clean vocal passages throughout the album. With all the elements together, A Requiem for the Light creates a nice sunset atmosphere kinda like on the cover art minus the jumping guy.

It may not be the best black metal out there, but A Requiem for the Light is a fine gem of an album that is worth seeking out. Definitely an interesting find from Israel if I do say so myself. So, you underground loving black metal fans: have a field day with this, because one last childish thing I like about finding an album with very little publicity is that I can review it and have that smug feeling of being the one to spread the word about

(86/100)

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Blood Vaults - The Blazing Gospels of Heinrich Kramer

Album · 2013 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 4 ratings
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This is the album I've been the most hyped about in 2013. After scouring The Ruins of Beverast's first three full-lengths and basically playing Rain Upon the Impure to death, I was ready for more. Finally Alexander von Meilenwald, one of the best black metal musicians in Germany, released Blood Vaults. There's always been album each year that's made me hyped up to the max, and in 2013 it was Blood Vaults.

That sums up my thoughts as I was about to listen to this album for the first time. I'm going to say now though that I'm disappointed in the outcome. Even on the first listen, I was underwhelmed. I wasn't expecting Alex to top Rain Upon the Impure, but I was hoping for something that sounded like a step up from Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite; I didn't even get that. In the months leading up to the release, "Malefica" and "Daemon" were released as teasers and I listened to them almost every day because both those songs are awesome. Unfortunately, they're the best songs on they album, a fact made worse by the fact that they're also right at the beginning of the album; there's still 60 minutes of music left that can't compare to these two tracks.

One of the things Alex got right...again...was the atmosphere though; I'm sure now he can't get it wrong no matter what. It's dark and brooding once again. If you've been following the band you're going to be used to that by now. This time however I listen to this album and think of some radical Ordo Malleus Inquisitor from Warhammer 40k, a daemon hunter scouring forbidden texts for a way to fight the otherworldly monsters. Given the lyrical content and overall theme of the album, I find this setting extremely appropriate. The keyboards and choral effects really bring out this feeling as they do sound really church-like especially with the pipe organ. Alex's harsh vocals also add to this atmosphere. Though his tone hasn't changed much from Foulest..., the delivery on this album makes him sound more narrative like he is indeed reading from the Inquisitor's journal or directly from the forbidden text.

The music as a whole is most clean sounding Ruins album yet, which is fine by me. All the better to hear that menacing guitar tone that I love hearing from the band. There are some really great riff passages here that benefit from the cleaner production, especially in "Daemon" and "Malefica". However, the production doesn't save some of the more lackluster moments of the the album where the fault is indeed songwriting. Following the first two songs, most of the material on the album is doom metal and it isn't interesting doom metal either for the most part, it's the kind that just turns into a drag to listen to. I know Alex has done doom metal on Ruins in the past and some of his best songs are in this style such as "Soliloquy of a Stigmatized Shepard", "I Raise this Stone as a Ghastly Memorial", and "Arcane Pharmakon Messiah". "Ornaments on Malice", "Spires", and "A Failed Exorcism" aren't bad but they aren't nearly as interesting as those past songs. I feel that some of these songs go on longer than they should, especially "Monument" which is easily the weakest link here which is a pity because it's the closing song and I get disappointed by weak closing tracks.

I can't even listen to this album from beginning to end anymore. I go up through "Malefica" and then stop. Sometimes I'll go into "Ornaments on Malice" as well but rarely further. I could listen to the other tracks if I just picked them out and just listened to just the track, but I really don't want to. What's the point? I feel that if Blood Vaults threw more fast moments into these songs, they'd be better. "A Failed Exorcism" does have a fast section, but the riff is so weak and it exists so briefly that it's not even worth it. As much as I hate to say so, I have to say that Blood Vaults is the weakest Ruins of Beverast album yet. I hope Alex continues to evolve as a musician though. He's come a long way and I can see him going even further.

It's been almost a year since its release now. If you're a fan of the band and haven't listened to this yet, don't go with high expectations. If you're totally new, I suggest you check out Alex's earlier material first.

(75/100)

PAYSAGE D'HIVER Winterkälte

Album · 2001 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Wilytank
Another winter, another Paysage d'Hiver album/demo to analyze. Today, we have Winterkälte from 2001. Like the rest of the band's releases, Winterkälte is very unique in its delivery of winter themed black metal. However, one thing to note is that there's a few bits of material that sound like a precursor to Tobias Mockl's group project Darkspace, whose debut demo was released just a year later. This foreshadowing is really shown off on "Ich Schreite", "Eintritt in die Sphaeren", and "Finsternis". The music throughout the album though still retains the raw winter production Paysage d'HIver is known for and is also more minimalistic than Darkspace by not having as nearly as much variations in the riffs. The biggest comparison though comes from the lower tuning which makes the music sound even darker and colder as if the blizzard was happening at night, further supported by the excess of wind samples throughout the album.

Like the rest of the Paysage d'Hiver discography, the songs on Winterkälte all have their own style. The track list starts out strong with "Ich Schreite", a fast tempo track that eventually winds down to acoustic guitar strumming in the outer 9 minutes. "Ich Starre" starts out with the same opening notes, but is much slower and works as a nice outro of sorts for the previous song; a dreary calm after the storm if you will. Unfortunately, these two tracks are the high point of this release.

"Einsamkeit" is only wind samples and choral "oh"s, which would be fine if it was seven minutes shorter. But those last 7 minutes have no choral "oh"s. Just wind. After that is "Winter", probably the biggest disappointment on the release. Despite being 20 minutes in length, it's primarily the same mid-tempo riff with very little variation. There is a pause with wind samples and flute along with some keyboard ambiance, but afterward it returns to the same riff. Some more keyboards are thrown in but they don't do much to save the song.

The remaining two tracks, "Eintritt in die Sphaeren" and "Finsternis", are both faster tracks with decent amounts of variation that help end the album on a positive note. The album as a whole though falls among Paysage d'Hiver's weaker releases. The biggest problem is that it's fucking long. In particular, the wind samples stick around longer than they need to. Wintherr, you're a black metal musician, not a person who does field recordings.

Despite its self-indulgence, Winterkälte is still worth a listen for people already into Paysage d'Hiver. It really needs to be shorter though; "Winter" should have been condensed and "Einsamkeit" needs to have the last several minutes cut off. "Die Baumfrau" from Steineiche was perfect and even "Welt aus Eis" from the self-titled release had a sense of movement so Wintherr is capable of making long tracks work, and in the future he does so in both Paysage d'Hiver and Darkspace. Winterkälte was re-released in 2010 with ten minutes taken off of the total release length though, so I advise you to get your hands on that version instead.

(80/100)

NAGELFAR Hünengrab im Herbst

Album · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.61 | 10 ratings
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Despite winter being the common season whose imagery is brought up in black metal, autumn is a season that fits the genre as well. It's still got the bleak yet beautiful image that winter has, but autumn still has a sort of sorrowful warmness left in it as opposed to the absolute grim coldness of winter. There's definitely enough black metal bands out there that can bring this mood out; in fact, between Drudkh, Imperium Dekadenz, Gris, and Sombres Forêts, I say the idea has been thrown around enough times to no longer be considered ground breaking even if the bands don't necessarily make the songs about the season itself.

Bet let's go to an earlier example. Germany's Nagelfar released Hünengrab im Herbst in 1997; and despite being a piece of mainly fast-paced black metal, it's also remorseful sounding which goes well with the translated title "Dolmen (megalithic grave) in Autumn". It's a shame this album didn't get more attention at the time because I'm sure that Nagelfar would be held as big as the Norwegian bands if they were, and this album definitely deserves more attention than its getting for being so damn awesome.

I'll even go to this extreme: Hünengrab im Herbst is the best black metal album to come out of Germany; and despite it having the autumnal themes, it's worth listening to at all times of the year.

The band's two main guys and the two biggest stars on this album are the drummer Alexander von Meilenwald and the guitarist Zorn, and the clear production on this album allow both of these guys to properly show off their potential. Zorn lays down these melody laced riffs throughout the album while Alex's tight drum work forms a sturdy musical backbone for the rest of the instruments to build off of. The vocalist Jander does a phenomenal job as well both with his harsh shrieks and his clean baritone vocals.

There's no structure of verses and choruses in any of the songs. Though some sections of songs are played more than once, the band makes extensive use of bridges and breaks for transition. Since the songs on this album are rather long (two are 14+ minutes), this a good thing to have. All the songs are mainly fast-tempo but have well placed parts where the song suddenly slows. This method reaches it's peak on "Srontgorrth (Das dritte Kapitel)" with its fluid progression, the awesome bridge and breakdown that starts around the 4:25 mark, and the fast and furious finish.

The amount of epicness is consistent throughout the album. Between the melodic riffs, Jander's clean vox, and the controlled but excellent sounding use of the keyboards, Nagelfar have constructed a musical megalith of autumnal majesty and sorrow, from the weeping (and explosions?) in the intro that lead into "Seelenland"'s opening blast beats, to the final stretch of "Der Flug Des Raben" and everything in between. Even the interlude in the middle, the title track, is awesome and worth listening to. It features beautiful sounding piano with Jander's clean vocals which turn harsh on the second half and are joined by a muffled guitar and drums.

All black metal fans need to listen to Hünengrab im Herbst. It's easily one of the best of the genre. It's unfortunate that Zorn and Alex couldn't stick together longer to make more great albums. After this, there's another great album, then a much weaker one, then an unceremonious dissolution.

(100/100)

PANZERCHRIST Six Seconds Kill

Album · 1996 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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I am a giant fan of Panzerchrist. They've made some of the best death metal of the last decade with Battalion Beast being among my all time favorites in the genre. But in the 90's, Michael Enevoldsen's ever changing ragtag Danish gang actually made some pretty good death metal as well. Their first album, Six Seconds Kill, easily got overshadowed by some of the bigger albums of the decade (Cryptopsy's None So Vile was released the very same year) that this band could have easily fallen into obscurity had they not released more music three years later.

But what we have here on Six Seconds Kill is essentially Bolt Thrower poked with a cattle prod a few too many times. The music here, like Bolt Thrower has that crushing "steam roller" sound in their riffing; it's very heavy. Meanwhile, they also love their war lyrics. But Panzerchrist play faster and have a more distinct lead guitar than Bolt Thrower does; and while Bolt Thrower's war lyrics seem to be more nostalgic, Panzerchrist's lyrics are just straight up misanthropic here on this album. The lyrics on Six Seconds Kill are backed up by a meanacing sounding vocalist who has some variety in his voice as he issues out shrieks and growls and is really fun to listen to throughout the album as a result.

The instruments also hold their weight in the mix as well. The guitar riffs are absolutely relentless and heavy, the drums are extremely tight and furiously played, and together they create a well crafted mix of sonic warfare. However, the tracks here seem to have the glaring problem that makes them kinda blur together and be not quite as memorable. There isn't a lot of musical variety between the songs and there isn't a lot of qualities that help any of them stand out with the glaring exception being the keyboard parts of "Halls of Oblivion". With repeated listens though, picking out favorite songs becomes easier such as my favorites "Winterlands" and "Halls of Oblivion". On the flip side, it's also easier to pick out what's weaker such as the shorter track "Panzer".

I still say this is an album worth checking out if you're a fan of older death metal. There's definitely some good times to be had here, and Enevoldsen and Lasse Hoile on drums and vocals respectively are the biggest stars of the album, though the riffs are definitely no joke either though they are again rather hard to remember on a single listen. Definitely their weakest so far, but it was also their first and Panzerchrist have a string of excellent albums to be released after the turn of the millennium. Six Seconds Kill is a nice album to start out a full investigation of Panzerchrist's discography, though their material gets way better after this.

(80/100)

DREAM THEATER Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From a Memory

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 166 ratings
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Has anyone here, like me, ever liked a band a whole lot in the past and over time acquired a lot of the CDs in their discography, listened to them really enthusiastically at first but gradually less and less choosing other music over them almost not wanting yet still somehow thinking they're better than certain other bands until finally you stop listening to them altogether and your CDs just sit on a shelf collecting dust? Then, you come across them again a while later, give them a refreshing listening, and say to yourself "Wait a second! I don't like this!" That is exactly my experience with Dream Theater, and Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory was the first album by them that I acquired. As it turns out, I think it's their worst.

All the alarms that went off that started to get me think this album isn't as good as I thought it was all went off one at a time over time. I believe the earliest was for the lyrical themes; and to be frank, the story this album follows fucking sucks. Some dude undergoes hypnotherapy for reasons that never are really explained. All I can gather is that he's wondering what his own life is about, which I don't believe should warrant the hiring of a hypnotherapist. Just realize that life has no meaning and nobody is going to miss us when we're all dead; a philosophy like that makes for a happy life. But, he goes through with this anyway and he experiences a past life as a woman who's stuck in a love triangle dilemma with two assholes who happen to be brothers. This story goes nowhere interesting and only ends with two of the three characters dead; a happy ending would have all of them dead, probably from suicide from realize that they're living inside a soap opera. I also don't understand why the dude in the present just had to go back to relive a stupid drama like this. Surely if he had traveled back further in his reincarnation history, he would have come across a Spartan, pirate, viking, or even a prostitute. If this soap opera is the most exciting past life he could get, his other lives must have been filled with Arabian carpet merchants, Irish sheep herders, and Indian garbage men.

Alarm number two came from James LaBrie. I really cannot stand the guy's voice; he sounds like a woman even when he's not trying to be the voice of the woman character in which case such as in the first "Tonight I've been searching for it" part in "Strange Deja Vu" in which he sounds really, really bad. But you know what? LaBrie's voice goes pretty well with the cheesy shitty lyrics, and these two together go well with the crappy music on this album. Crap goes really well with crap and crap, and this leads me to the third alarm that went off which took longer to be heard than before, but after a while I finally realized how poor the music is. Regression is a useless intro that plays into another intro track, "Overture 1928", which contains music that sounds like it was stolen from the opening theme of a show on Home and Garden Television. It's this soft, shitty rock garbage that plays into the first song with lyrics "Strange Deja Vu". From there, the band makes a couple of attempts at a darker sound with two lame results: "Fatal Tragedy" and the horribly bloated, chug laced "Home". "Through Her Eyes", "One Last Time", "Through My Words", and "The Spirit Carries On" are the worst of the worst here where the album is at its softest and most flowery.

And you know what? I feel bad for John Petrucci. The guy can obviously play a couple of good solos. The catch is that they're surrounded by this HGTV themed nonsense so he'd might as well be the guitarist from Men Without Hats. This feeling is not mutual for Mike Portnoy. I have no idea why this blue-goateed twelve stepper is praised so much when there is so little about his drumming performance that is at all special. Nothing he does here stands out.

After a bloated soft rock piece and some sounds of the modern guy walking into his home, you hear this "WAKE UP!" announcement, convenient for those of you who fell asleep listening to this album.

Now, it would be a bit of a far shot, but I believe that this train wreck could have been avoided if they made some of the following improvements during production. First, the lyrics would have to be completely rewritten. This precursor to Twilight is a lost cause, might as well scrap the whole story and begin anew. I'm sure if Dream Theater still wanted to make an album about a guy going back to a past life, they could write up a story about one of his ancestors discovering an elaborate plot concocted by the Knights Templar to take over everyone's minds, so he assassinates key members of this order to deconstruct their plans. You know, a story that actually had meaning instead of something that only spineless support group wankers can appreciate. This would be a key change in the album's turn out considering they'd definitely make the music more interesting instead of matching up with a shitty story. Second, James LaBrie would need to be dumped from the line-up. Bring in Russel Allen or someone else who actually sounds like his gender; I just say Russel Allen because he's had a history of singing about epic tales. Third, you bring in a second guitarist to play rhythm guitar. With the added depth of sound, maybe they can ditch a lot of this soft rock sound and actually write a few interesting riffs. It couldn't be Michael Romeo or anyone else who would greatly overshadow John Petrucci though. Wouldn't want to demoralize him even further. These changes would help pave the way to a more acceptable album.

As it stands now though, Scenes From a Memory is a boring album that should be avoided. This is an album that I used to really like, so you can't say that I didn't try to like this. But that just goes to show how pathetic I was in early high school before growing up and getting myself a booster shot of pride and self-esteem. Now, this album doesn't mean anything to me but bad music that is unfortunately considered to be good by a large number of people.

(21/100)

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 54 ratings
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(Originally posted to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Following Mauldin of the Well's discography after the rather obscure album about a psycho's fruit flavored bells and combustible seeds, the next albums in line are Bath and Leaving Your Body Map which were released simultaneously with switched artwork for some smug-ass reason; but let's focus on Bath right now. The basic idea on My Fruit Psychobells... is repeated here on Bath: make an experimental metal album, which basically means Toby Driver and his merry men wrote a bunch of songs of different genres and compiled them together on one album. This is not weird or quirky or experimental as the die hard fans claim. Individually, all the songs here make perfect sense and the album as a whole is just unfocused. And like I said in my previous review for this band, being unfocused isn't inherently a bad thing as long as the music can stay good; because on the other hand, the only original ideas here is putting completely different styles of music together on a single album, which isn't that special or worthy of praise on its own. The individual styles here have already been done by the likes of Porcupine Tree, Voivod, Mr. Bungle, and various others.

Otherwise though, this album can keep up with musically from that album about fruity bells as far as the shining style on that album was: the proggy, kinda sludgy post metal/rock, which has a major presence with songs like "The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth" and "Heaven and Weak" near the beginning of the album, the latter also containing some mid-era Voivod influenced thrash metal mixed in. Later, it gets even better with "Girl With a Watering Can"'s calm post metal passages and female vocals which eventually give way to slightly more aggressive riffing. Following that is "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" which follows the same style, but throws in keyboards instead of the female vocals. These two tracks are easily the highlight of the album.

But when Maudlin tries to sound heavier, this album begins to just fall flat. In my review for that album about a combustible seed, I called these sections third-rate death metal. Now, however, I think half-assed hardcore is a little more appropriate because that's what these influences really sound like now. They're not really death metal. They're also certainly not black metal despite that being what the band themselves label it as on the album's Bandcamp page. Only one song is played like this though: "They Aren't All Beautiful". The riffs are all over the place and aren't very enjoyable at all; the song as a whole is really the most out of place song on the album. Besides that, though, the only real complaint about their heavier attempts are the harsh vocals on "The Ferryman" which just sound forced and clash with most of the rest of the song.

But even that's not the worst part of Bath. Ironically, this album becomes the most unbearable when Maudlin tries to be too soft. The lyrics on this album are pretty flowery the whole way through, but "Marid's Gift of Art" and "Geography" are just monumental piles of cheese. Here's "Marid's Gift of Art":

"When you were a baby, I told you that beauty came from the sea. Now, when you touch me between the eyes, I say, “Why?” I never lie, but you won’t believe I could make everyone so happy, I could make everything beautiful, like you. Clean, forever, just like you."

This combined with Jason Byron's clean vocals create a literal lullaby designed for preschoolers during nap time. It's sappy and it's as boring as the music that they go with which is soft rock. And again, the post rock they play on "The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth", but on "Marid's Gift of Art" and "Geography it just sounds like an unwanted field trip to sippy cup mountain.

The goods may slightly outweigh the bads on Bath, but not enough to warrant a recommendation for the whole album. Listen to "A Girl with a Watering Can", "The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth", "Heaven and Weak", and "Birth Pains of Astral Projection". Ignore everything else. That's the bad thing that usually comes with an unfocused album: inconsistent quality. Maudlin of the Well would do a lot better if they picked one good and stayed with it instead of jumping around everywhere like an inexperienced multitasker.

(69/100)

ANOREXIA NERVOSA Drudenhaus

Album · 2000 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

France's Anorexia Nervosa are one of those more tolerable versions of a popular metal band that more people would like if certain elements were changed; in this case, Cradle of Filth. Anorexia Nervosa and Cradle of Filth share the bombastic symphonic extreme metal approach with lots of blastbeating and debauchery themed lyrics. What differences make AN more tolerable then? Well, the guitars are more prominent than the keyboards in the mix, the gothic elements are reduced, the black metal elements are much more dominant, there's no female singers, and the lead singer isn't Dani Filth (potentially a huge kicker for a lot of anti-Cradle people). Drudenhaus is the first album by Anorexia Nervosa I've listened to and though it isn't totally great, it still makes for a very entertaining listen.

Being more guitar focused helps Drudenhaus a lot. The production makes the whole mix sound loud, but the guitars' riffing sound really heavy as a result. The riffs are still easy to follow making a lot of the songs here catchy and memorable occasionally breaking into epic sounding leads like in "A Doleful Night in the Thelema". And I'm glad the guitars are given this much presence in a symphonic metal album because a big mistake a lot of bands of this genre make is lowering the volume of the guitars to make their keyboards more prominent while also writing really uninspired riffs. Anorexia Nervosa make neither mistake here on Drudenhaus.

That said, with the keys more of a background instrument, they largely don't do anything for Drudenhaus; they're just there. For the most part, they just add another layer of noise while the guitars do all the work. The exceptions are "The Drudenhaus Anthem", "Dirge and Requiem For My Sister Whore", "Das ist Zum erschiessen schön", and "The Red Achromance" where they do have a fitting presence while still allowing the guitars to have a prominent position. But on the other songs, they simply exist without really sounding great, though not totally awful either.

The mixture of loud riffs, keyboards furious blastbeats, and Nicolas Saint-Morand's vocals makes for a really bombastic sounding album. However, there is some control within all the songs with the slower sections that occur at least once per song. These sections are often the high point of the songs and without them this album would be a lot worse.

Drudenhaus isn't perfect, but it sure is damn fun to listen to which is a praise worthy quality in its own right. While it isn't the most groundbreaking black metal release, it's well put together and presents itself really nicely. Symphonic black metal fans will like it and it works really well as a Cradle of Filth substitute for those of you looking for one. Most of the good parts about them are present without most of the bad.

(88/100)

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite

Album · 2009 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Those of you continuing to follow The Ruins of Beverest's discography chronologically will run into Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite next; and if you were wowed by Rain Upon the Impure, there are some things you might be wondering. Will this sound at all similar to Rain Upon the Impure? What can Alex do to match the creative dark mastery of that album without making the damn album again? You'll be pleased to know that as one of Germany's best black metal composers, Alexander von Meilenwald has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and many ways to make two albums different yet both be incredible listens.

The production on this album is the cleanest sounding yet; and while the menacing tone of Rain Upon the Impure has been almost entirely removed here, an equally thick yet more mournful atmosphere takes its place and is just as awesome to be immersed in. It still feels like an external type of atmosphere like Rain Upon the Impure had, but now on Foulest... the image is that of wandering a vast expanse of ancient ruins along a mountain range (at night of course).

The guitars are just as heavy here as the previous album, but again they're closer to mournful sounding that totally evil. And again, they drive the music forward more than any other element. The riffs are for the most part well written and fun to listen to be they fast passages on "God's Ensanguined Bestiaries", tremoloing to slower tempo songs such as "Mount Sinai Moloch", or the echoing soft guitar work all over the album. The choirs also return and again provide a nice addition to the atmosphere. The more up front instances are more numerous in this album with most of it singing in Latin to add a nice eerie churchish effect. Their background presence also sounds nice throughout the album with my favorite example being a trance-like passage in "I Raised This Stone As a Ghastly Memorial" starting at the 6:15 mark.

Overall though, Foulest... is a noticeably weaker album than Rain Upon the Impure. Though there are plenty of strong tracks here, most don't quite have the power of Rain Upon the Impure's songs. Two songs in particular have some awkward moments in them that draw them down in quality. First is "Kain's Countenance Fell" and its lackluster doom riff that contains no atmospheric qualities whatsoever before it transitions a little too quickly into a faster chorus riff. The other is a really choppy riff in "Blood Vaults II" that starts after the laughing sample near the beginning of the song. It makes the song sound like it's skipping as if you had a bad CD player or mp3 rip of the album and could have ruined the song completely if it didn't transition away a couple of times and finally go away for good by the 4:35 mark, but thankfully it does go away allowing the song to end strong.

There aren't enough shortcomings to bring Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite as a whole though. Even the two weaker songs have their share of desolate atmosphere and awesome riffs; and the stronger songs are well worth listening to with my favorites being "I Raised this Stone as a Ghastly Memorial", "God's Ensanguined Bestiaries", and the epic closer "Arcane Farmakon Messiah". Alexander von Meilenwald hasn't run out of musical magic yet and has made another excellent album.

(92/100)

PAYSAGE D'HIVER Paysage d'Hiver

Album · 1999 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 7 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Well, winter is back for the season, but not so you'd really notice it around my area with 60 degree Fahrenheit weather on some days. Regardless, the desire to listen to winter themed black metal returns; and among the artists to delve back into, Paysage d'Hiver is the one closest to the top of the pile. I've already expressed my enjoyment for the first two releases in Wintherr's project, but today I turn my attention to Paysage d'Hiver's self-titled release, the most popular release in this discography though probably because it's the easiest to acquire because you can actually buy an mp3 version off of Amazon or iTunes. I'm sure if Steineiche or Schattengang weren't as limited in their distribution, they'd get more praise because when compared to those two, I find the self-titled to be actually weaker. But Paysage d'Hiver is stunning nonetheless.

This release is a lot rawer sounding than anything Paysage d'Hiver has done before, which is saying a lot considering the band's music has been known for being raw as hell. There's more fuzz here which kinda makes it difficult to approach when it's harder to make out the music. There's also less tempo variation; two of the three songs here stay on the same pace for most of their lengths save for a lower tempo break. This would make the songs totally boring save for the fact that Wintherr did include enough riff changes to keep things interesting, the exception being the less varied "Gefrorener Atem" which turns out consequentially to be the weakest of the three songs on the album. I will say one good thing about it though: its slow tempo is a nice break after the faster "Welt Aus Eis" and before "Der Weg".

Tobias Mockl never had any trouble of letting the guitars drive the atmosphere in his music in both Paysage d'Hiver and Darkspace, but the extra keys and other elements do help the atmosphere along yet not overpowering the song. There's no keys in "Welt Aus Eis" until the very end after all other instruments stop playing, so the guitars get to play on as the blizzard they are. What "Welt Aus Eis" does have is a violin that plays a sweet sounding melody over the metal music. Meanwhile, "Der Weg" has the most changes starting off fast before slowing gradually down. It also has the most extra instruments used with acoustic guitars and keyboards played alongside the usual metal instruments. "Gefrorener Atem" also makes use of keyboards, but like the rest of the song they aren't varied enough to be interesting to listen to.

As for the atmosphere itself, yeah the strong winds and blizzard feelings are definitely there. The tone of the music actually isn't as dark as Paysage d'Hiver's first two black metal album, leaving more of a feeling of a broad daylight like being on top of a ski resort mountain on a windy day but no clouds. One bummer I get is that there's no night time atmosphere conjured up on this release due to the lighter tone and consistently faster pace of this album. There's no equivalent of "Der Baummann" or "Moloch" on this album which they could have really used instead of "Gefrorener Atem". There's also no chilling ambient tracks here, but Mockl already blew his ambient load on Die Festung the year before anyway so go there if you want ambient.

Paysage d'Hiver isn't the best Paysage d'Hiver release, but those already into his sort of material can easily get some sort of enjoyment out of this release. If you want to experience Wintherr's true winter metal magic though, you'd do well to seek out Steineiche and Schattengang.

(86/100)

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Rain Upon the Impure

Album · 2006 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.71 | 4 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Alex von Meilenwald's solo project The Ruins of Beverast might have just faded from my memory had he only recorded and released Unlock the Shrine. While a decent album, it lacked a lot of elements that could of made it spectacular. That was 2004 though. In 2006, Alex returned with a new album named Rain Upon the Impure, and it's this album that introduced me to The Ruins of Beverast in the first place and ultimately solidified my respect for the project.

Those of you exploring Beverast's discography chronologically will probably expect Alex's dark atmosphere conjured up on Unlock the Shrine to be present again on the sophomore album. What you probably won't expect is that the darkness is taken to a whole new magnitude here on Rain Upon the Impure. While Unlock the Shrine had a claustrophobic atmosphere like exploring a dark cellar at night, Rain Upon the Impure's atmosphere invokes thoughts of large amounts of space instead of limited amounts like wandering through a massive expanse of plains at night while in the distance you can see a man-made ruin the size of mount Kilimanjaro. I prefer this more external atmosphere, and Alex does an exceptional job of conjuring it up on Rain Upon the Impure. The guitars are a lot clearer than on the previous album and are the key force driving this album to greatness. They're played at various speeds within each song and the production makes them sound downright menacing.

Besides the metal instruments, there are these choir sections that help the album sound really dark. Their presence is limited, but they're in just the right places to count. Unlike Unlock the Shrine's sparse choir sections which sounded more like an unnecessary add-on than anything, the choirs on Rain Upon the Impure actually feel like they belong in the music. They're used as atmospheric background enhancers and perform extremely well in this role especially on "50 Forts Along the Rhine" in an extremely epic riffing rainstorm that begins at 2:25 as well as in "Rain Upon the Impure" to toll the album's end. The choirs also sound great when used to recite lyrics in the refrain sections of "Soliloquy of the Stigmatized Shepard" and "Blood Vaults", at such times they're brought up to the front of the mix.

While the playing styles and tempos of Unlocked the Shrine varied between the songs, the styles on Rain Upon the Impure is more consistent between songs, but more mixed within one song. Each song has its own fast and slow parts, but none of them are arranged in the same way, and there are those that contain more fast parts than slow parts. "Soliloquy of the Stigmatized Shepard" for instance contains more slow parts while "Rain Upon the Impure" contains more fast parts. One thing to note is that the really slow parts border on funeral doom metal, but the atmosphere and heaviness in these parts an give even the best funeral doom bands a run for their money; "Soliloquy..." is really great at this.

This album is longer than its predecessor, clocking in at almost eighty minutes compared to seventy, but this time is used in a much more productive way than on Unlock the Shrine. The interludes that littered Unlock the Shrine are all but gone; there's only two short ones on Rain Upon the Impure. The rest of the album consists of five actual songs, none of them shorter than thirteen minutes. Each of these songs are given a fair share of variation in them to keep the listener interested, so Rain Upon the Impure is overall a much more fulfilling listening experience.

Rain Upon the Impure is a grand and unique album. A few minor changes to the mix and production would have made this album worthy of a perfect 100/100 from me. As it is though, this is an awesome album that is proof of Alex's musical writing talent along with his instrumental skill and proof that Germany can hold its own in the black metal department. This is an extremely high recommendation for fans of atmospheric black metal. Gold star, Alex!

(99/100)

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Unlock the Shrine - Reliquary of the White Abyss

Album · 2004 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Alexander von Meilenwald is an awesome musician, and the German black metal scene was definitely crippled when he and Zorn split Nagelfar. However, Alex thankfully continued his musical career with his own solo project The Ruins of Beverast. This new project is a far cry from Nagelfar's heathenism themes though. He seems to be more interested in darker themed music this time around as evidenced in this project's debut release 'Unlock the Shrine'. The good news is that Alex can still make his music shine on his own. The bad news is that this debut as a whole has a real hard time shining and that the music really isn't as strong as it could have been.

The music played here actually jumps around several styles while maintaining a dark tone. There's characteristics of depressive black metal here, especially in "Between Bronze Walls" and "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles". There's also a sort of really fast and raw approach on "Euphoria When Bombs Fell" and "Summer Decapitation Ritual"; these songs are really chaotic and remind me of Gnaw Their Tongues' material that leans more toward black metal with even more black metal influence thrown in. The album produced from this mix is an intriguing one that really shines in some places, but is also rather dim in others.

My biggest gripe with this album is the excess of interludes. There's one after every song on this album; and while some of them sound interesting like the creepy "Skeleton Coast" and the outro piece "White Abyss", their overall presence does very little for this album. If they weren't there, the album would be a good 14 and a half minutes shorter (and that's even if "White Abyss" was kept as an outro). With them in there, this album is a daunting 70 minutes, so taking away the interludes would actually be beneficial. None of the interludes actually sound bad, they're just really unnecessary.

As for the actual songs, the quality varies. "Between Bronze Walls" is a slower paced piece, but it's varied enough with its riffs during its eight minute course to keep things interesting. The other slower piece is "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles" which is much weaker with less interesting riffs included. Same deal with the two songs following the faster more chaotic pattern, "Euphoria When Bombs Fell" and "Summer Decapitation Ritual". "Euphoria..." is a rather average piece with not a lot of standout moments; on the other hand, "Summer Decapitation Ritual" is really, REALLY impressive with the whirlwind of riffs more memorable and the catchy break in the middle to keep things interesting. The remaining two pieces, the title track and "The Mine", are definitely good enough to place the album in the above average scoring range with "The Mine" being the ideal piece to end the album with its memorable chanting at the end fading into "White Abyss".

This album is good, but it's not great. It feels bloated with almost 15 minutes that could have been put to better use (and will be in The Ruins of Beverast's subsequent albums). There's a few winners among the songs, but the closest thing to a loser would be "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles" with its boring riffs that drag out for too long. 'Unlock the Shrine' is still worth checking out for the winner songs though, especially "Summer Decapitation Ritual". Alexander von Meilenwald will prove his musical genius to a much better degree in the next two albums though; that's where his essential material is.

(78/100)

WODENSTHRONE Curse

Album · 2012 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 11 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Following my enthusiasm for their album 'Loss', I was eager to see what Wodensthrone would do for their followup effort 'Curse'. 'Loss' was a great album, though there clearly was room for improvement in some areas. 'Curse' is the next logical step of progression for the band with the few flaws that were present in 'Loss' remedied and the qualities that made the album good improved even more.

The intro piece "The Remaining Few" may not be as epic as "Fyrgenstréam" on 'Loss', but it nevertheless serves as a fitting calm before the storm of atmospheric black metal which comes in 40 seconds into the album. I've talked about the purifying rainstorm atmosphere on 'Loss'. That atmosphere is present here on 'Curse', but I feel that it's an even more violent storm as well as a more purifying one. Some of the things that build this effect include the improved guitar and drum production to help even out the layering of instruments. With these parts a little louder in the mix, the rain in the atmospheric imagery falls harder and the wind blowing stronger. As a welcome side effect, whenever the music does reach a calmer sounding break, these calm parts feel a lot more epic.

Take for instance the first real song after the intro piece. The first third of "Jormungandr" consists of this raging storm of furious tremolo riffs, blast beats, and a lower volume keyboard in the background. Then everything just slows down at that third way point with this awesome sounding flute leading to a buildup riff that releases itself onto a slow tempo climax. Almost all the songs have this sort of break, buildup, climax combo in them though none of them follow the same exact style. "First Light" for instance has the big break later in the song and the climax is a faster storm of riffs and blast beats. The only song that follows the pattern in a noticeably more awkward fashion is "The Storm", which has its break and buildup right at the end which plays right into "The Name of the Wind".

With the keyboards toned down a bit, it's much easier to appreciate the guitar work on this album compared to 'Loss'. The melodic guitar work is excellent at driving this rainstorm atmosphere and the riffs are well written and well played; I've found myself doing my fair share of air guitaring to many of the passages on this album. The drums are also praiseworthy with Ian "Hréowsian" Finley's playing definitely being memorable while maintaining a great amount of fluidity on slower sections like the buildup on "Jormungandr" as well as having great precision while blast beating.

'Curse' is definitely a superior storm to me than 'Loss' and is an obvious recommendation for those into Wolves in the Throne Room styled atmospheric black metal. But, much more than a run of the mill release, Wodensthrone have definitely put their own personal touch on this album. And yet, there's still room left for them to progress further and make more great music; and so, I await what storm they bring next.

(97/100)

MAKE THEM SUFFER Lord of Woe

EP · 2010 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

I'm all for the idea of symphonic extreme metal; but if you're planning to do it with your band, could you at least do it right? Deathcore isn't a very likable genre in the first place to fans of extreme metal, so throwing in a keyboard, while a daring move, may be yet futile. Abigail Williams were able to pull it off by at least making some throwbacks to melodic black metal which melded quite well, while acts like Winds of Plague fell way short of the good mark by maintaining too much deathcore influence, and yet some of their material does have some intriguing moments. Where does Make Them Suffer's 'Lord of Woe' fit in? Unfortunately, the latter category.

Standard deathcore with a keyboard and some extra melody thrown in is actually exactly what this is. Whenever the keyboard plays its parts the overall tempo of the songs are at a faster tempo with the drums doing their typical blastbeating and the guitars going off in a melodic sounding wave. When the keyboards are not playing, this EP sounds like your typical deathcore release: chug cruft, your standard tough guy sounding vox, the whole nine yards. But not even the non-deathcore parts help this album much. The instrumental work in those sections is underwhelming as the guitars do a rather uninspiring performance that end up being mostly buried beneath the dominant keyboard anyway. Another really bad thing about the delivery of this concept is how the deathcore and symphonic metal sections are put together. The transitions sound really awkward as the songs go from this attempt to create a swirling majestic symphonic atmosphere to this generic deathcore breakdown. This is the same problem that Winds of Plague has had with their own shit; you've got the very disliked deathcore genre with the iffy symphonic metal influence that could really go either way in terms of quality. As a result, both of the genres in the mix end up sounding weak, and its really awkward when I look at parts to see how much of a mess they are laid side by side such as the beginnings of "Summoning Storms" and "Lord of Woe" where the former opens with the keys and tries to go into the symphonic realm right away and the latter starts off with an incredibly deathcore flavored passage.

As unpleasent as this is, it could have been worse. That isn't any real justification to really praise it though; I'm just counting blessings. At least the deathcore influence isn't too strong like in the vein of Suicide Silence or Chelsea Grin. At least the lyrics don't suck as much ass as Winds of Plague's do. Unfortunately, when you're reduced to counting blessings for a release, the release is typically more bad than good, which is what 'Lord of Woe' turns out to be. Listen to something else.

(45/100)

SUNN O))) Agharti Live 09-10

Live album · 2011 · Drone Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

One of the fun things about Sunn O)))'s live album is that they almost never reproduce their studio material exactly as it is. They've done some unique things to change up 'White 2' in 'Live White', 'Black One' in 'La Mort Noir dans Esch', and now 'Monoliths...' to 'Agharti'. 'Monoliths and Dimensions' was one of Sunn O)))'s more well received offerings, and 'Agharti' is the live companion to that album. Even those who are simply into Sunn O))) for 'Monoliths...' fandom should probably be curious to see what they did live.

For instance, the song "Aghartha" from 'Monoliths and Dimensions' is only about 17 minutes long; but in 'Agharti', the song is stretched to two whole songs. "Aghartha"'s first five and a half minutes of nothing but heavy guitar droning is drawn out for 18 minutes in the song "Descent/Ascent", and Attila Csihar's monologue doesn't come in until the second track, the awkwardly titled "A/Interior I/Eye". There's no even flow between these two pieces though, so you could easily skip the 18 minute droning if you really wanted to. The overall atmosphere in the live album isn't nearly as dark as the studio album either. The heavy riffs in the beginning of "Aghartha" are not quite as heavy and menacing in the live version. The guitar work and Attila's monologue are also notably lighter sounding in "A/Interior I/Eye".

However, despite 'Agharti''s delivery of elements being lighter than its studio counterpart, the atmosphere generated here is no less mystifying. The light spaciness of "A/Interior I/Eye" is just as capable of evoking daydreams as "Aghartha"'s dark dreariness. Though the guitars in the live version follow roughly the same notes as "Aghartha", they're played with this lighter sound like you'd hear on the closer to 'Monoliths...', "Alice". These guitars are eventually joined by some sort of bells or chimes or keyboard, or some other sort of mystic sounding instrument. It's an interesting change from "Aghartha"'s vertigo inducing violins, conchs, and creaky wood sounds. Attila here reads his monologue with the same script he had on "Aghartha"; but in this live version, the song is only half way through its length when he's done reciting the monologue.

It's here where things really take a turn for the incredibly interesting. Following the monologue in "A/Interior I/Eye", Attila performs some Hungarian throat singing, something he doesn't do in the studio. And it sounds great here because it just sounds so alien, especially since the guitars stop playing at this point and he's just going on. It's parts like this on Sunn O)))'s live material that make me think "Why didn't they do this in the studio? It would have been awesome!" On top of the throat singing, there's a French horn that comes in to accompany his throat singing when he gets to this second verse invoking an interesting image in my head of a vast, open field at night; its a pretty notable difference from the claustrophobic, underground ruin feeling in 'Monoliths and Dimensions'.

The remaining two songs, "H&G (Foraging)" and "Churchdust", are based off of two more songs from 'Monoliths...', "Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)" and "Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért)" respectively. "H&G" is the less interesting of the two here. Despite being shorter than the album version, the tempo is slower and the main riff is dragged out for almost the entire song. Also, the awesome spacey breaks in the studio version of the song are absent from the live version which was a real bummer to me.

Meanwhile, "Churchdust" is a much more interesting piece. Though it's shorter than its studio counterpart, it takes an interesting approach of its own. There's no choir in this live version. Instead, there's synths here to create an eerie atmosphere while Attila does a clean vocal chant and the guitars go from heavy droning to cleaner strumming back to heavy droning. There's only one major crescendo here as opposed to "Big Church..."'s three, but the one that is here tolls the end of the song and the live album, so it ends up working just fine.

'Agharti' is a refreshing second look at 'Monoliths and Dimensions', and I feel that this live album is superior to the studio one in some parts. It's a very cool drone doom metal composition, and the only really big instance of it being uncool is the fact that it's a vinyl release. Regardless, I recommend fans of Sunn O))) to figure out some way to listen to this, because in the end it's well worth it.

(90/100)

BLUT AUS NORD 777 - The Desanctification

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 10 ratings
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Wilytank
(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Blut aus Nord's dark '777' trilogy continues with 'The Desanctification', and I definitely am not as impressed with it as I was with 'Sect(s)'. Though the freaky, nightmarish atmosphere is brought over from the other album, the schizophrenic quality is not and this album is a good bit weaker because of it. It's still a good album, but it's close to the ass end of the BaN quality spectrum which, though not meaning good news for 'The Desanctification' in its own right, is still a statement that even Blut aus Nord's worst album are still really solid.

When I say schizophrenic, I'm referring to 'Sect(s)' fast tempo chaotic songs that really drive in the feeling of a nose dive into utter insanity. There is none of that here on 'The Desanctification'. All the songs are rather slow in fact. "Epitome VIII" is the fastest one here and it still doesn't tread anywhere near "Epitome I", "III", or "V" on the pacing department. But slowness by itself isn't a damning quality especially when I do like the slower 'MoRT' album more than the faster 'Mystical Beast of Rebellion'. One interesting observation for 'The Desanctification' is how the drums in all of the songs are Blut aus Nord's most forward on their musical quest to become a trip-hop band, something they seem to have been working on as far back as 'The Work Which Transforms God'. There's zero details on this W.D. Feld guy (including if he really exists at all) who allegedly handles the drums in the band, but whoever worked the drums must have used a drum machine because these drums sound incredibly inorganic. They've also got this trip-hop beat going on in most of the songs that sounds rather awkward at times, particularly the opening few minutes of "Epitome VII".

What's good about this album then? A good amount of things actually. The majestic sound of the guitars are still in here and there are some pretty epic sounding leads, particularly in "Epitome VIII". The keyboards sound really nice as well. And these two instruments together add a thick, dark atmosphere with an interesting pinch of light to the songs. Once again, the vocals are nothing but another layer of sound in the music with no lyrics provided; but the various assortment of murmurs, growling, screeching, and clean choir passages have worked well with Blut aus Nord in the past and work well now. "Epitome IX" is rather worthless though as an uninteresting interlude. "Epitome XII" isn't that cool either with the lack of vocals actually stripping it of its musical and atmospheric substance.

Either way, 'The Desanctification' is a pretty solid album, but it didn't meet the expectations I had for it following my enjoyment for 'Sect(s)'. Hopefully, Vindsval and co. (or his imaginary friends, nobody knows) can pull together a little tighter for 'Cosmosophy' and end this '777' trilogy on a higher note than this album.

(82/100)

DEATHSPELL OMEGA Disciples of the Ultimate Void

Demo · 1999 · Black Metal
Cover art 1.90 | 5 ratings
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(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

Deathspell Alpha

It seems routine for fans of Deathspell Omega to only pay attention to their material after Mikko Aspa picked up the microphone for the band; and to be fair, the majority of the music with Shaxul on vox isn't really as interesting. Well here, we have 'Disciples of the Ultimate Void', DsO's first demo. Those of you who are prospective listeners who have played 'Paracletus' to death are not going to find any rawer incarnations of the band's newer playing style. Rather, you are going to get a more traditional sounding black metal demo with clear throwbacks to Mayhem and the like with its gritty aggression.

However, you will be getting lots of raw production anyway. If you're like me though, you're a black metal connoisseur and you've heard a lot worse. The production is still clear enough for to allow allow all the instruments to be heard, and they're played quite well on this demo. Better still is that the music is well varied to keep these four songs interesting enough to sit through without wanting to turn off the music due to boredom. Still, I do say that the majority of the catchy riffs tend to stay in "Raping Human Dignity" and "The Ancient Presence Revealed".

Though definitely not as fresh at the time the demo would come out and I probably wouldn't say that it needs to be urgently sought after, 'Disciples of the Ultimate Void' still is a very enjoyable slab of good old gritty black metal tremolo guitar work, blast beats, and the occasional and very catchy slower heavy riffing breaks. If you're really curious, go ahead and give this a listen. Just don't expect it to pull any punches or be as complicated as newer Deathspell Omega.

(70/100)

KHANATE Khanate

Album · 2001 · Drone Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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(Originally posted by me to Encyclopaedia Metallum: the Metal Archives; http://www.metal-archives.com/)

After my foray into funeral doom metal reviewing, I thought "hey, what about writing up some drone doom metal reviews?" I actually have been into drone doom longer than funeral doom, but I've found that it's harder to write a review for this genre due to it being more abstract than most other music in the metal genre. But it's still got a special place in my heart as an collection of dark art, much like funeral doom metal but taking a different approach. Here today we have Khanate's self-titled debut album. It's not the first album in the genre I've listened to nor is it one of my absolute favorites of it, but it's one of the biggest standouts and it's a little easier to review than bigger monoliths like Sunn O))) or Boris. So, let's give this a try.

The only immediately familiar name to me on the lineup here is Stephen O'Malley who plays in Sunn O))). His guitar work here is basically more of the same here with lots of droning, screeching, feedback, etc. Bass player James Plotkin plays the same way. Tim Wyskida is an interesting addition though since drums in drone doom music is quite uncommon, but the drums do give a heightened sense of musical movement. Vocalist Alan Dubin is the real star here though with his disturbed voice, and it's him that really is the key element that makes Khanate sound unique. Whenever he opens his mouth, I feel like I'm listening to a deranged murderer who's lost his connection to reality.

When quickly glancing over the lyrics, they may seem quite simple; but when partnered with the music and Dubin's voice, these lyrics are just as disturbing as the rest of the music. Again, Dubin's delivery helps here, but so do the instruments. Every song here feels like a different way a murder is carried out with "Pieces of Quiet" feeling like a hacksaw murder especially at the 9:26 mark where the metal strings really feel like the gnawing gnawing teeth of a hacksaw; then there's "Skin Coat", a song about skinning people and making the skins into a coat; "Under Rotting Sky", which seems to be about suffocation by toxic gas; and "No Joy" with really no easily determined method of murder, but with a title like that the death must have been particularly violent and painful with the killer having some sort of sick satisfaction based on Dubin saying "please don't breathe" repeatedly.

This album is conveniently divided into two sections with the first two songs showing more signs of movement and are much more accessible while the final two songs are darker and scarier. "Torching Koroviev" operates as the bridge between the two groups. In group one, we've got more signs of traditional song structure with "Pieces of Quiet"'s beginning passage in an easy to comprehend 4/4 meter structure, but that rhythm eventually gets distorted as the song goes on. Dubin's vocal tone changes a lot through the song starting with shrieking and eventually switching to a creepy spoken word ("Silence while I strip bones...dark and quiet we go now...") with echoing shrieking to be heard in the background. "Skin Coat" is a really sludgy song with obvious Melvins influence. There is still creepy shit to be heard though with some distorted electronics which might include Dubin's voice thrown in. Things get really fucked in the second half of the song with Dubin whispering "I wear a human shield" and the guitar tone becoming more calm.

On the second half of the album, we start with "Under Rotting Sky" which takes up a more traditional drone doom approach. Musically, it's probably the least interesting track here, but the minimalism here does provide some sense of desolation backed up with the muffled drum soloing in the beginning and Dubin's echoing voice throughout. "No Joy" is the darkest of the dark here and is thus the perfect way to end the album. It starts with Dubin's sick whispering voice to really freak the listener the fuck out. The guitar tone in this song is also a lot calmer as well but they turn out to be a lot darker this way to drive away the hope of regaining sanity. The instruments do go away at one point only leaving Alan Dubin's echoing voice wailing "NO JOY!" At certain points, the the guitar (or bass?) gets the volume turned down and an eerie echoing effect put on it while Dubin whispers disturbing things.

Khanate's 'Khanate' turns out to be a pretty solid album. I'm a little put off by the guitar/bass tone being reminiscent of Sunn O))), but "No Joy" saves the album from that tone really going to my head. It's not my favorite or preferred choice for the genre, but it's definitely worth listening to if you're into the very exclusive drone doom fan club especially in the dead of night in a dark room or forest.

(85/100)

EVANESCENCE Fallen

Album · 2003 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 20 ratings
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During my years in the government school system, while I was checking out bands that would sculpt my present ideology as a Christophobic death and black metal fan, my classmates were listening to music that passed itself off as metal but I found rather irksome. One of the most irksome was "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence. I did not like that the alleged gothic metal tones weren't even there, I did not like the simple and commercially streamlined riffing pattern, and I really did not like Paul McCoy's hip-hop/nu metal flavored guest vocals. A couple of years later, I've decided it's time to kill the weed by strangling it's root and give the album 'Fallen' a listen.

And right away, I can see my dislike justified. I'm greeted with these boring, uninspired, unvaried chug chords. For some reason, some people have gotten the impression that this album is gothic metal simply due to the orchestral instruments and Amy Lee's singing style, but if those elements were taken away everyone would call this alternative rock. In fact, those elements might as well be taken away because they come across as a gimmick to cover up how lame the guitar work is: all chug, zero substance. It doesn't help that all the songs are in this mid paced tempo, further increasing the boredom.

Also not helping are the stupid, angsty, tear-jerker lyrics which are not entertaining in the slightest. For that reason, I don't just hate this album for what it is but also for what it represents: whiny angst. This is a teen targeted theme and the reason why I didn't like it then is because I was above the idea of self-loathing so I didn't like the idea of the commercialization of self-loathing.

But alas, this was March 4, 2003. I would have been in the latter half of my 5th grade year, and the world would be worse than the month before. Yes, I suppose Amy Lee has some pipes, but that means nothing to me when she's a poster girl for angst. 'Fallen' is a very vapid album that is not worth any attention.

LOCUS NEMINIS Weltenwanderung

Album · 2012 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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New releases by well established bands that I like are obviously going to make a few waves, but I rarely count on newer acts to impress me with their debut albums. The latest rare exception to this are Locus Neminis who saw the release of their debut full-length 'Weltenwanderung', and I definitely do like it.

What we have here is a mixture of influences from Darkspace, Lunar Aurora, and 'In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns' era Abigail Williams to create a spacey symphonic melodic black metal release. There's a lot of furious playing on the guitars and drums, and the keyboards are used to bring in that majestic atmospheric quality . The opener "Spiegelbild Der Vergangenheit" sets the stage for this journey with its intro a dark ambient section that sounds majestic and regal, but also quite evil sounding; I'm looking out and down at the cosmos at my feet about to fall forward into that abyss which happens when the guitars kick in. The guitarwork is tight on this album with a good amount of melody and even some acoustic guitar used well, particularly in the title track and "Wenn Die Nacht Den Tag Verdrängt".

I know that the band does employ a human drummer for live performances, but I'm not sure he played on this album because a lot of passages here sound a little too extreme to be played by a human without some programming help. The drumming production on 'Weltenwanderung' gives the drums an interesting technological tone suggesting the use of an electronic drum kit if not a straight up drum machine.

There are weak tracks here unfortunately, starting with "Ein Neuer Anfang" for being decidedly more watered down than the rest of the album and featuring parts that sound more like weak melodic death metal than black metal. The closer "Die Begegnung" is a bigger disappointment for promising 24 minutes of awesomeness, but it barely goes a third of the way before switching to time wasting ambient. Later, a rawer version of the song "Totes Licht", a song which appeared earlier on this album, is played; but it's not worth sitting around with your finger on fast forward to get to.

But 'Weltenwanderung' is still very respectable for a band's debut. Locus Neminis need to get their shit together a little better if they want to really excel, but really killer tracks like "Spiegelbild Der Vergangenheit" and "Virus" show how much potential these guys already have. I hope they can do something with it.

AHAB The Call of the Wretched Sea

Album · 2006 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.47 | 10 ratings
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Ahab are often the entryway into funeral doom metal for newcomers. Their modern clear production and their 'Moby Dick' themes are more attractive than the raw production and weirdness of Skepticism or Esoteric, two primary influences to the genre. Do I wish it was different? I guess so. I love Skepticism and Esoteric much more than Ahab. Is it really that big of a deal? No, because Ahab has its charms as well.

Look at the artwork for 'The Call of the Wretched Sea'. Then, listen to the music. You will realize that the music is as heavy as the leviathan on the cover. The production on this album really makes for a dark, ocean deep atmosphere here. And don't think for an instant that this ocean has a bunch of colorful fish and coral reef formations. This ocean is deep and dark like there's a storm brewing in the sky above the surface, and the only sea animal you might possibly see is Moby Dick though you might not want to lest he see you first and swallow you whole. Ahab play their music here on a low minor key to really boost this tone. But, not all of it is heavy guitar with a lead either. All the songs on this album start out with some atmospheric opener. "Below the Sun" in particular does a fine job of executing the atmospheric opener with an eerie, slow keyboard passage especially since it's the album's opener. Once the metal instruments kick in, it's the guitars that take the lead and evoke the album's melody. The keyboards are still there, but they're more of a background accessory. Like most funeral doom acts, Ahab layer their guitar work on this album having one taking the rhythm role and laying down all the heavy sounding riffs, and the other take the lead with some melodic sounding playing. That lead style isn't maintained throughout the entire album though, and there are lots of instances of the lead guitar sinking down and playing along side the rhythm.

'The Call of the Wretched Sea' has a nice, even flow to it. This isn't only from song to song either, but also how smoothly the songs transition in their variations. The last thing a funeral doom fan wants are songs that barely change at all. Though this album does make a few close calls, like the first section of "Below the Sun" (after the eeire intro) going on until the 4:21 mark, it makes up for it by having subsequent parts that are really interesting like a slightly faster section with a slow, yet very memorable lead. I guess the only thing I could complain about is that this concept album doesn't conclude the 'Moby Dick' tale; it just stops right in the middle of the book with "Ahab's Oath". Hopefully, Ahab can create a fitting conclusion to this tale with another album. To date, though, they haven't returned to the tale or even the dark tone of this album. The two subsequent albums by this band are all lighter sounding, which I hope they don't have if they do return to conclude this tale.

Is it the most likable funeral doom metal release out there? Not really to me. Is it very likable in its own right? Yes. 'The Call of the Wretched Sea' is worth every ounce of praise it's received and, after giving it some thought, I believe it does meet the minimal criteria to be placed in my top tier review rank. This is a very excellent album for funeral doom metal veterans and newcomers alike.

BLACK VEIL BRIDES Set the World on Fire

Album · 2011 · Glam Metal
Cover art 1.64 | 12 ratings
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A dialogue exchange regarding Black Veil Brides' 'Set the World on Fire' and the general mallcore scene:

Metal Music Connoisseur: "Hey, music store clerk. My copies of Fleshgod Apocalypse's 'Agony' and Origin's 'Entity' both got worn out from being overplayed. Got any copies that I could replace them with?"

Music Store Clerk: "'fraid not, son."

MMC: "God fucking dammit. Okay, got anything new in stock for me to check out?"

SC: "Well, the new Black Veil Brides album 'Set the World on Fire' just came in a few days ago."

MMC: "Never heard of them."

SC: "Here, check them out." *hands Connoisseur a copy of the album*

MMC: "Um...is this what the band really looks like? Because they seem rather...flamboyant."

SC: "Quit being so closed minded, buddy. Give them a listen. All the kids today seem to like them."

MMC: "You know what? I'm going to give them a listen tonight at home on Grooveshark. If I like them, I'll come back and buy a copy." *hands the Clerk back the CD and leaves*

-The Next Day-

MMC: "Hey, you remember that Black Veil Brides album that you recommended to me yesterday?"

SC: "Yeah. Did you listen to them? "Pretty good shit, right?"

MMC: "Um, no. They're pretty fucking lame."

SC: "Aw, what didn't you like about them?"

MMC: "Well, they sound like one of those shitty glam rock revival bands mixed with Avenged Sevenfold. Meaning, you've got a try-hard hard rock band that tries to make themselves sound impressive by having double kick drums and fast paced guitar solos, but all the while they still sound generic as hell."

SC: "And what the hell is wrong with double kick drums and fast paced guitar solos? Metalheads usually like them."

MMC: "Dude, I came in here yesterday asking for Fleshgod Apocalypse and Origin. These people in Black Veil Brides have nothing on Paul Ryan, John Longstreth, or Francesco Paoli. There is nothing new or impressive about the musicianship in Black Veil Brides."

SC: "But you gotta admit that the vocalist has some talent."

MMC: "Yeah, he sounds like every other modern mallcore hard rock singer, meaning he's got that whiny tone that people like me fucking hate. Then, screamo type screaming gets mixed in."

SC: "Look, buddy. Maybe you need to open your mind up to new things every once in a while."

MMC: "Look, dude. Maybe you need to understand that not everyone likes this type of shit."

SC: "Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean you can go around saying that."

MMC: "What the hell are you talking about? You and I are the only two characters in this dialogue, and you even asked for my opinion. But I am prepared to share my wisdom and tell everyone who hasn't heard of Black Veil Brides to stay away from them." *leaves*

That night, the Metal Music Connoisseur discovered Amazon.com where he could find CDs for cheaper prices than the Music Store and with a far better selection. He lived happier ever after.

'Set the World on Fire' was not enjoyable to listen to. I advise everyone to not listen to it, especially if you hate Avenged Sevenfold.

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL My Fruit Psychobells... A Seed Combustible

Album · 1999 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 18 ratings
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Whenever the term avant-garde metal gets brought up, it usually sounds like some already known genre, usually progressive metal but with a few changes like different instruments being played or several songs that are all different styles. Enter Toby Driver, one of the most prominent musicians in the genre. He gets some guys (and at least one girl) together and starts Maudlin of the Well, a band that has generated quite a lot of buzz despite having all their albums out of print for a while now. Let's have a crack at 'My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustible' (which must have been a name picked while Toby was playing Scrabble drunk) and see what Toby's interpretation of avant-garde music sounds like.

What we have here is a whole lot of progressive post rock with some breaths of sludge metal. At times, it seems like the band attempts to play death metal as well, most notably on "A Conception Pathetic", but it's a rather third rate version of death metal that isn't going to trump any big names in that genre. So, I guess the metal populace has agreed to put all that under the umbrella term "avant-garde metal". In fact, I'd put this album on the same boat as the works of Isis or Cult of Luna.

And sludge metal is how this album first introduces itself in "Ferocious Weights" with some 'Souls at Zero' era Neurosis flavored playing mixed with trumpet. There's some female vocals here as well brought about by Maria-Stella Fountoulakis eventually joined by a male vocalist. At about the halfway point, they break into death metal mode playing faster with some furious soloing going on. Following that, the post rock shows itself with clam sounding guitar, keys, and Maria's voice.

"A Conception Pathetic" is one of the weaker pieces on here, sticking a lot to the aformentioned third rate death metal flavor. It does have the post rock vibe to it still, but it just isn't very interesting. I really don't care for the ragtime piano piece that finishes up the song. After that song though, the album's best songs come forth. "Undine and Underwater Flowers" keeps itself more exclusive to the post rock side of things and actually is quite nice to have after "A Conception Pathetic". "The Ocean, the Kingdom, and the Temptation" is probably my favorite of the bunch here. It has the best combination of the post rock and sludge metal flavors on this album. Then comes "Pondering a Wall" a weaker song with more of that mediocre death metal flavor hanging in there. "Catharsis of Sea-Sleep and Dreaming Shrines" is a better one that follows "The Ocean..."'s lead with the post rock and sludge metal combination. The last song, "Blight of River Systems" is definitely the worst song here with its giddy sing-along style vocal delivery which is really annoying and weaker iteration of the post rock style.

It seems that fans of Maudlin of the Well and Toby Driver's other big project Kayo Dot have a problem with people calling Toby's work unfocused, but that's what 'My Fruit Psychobells...' is. It doesn't stick to one main style. It flip flops first in sludge metal in one song, then introduces death metal in the next, then a mostly post rock piece, etc. After listening to "Catharsis...", I went back to "Ferocious Weights" and thought, "Huh, the album actually sounded like this at one point?" Lack of focus isn't that big of a beef though as there are some good tracks here, but there are bad ones as well.

So, is 'My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustable' enjoyable? Yeah, it is, but I wouldn't make it the first thing I'd listen to if I ever allowed onto my iPod. What Maudlin of the Well needs is more songs like "Ferocious Weights", "The Ocean, the Kingdom, and the Temptation", and "Catharsis of Sea-Sleep and Dreaming Shrines" with less pieces like "A Conception Pathetic", "Pondering a Wall", and "Blight of River Systems". But Toby went ahead and found other ways to make an album weaker than it could have been in 'Bath', but that's a review for a different day.

PRIMORDIAL Imrama

Album · 1995 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 7 ratings
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Primordial are one of those common knowledge blackened folk metal acts that prove that you don't need cheesy keyboards or flutes and fiddles to make interesting folk metal; just a little acoustic guitar to go along with their epic sounding metal music. However, no one ever brings up their debut 'Imrama' in any discussions of the band. Granted, this is one one of their weaker albums, but there are a good amount of quality elements to keep me coming back to it.

This album actually leans more toward black metal than folk but the influences that hint at their later inversion of that order are definitely here. There's the opener "Fuil Arsa" which has folkish acoustic guitar played alongside the metal music and non-English lyrics. Beyond that song, the rest of this album is mostly black metal; but Primordial does have their trademark Primordial tone going already, i.e. lots of triplet riffs and lyrics dealing with paganism, society, and dark romanticism. Those three themes are enough to cycle back and forth from through the album's ten song cycle, and there's some very memorable licks like the aggressive sounding "Here I Am King" and "The Fires", the more somber "The Darkest Flame" and "Let the Sun Set on Life Forever", and the flat-out epic opener and closer pieces "Fuil Arsa" and "Awaiting the Dawn".

There are a few reasons why 'Imrama' is one of Primordial's weaker albums though. A lot of these pieces are good but not great, and the only two I'd put in a Primordial dream live set list are the opening and closing pieces. The musicianship feels sloppy in places' the example that comes first to my mind is in "Here I Am King" in the first blastbeating section where the riffs and drumming don't seem to match up right. Singer A.A. Nemtheanga combines all his styles like he usually does: harsh, spoken, and clean. However, 'Imrama' features some of his weakest clean vocals ever. The dude barely has any range here, which makes him sound pretty boring when compared to his work in Primordial's other albums. Fortunately, he'd improve in time for the sophomore album 'A Journey's End' three years later.

'Imrama' was their debut album and Primordial are one of those bands whose debut album is only a dry run of the excellent material to come. These pieces are weaker than Primordial's later work, but the majority of them are still good for what they are with the side effect of making their later albums seem even better in comparison. So, go ahead and give 'Imrama' a go if just to see what Primordial was like before 'Spirit the Earth Aflame' or 'To The Nameless Dead'.

GORGUTS From Wisdom to Hate

Album · 2001 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.53 | 14 ratings
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So, it's been a few months since my review of Gorguts' 'Obscura' was published. Surely by now I must understand the album for the musical genius and divinity that it is and change my mind about the negative score I gave it, yes? No. I have not gone back to that album since the review for the simple reason that I refuse to listen to terrible music more than I need to. However, it's time to leave the past to the past. I have moved on to their followup album, 'From Wisdom to Hate', which is a great improvement over 'Obscura'. Unfortunately, that still does not make it very good.

First, I'm pleased to say that the production has improved and it's a lot more apparent that the guys in Gorguts are interested in actually playing their music to an actual key than making noise with the guitar strings. This coincides with the album's whole style which now sounds like a sort of post death metal album influenced by parts of "Nostalgia", one of the better pieces from 'Obscura'. With this particular concept, Gorguts have showed some promise. This post-metal concept is a lot more likeable than the "dissonant" noise that was existent in 'Obscura'.

What's the problem then? Why is this score rather low? The problem is how Gorguts actually executes this concept. As the album goes on, it just really seems to drag with all the slower paced riffs that I begin to feel like the playing is just really uninspired that it just drains my attention to the point of boredom. It gets worse when I look at a more modern example: Ulcerate. When I listen to 'Everything Is Fire' or 'The Destroyers of All', I get this sense of nihility mixed with a little misanthropy to make a really negative sounding atmosphere. I'm just not getting that here on 'From Wisdom to Hate'. The thematic elements are drastically different between the two. While Ulcerate have a rather negative view on the human condition, 'From Wisdom to Hate''s lyrics contain some bullshit about human transcendence. I get the feeling from the piece "Unearthing the Past" and "Elusive Treasures that Luc Lemay wanted to be an archaeologist before becoming a musician because both of those songs basically talk about how cool archaeology is.

The point I'm trying to make is that this post death metal style of music doesn't work as well in the setting that Gorguts presents here on 'From Wisdom to Hate'. Death metal tends to be much better when it has more negative energy. Not to say I don't appreciate Gorguts' change in style to something better than 'Obscura', but better does not equal good. At the publishing time of this review the band hasn't put out anything since this album; but even with the amount of time they would have had to change things up further, I'm not too enthusiastic as to what the product will be.

BLUT AUS NORD MoRT

Album · 2006 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 5 ratings
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If I ever wanted to listen to dissonant, nightmarish black metal, I'd turn to Blut aus Nord first. From 'The Mystical Beast of Rebellion' onward, it's what they've been pretty much known for. However, among all those albums, 'MoRT' has stood out as the most dark and disturbing to listen to. That hasn't made it actually better than the others though.

The first noticeable uniqueness in this album is how much slower it is compared to Blut aus Nord's previous material. Even 'The Work Which Transforms God' whose most well known pieces are the slower ones (particularly "Procession of Dead Clowns") doesn't match up with 'MoRT'. I suppose a good amount of that has to do with 'MoRT''s darker atmosphere. While 'The Work...' had faster songs that were really dissonant sounding, the slower ones had a more melancholic tinge. Every track on 'MoRT' is basically one bad trip or mental rape after another. This is music you listen to when your soul gets abducted and gets transported across some dark, ethereal void. The dissonant guitar work helps bring this about, but surprisingly so do the vocals. Vindisval uses a mixture of unintelligible screeches, growls, whispers, chants, and more to further conjure this frightening experience. The production is noticeably dryer as well, so the foggier sound will make you get even more lost in this black haze.

'MoRT' does have problems though, and the most notable problems were also present on 'The Mystical Beast of Rebellion'; but at the same time, these flaws were worked on to make them a little more bearable. The first problem is having the approximately 30 seconds of non-music between the songs. The good news though is that Blut aus Nord made these sections a lot more interesting. While all the sections between the songs on '...Mystical Beast...' were all quiet wind sounds, 'MoRT' instead uses creepy dissonant sounds that go right along with the music. My favorite of these is the transition between "Chapter VII" and "Chapter VIII", which has some really low and distorted growls as if Lucifer is speaking to the listener; quite fitting considering it's going into the final track of the album and the listener meets the master of this dark void. The other notable problem is the naming of the songs simply as "Chapter I", "Chapter II", etc.; and like '...Mystical Beast...', 'MoRT' isn't Blut aus Nord's most memorable output, but it's still very intriguing to listen to from beginning to end and there's more individual songs that I find myself going back to.

Though it falls on the weaker side of Blut aus Nord's spectrum of albums, 'MoRT' isn't bad in any sense. If you're looking for something really dark and disturbing to listen to, then this is a great album to check out, because if there's one thing this album does better than Blut aus Nord's other works, it's that it creates a darker atmosphere than any of the others and it works out pretty well.

LUNAR AURORA Andacht

Album · 2007 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.49 | 4 ratings
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After Lunar Aurora brought about 'Elixir of Sorrow', they really began to detach themselves from the symphonic black metal scene and began their second era of the second era of the band's history featuring a more depressive type of atmospheric black metal. 'Zyklus' first showed off the band's completed metamorphosis since 'Elixir of Sorrow' still retained some symphonic parts but still showed signs of the style change. 'Mond' refined what 'Zyklus' brought about; and finally, there came 'Andacht', the best of this era but for better or worse also the end of this era.

I must say, this is Lunar Aurora's most depressive album yet. The sorrowful tone first brought about in 'Elixir of Sorrow' is brought to its peak in 'Andacht'. Among the different types of setting the atmosphere evokes is "Glück", with the church-like atmosphere brought about by the choir; and "Geisterschif", which goes right along with its translated title "Ghostship" in that it makes me feel like I'm sailing away from the shores of some place on a wooden ship during a foggy day and a storm closing in. The atmosphere is brought about by the guitar work, something Lunar Aurora have become quite skilled at doing. In particular, the lead guitar in 'Andacht' is very prominent and very impressive. While there is noticeable use of the keyboards on this album, the lead guitar often overrides them. The keys are at their strongest on the final two tracks "Der Pakt" and "Das Ende", though one of the "atmospheric" elements on the latter song sounds like someone inflating a balloon.

The drums are programmed by Sindar, Aran's younger brother. With the rest of the production rather clear sounding, the drums also sound pretty good; but their presence is a little overbearing at times such as the final refrain of "Glück" where i feel that they might have been overproduced. The vocals are handled by Aran, Sindar, and Whyrhd; but good luck trying to tell who says what since three different voices are heard in the songs. The only one i could recognize was Whyrhd from his work in the 'Hoagascht' album; he has the lowest voice. But otherwise, kudos to him and whoever did the majority of the higher screeching on the songs as well as whoever did clean vocals on "Glück".

Though there are a few small flaws, 'Andacht' is enjoyable enough for me to put it in the top tier category of my review filing system. However, it would be the end of this era for Lunar Aurora; and after they reformed, Sindar would not join them. Let 'Andacht' stand as one of the band's greatest efforts to date as well as the most ideal way to make this era go out with a bang.

MAKE ME FAMOUS It's Now or Never

Album · 2012 · Metalcore
Cover art 1.00 | 2 ratings
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Although people have told me it's healthier to not have an elitist sense of metal superiority, it's hard not to give the middle finger to many of the designated "mallcore" acts out there. Make Me Famous is the latest iteration of fresh new mallcore material to satiate the mallcore fans who believe that it isn't trendy enough to like Asking Alexandria or A Day to Remember anymore, or rather Attack Attack! since Make Me Famous wants to work off the trancecore angle Attack Attack! were using.

As most of you know now, the term "mallcore" is used mainly as a derogatory term. Unfortunately, Make Me Famous makes absolutely no effort shed the cliches that defined the derogatory term. They've got a stupid band name; stupid song titles like "Blind Date 101", "This Song Is Blacker Than Black Metal" (your fellow countrymen Nokturnal Mortum and Drudkh would like a word with you), "Once You Killed A Cow, You Gotta Make A Burger", "ifyuocnaraedtihsmkaemeasnadwich"; and that stereotypical look the band members have: straightened hair, revealing shirts, and skinny jeans.

Actually, if I didn't notice the different band name, I'd say 'It's Now or Never' is actually Attack Attack!'s newest album, failing to realize that Attack Attack! released an album in 2012 as well. So much got carried over that the only real distinction that Make Me Famous has is that the lyrics in 'It's Now or Never' are WORSE than Attack Attack!'s lyrics ever were. They still read like angst-ridden love letters, but Attack Attack! looks incredibly mellow in comparison to Make Me Famous' approach: every song's lyrics here is basically the same message as "You made me feel bad! Now I kill you, bitch!" If there's something I hate as much as angst-ridden lyrics, it's pseudo tough guy lyrics; and combining the two does not make either of them more bearable. As for the delivery, there's nothing that makes Make Me Famous special here. The vocalist mixes guttural harsh vocals with clean vocals that sound like he tried to audition for High School Musical. Musically, there's no outstanding qualities here. Lots of repeated chugging on one note, faster (mostly mid-paced) sections that aren't any more impressing, and overuse of that damn keyboard!

And the worst thing about having these electronic influences it that they almost fucking work! I've been impressed by a good amount of the material that Japanese melodic trance death metal act Blood Stain Child has put out as well as the Russian industrial metal/electronic/ambient project Senmuth's EBM material. But even in the metalcore setting, there's also Born of Osiris, who have put a decent amount of attention in the guitar work to make the keyboard use seem acceptable; having them not sound like a rave party also helps. The keyboards should be used as a booster for the music's atmosphere, not an accessory to wave around like your "swag".

At the end of the day, we have a very big mess of an album here. 'It's Now or Never' is not worth a damn to check out, and the only reason why I'm not putting it in the bottom tier of my ranking system is that it almost worked. But there's just way too many things wrong with it to justify giving it any proper praise.

BORKNAGAR Quintessence

Album · 2000 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 14 ratings
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And here stands 'Quintessence', the last of the three Borknagar albums I got on that one day I mentioned in my previous two Borknagar reviews. But compared to the two other albums by them that I own, this one is the most distinct. It's an impressive archetype to what Borknagar would put out after this album.

It was during this album and 'The Archaic Course' that Øystein Brun would begin bringing musicians in to his project for the long run, all but discarding the supergroup lineup of well known Norwegian black metal musicians. ICS Vortex, who did vocals in 'The Archaic Course' previously, returns' but beyond him, there aren't any relatively well known players here. Grim, sadly, couldn't return to the drums due to his suicide in 1999. His replacement, Asgeir Mickelson, has proved his worth previously in Spiral Architect and plays the drums well in 'Quintessence'. Jens F. Ryland, previously playing second guitar on 'The Archaic Course', returns to reprise the role on this album. Ivar Bjornson is now gone, and he is replaced by Lars Nedland from the relatively unheard of duo group Solefald who would go on to be a permanent member of Borknagar.

Well, let's see what this new team can do. The folky, nostalgic, old world style of the first two albums are long gone. 'The Archaic Course' brought about a new style of goofy sounding progressive black metal that was definitely weaker than the first two. 'Quintessence' then works on the flaws of 'The Archaic Course' to make an end product that leans much closer to progressive metal than black metal. Vortex's clean vocals are used more often here, and he sounds great...just as long as his voice isn't being fucked with. If there's one negative thing to say about 'Quintessence', it's that layering the vocals can get somewhat annoying at times. One effect that's really irksome is on "Ruins of the Future" where he sounds like he's doing harsh vocals while his mouth is in a basin full of water and he's blowing bubbles. However, his voice sounds excellent clean and harsh on other likcs like "Colossus", "Icon Dreams", "Genesis Torn", and "Revolt" even if the vocals are layered at certain points.

Even the songs where Vortex's voice doesn't shine, the music is very well composed and makes up for it. The goofy sounding tone of 'The Archaic Course' has been peeled away, opting instead for a return to a more epic sounding tone like in the first two albums. Mind you, the nostalgic old world atmosphere did not get carried over. Instead, it seems that Brun and pals created a new epic atmosphere using the two electric guitars and more prominent use of the keyboards. To assign some describers to this atmosphere, I'd still say they bring up this old world that Brun loves so much; but now it seems like it's got some sort of mystical energy that Borknagar can wield using some sort of sorcery, especially evidenced on "Rivalry of Phantoms" where the lyrics talk about summoning winter, rivers, and the presence of time. Brun has been able to work this angle quite well. There's no acoustic guitar to be found on this album; but having Ryland on second guitar has allowed Brun to play some epic sounding leads, particularly on "Colossus". I do like Lars on keys more than Ivar, and the bigger role the keys play in Borknagar at this point in the band's musical transition is portrayed much better by Lars in 'Quintessence' than by Ivar in 'The Archaic Course'. The keys really shine on "Rivalry of Phantoms", "The Presence is Ominous", "Invincible", and "Genesis Torn".

It's not a perfect album, but 'Quintessence' has so many great things about it that the bad things have been greatly outweighed. Thus, I believe it deserves a top tier ranking. It's a very awesome progressive metal album with black metal influences, and it's Borknagar's second best album in my opinion. Unfortunately, Borknagar is coming close to the end of their golden era. They would still have 'Empiricism' yet to be released; but after that album, they would grow weaker as they would be unable to recreate the magic of these first few albums.

BLUT AUS NORD The Mystical Beast of Rebellion

Album · 2001 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 5 ratings
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Getting a CD to me means, among other things, that if I want to write a review for that album, I no longer have to be glued to a computer if I want to use the music as a reference (which I always do). I've also developed a craving to collect certain bands' discographies, one of them being Blut aus Nord's. One thing that's unfortunate though is that the three Blut aus Nord CDs I own at the time of writing this review are, in my opinion, their three weakest: 'The Mystical Beast of Rebellion', 'MoRT', and '777-The Desanctification'. None of these albums are inherently bad, but the good news is that any other album by them I buy is going to be better than what I have. For now though, let's get a review out for 'The Mystical Beast of Rebellion', the first Blut aus Nord album to be introduced to my collection.

Pressing the play button greets me with a fast paced assault of melodic tremolo guitar play and blast beating drums. This first piece, "Chapter I", maintains the drum pattern until a little after the four minute mark. But before that, the riffs do vary to prevent the song from becoming stagnant. Once the music ends, there's a minute of quiet sounding howling of wind that continues on into the first thirty seconds of the second song. Here lies the first problem this album has, and every song after the first one has that moment of quietness before and after the actual music. I call that time waste. I could handle it if it was just at the end of a song so I could just hit the skip button, but the fact that I must waste my precious finger energy holding the fast forward or otherwise sit waiting for the music to start again in the thirty or so second mark of the following song really grinds my gears.

Turning my attention to the actual music though, 'The Mystical Beast of Rebellion' isn't very bad at all. Blut aus Nord have all but dropped the pagan act here and have begun playing their nightmarish style that they would be known for in their following albums. Vindisval's guitar work is well played and well written; and the dark, nightmarish atmosphere is definitely present here; but these attributes are stronger in some places on this album than other parts of the album. However, as the songs go on, this album's second problem becomes apparent. The fast paced blast beating that was used in the beginning of "Chapter I" is reused as the standard drum pattern through the rest of the songs, which makes the album a little monotonous. The guitar work is well varied though, and the drum pace does try to switch itself up at sections such as the final minutes of "Chapter I" and the entirety of "Chapter V" where things slow up a good bit.

'The Mystical Beast of Rebellion' as a whole isn't Blut aus Nord's most memorable piece of music, and having all the songs named "The Fall, Chapter (roman numeral)" doesn't help. But although I usually only go back to "Chapter I" because there's no silence at the beginning and it eventually does slow its pace down, giving the whole album a full listen still offers a pretty solid experience despite its flaws. The good news for those who want this album for themselves is that the most readily available version of this album is the 2011 version with a bonus disc with three more songs that are all slower than disc one's and may be thicker in the nightmare atmosphere. It's a pretty win/win situation in my book.

LUNAR AURORA Hoagascht

Album · 2012 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 3 ratings
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By the time I've caught on to Lunar Aurora, they've already split up and reformed; but I've found what I've listened to already so interesting that I was looking forward to their latest output 'Hoagascht'. The band has downsized, only maintaining Aran on instruments and Whyrhd on vocals. Regardless, these two veterans march on and make a very strong atmospheric black metal album.

See the art? The owl, the tree, and the moon? These things fit the atmosphere very well. Throughout the entire album, I think of an owl flying through the forest under a full moon and a star filled sky. Compared to their previous entry, 'Andacht', the atmosphere on 'Hoagascht' is much more consistent. One thing that boosts this is the much bigger role the keyboards play in this album compared to 'Andacht', provided that 'Andacht' didn't need the keys as much since the lead guitar on that album was used as a very prominent instrument. That attribute isn't present in 'Hoagascht'; the guitars are still layered, but there's no outstanding lead guitar. The keys here never make the music approach the boundaries of bombast though, and the guitars are the main instruments that carry the songs' melodies and tone; and the drums, while programmed, sound natural (especially when compared to the drums on 'Mond' and 'Andacht') and go with the album well.

Though much of the music is played mid-paced, such as "Im Gartn" and "Geisterwoid", there are faster pieces like "Håbergoaß" and the ending of "Nachtuele". There's also the slower epic, emotional sounding "Sterna" which is probably my biggest favorite from the album. The only track I really have a problem with is "Wedaleichtn", which starts out fine but then cuts to a prolonged sample passage that feels like it takes up a third of the song or more; so we've got a little time waste, but it's just a little impurity in an otherwise really clear glass of water.

This album just falls short of a top tier ranking. It's not as great as 'Elixer of Sorrow' or 'Andacht'; but I definitely like it more than 'Mond', which was a good album itself. 'Hoagasht' was a shift in the band's style though, and may bring a third era of the band as far as music goes. If so, I'm eager to see what all Lunar Aurora can do with it.

WODENSTHRONE Loss

Album · 2009 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.85 | 6 ratings
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The winter of 2011-2012 was so fucking boring compared to the winters of past years. I had intended to use the scenic winter landscape to write several reviews for some winter themed metal albums and only got around to doing four since the snow barely stayed on the ground long enough to offer any scenic visual inspiration. So, it's sad to see the season come and go without leaving a lasting effect; but in its place, snowfall gives way to rainstorms, and there's definitely a few albums to be found and reviewed that are scenic like the rainstorm. 'Loss' by Wodensthrone is one such album.

This rainstorm-like atmosphere on 'Loss' is very reminiscent of 'Zîrnindu-să' by Negura Bunget and was even recorded at Negura Studio with (former) NB frontman Huppogrammos present. With this musical shaman's blessing, 'Loss' was given life in Romania where Negura Bunget drew inspiration from their region's spiritual heathen past. Wodensthrone also draws inspiration from their home country's pre-Christian roots, and there's such deepness to this ideology in regards to a more natural sounding landscape.

It is very rare that an intro track leaves a lasting impression on me, but damn! "Fyrgenstréam" is one of the best intro tracks I've ever heard! The calling of crows, whispering vocals, a somber sounding acoustic guitar line, layers of somber sounding keyboards as the vocals and guitars go on, all building on each other to provide a somber but incredibly epic atmosphere as the rainstorm approaches.

"Let me take upon myself this curse. Let my bloodline die with me. Let the great wind sing a lament to this land where nobility is no more."

After that, the storm kicks itself off with "Leódum on Lande"; and like a rainstorm, the music is dreary, yet purifying at the same time. The songs contain an even mix of fast blast beat/tremolo sections and slower paced sections. In songs like "Heófungtid", the music is played at a higher key, alleviating the dreary tone, yet maintaining the epic, purifying tone. At the heart of the aforementioned purifying tone is the keyboards and how well their master, Æðelwalh, utilizes them. The best part about them though is that, while they are prominent, they don't override the guitars in the album which are well produced and include bits of acoustic work involved.

It's like Drudkh meets Negura Bunget meets Wolves in the Throne Room. If you love any or all of those bands, you'll really want to look into 'Loss'. At the same time, though, I've never felt like Wodensthrone were ever ripping on any of those bands. They've definitely got their own thing going on that makes this album totally enjoyable without making me think twice about it.

BORKNAGAR The Olden Domain

Album · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.68 | 25 ratings
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The second of the three Borknagar albums to review in light of my lucking find I mentioned in my review of Borknagar's self-titled is 'The Olden Domain'. During my initial immersion into the band, I recall 'The Olden Domain' being one of the band's best. Now that I have the CD and have been able to give it more listens to strengthen my opinion in preparation for this review, 'The Olden Domain' actually extends further than being my favorite Borknagar album, but I'll get back to that later. What I will say now is that while it is nice to have the three Borknagar albums I got that day at FYE, I would be fine with just 'The Olden Domain'. In fact, 'The Olden Domain' was the first Borknagar album I saw on that shelf that day.

From the self-titled, Øystein Brun carries Garm, Grim, and Ivar over to continue his supergroup lineup. Infernus was dropped, and in his place is Kai K. Lie. 'The Olden Domain' is Lie's first big album he would perform on, but it's definitely a nice album to have on his resume. The production on 'The Olden Domain allows the bass to be fairly audible and reveals that Lie is definitely capable of playing his part. As for the other musicians, Brun's writing style change toward Borknagar's modern progressive metal sound first shows itself on this album. A large amount of the music here is slower paced akin to the slower parts on the self-titled, but there's still a good amount of fast paced sections on 'The Olden Domain', especially on "Grimland Domain". He also throws in acoustic guitar pieces along the rest of the music in "The Winterway", "To Mount and Rove", and "The Dawn of the End". Meanwhile, Grim plays slower, but at a more controlled pace to match the new song writing, but he still manages the rolling kick drums and blast beats when they are appropriate. Garm really shines on this album. Compared to the self-titled where he sang 90% in harsh vocals, it's more like 45% on 'The Olden Domain'. His mixture of clean and harsh vocals flows excellently throughout, and I always find myself singing or humming along to the "ah" parts of "The Eye of Oden" and "The Winterway" as well as verses or pieces of verses, particularly the final verse of "Dawn of the End", though having all songs entirely in English makes 'The Olden Domain' easier to go along with than the self-titled which was in Norwegian/Swedish/whatever. Ivar and the keys play both more and less of a notable role on this album in comparison to the self-titled. They are a little more prevalent here with piano pieces and other sections bringing the keys out of the back, but they aren't overused. They play less of a role in that there's a lot less interludes on 'The Olden Domain'. There's only one folksy ambient keyboard interlude, and thankfully it's not as dull as the "Tanker Mot Tind" pieces on the self-titled.

I feel like Brun's intended message of nostalgia for a better a better time in the ancient past is actually portrayed even better in 'The Olden Domain'. Attributes like acoustic guitar, piano, and large amounts of clean vocals help this; but the biggest influence is the generally slower tempo on the album. I've pointed out the atmospheric tendencies in the more mid-paced sections of songs in the self-titled. In 'The Olden Domain, the tempos are slower and stay slow longer, thus giving much more room for the atmosphere to paint its pictures. All the songs are arranged in the most ideal order with "Dawn of the End" being hands down the best way to end this album. I can't bring myself to skip any of these tracks, even the piano ambient interlude "Om hundrede aar er alting glemt" or the instrumental metal piece "Ascension of Our Fathers".

'The Olden Domain' has very excellent features, talented musicians playing their parts right, one of Garm's best vocal performances ever, and that special charm that puts me in a good mood every time I listen to it. Thus, I am comfortable with not only giving this album a top tier ranking, but also a perfect 100/100 score. And though I have given other albums the 100/100 that I may hold in higher regard than this one, I will give 'The Olden Domain' the distinct title of being the best Norwegian metal album, which is a damn impressive feat by itself having to compete against all the other big black metal acts and coming out on top.

ISIS Panopticon

Album · 2004 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 51 ratings
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Oh the things for a single college boy of 18 years to do while he is on spring break. I decided to take one of these days and hike to the top of a tall, rocky hill that overlooks the entirety of the town of Bedford and more in the valley below and beyond. Moreover, I wanted to use this scenic view as visual inspiration for a written review of Isis' 'Panopticon'. So I packed up my notebook, my iPod, two bottles of water, and a sandwich. An hour later, I was at the designated spot.

I actually acquired a copy of 'Panopticon' during the summer of 2011 at my favorite CD store in Princeton, New Jersey for $9.99 new. I liked its scenic, post rock atmosphere mixed with sludgey yet calm metal riffs. In fact, the albums's art of a scenic, panoramic view of a large landscape is what eventually influenced me to hike up here on this hill, find a comfortable spot amongst these rocks, and write this review.

And actually, the view of the town, some highways, partial forests, and open farm fields fits really well for the atmosphere of 'Panopticon'. If I was looking at a 100% natural view like a great, vast forest or something, I'd probably be reviewing something like Blood of the Black Owl or Agalloch instead (hmm...ideas...).

This album's main advantage when conveying its atmosphere is that it is based on instrumentation. In other words, the lasting effect of the vocals on this album is very weak. They're there, but they only do one or two stanzas per song. The most is probably three in "Wills Dissolve" and "Syndic Calls". The convenient thing about the vocals though is that while the lyrics aren't easy to pick out and sing along to, they're still capable of at least being hummed along to.

On the instrumental side, all songs are played at a nice, slow-mid pace and never change tempo in the course of a single song. The riffs are varied, however, and seem to build up an atmosphere in each songs before reaching a climax in its final minutes. Guitar tone switched comfortably back and forth in each song from calm sounding post rock guitar and sludge metal riffs. Also adding to the atmosphere is a well utilized keyboard and decently audible bass. All this coagulates into the atmosphere of the album and, by extension, the panoramic view on the album art and of my own view of Bedford.

Any album that inspires me to hike through the woods and up a steep, rocky hill to write a review utilizing the view I get from the top definitely is worthy of my praise. 'Panopticon' is definitely one of the best atmospheric sludge metal albums out there, and an obvious necessity for fans of the genre. And I'm definitely glad I got this little adventure early in this week, because it's raining later; and when it's not raining, I'm going to be working.

BORKNAGAR Borknagar

Album · 1996 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 18 ratings
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As much as I would rather shop at CD stores besides FYE, I must give FYE a chance to surprise me with its used CD selection. Why? Because FYE HAS surprised me in the past with some of the used CDs I've found there. I've found some great albums at cheap prices such as 'Storm of the Light's Bane' by Dissection, 'Unification' by Iron Savior, three Primordial albums, Therion's 'Lemuria' and 'Sirius B' on 2 CD, and three of Borknagar's best albums. Of these, Borknagar is probably the most rewarding luck I've had with my browsing there. Since it's been forever since my initial immersion into Borknagar, I thought it would be nice to write a review or two or three to celebrate my reintroduction into the band now having three of their albums on CD. The first of these is the self titled debut by the band, one of the three I picked up at FYE.

Borknagar is the brainchild of Øystein G. Brun. With him on Borknagar's self titled is a lineup of well known Norwegian black metal musicians: Garm from Ulver, Infernus from Gorgoroth, Ivar Bjørnson from Enslaved, and Grim who played on Gorgoroth's 'Under the Sign of Hell' (though that would be released later). Everyone on the roster plays their respective instruments exceptionally well, but Brun does more so than anyone else. He's an exceptional music writer and guitarist. He states on the album's insert that 'Borknagar' contains Brun's feelings of nostalgia for a better, ancient past put to modern metal music; and I can actually take his word for it since the general tone here can easily reflect those primordial times. 'Borknagar' is raw, but not too raw; has keys, but does not overuse them.

The actual brand of black metal played here consists of fast-paced tremolo/blast beat along with a good amount of variation with more mid-tempoed sections gaining an atmospheric tinge brought about by Øystein's lead guitar and/or the keys. These atmospheric sections possess an epic quality that ties back into Øystein's original intended message with the album; and I just can't get my favorite of these sections, the parts at the 1:59 and 3:28 areas of "Vintervredets Sjelesagn", out of my head.

Garm sings mostly harsh vocals on this album save for a few clean "aws" and actual lyrical passages of "Dauden". His clean parts also tie in well with Brun's message; but if you know Garm, this should not be a surprise. All the parts together create an experience similar to Enslaved's 'Vikingligr Veldi' (released two years prior) mixed with Satyricon's 'Dark Medieval Times' (three years prior) with some bits of 'Bergatt by Ulver (one year prior) also present.

Even though I can definitely call the listening experience amazing, I can't call it perfect. If you don't pay enough attention to the music, most of it will go in one ear and out the other. Having all Norwegian song titles and lyrics doesn't help either. 'Borknagar' unfortunately also suffers from having too many interludes, 5 out of 10 songs, but I do like a few of their attributes taht tie in with Brun's message such as acoustic guitar and Garm's clean "aw"s, so I'm willing to overlook that problem a bit since all the real songs are all very good; though Ivar's "Tanker mot Tind" pieces are the low point of the album. I'm not giving 'Borknagar' a top tier score, but it's still an excellent addition to the black metaller's collection.

TRIST Hin-fort

Album · 2007 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Germany's Trist seemed like a good pie to dip my finger in after dipping my other fingers into the pies belonging to the Czech Trist and Lunar Aurora, the Czech Trist for the shared names and Lunar Aurora because Aran from Lunar Aurora is also the sole musician in Germany's Trist. I guess it's also good to have had an entire hand dipped in Darkspace's pie as well since I've seen people compare the German Trist (hereon referred to simply as Trist, I have no need to bring up the Czech one again for the rest of this review) to Darkspace. A comparison between one of my favorite bands and one totally new to me raises one important question: why the hell haven't I reviewed 'Dark Space II' yet? Alright another one: can Trist live up to the comparisons to one of my favorite bands? Eager to satisfy my curiosity, I tracked down 'Hin-Fort' (due to my inability to find Trist's debut, 'Tiefenrausch (Ein Abstieg in fünf Stufen)') and let the judgement begin.

The first disc here contains an hour long song. Hmm...Darkspace haven't even attempted to make a song of that length. Pressing play, I am greeted with some spacey ambient, so we have a mood setter. This already sounds different than Darkspace though. Darkspace's music is always at a lower key that gives it a freakier, scarier, more destructive sound. Trist sounds less so. Aran seems more interested in the light, transcendental aspects of space. I can hear the soft roar of raw black metal tremolo guitar in the background, so I guess this could be classified as black ambient. Let's see how this unfolds.

Ten minutes later: Still the same ambient? Wow, not even Darkspace carries out ambient mood setters that long. Paysage d'Hiver does in some songs, most notably on the first part of 'Nacht', but even that is its own separate song on some versions of the album. Here on "Hin", the prolonged mood setter is part of the whole song. I wouldn't mind it so much if it actually varied, but...

Roughly five minutes later: Hey, a sample! At least we have some sort of variation. Let's see what this guy has to say. Hmm...light, darkness, the cosmos. Weird, mystical philosophy and science talk? Not uncommon with the space theme, but still lighter than Darkspace's sampling from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Event Horizon. The good news is that once he shuts up, the actual black metal kicks in. And so begins the raw, layered tremoloing and continuous blast-beat of the programmed drums. Eventually, Aran does some vocals, but they sound like some beast yawning. Following that yawning (and all other sessions of yawning in the song), some spacey keyboards are played. So, as far as the tremolos and blast-beating drums go, I guess this is like Darkspace, but the higher key still makes Trist distinctly not Darkspace.

Fifteen minutes later: You know what else makes Trist not Darkspace? It's that Darkspace have a good amount of variations in their songs, both in riffing and in tempo. Trist's "Hin" has neither of those going for it. the aforementioned yawning and keyboard mix is broken up by some guitar work, but then it's pretty much copy/paste throughout the entire piece. Eventually, the guy from the first sample comes back and says some more stuff, but then the same copy/paste song structure from before continues.

With really nothing else to say about disc one, I'll just move on to the disc two section of my review.

Disc two is composed entirely of ambient...and by ambient, I mean some tracks composed mostly with horror movie samples and others that actually are straight up dark/black ambient. Unfortunately, the ones with the samples tend to get really annoying. In the first piece here, there's some woman counting from one to sixty before some beastly noise is made. I'm sorry, Aran. I appreciate the effort, but if I wanted to listen to frightening music that isn't really metal, I'd listen to Gnaw Their Tongues. I will give you some credit though; the pieces here that have no samples are actually pretty good ambient. Probably because you were trying to make them actually atmospheric and interesting instead of recreating your favorite thrillers in musical form. You know what sucks though? The fact that there's only two here without samples: "Unter den Wolken" and "Schlaflos". "Fort" tries to be different by adding some beautiful grand piano and acoustic guitar' but even then, there's still a sound of a girl gasping in horror.

'Hin-Fort' is a messenger tasked to deliver a package to its intended receiver. The contents of the package and who the receiver is are irrelevant. What is relevant is that the messenger must trek across a wilderness filled with vicious, carnivorous monsters to get to the receiver. And despite his valiant efforts, the messenger is killed by the monsters, and the package was lost forever. Don't get the metaphor? Here it is in plain English: 'Hin-Fort' could not deliver. The black metal disc may be Darkspace in spirit, but it's missing some very crucial elements if it wants to be as great as Darkspace. The ambient disc, while having a few redeeming pieces, is really uninteresting overall; and I can think of a few ambient albums much better and twice as consistent as the second disc here. I wish I could give two separate reviews for the two discts; but even then, disc one would get like a 68%, and disc two would score somewhere in the 50s. Since they're packaged together, I have to score it as a whole.

I know Aran is better than this. Lunar Aurora is proof of that. As a matter of fact, the same year Trist released 'Hin-Fort', Lunar Aurora released 'Andacht'. Go listen to that instead.

TRIST Stíny

Album · 2006 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Trist have been called the best depressive suicidal black metal band out there. That really doesn't mean a lot to me because of my lack of interest in the subgenre, but I thought I'd pry anyway if just for the sake of getting more listening and reviewing experience in the genre. I ended up getting my hands on 'Stiny', the project's debut. Going in, I still had a little skepticism. Is there something beyond the photo of the main band member's smug look while all bundled up? 'Stiny' was released in 2006 so it couldn't be considered ground breaking for DSBM. Trist are from the Czech Republic and you don't really hear about a lot of bands from there, so I guess Trist could have helped put the country on the metal map.

From a distance, "not ground breaking for DSBM" holds a little more water than usual. Productionwise, 'Stiny' sounds very similar to Mutiilation: raw guitars and that distinct hollow sound in the drums. I do think 'Stiny' has a more melodic and varied sound which would definitely make it better than a large number of Mutiilation songs. There's prominent lead guitar in parts of songs that has an almost Agalloch tone. While the drums simply shift between slow and mid pace tempo while staying in 4/4 meter, drummer Pestkrist puts in plenty of fills to shift things up. And the production must be screwing with my head because the cymbals make it sound like someone's playing a harpsichord in the background.

Though the music does vary frequently enough, the tempo's refusal to do so kinda makes this album drag a big, especially "Samota" and "Pohøeb svìtel", the longest songs on the album. It wasn't, however, the type of drag that made me bored and want to quit listening; but it might have had some effect on why I don't find this album to be a totally amazing experience. I've heard Xasthur songs that were more eventful due to their tempo changes.

'Stiny' is nowhere near bad or even mediocre though. It's very good for what it is. T and J know how to play their instruments and in fact play them in a way to make some interesting DSBM. I'm still put off a bit by the tempo arrangement so it's not an album I'd listen to on repeat; but if you're looking for a decent DSBM album, you could do a lot worse than this. Even my limited exposure to DSBM unearthed some really bad albums.

ABIGOR Opus IV

Album · 1996 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.30 | 4 ratings
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An album as impressive as 'Nachthymnen' is going to be tough to make a followup to, thoughAbigor did put enough work into 'Opus IV' to give it a fighting chance. It features some pieces of 'Nachthymnen' and some new pieces, but ultimately cannot give the same great experiences.

And the unfortunate thing is that 'Opus IV' does everything it's supposed to do as an Abigor album. It has nice atmosphere and lots of layered riffs in a single song (about eight in "Eerie Constellation" and around seven in "Breath From Worlds Beyond"). The atmosphere, even with its best parts like "Spektrale Schattenlicter"'s acoustic work in the songs outro and "Crimson Horizons and Ashen Skies" where the atmosphere fits right with the song title, isn't really as strong as Nachthymnen's super mystical atmosphere. i dare say that some attempts to be atmospheric on 'Opus IV' are even unwanted such as "The Elder God (My Dragon Magic"'s intrusive atmospheric interludes. I hate to say that because interludes would be fine if they went along with the song; but in this case, they're a little overdone. In "The Elder God", the song breaks at one point to play an acoustic interlude before returning to metal only to return to the same acoustic riff a minute later. Some time after, there's this crashing sound and Silenius shouting something. Perhaps I'm being nitpicky though. This song is otherwise perfectly fine. I just wish that it wasn't chopped up like this.

Production may be a banal thing to criticize in black metal, but 'Opus IV' has one annoying aspect. The first four songs have production similar to 'Nachthymnen'; but the latter four were mixed at a different date, and their production sounds not as good. It's not raw sounding; it just sounds like the music was recorded underwater. Apparently, 'Opus IV' was originally supposed to be two separate demos called 'Horns Lurk Beyond the Stars' and 'Blut Aus Aeonen' so that would explain the contrast of production. Musically, it's still good, but the contrast of the production makes the album seem inconsistent. The album would be better if Abigor chose to mix all the songs to one type of sound, even if they were all underwater sounding.

As underwhelming to me as it is compared to 'Nachthymnen', I still enjoyed 'Opus IV'. Sure the production inconsistency is a little annoying and there's a few things I'd change on certain songs, but the guitar and drum work is excellent and the use of acoustic instruments and keys great for the most part. A recommended listen for black metal fans.

ABIGAIL WILLIAMS Becoming

Album · 2012 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 5 ratings
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Hmmm... Metalcore? Melodic black metal? Symphonic black metal? What flavor will Abigail Williams scoop out for this year's ice cream cone, 'Becoming'? Well, looks like they settled for post black metal, and to be honest, it's quite bitter. It sounds like Wolves in the Throne Room, so I SHOULD like it, but really it might be that very fact that I do not to a full extent. After all, a bar of solid gold and a bar of iron spray painted with gold paint may look similar, but one holds actual value and the other is a cheap imitation even if said imitation does look illustrious.

Quick note: never in this review or any other of mine am I going to use the term "hipster black metal". I've seen other people use it for bands like WITTR, but I do not like using it because 1) It's cliched; and 2) It makes the critic look like they can't come up with any good reason to criticize the album and simply settle with a derogatory, faux genre label.

Wolves in the Throne Room may be the dominant influence on this album as their type of transcendental atmosphere is obviously present, but they're not the only influence. Ken Sorceron's vocals frequently remind me of Malefic from Xasthur mixed with either of the vocal roles from the dudes from Summoning. In "Infinite Fields of Mind", there's wailing tremolo guitar starting at 7:05 that I'm sure I've heard in more than one Nightbringer song. After that section is over in the same song, we've got some Primordial sounding triplet riffing. I guess a good thing to point out is that at least Abigail Williams is for the most part keeping the tempo mostly on the down low so as to avoid looking like they're deliberately ripping on other bands, especially WITTR with their almost constant blast beating; the two exceptions of this being the first half of "Ascension Sickness" and the ending of "Radiance".

That said, there's still some creativity found in 'Becoming'. Mind you, most of it is found in the album's closer "Beyond the Veil". This song, in contrast with the rest of this otherwise average album, is probably one of Abigail William's best. The utilization of the classical strings is excellent, and goes really well if Abigail Williams were trying to really go for the "transcendental" vibe that bands try to go for with this type of black metal. If they made a black metal album with more of this type of soothing string work, it would probably be some sort of spectacle.

As it stands though, 'Becoming' is still rather lackluster when lined up with other black metal albums I've listened to. "Beyond the Veil" and other creative parts save the album from falling below the level of mediocrity, but it's still definitely not an album I'd buy. I am kind of worried for Abigail Williams though if they decide to jump on another bandwagon. Their metalcore days made them unpopular enough already, and there definitely will be people out there calling them bandwagon hipsters for their current transcendental style. For their sake, I hope they don't make a leap that will dig a deeper hole for them like turning into a dubstep band or something. With luck, they'll just go with the aforementioned calm classical instrument infused post black metal and make "Beyond the Veil II" or something.

LUNAR AURORA Elixir of Sorrow

Album · 2004 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.95 | 2 ratings
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After skimming over Lunar Aurora's discography, I can safely identify two separate eras for the band. The first era placed a lot of emphasis on keyboards to make some pretty interesting symphonic black metal. The other era is more of a depressive, atmospheric black metal tone. Keys are still there, but they've been re-purposed as a secondary part of the music. 'Elixir of Sorrow' seems to be a mixture of the two eras, and it is this album that I shall write my first review for this band.

The thing that sets this album apart from all the ones before it is the guitars. The production is much clearer, more melodic, and has a more noticeable second layer of guitar. It's a big change from 'Ars Moriendi' where the guitars were much more raw and the keys were really prominent. Here in 'Elixir of Sorrow', the guitars are the prominent instrument. The keys still exist enough on here for me to call this symphonic black metal, but they fit more comfortably in the role of a supporting instrument. I kinda like them better like this. They compliment the new guitar style quite well, especially since they keep a spacey, atmospheric tone but fit into the more depressing feel of the album like a glove.

I see 'Elixir of Sorrow' as a conceptual work of melancholy, and the sorrowful lyrics fit right in. 'Ars Moriendi' tried the concept as well, but it didn't really hold up as well due to its more bombastic approach with the keyboards. The extra layer of guitar in 'Elixir of Sorrow' does do the theme justice as well. It definitely makes the music's atmosphere deeper thus making the depressive tone much more welcome.

Despite there only being five real tracks, 'Elixir of Sorrow' is a very filling experience. Of course, having two songs that exceed 10 minutes in length may have helped. Saying that doesn't do them justice though as "Augenblick" and "Hier und jetzt" are some of the best songs on the album. All the other songs are great too though, and "Elixir of Sorrow" is definitely one of Lunar aurora's best albums. Definitely a smart choice for the black metal enthusiast.

SABBAT Envenom

Album · 1991 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 5 ratings
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"Hey, Wilytank. If you liked 'The Dwelling' so much, what is your opinion on Sabbat's other albums? You know, the ones that aren't 'The Dwelling'?" That was a question asked by myself to myself. Granted, I do really like all of Sabbat's material, 'The Dwelling' sticks out for being an hour long song. But let's go back in time. In the 80's, Sabbat released a few demos (EPs?) showcasing their thrashy, oriental black metal. When the 90's came around, the only original member left was Gezol. Sabbat would then acquire Zorugelion, Temis Osmond, and Elizaveat; all big names in the band's history. When 1991 rolled around, Sabbat finally unleashed their first official full length, 'Envenom', onto the world.

'Envenom' still reflects upon their 80's sound, but the songs here are all new (save for "Black Fire" appearing on some versions of this album). Another nice change is that they cleaned up their production a good bit, which is good since demos like 'Born By Evil Blood' and 'Desecration' had some really deplorable production. Otherwise, they still have a comfortable amount of grittiness to black up their sound. The bass is still fairly audible, a typically noteworthy detail in Sabbat's more well known demo era songs such as "Black Fire".

One thing that is absent from 'Envenom' and I wish wasn't is a decent amount of cleaner vocals. Sabbat's clean vocal songs in their demos like "Black Fire" and "Mion's Hill" were really good. On 'Envenom', there's only Gezol singing clean on "Eviler" and Temis' higher pitched, semi-clean vocals over Gezol's growls on "Carcassvoice".

Musically, this album is very well crafted. There's super thrashy pieces like "Satan Bless You", "Eviler", and "Reek of Cremation"; punkier licks "Evil Nations" and "Carcassvoice"; the much slower "King of Hell"; and mid paced tunes "Devil Worship" and "Deathtemptation". "Deathtemptation" in particular gets my utmost praise. It's probably the best crafted song on this album. The lead guitar is very impressive; the song starts out with an awesome solo, and a double solo appears later after the second refrain. I also really like the oriental sounding guitar during the first parts of the refrains of the song.

Unfortunately, I cannot give 'Envenom' a top tier score. For all its excellent moments, the album just doesn't as hard of a kick as some of Sabbat's later albums. "King of Hell" is actually skippable. I also really wish the harsh vocal production was better; I could barely hear it most of them most of the time. There's still lots of fun to have with this album though; and for those just getting into Sabbat, this isn't a bad entry point.

ABIGOR Nachthymnen (From the Twilight Kingdom)

Album · 1995 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 8 ratings
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As I sit here with pen in hand and Abigor's 'Nachthymnen (From the Twilight Kingdom)' being channeled from my iPod into my ears, a thought dawns to me: for a band that seems to be so straightforward, Abigor aren't all that easy to digest. I've listened to 'Verwustung / Invoke the Dark Age' before, and even now I can't really form a solid opinion on that album; but that's a review for a different date. I did give a few songs from 'Verwustung' another listen to dscern a few differences between that album and 'Nachthymnen'. What I can safely say is that 'Nachthymnen' is better produced and puts for emphasis on keyboards. Mind you, 'Verwustung' had keyboards as well, but 'Nachthymnen' the make themselves more at home. I guess they have to be if you want to give your album a subtitle like 'From the Twilight Kingdom' (*chuckles to self*).

You know what? The reason why Abigor are more difficult to digest than some other black metal bands is because they put so much time into writing riffs. To test this theory, I listened to "Unleashed Axe Age" and "Reborn Through the Gate of Three Moons" one more time; I counted around ten individual riffs in the former and around 14 individual riffs plus two acoustic riffs in the latter. And these songs are only around six minutes long as opposed to another black metal song with a similar length like Mayhem's "Freezing Moon" which only had around 5 riffs in the song. Abigor may seem like a run-of-the-mill black metal band at a distance; but after picking the song apart like I just did, the music writers seem like very overlooked geniuses. Granted this is still black metal; it has the production, melodic style, and atmosphere of 90's black metal. Abigor just provided more proof that there's more to the genre than the cliched kvltic nonsense that outsiders perceive.

The atmosphere served up on this album compliments the guitar work here very well. There's keyboards, timpani, bells, acoustic guitar, and female vocals. these elements are used in exactly the right way to portray the mystical atmosphere of this Twilight Kingdom. None of them are used excessively, and I would not classify this album as primarily symphonic black metal. Even the keyboards are used sparingly; when I said they were more emphasized, I meant easier to hear).

In the end, I'm going to sincerely say that I really enjoy this album. If you don't pay attention to it, it will just go in one ear and out the other; but this album is very special when you really get into it. Abigor are very good at what they do, and are definitely triumphant in portraying it with these Nacht-hymns.

YYRKOON Oniric Transition

Album · 1998 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 2 ratings
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Yyrkoon are really known for being a death metal band with their albums 'Occult Medicine' and 'Unhealthy Opera', but Yyrkoon have actually been an experimental bunch. Even 'Occult Medicine' and 'Unhealthy Opera' sound distinctly different from each other. Their debut actually has standout black metal vibes. It would be wrong, however, to assume that just because it doesn't sound like 'Occult Medicine' or 'Unhealthy Opera', 'Oniric Transition' isn't any good. Why? Because the fact of the matter is that 'Oniric Transition' is VERY good.

When I call this black metal, the prime influences I see here are Satyricon and Emperor with clean vocal sections that sound like they were done by Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg. The keyboards are prominent in 'Oniric Transition', and they work some magical wonders as they carve their dreamy marks. I do hear some death/thrash metal influence in here as well, most prominently in "Lost Ideal" and "Wind of Decline", but still a few traces in the others songs in some riffing patterns, but otherwise I maintain that this is a black metal album due to the super melodic aspect of the guitars and, of course, the keyboards.

I do find 'Oniric Transition' disappointing for its brevity though. The album is only about 30 minutes long, probably less if you take away the intro, interlude, and outro tracks. I felt Yyrkoon could have squeezed a few more tracks in to make this album's experience decidedly more full. Nevertheless, I did find myself quite absorbed in 'Oniric Transition', so much that on my first listen I thought "Throne of Complains" and "The Awakening" were the same track. The guitar solos are very well played when they occur. Of course, my true kudos has to go to the keyboardist again. Without the keys, I'd probably end up scoring this album in the low 80s or high 70s.

'Oniric Transition' is an excellent album for those looking for good symphonic black metal. Yyrkoon are a good band; they can really mix up their music in strange ways and still manage to make a good album. 'Oniric Transition' is no exception. However, this is also probably the hardest album of theirs to get a physical copy of, so good luck to those of you who want to go and try to find it. Even I had to settle with a digital version for review.

GORGUTS Obscura

Album · 1998 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 36 ratings
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Don't you just hate it when an album that people can't stop whoring about turns out to be a load of shit? Case in point: Gorguts' 'Obscura'. "If you do not like this album, you are not a fan of death metal." said one guy somewhere. Yeah, I don't think that my liking of Bolt Thrower, Immolation, and more is all for naught for me hating on this terrible, overrated album. It's not intriguingly intelligent. It's not headbangingly awesome. It's not even dark or disturbing. It's just fucking annoying.

Let me tell you what guitar wankery is. Guitar wankery is when you try to write and play your guitar riffs making them sound all technical and challenging but forget to make them actually interesting to listen to. 'Obscura' is filled with so much guitar wankery that the guitarists might as well be shoving their dicks through the guitar strings, and it is this blight that takes this album furthest toward the wrong direction if Gorguts wanted to make an album that was truly interesting. When there are songs that actually do have riffs that are somewhat interesting such as the post metalesque "Nostalgia" or the doomier "Clouded", you can rest assured that there will be plenty of wankery added to the song to level it all out. And the funny thing is that people say that it's the vocals that are the weakest part as if good vocals made any difference in death metal.

The other bad thing about this album is that it's an hour long. This review may have been (slightly) higher if Gorguts decided to cut a few songs and make the album less than 40 minutes. If they cooled it with the incessant wankery, maybe they would make the hour long trek less irritating. Sitting through this album as it stands isn't going to produce any memorable moments. It's just going to make you want to bash your head in.

The little melodic aspects that actually are existent in some of the songs, post metal vibes on "Nostalgia", and even the slower "Clouded" are simply not enough to save this album from the singularity of terribleness. Everyone knows of releases that leave listeners wanting something more; but here with 'Obscura', I'm left wanting less. This guitar wankery (used for the whogivesafuck-tienth time) makes this album so irritating that certain Merzbow pieces look like the best pieces of music in the world in comparison. So, no. I do not want something more. I just want to stop remembering.

BLIND GUARDIAN Nightfall in Middle-Earth

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 61 ratings
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Since there are people going around claiming that Blind Guardian is the only power metal band that you can wear a shirt bearing their logo and still get laid, I had to go ahead and buy this album (for around 5 or 6 dollars) at a used CD store. What I can tell you now is that I ended up being less than impressed. 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth' promises a whole, literal fantasy landscape and ends up throwing the listener a book (almost literally with the ridiculous liner notes) and telling them to work off that.

I'll start off with what irks me the most about this album: interludes! Too many fucking interludes! They take up around seven minutes of this album and occur right after almost all the real songs on here. They are totally unnecessary and totally unwanted. I thought this was supposed to be power metal, not German time waste! Hansi Kürsch, if you wanted to bow to Tolkien so badly and convince others to do the same, you shouldn't have put such useless filler in. In fact, stupid shit like "The Minstrel" makes me want to do the exact opposite. "What will be next? I still don't have a clue." Go to hell.

However, there are some really good tunes to be heard among the actual songs. There's excellent songs here with catchy hooks and well crafted variations. When Blind Guardian get it right, they really produce some valuable pieces of gold. "The Curse of Feanor" and "Mirror Mirror" are some awesome fast-paced licks, and "Nightfall" is a pretty epic if you're looking for a slower piece. There is one song here though that really annoys me: "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)". You know those slow power metal ballads that nobody really likes? This is by-far one of the worst ones I've listened to. I know these types of songs are supposed to be emotional and whatnot, but this is just unnecessary overkill.

And there are also songs like "Blood Tears" and "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)" that are just okay. It's in songs like these that Hansi's voice gets grating, wearing out my enthusiasm. With the interludes added alongside, the album seems to get old faster than it really should. The Middle Earth vibe that seemed intriguing at first ultimately became too much for me and had me looking for something decidedly less nerdy by the end of the album.

There are single songs or parts of songs that were really good in this album, but ultimately this isn't worth getting if you're just a casual power metal fan. There's plenty of power metal material out there (including other albums by Blind Guardian) that isn't as tiring as 'Nightfall in Middle Earth'. Go find them instead.

COLDWORLD Melancholie²

Album · 2008 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 10 ratings
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Winter themed atmospheric black metal mixed with depressive black metal was an inevitable concoction, but I am very impressed with the way G.B. pulled it off on 'Melancholie²'. It captures wintery essences very well: bleak and beautiful at the same time. The artwork even goes along with it quite nicely as well. The music does remind me of snow falling hard enough (but not windy/blizzard-like) to obscure the background in a haze of white. It is through this haze of white that the journey through this album took me.

The first four songs seem to represent the snowfall during the daytime while the rest seem to represent the nighttime using the lower key. The process of transitioning through the two types of scenic sounds is quite intriguing. All of the music is slow to mid-paced with a good amount of tempo transitions to be found including some slower blastbeating (definitely faster but not blizzard-like like Paysage d'Hiver). There's also "Tortured by Solitude" which is mostly mid-paced, and two ambient pieces "Winterreise", falling into the daytime category; and "Stille", falling into the nighttime category.

Throughout this album, there's plenty of atmosphere to be found. The slow, melodic black metal music is almost always accompanied with a background keyboard; and, obviously, it sounds cold and sorrowful. I do like the inclusion of a violin/viola/whatever in "Tortured by Solitude" and "Hymn to Eternal Frost"; the former is a designated (by me) "daytime song" and the latter is a "nighttime song", so you get to experience both ends of the spectrum.

What other little tricks are used in the album? The bleak, mood setting intro to "Dream of a Dead Sun"; sweet sounding calm guitar segments in "Dream of a Dead Sun", the end of "Red Snow" continued into "Stille", and in "Hymn to Eternal Frost"; the clean background vocals in "Dream of a Dead Sun"; the semi-choral sounding "ahh"s at the end of "Hymn to Eternal Frost" and in the background at the end of "My Dead Bride"; and "Escape", probably the most experimental piece on the album. "Escape" is really a weird mixture. There's the calm sounding guitar notes and keyboard ambiance, sure, but there's also some electronic style drum track going on in the background for the first part of the song. Another part of the song puts the raw sounding black metal instruments and less electronic sounding drum playing into the mixture along with more prominent sounding keyboard notes and eventually the violin as well. "Escape" is the only song on the album that doesn't seem to fit into either the "daytime" or "nighttime" sides that I establish; it's a dimension all it's own, and for that it was the best song to end the album with.

So that's another winter album for everyone to enjoy. The depressive flavor seems like an obvious variation, but for some reason, ColdWorld is one of the few bands that can actually make it sound great.

BLUT AUS NORD Ultima Thulée

Album · 1995 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 12 ratings
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Look at either versions of this album's artwork. The original, a pencil drawing of a grim, wintery landscape. The re-release, a surrealistic, colored portrait of a grim, wintery landscape. That is what Blut aus Nord is trying to convey with their debut album, 'Ultima Thulee', and they do it much better than many of their contemporaries. 'Ultima Thulee' was actually my first exposure to Blut aus Nord and remains my favorite of the whole legacy.

If you've read my review of Paysage d'Hiver's 'Steineiche', you'll recall me stating that that particular album/demo's take on the winter theme will never find an equal. I guess I kinda have to eat those words as this album will get a slightly higher score than 'Steineiche', but in my defense it's worth noting that this album has more of a heathen flavor to its approach with titles including Hlidskjalf, Ginnungagap, and Bifrost. Therefore, it would be fair to say that Vindsval intended the theme here to be more about heathenism and such (which he would continue with on Blut aus Nord's sophomore album) than just winter in general.

Songs like "The Son of Hoarfrost" and "From Hlidskjalf" are the best examples of the typical tones set forth on this album: rawer sounding black metal with keyboards to generate the cold feeling and plenty of variation to keep the listener hooked. Variations come in the forms of both music played, which Vindsval has written exceptionally well; and tempo, an early example being the faster sections of "The Son of Hoarfrost", an otherwise slow to mid-paced song.

Another nice treat for many of the songs here is the period of quieter ambiance featuring keyboards and/or cleaner sounding guitar in the middle of the song. These sections provide excellent amounts of beauty to this wintry soundscape. On some songs, however, Vindsval made some welcome variation on this. "Till I Perceive Bifrost" doesn't feature one of those breaks at all (unless you count the intro), "On the Way to Vigrid" features clean guitar played alongside the rawer sounding guitar, and "The Plain of Ida" is centered around being more atmospheric with the keyboards in the simple but bleak and beautiful sounding intro and later the series of dark sounding pulses that lead to the eerie sound of the guitar fading back in.

Vindsval does the vocals well here too. The main style he uses is a sort of black metal screech; but amid the black metal blizzard here, it reminds me of howling wind. He does use some cleaner sounding vocals on "The Son of Hoarfrost" during the ambient break as well. I'd love to see some lyrics to go along this; but as most of you know, Blut aus Nord just don't do that.

The flow of the songs on 'Ultima Thulee' is arranged with such skill that it feels like some epic wintry journey. "The Son of Hoarfrost" feels like a journey across the rocky mountainside during a blizzard. Then across the calmer, snow covered "Plain of Ida" to ascend a great mountain at "From Hlidskjalf". A pause at the top of the mountain while the choral howling of "My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap" plays through is followed by a descent to the beat of "Till I Perceive Bifrost" and it's strangely distinct sound of whale calls (wtf?). Then, we go "On the Way to Vigrid", stop for a pretty ambient break with "Rigsthula", and make our final approach to our wintry grave in "The Last Journey of Ringhorn"'s beautiful sounding finish.

The scenic bleakness and majesty of 'Ultima Thulee' is what makes listening to winter themed atmospheric black metal so enthralling. Now that I'm in this icy prison, I don't think I want to find a way out.

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