Metal Music Reviews from bonnek

RUSH Clockwork Angels

Album · 2012 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.94 | 62 ratings
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bonnek
After quite some time with this album my initial disappointment has lost its sharpest edges, which puts me in the mood for a friendly bit of criticism towards the band that used to be my entire world in my teenager years and that has stayed with me as a trusty companion for more then 25 years since.

'Caravan' and 'BU2B' open this long expected album and they are easily amongst the best the album has to offer. When these songs were released 3 years ago (already!) it made me hope that another strong album was ahead. Turns out they are by far the best the album has to offer. 'Caravan' is an instant classic, and also 'BU2B' is enjoyable but is symptomatic for the main weakness that troubles the album. It starts with a decent and catchy bluesy riff from Lifeson, of the kind we haven't heard much since the debut, but as soon as the vocals kick in the band wanders off in an onslaught of Rush-clichés, producing the type of songs and melodies that rubbed me the wrong way ever since 'Hold Your Fire' and especially on 'Presto' and Roll the Bones'.

'Clockwork Angels' has the advantage of a thick and heavy - if somewhat monotonous - sound that makes it more likeable then the late 80s albums, however, compared to their last 2 albums, the songs are simply too average for Rush standards, especially the middle section of the album, where a cheesy song like 'Halo Effect' and the way too long and repetitive 'Seven Cities' and 'Wreckers' are nothing better then 'Presto'-Rush stuff. Not my thing. On too many occasions, Geddy Lee is trying in vain to come up with a vocal melody that he hasn't sung countless times before, and the severely limited range of his voice doesn't help.

'Headlong Flight' continues the more pleasant rock vibe of the opening songs, but in the end it comes off as an unnecessary 'Bastille Day' remake. The odd 'BU2B2' and the mainstream radio rock of 'Wish Them Well' don't speak to me at all. 'The Garden' is better, for a ballad at least.

Conclusion, a decent melodic heavy blues-rock album that will please a lot of fans but it's one that stays far below the magical tunes they created up until 'Power Windows'. It's also a notch below the somewhat similar grunge-blues-rock of 'Counterparts' and 'Vapor Trails'. Adding that all up it features somewhere around position 15 out of 19 albums. Despite a couple of strong moments, that will be 2.5 stars overall.

ENSLAVED RIITIIR

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 39 ratings
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bonnek
Enslaved's 'Riitiir' has been met with near unanimous praise on the web from the moment it was released. I must say I really envy the critics in question as Enslaved albums are always a big challenge for me to get into. And 'Riitiir' is certainly no exception, even after 10 years of fanboyism for this band, the full 67 minutes of the latest album have been a daunting task to digest. It took no less then 5 listens before it's intrinsic qualities edged their way into my appreciation.

While immediately recognizable as an Enslaved opus, 'Riitiir' is quite different from preceding 'Axioma Ethica Odini' from 2010. Tracks are much longer, clocking in between 8 and 11 minutes with only one track below 7 minutes. It makes the album less direct and immediate then 'AEO'. Less aggressive as well, as more space is reserved for clean melodic parts and instrumental development. In other words, it's another step up towards full-fledged progressive metal. Without the cheese luckily, as the snarls and the vicious black bite are still an essential feature of the sound, as are the groovy riffs and spacious arrangements.

Conclusion, fans of Opeth that have been somewhat confused by their recent direction and that would have wished them to continue the furious and atmospheric prog-metal of "Blackwater Park" and "My Arms Your Hearse" need to get this new masterpiece from Enslaved. In their own unique way Enslaved managed to produce an equally captivating mix of epic frosty metal and prog complexity. Second astounding album in a row for a band 20 years into their career. Not bad, not bad at all !

MEGADETH Youthanasia

Album · 1994 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.37 | 87 ratings
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bonnek
Third album in a row for Megadeth's longest lasting line-up. There are no significant stylistic changes compared to the previous album but they made it all sound a bit smoother and bigger. That combined with some slower-pace material makes this a regular Metal album rather than Thrash Metal.

Back in the day when this was released I was very much into deth-mode and quite loved it, but over the course of the years it gradually turned into a bit of a disappointment. The songs (production) simply miss the freshness, bite and stroke of genius that blessed this band on"RIP" and "CTE".

I'll take two songs to point out the symptoms of deth-decline. Take "Train of Consequences" first, it's a song that suffers from generic melodies and riffs, not to mention the way too poppy chorus. I could list the same complaints about 'Addicted to Chaos', but will add the lethargic mid-paced beat that makes this song entirely forgettable. It's all nothing too bad, but just kind of 'meh', certainly when looking at this from a 2012 perspective, after enduring countless Megadeth albums since with this sort of songwriting and execution.

On the other hand, there's still fun bits like "Reckoning Day", "The Killing Road", "Youthanesia" and "Victory", which are all at least as good as the stuff on "Hidden treasures".

For newcomers to Megadeth I wouldn't recommend this album unless you already devoured all preceding albums (and maybe 'Endgame') and are still hungry for more. For fans, it's a nice occasional listen but there's too much mediocre songs and lazy playing.

PSYCHOTIC WALTZ Into The Everflow

Album · 1992 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 27 ratings
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bonnek
In the beginning of the 90's I got into a serious 'metal state'. The reason was obvious. At that time it was the liveliest scene around. Prog had been gone for years, new wave was turning stale and the Happy Mondays were ruling the charts. In this climate also progressive rock morphed into its metalized shape: progressive metal. And next to pioneers like Dream Theater and Fates Warning there was also this less known but nevertheless marvellous band Psychotic Waltz.

Into The Everflow was the first Psychotic Waltz album I heard and it rocked my socks off. It's sure the most overwhelming prog-metal album ever for me. They play with considerable rhythmic and melodic virtuosity, yet balancing this against very subtle and intimate passages and very intense, expressive and original vocals. Imagine Ozzy could really sing and you're close.

The opener should be an immediate winner for all progheads. Gentle guitars and keys work against heavier sections. It changes into a huge David Bowie salute when the vocals kick in. The dead-heavy second track leaves no doubt that they are really a metal band. Be it one with an exceptional gift for original melodies, both in the eerie vocals as in the intricate guitar riffing that constantly progresses into new sequences. Inspiration for 5 albums on this one track.

Next on is Tiny Streams, a song with a huge Sabbath feel (even in the lyrics). It was the first song I heard from them and it immediately drew me into their weird psychotic sound.

The title track is probably everybody's favourite. It's an extended and brooding piece with beautiful picking on spacey guitar chords. About half of it consist of breathtaking harmonic guitar soloing. A typical feature of the PW sound but they never had it better then here.

Little People and Freakshow stick to the complex progressive metal style of Tiny Streams. In between sits a pleasantly lighter piece called Hanging On A String. A ballad that is as good as the sweet melancholic ballads that the Scorpions did in the 2nd half of the seventies.

Butterfly is the other long piece here. It goes through multiple changes, from an almost jazzy opening into something that sounds like Ozzy Osbourne doing some Jethro Tull Benefit chorus. Halfway in, on top of some great percussion jamming, an endless number of musical quotations are thrown into the mix. All too soon, the chorus is repeated and the 9 and a half minutes have passed already.

Despite their obvious influences Psychotic Waltz had an entirely unique sound. Maybe an acquired taste but if you dig it, you will probably find yourself entirely addicted. I'd say go in and discover them and who knows, you'll find yourself hooked forever. One of the best metal albums ever.

JUDAS PRIEST Stained Class

Album · 1978 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.20 | 106 ratings
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bonnek
"Stained Class" is the first Priest to abandon the heroic 70s cover paintings in favor for something more metallic and straightforward. A very fitting choice as also the music sheds the more progressive and mellow aspects of the preceding Priest albums. The result is their first - and one of their few - albums that I find entirely consistent, in sound as well as quality. It was sure their most aggressive album till then and a leap towards the NWOBHM that would soon take off.

An excellent work, and even if my personal preference goes to "Sad Wings" and "Sin After Sin", this is the album where Priest fully fleshed out their full metal potential. Alas, they would abandon this level of excellence to return with a more commercial approach on the next couple of albums.

JUDAS PRIEST Defenders Of The Faith

Album · 1984 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 89 ratings
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bonnek
My Judas Priest favorite from the 80s. The band had hit a commercial peak with "Screaming For Vengeance" and "Defenders" doesn't deviate much from the previous album. The main difference is the production, which is very thick, complete with overproduced 'gated' snare drums and bombastic production of vocals and guitars. An approach that could be coined as 'make everything sound bigger then everything else'.

The sound makes the album very dated and deprives it from Priest's usual attack and rocking power. But the quality of the songs more then makes up for that, even when things get almost unbearably cheesy, such as on the arena rock anthems "Rock Hard Ride Free" and "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll". Almost too silly to be true, but still Priest make even these songs work. They would be a lot less lucky with that sort of songs on the "Turbo" disaster.

This album couldn't possibly sound more 1984 then it does, but the dated sound is part of its charm. Priest's best from the 80s for me, though it must be said they started to sound like a bunch of old men compared to the more uncompromising 'young and violent' style of the upcoming thrashers of that time.

JUDAS PRIEST Sad Wings Of Destiny

Album · 1976 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.42 | 141 ratings
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bonnek
If you could argue that Black Sabbath is hard rock rather then Metal, then Priest's "Sad Wings of Destiny" leaves no room for doubt, this is pure metal, with soaring twin guitars, dark harmonies, thunderous riffs and piercing leads.

It may not be the first album with twin guitars (the Scorpions come to mind) but it's the first this level of attack and vile mood. The vocals are loud, epic and overstated, and much like the death metal growls of a good decade later, they divided mankind into two camps, lovers and haters of heavy metal. Till Metallica's black album there was little room inbetween. I must have been 15 when I first heard this album (a dedicated fan of prog and opera in those years :) I can tell you I didn't know what hit me, love at first sight for sure.

I know a certain Priest fan that doesn't like this because it is too slow. What the heck, the guy needs to lay off the speed pills. This is the most gloomy Priest album, and one of the few metal albums to get so close to the morbid atmosphere of Black Sabbath's early albums. No metal collection can exist without it. Even with a bit of filler like 'Epitaph' this is nothing short of a masterpiece.

HALFORD Resurrection

Album · 2000 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.92 | 15 ratings
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bonnek
Because reviewing all Judas Priest and related output is a too ambitious task given my available time, I decided to stick to a couple of favorite picks. 'Resurrection' is definitely one of those, an album that I loved right from the first note I heard from it, and one that I continued to play weekly for more then a year. It's been at least 5 years now and really, this slab of metal hasn't bent one inch.

As a fan of Halford's 90s thrash/groove project Fight, this album pleases me for its energetic attack. The songwriting is more straightforward then Fight though, with greater singalong &ne anthemic potential but without the overtly commercial cheesiness that stained many songs from Priest's 80s output. Toward the end of the album there's a slight dip with a couple of songs that sound a bit formulaic, but overall this one contains some of Halford best catchy writing. Kudos to his band as well, as they really ripped on this album's tour.

This is one of Halford/Priest's finest in my book, and together with the ensuing Halford album ('Crucible') it's the last Halford/Priest release so far that I deem worthy of his/their legacy.

DREAM THEATER A Dramatic Turn of Events

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 112 ratings
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bonnek
A new Dream Theater and one surrounded with much ado about a certain line-up change. It also followed a string of albums that weren't exactly received with universal praise. So obviously this album was much anticipated and luckily for DT this album has been met with much enthusiasm. Well, after 20 years with this band I think it's safe to say I will never fully like them, their shredding tendencies as well as their average vocals and sticky pop vanilla are a too dominant feature in their sound. Too bad as there is plenty of good stuff here, some of it easily reaching a Prog Metal master degree.

After the strong opener, also 'Build Me Up' starts excellently, but the cheesy chorus reminds us Dream Theater apparently can't do without bringing down their own songs with lame pop melodies. And it gets worse further down in the album: 'This is Life', 'Far From Heaven' and ' Beneath The Surface' are dreadful sugar-sticky ballads, exactly the kind of stale fake-emotion pop you can hear on any commercial TV during prime-time. Good, enough nagging, I hope the fans are into this for the lavish 10+ minute metal epics on this album and not for the pop ballads.

Dream Theater filled the 76 minutes of this CD to the brim and I'd wish they hadn't. I'm too lazy and obnoxious to go through all the trouble of skipping all these questionable ballads to come to real treats. I expect bands to have enough self-scrutiny to do that selection themselves. A potential 4 star album leaving me with a foul after-taste. One for the fans.

MEGADETH Endgame

Album · 2009 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 74 ratings
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bonnek
This record is fun! Megadeth stuck to their tricks that's sure and doesn't experiment too much, but it also avoids that dreary mid-tempo that dragged so much previous albums down. This one basically has 10 stabs of energetic thrash metal and nothing less.

Actually this album reminds me a bit to the debut. It's like a grown up version with a professional execution and production, but it entirely captures that intensive energy again! It's still no 80's Megadeth, but at least it's an album with real bite and solid songs. It can be a tad formulaic at times, with 'Bodies' and 'How The Story Ends' sounding like at least 10 previous Megadeth songs. Mostly Megadeth ventures into fast paced and very technical material here that touches some of the challengingly technical thrash they did on 'RIP' and 'So Far So Good So What'. My favorite track is 'Headcrusher' but all songs work quite well here.

It's such a pleasure hearing this great band having so much fan at playing music again. I didn't hear that on the preceding 'United Abominations' and certainly not on anything between 'Youthanesia' and 'The System Has Failed'. I would rate this album just below the albums of their classic era (1986-1992) and it is the recommended pick if you want to explore something more recent from them. 3.5 stars it is, maybe 4 if I let my fan heart speak.

MEGADETH TH1RT3EN

Album · 2011 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.12 | 47 ratings
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bonnek
Megadeth has been outliving their sell-by date by almost two decades now, and even if you'll find nice little gems on any of their albums, there's a sense of crushing tiredness that overwhelms me when hearing those same old worn-out thrash metal tricks and Dave's expired snarls. This is not different on this album despite the attempt to make us believe that everything is fine on planet Megadeth, with the return of Ellefson and some (totally unnecessary) remakes of some old rarities, but I don't buy it, not at all.

It may sound contradictory but the old songs are the only material that still have some freshness and excitement about them, especially 'NWO'. The new songs sound like I've heard them a hundred times already, remaining entirely predictable in terms of riffs as well as vocal lines or rhythms, but they all lack the essence of what made it all work 20 years ago, namely bite, speed and hooks that don't put me asleep. The remakes of 'New World Order' and 'Millennium Of The Blind' don't live up to their originals and don't add anything at all actually.

Megadeth has been through some ups, downs and many averages for 15 years now, since 'Youthenesia' to be exact. This new album is a down as far as I'm concerned. Get the original version of 'New World Order' and forget about the rest of this album. This is no "Endgame II" unfortunately.

MEGADETH Rust in Peace

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 211 ratings
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bonnek
There are certain albums that I enjoy so much that I don't want to analyze them too much. RIP is such an album.

Mustaine finally got a stable line-up together that would go on for a continuous 10 years and 5 albums, and even if they never got near the quality of this album again, you can not blame them for staying together to keep trying to capture the magic chemistry again that oozes from this metal masterpiece. Perfect songs, concentrated musicianship, the best guitar shredding ever and that angry snarl from Mustaine that makes thrash metal such a treat compared to more melodic metals.

That's all folks, just one warning maybe, avoid the 2004 remaster at all cost. It has one nice bonus track, but the remixing with its tiny drum snare is a disaster, and then I'm not even mentioning the parts where Mustaine had to record new vocals because the original vocal tracks were lost. Don't touch a perfect thing Dave, never!

HELHEIM Kaoskult

Album · 2008 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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bonnek
Helheim made quite a leap from 'The Journeys of Death' to 'Kaoskult', from technical Black Metal with some progressive traits to a fully progressive style of black metal that reminds a lot of Enslaved, but that also stays closer to its Viking Metal roots. The difference with their clumsy beginnings is simply phenomenal. Fans of clean vocals better run for cover, nothing but screams and growls for 45 intense minutes. Olé!

Right from the first bars of music you know you're in for a psychedelic metal trip, with a dense atmosphere, heavy grooves and chromatic riffing in the tradition of Voivod and Enslaved. That last band could well be the leading motive throughout this review, as also Helheim has a career that goes back to the 90s and that started with pure 'Viking' black metal before they starting experimenting with sound, atmosphere and riffing style. On 'Kaoskult', that evolution reach a peak with an extreme prog metal album that doesn't only sound very much like 'Isa' but that also satisfies me just as much. Next to the Enslaved influences in chord progressions and grooves, 'Kaoskult' puts more focus on the atmosphere, with arpeggios that almost sound like Agalloch at times (check 'Andevind').

Except for the dark chants on the last track of the regular edition, Helheim don't use any clean vocals on this album. The rasping black and growling death vocals even enforce the atmosphere and are simply the perfect choice for this album. Needless to say this album will be a total turn-off for listeners that only want to hear melodic vocals. It's clearly not melody but mood and expression that are the key here.

Helheim found a small but quite unique spot inbetween Enslaved and Agalloch on this album, combining the Agalloch atmospheres and Floydian arpeggios with the groove, psychedelica and chromatic riffing from Enslaved's 'Isa'. I'm not sure it brought them much success as I found this album for 2$ at Amazon. A pity and maybe it explains why the band returned to a less progressive and more accessible and direct style on their next album. An extreme metal masterpiece for this psych-adept.

BURST Lazarus Bird

Album · 2008 · Metalcore
Cover art 3.97 | 13 ratings
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bonnek
Lazarus Bird is one of those albums that I almost have to trip over before I remember I own it. But whenever I remember I do I'm stunned how good it is. Long intricate songs with techical and progressive riffs, and with melodies that are both complex and catchy enough to grant endured enjoyment. There's also lots of varations between aggressive parts and slightly spacey moody sections. Somewhere betwen Mastodon and Alchemist maybe?

I guess the reason why I need to be pushed to listen are the dry hardcore shouted vocals which are not my favorite unfortunately. It depens on my mood but somehow they come off as too one-dimensional, missing the diversity of a regular melodic voice and also lacking the fear, depression, madness and other jolly moods that death or blackmetal vocals seem to conjure up. But hey, it's nothing business, it's personal.

Another criticism I tend to have on my bad days is that these guys have difficulty convincing me of their proper identity, sounding exactly like 75% Mastodon and 'something else' for the remainder of the time. The two don't always interact to create a personal sound. Symptomatic is the track 'Cripple God', which consists of Mastodon for 4'40'' and then a nice spacey outro of 2 minutes that could have been from Alchemist or Pink Floyd but that has nothing to do with the rest of the song. Other songs like 'City Cloaked' merge their two sides more successfully.

Luckily for the band I don't have a bad today so I could fully enjoy their many strengths, as in fact, I believe they're better then Mastodon, if only for not annoying us too much with nasal clean vocals. Great album!

SUBROSA No Help for the Mighty Ones

Album · 2011 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 12 ratings
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bonnek
It is surprising how artists keep returning to the doom metal format. This oldest of all Metals may be very straightforward to play and write, but apparently its very direct and heavy emotional impact remains an endless source of inspiration. And inspiration is certainly the keyword to this release from SubRosa. Flirting with stoner, shoegaze, folk and indie, this band spices up their doom with an out-worldly space-rock feel, electric violins, majestic vocal melodies and ear-catching songs.

The first thing you come to note are the vocals, female vocals, often harmonically arranged, but nothing like the operatic gimmick that people have come to associate with metal and female vocals. The vocals here are forceful, but very natural, slightly indie, slightly folkish, slightly punk, reminding me of Kylesa's female vocalist actually. There are also some occasional male growls, but very sparse and subdued, offering an extra bit of power on some of the heaviest parts.

Next on the list of fresh elements in this band's sound is the electric violin, present in almost every track and offering the main melodic leads and some occasional freakish psychedelic outbursts. Together with the dynamic songwriting, Subrosa creates a unique style that is thoroughly catchy, and in places stunning and beautiful. The long songs often have a progressive or crescendo post-metal oriented structure, with very effective modulations or rousing finales that manage to turn around the doomy mood into something deeply moving and entrancing, ecstatic almost.

'No Help For The Mighty Ones' is the first 2011 album that manages to surprise me with its fresh approach. Add the excellent songwriting and that kind of sultry mood that I like so much and you're looking at a potential yearlist candidate. Doom and stoner fans should be listening right now, but also the metal crowd that's into dreamy shoegaze and electric violins are invited. 4.5 stars with an option for more. Thanks again Profound Lore records!

DISILLUSION Back to Times of Splendor

Album · 2004 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 14 ratings
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bonnek
Disillusion hit the world with an exceptionally strong modern prog metal album, very eclectic in style and borrowing as much from classic 90’s prog metal as from melodic progressive death metal and symphonic black metal.

In a way they sound like an upgraded version of Green Carnation, maintaining a similar epic vibe, but adding more adventurous and varied songwriting. Unlike many prog metal acts, Disillusion won’t fish for your attention by daft or flashy musicianship but rathey by their eye-catching compositions, which remain dynamic, engaging for the entire 57 minute duration of the album. An exceptional achievement in a genre where 60 minute albums usually wear themselves out before they’re halfway through. It's quite the contrary here. The quality of the material even keeps getting better as the album goes along.

The band is usually put in the Extreme metal section but I wouldn't give too much weight to that. There are death metal elements but generally the music is very melodic and progressive. To a certain extent you could compare the music to Opeth but there are a lot of elements that set them apart from the Swedes. The vocals vary between death metal grunts and clean vocals, but the singing voice is more theatrical and anthemic then Opeth. It sits quite close to the melodic vocal moments of Borknagar and Dimmu Borgir. Also the keyboards add a decisive symphonic element. Luckily Disillusion avoids the clichés and cheese of most prog metal acts.

Highly recommended to fans of the new generation of progressive metal acts, in the vein of Green Carnation, Opeth and Edge Of Sanity/Nightingale.

HELHEIM The Journeys and the Experiences of Death

Album · 2006 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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bonnek
'The Journeys of Death' is the 5th full-length album for Viking Black Metal band Helheim and the first to leave a lasting impression on me. There are steps in a more musical and progressive direction, the riffing has become more technical and melodic, and the songs integrate more dynamic play with tempos and time signatures. But the sound is still as harsh as ever and the aggression maintains as violent and untamed as you can expect from Black Metal.

The album starts very uncompromising, with three raw aggressive songs featuring a bludgeoning rhythm section and harsh vocals. It almost sounds like a Black Metal version of Ministry. This goes on till 'Second Death', where the tempo slows down and the composition allows for shifting time-signatures and chromatic riffing. The short 'Entering the Beast' nips these modest subtleties in the bud with another blast of aggression. After the horror-cinematic instrumental 'Helheim 5', the slow and long 'Oaken Dragons' shows the first hints of the progressive style they would further develop on the next album 'Kaoskult'. The sounds makes room for atmospheric guitar arpeggios and the lead guitars incorporate a Floydian bluesy feel. The composition is epic, goes through multiple themes and moods, with even some short hesitant clean vocals, but essentially it remains epic Viking Metal. With 'Thirteen To The Perished', the album ends in true epic Viking fashion.

To conclude, I wouldn't really recommend this album to Progressive Metal fans, but it's a good Black Metal album. It's well-produced but still raw and violent, drenched in that pitch-black nihilistic atmosphere that many people dislike but that defines the true essence of Metal for others.

NIRVANA Nevermind

Album · 1991 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.78 | 59 ratings
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bonnek
August 25th 1991, it's a sunny Sunday morning when I enter the Festival grounds of the Belgian alternative rock festval Pukkelpop (the one that got thrashed in a storm this year). It's pretty quiet still, there's a small crowd in front of the stage looking at the first (or maybe second) gig that day, it's a last minute replacement for the absent Limbomaniacs so it seems. It sounded pretty cool so I work my way to the stage and get to the front row pretty easily, the band set in their next song and a musical tornado hit me.

Drums, bass, one guitar and a voice like sandpaper. All of it with the raw power of pure rocking punk like we hadn't heard it since the end of the 70s, or maybe even all the way back to the end of the 60s when the Stooges ravished the earth. I don't remember which exact songs were played but the 20 minutes that the gig lasted left an impression I'll never forget. And one that none of the remainder of the acts could top, though it was quite a bill with Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Frank Black, Pogues, Ramones. Olé!

One month later or so, that obscure opening band released their sophomore album 'Nevermind', a collection of amazing and powerful punk songs and moody stripped-down ballads, but with a streamlined sound compared to the live gig. The rest is history. Synths and drum computers were referred to the trash bin, guitars and rock ruled the land again.

Ok, this review doesn't say all too much about the music on this album. But is that still necessary in this case?

KATATONIA Viva Emptiness

Album · 2003 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 31 ratings
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bonnek
Katatonia worked heavily on a new sound for this album. Songwriting and style doesn't differ all that much from the doomy indie rock of "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" but they made it sound much heavier, with a wall of sound consisting of more upfront low-tuned rhythm guitars. It makes the album sound a lot more metal then "Last Fair Deal". Add the very consistent songwriting and you have an album that should please the doomy and goth metal crowds.

Katatonia tends to follow a quite rigid songwriting template, and almost every song here has the same quiet-loud dynamics with anthemic choruses. Together with the very thick and dense sound it makes the album drag a bit halfway in, certainly on the less memorable tracks such as "Walking By A Wire" or "Complicity". But even at those weaker moments, you can count on the band to come up with some interesting effects, sounds and arrangements. This album probably has the most creative and original guitar work of all Katatonia albums. Hats of to Blakkheim! Also, apart from those two tracks, all songwriting is quite perfect and brought with an energetic performance.

It goes without saying that you need to like dark and downcast music in order to like Katatonia, but if you do, then this should be a real winner. Recommended for all fans of heavy indie rock, depressed metal, gothic rock, doomy Prog, and all enthusiasts of gloomy songs that excel in originality and catchiness.

YOB Atma

Album · 2011 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 7 ratings
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bonnek
If their preceding album inspired me to terms like 'post-metal', 'experimental' and 'psych', Yob have very much returned to in-your-face doom-metal here, meaning 'MoR'-type Black Sabbath that gets further slowed down to a sludge pace, with nasal Ozzy-type crying and a dry, almost low-fi, garage sound reminding of Kyuss.

The sound, or rather mastering, is problematic here, this is probably the dullest sounding album I've ever heard, it's a constant drone of flat mid tones, with nothing in the lower or higher end of the spectrum. There's almost no space or dynamics in this sound at all. And that in combination with music that is also insistingly monotonous. No, it's not a winning combination. Quite a disappointment after the towering wall of sound on their preceding album.

The songwriting itself is quite satisfactory, it's back-to-basics down-to-earth doom sludge metal similar to the mentioned bands and Cathedral's early work. The droning riffs are entrancing, the vocals are vile, the mood is muddy and desolate, the intensity matches that of Neurosis. Really, all the ingredients for an excellent sludge album are here. I just wish it hadn't been mastered by someone in dire need for a hearing-aid.

CORONER Grin

Album · 1993 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 15 ratings
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bonnek
After perfecting their Technical Thrash on 'Mental Vortex', Coroner found themselves in a changed musical landscape. It was 1993 and Grunge had swept clean the earth. Both the long-standing Thrash acts as well as new metal bands had scaled down their latent progressive ambitions towards more accessible melodious Thrash, Alt Metal, Groove metal, Death-Thrash and so on. Coroner did a make-over as well, but not entirely into more accessible directions.

'Grin' is a very eclectic album, the slower pace and almost repetitive rhythmic drill marks a certain move towards groove metal. With the use of the spoken voice samples, there's almost an industrial edge to it. The vocals remained the same old merciless snarls, but the guitars often abandon typical thrash riffing in favor for more complex and chromatic progressions that I find similar to Voivod and Rush. Then there's the spacey and/or jazzy elements in some of the leads and solos and the attention to building up a more atmosphere setting in the instrumental sections (the intro of Caveat for instance). Add that all up and you arrive at what's for me one of the defining albums of Progressive Metal (the non-Dream Theatre kind that is). Alas, the album went by unnoticed and it was the more mainstream melodic approach of Dream Theatre that inspired whole new generations of Prog Metal bands. A damn shame if you ask me.

'Grin' is difficult album and it's hard to categorize. It even alienated some Coroner fans instead of luring in massive new hordes of them. Nevertheless, this is one for my top 10 and my favorite Thrash album next to Megadeth's RIP. An absolute masterpiece, but it sure has cost me some years till it completely grew on me.

KATATONIA The Great Cold Distance

Album · 2006 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 40 ratings
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bonnek
After falling in love with Katatonia when they released "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", I've been looking out for every new Katatonia release with the highest levels of urgency and expectation. And they certainly didn't let me down with this release, which I regard as their magnum opus.

The band's line-up had remained unchanged for more then 5 years and I believe that such can clearly be heard here. They sound like a well-oiled machine, tight and unrelenting, more metallic then they did on the previous releases and without any dip in the songwriting. The songwriting remained largely in the indie/goth area, with their typical variation of subtle melodic verses and huge almost anthemic choruses, not dissimilar to the template that was laid down by Paradise Lost on their album 'One Second'. But Katatonia tops them here, making their songs more musical and adventurous, with tasty math/progressive riffing and those typical odd time signatures and poly-rhythms. Also Blakkheim's continued experimental approach towards guitar sounds and effects make Katatonia into a true progressive act.

Being both a fan and a skeptic of progressive rock/metal I can only applaud that they never indulge into unnecessary song lengths, pointless solos and the cheesiness that often spoil the Prog experience for me. In a similar way, they also avoid the pitfalls of much Goth acts, by staying far away from the pose, pathos and formulaic approach that makes so much 2nd and 3rd tier Goth acts a self-parody and total turn-off for me.

Katatonia found a way to marry the strengths of progressive metal with those of indie and Goth. With that mix it's no wonder this band hits me right in the heart, especially on this album. One for my all-time metal top 10.

SACRED REICH The American Way

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 10 ratings
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bonnek
A spurt of adrenaline, straight-up in your face Thrash, lots of thrills no frills; or it should be the funky joke '31 Flavors' at the end?

I don't think Sacred Reich to be the most impressive band around and certainly not the most original but this album just delivers. Their preceding album 'Ignorance' was quite good and energetic but didn't leave a lasting impression in the songwriting department. The band made up for that on this album, which matches their aggression with good grooves and inspired thrash metal riffing.

It must have been a short flare of inspiration though, their next album 'Indepent' showed an alarming simplification of their style - later coined 'Groove Metal' - with songs that became too repetitive and obvious. If my memory serves me well, 'Heal' was even worse. Not this one though, a great old Thrash classic, not to be missed.

CONSECRATION .avi

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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bonnek
Consecration is a Serbian post-metal band that has been active since the early 2000s. '.avi' is their second albums and shows a band that has fully matured into a sound that is very much their own.

Post-Metal can be a bit generic, with formulaic quiet-low dynamics and predictable crescendo's. Consecration have forged something remarkably personal though. The core of the sound is sludge/stoner metal, similar to Pelican, but a lot of attention has gone into the atmospheric and psychedelic sound, one that recalls Pink Floyd as well as Slowdive. There are next to now growls or harsh vocals on the album, and contrary to many Post-metal bands they have some very good clean vocals that define the songs with epic melancholic vocal lines (sounding slightly like a more powerful version of Renske from Katatonia). Much of the album is instrumental, varying sludgy riffs with slow atmospheres and wide ringing arpeggio's. I must say I haven't found any dips or weaker spots in this diverse album.

Consecration's '.avi' is a very recommended album, fit for fans of doomy metal as well as lovers of post-rock, post-metal, space-rock or any other ambient rock style. You might like this even if you aren't into the leading post-metal bands, but approach with care if you like your music fast and hyper-active. 4 stars, potentially 4.5 over time.

ENTOMBED Same Difference

Album · 1998 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.47 | 6 ratings
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bonnek
Feeling they had explored their Death'n'Roll sound as far as they could, Entombed wanted to stretch their legs a bit on 'Same Difference'. But the difference with previous albums isn't too big in fact. At least not as big as the PR machine (back in the day) might have wanted you to believe.

The main difference is that both guitarists forgot to open up the gain of their amps. So Entombed sounds lighter and more rocking here. But the songwriting hasn't changed much in fact Lars Petrov screams as of old and the new drummer Peter Stjärnvind keeps the beat in its usual rolling speed. Imagine this album with more distortion and you're not far off from 'To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak The Difference'. With that whole matter out of the way, I need to point out that, despite these minimal changes, this album just doesn't really work. I don't think the songs are to blame but without their usual heaviness and bite, Petrov's shouting is in vein. The rest of the band is simply miles behind and doesn't add the power and oomph to make it work.

It's a deserving attempt from Entombed to try their style with a new and less metallic sound. But that's simply not why God created Entombed. We want to hear this band roar!, not striving for subtlety. Somehow they got the message and they've stuck to their guns ever since.

ENSLAVED Vertebrae

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 37 ratings
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bonnek
Another dense and difficult album from Enslaved. It is particularly frustrating because it constantly hints at an enormous potential of the music. Unfortunately this potential gets realized only very sparsely.

The blame is largely on the vocals. First of all, the black metal rasps don't work here for me. They are simply not evil and aggressive enough. They were much more effective on Blodhemn and Mardraum, but they sound awkward and unfit for the more laidback style of music that Enslaved has adapted here. Now, I hear you say "but they use a lot of clean vocals as well now". Well that's true, but those are even less satisfying. The melodies are underdeveloped and the singer's voice is monotonous and emotionless.

3 Years ago my conclusion was that even though 21st century Enslaved had the potential to be another Opeth, they wouldn't live up to it. But back then they hadn't released the blast that is called 'Axioma Ethica Odini'. An average Enslaved album for me, with some good songs and a lot of unremarkable ones. With better vocals it might have been another story altogether.

ENSLAVED Ruun

Album · 2006 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 29 ratings
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bonnek
Ruun marks the end of Enslaved's progression. In fact they had reached that endpoint already with Below the Lights, but the mighty Isa consolidated their black metal styled prog. Ruun is still a good album but it does not continue to surprise me, nor does it manage to be entirely consistent. The artwork is really cool though.

A first step down are the clean vocals. Judging from the live DVD’s, keyboard player Herbrand Larsen handles most of them now. And while Grutle Kjellson was never amazing at clean vocals either, he still had some poise and conviction when delivering them. Larsen however is flat and tuneless, mostly singing all his lines on one and the same dreary tone with next to no inflection. He also sounds very insecure and unsteady, even out of tune sometimes as on Entroper. But the list of examples is endless.

A second weakness is the predictability of the music. Enslaved stick to their trade and avoid all those marvellous trips and experiments that flourished on Monumension and Below the Lights. Here and there some new influences can be heard though: next to the plethora of Voivod riffs and Floyd psychedelics, also a Tool influence is notable now, as on the title track Ruun. Unfortunately that is one of the tracks that is dead born due to the inadequate vocals. In fact there’s only one moment that grips me on this album and that is where Grutle Kjelson manages most of the vocals. The gorgeous Heir To The Cosmic Seed is a 5 star ending for sure.

As the music is generally very good again, I could try to ignore the feeble clean vocals and still consider 4 stars. But that will be for a day when I'm in a less grouchy mood!

ENSLAVED Isa

Album · 2004 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 43 ratings
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bonnek
There's 2 types of Black Metal. Type one is ridiculously aggressive and boasts the worst possible production values in rock history. Type two is ridiculous synth orchestrated pomposity that is at the same time mostly blatantly commercial. A common feature of both manifestations would be the goofy corps paint. There's a good chance you think like that and if you just got in touch touch with some mainstream bands you might even be.

But did you know there was a third kind? Yes indeed there is, hidden in the darkest corners of this vast legion of bands with unreadable logos there are a few bands, mostly the pioneers, that have lived up to the philosophy of black metal and managed to purge some excellent music out of it. You will hardly be surprised to hear that those bands gradually embraced progressive influences into their black muck. Just as a reference I would suggest 'Nemesis Divina' by Satyricon, 'At The Heart of Winter' by Immortal and the album under dissection Enslaved's Isa.

Isa finds Enslaved 9 albums into their career and concludes 6 consecutive years of awesome Enslaved creativity. By then most of the black metal roots had been wrought into something more digestible. By avoiding the typical blast beats and murky production and by adding decent clean singing, Enslaved serves 45 minutes of great songs varying between catchy grooves, an occasional melody and laid-back atmospheric sections. Think Voivod mixed with Opeth doing black metal.

This is still very harsh and aggressive music so don't go in if you're not into some darker prog already. But if you like Voivod, Opeth, Anekdoten and you can overcome your initial repulsion at the black metal rasps; you're in for a treat.

YAKUZA Way Of The Dead

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 4 ratings
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bonnek
Yakuza's second album 'Way of the Dead' is a disturbing journey through the schizoid minds of its creators, offering music that shifts between laid-back psychedelic jazz jams and brutal sludge/hardcore (think Mastodon before they started adding iffy things like clean vocals and melodies).

The band doesn't bend the two components of their sound into one fluent style, but instead they simply switch styles inbetween separate songs: the first half of the album is dominated by heavy rough hardcore, and the closing 43 minutes long '01000011110011' is a stretched out post-rock jam recalling Miles Davis' psych-jazz jams of the early 70's, with Bruce Lamon's sax and clarinet taking up the trumpet role. Nothing heavy or metal about this track and it must have greatly disturbed expecting hardcore fans. For me it's the best bit of the album.

The band was put on hold after this album, but they returned 4 years later with an impressive series of albums that would further explore and perfect the two polar opposites of their sound, ultimately ending in the masterpiece 'Of Seismic Consequence' where all the elements of their sound would fall into place to create something entirely new and unique. But that's a story for later. 3.5 stars so far.

YAKUZA Transmutations

Album · 2007 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 4 ratings
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bonnek
'Transmutations' is Yakuza's 4th studio album and one that further explores their mix of hardcore metal with jazz and psychedelic influences. The only thing that seems to be missing now is memorable songwriting, and while I can enjoy the intensity of the performance and the uniqueness of their sound, a lot of the material here doesn't seem to cut it for me.

It starts pretty weak with 'Meat Curtains' where Matt McClelland mimics the whine of Ozzy in his clean vocals, but he misses the sickening evilness and Ozzy's knack for catchiness. And it's again the vocals that remain the main issue on 'Egocide', which suffers from vocal melodies that are too monotone. The music is great however. On 'Congestive Art-Failure' a vocoder is used to help out but it doesn't help. The track is mainly brutal, just like 'Praying For Asteroids'. None of both does much for me.

With 'Raus' the album finally starts showing the qualities of this band. The clean vocals work better here, evoking a certain Joy Division 'atmosphere'. Most of the track remains in quiet post-rock areas, with the saxophone providing a delicate jazzy touch. The track flows into the heavy outburst of 'Steal The Fire', showing that different 'ugly' face of the band again, and this time it works due to the strong music and emotional tension that preceded.

The album continues with the dissonant and chaotic 'The Blinding', which rivals The Swans in disconcerting and nauseating doom. It's wilder, more experimental and psychotic then the other tracks but quite astounding. I don't think I could handle an entire album of this but here it works. 'Existence Into Oblivian' is more typical, with melodic vocals dueling against brutal growls and busy tribal drumming. The psychedelic break near the end is magnificent.

'Perception Management' integrates the different aspects of Yakuza's sound, post-rock, jazz, psychedelica, sludge-metal, it all comes together and as unlikely as the combination may sound, Yakuza can make this sound natural and organic. It's without their real strength. Unfortunately, the album ends as it started, with 2 songs featuring less alluring melodies and - to my ears - rather whiny vocals.

All ingredients that make Yakuza great are in place but the songwriting is very uneven for me. The main body of the album is great, but I don't care much for the opening and closing tracks. The next one would be the real deal. This is one that only fans should seek out.

OBSCURA Cosmogenesis

Album · 2009 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 25 ratings
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bonnek
Three years after their modest retro-death debut, Steffen Kummerer returns with a completely revamped Obscura, with an entirely different line-up and with a distinctly more progressive musical direction.

The overall impression is still that of an oppressively intense death metal album, but the new musicians brought a new flavor to the sound, a richness and depth that was entirely absent from the debut. Most striking for me is the change of drum style from new recruit Hannes Grossmann, his playing is much more dynamic and creative, and he throws the death metal clichés of the debut almost entirely overboard. His contribution is essential to the sound. Also the guitar riffing has changed drastically, with less death/thrash-based riffing and instead with multiple bar spanning melodies that lend the music a complex progressive quality. The fretless bass of Jeroen Paul Thesseling stands out as well.

Quite an improvement over the faceless debut. A band to look out for! 3.5 stars.

OBSCURA Retribution

Album · 2006 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.29 | 13 ratings
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bonnek
Obscura's debut stands far apart from their later albums, it's almost like a 2006 tribute to the early 90's extreme metal, with the exact same type of songwriting and sound of bands like Morbid Angel and Death. The addition of the Death, Morbid Angel and Suffocation bonus cover-tracks on the 2010 re-edition is no coincidence.

Fans of their later material should approach the album with utmost care. Not only is it a pure death metal album, it also doesn't have the best of productions, it's very thick and muddy, suffocating all instruments and with very upfront kick drums, which can get quite annoying during the frequent blast beats. Also the songwriting leaves room for improvement. There's next to nothing in these songs that will make them distinguishable from the songs around them. That's a common feature with death metal and one of the reasons why I am not too fond of it.

Good: the album maintains a consistently oppressive and bludgeoning atmosphere. Bad: it lacks personality and fails to offer memorable material. I'd say this album is decent, but only catered for death metal aficionados that want a trip back to 1990.

OBSCURA Omnivium

Album · 2011 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 31 ratings
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bonnek
One album further in their career, one more leap ahead. Obscura have quickly evolved from a faceless Thrash metal band to a most entertaining modern Technical Thrash/Death unit. Under this brutal surface sit complex guitar patterns that have traded typical death/thrash-based riffing for multiple bars spanning melodic riffs that lend the music a complex progressive quality.

The songwriting is top notch and quite varied. The opening track may start as an old Metallica classic but it quickly evolves to a brutal Death Metal attack that gives way for a more relaxed Opethian prog metal passage with very enjoyable psychedelic clean vocals and just that bit of vocoder to make them sound even more out-worldly. A crazy speed-Death finale rounds it up. It's a scenario that reoccurs in different forms and variations on this album. New tricks and development appear regularly throughout, making it entertaining for most of its 59 minutes. I probably don't need to mention that I would enjoy it even more with 2 tracks less, for no better reason then having an attention span of 50 minutes.

It's not the most original or revealing bit of metal this year but simply very good album for fans of technical progressive thrash metal. It is certainly recommended above their other albums. An excellent release in its niche.

DAWNBRINGER Nucleus

Album · 2010 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.04 | 5 ratings
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bonnek
NWOBHM is alive and kicking, even if it comes from the USA this time! On a first impression, this 'Nucleus' from Dawnbringer is a Motorhead clone, plain and simple. The voice is the same, the punk 'n' roll attack is the same, they even got the quality at the same level. So, why should you listen to this if you got the real thing?

Well first off, they write really catchy material and created a consistent album with no flaws or filler. I still find that a good reason to listen to any album, even if it's derivative. Secondly, they got a really cool sound, very thick, dry and rocking. Most welcome in an age of clipping and computer-tweaking. Thirdly, you can't have enough Motorhead, and - as a couple of listens will reveal - Dawnbringer are just a bit more NWOBHM then Motorhead and also include some doom influences, certainly in the second half of the record, which provides for a most welcome variation and for a good flow on this album.

I haven't heard any previous albums from this band but just by it's own right, this is a fine Metal artifact. If you don't mind the obvious retro spirit and the Motorhead and early NWOBHM worship, then you should simply bang away to this one. Favorite tracks, the thundering 'So Much for Sleep' and the doomy 'Old Wizard'.

GWYNBLEIDD Nostalgia

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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bonnek
Of all the Opeth clones I've heard this year, this album by Gwynbleidd is by far the best. The band has been working on these songs for a long time, already presenting a preview of some of them on the 2006 EP Amaranthine. But compared to that EP, the hours of practice, live performances and fine-tuning has made all rough building blocks fall nicely into place.

As I've mentioned somewhere before, Opeth clones seem to concentrate on one specific Opeth sound and for Gwynbleidd this has clearly been My Arms Your Hearse. 'Nostalgia' is a dark and brutal album, with melodic elements but with few clean vocals, and with a dense claustrophobic sound that perfectly captures the essence of MAYH. But unlike Opeth they don't manage to come up with truly memorable compositions. Instead this whole album is a bit of a blur, sounding like one continuous song with few distinguishable elements, even after multiple listens. Luckily, the multiple listens aren't a burden, as this album is a pleasure to listen to and makes for excellent car-music.

As with most clones, the need for imitation somehow smothers the own creative freedom, and whereas the album is strong throughout, I still miss some defining moments and cool hooks. I hope future releases from this band will explore their proper sound. The talent and the intensity are there, now the identity. 3.5 stars still.

ALCHEMIST Austral Alien

Album · 2003 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 7 ratings
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bonnek
Fifth chapter on the speedway to the galaxy. Austal Alian is yet another highly enjoyable album from Alchemist. The tempo is somewhat higher then 'Organasm' and the sound is dryer and more aggressive. Due to the focus on tight playing and fast riotous rhythms, the album has a slightly more industrial feel then its predecessors. The songs are strong as ever and the vocals keep their distinctive diversity, so there’s more then enough to please a metal endorsing prog fan here.

'Alpha Cappella Nova Vega' is the high point for me and served as a perfect introduction for me to this band. With its fine echo laden guitar strumming, hypnotizing mantra and steadily building crescendo, the song is immediately accessible. The remainder of the album is close to the same heights but might take you a bit more time to digest.

Admitted, I'm a huge fanboy of these guy so I can't help rating it a 9/10. Recommend for fans of Voivod, space-metal and Neurosis-on-speed.

GRAVITON Massless

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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bonnek
Graviton is a side project around Intronaut's guitarist/vocalist Sacha Dunable. Together with Derek Donley and Darin Tambascio from the band National Sunday Law, Graviton explores more experimental and ambient ground then both Intronaut and National Sunday Law do. 'Massless' was recorded in 2010, prior to 'Valley of Smoke' but not released till 2011.

The music is very laid-back, progressive and psychedelic, with even some electronic experiments. The metal element has become hardly more then an afterthought, but the downcast mood of the music is still very much post-metal. The music is quite excellent, captivating right from the start and getting better near the end of the album. But there's a serious issue with the vocals for me. Sacha's clean vocals on the last Intronaut drained the album of much of its bit and energy, and this is also the case here. But ok, even though some songs become a monotone drone due to the uninspired (I'd even say non-existent) vocal lines, other songs work quite well. And let's not forget that most part of the album is instrumental.

I think that fans of the quieter side of post-metal, take for instance Intronaut's more reflective work on 'Valley of Smoke', will enjoy this quite a lot. But a warning must go out against the sometimes disappointing vocals in the first half of the album. Still 3.5 stars. Probably more for fans of post-metal.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals as Leaders

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 46 ratings
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bonnek
Shredding for a new society.

Initially I thought of trying to do this review without mentioning the dj...-word. Dj.... being an entirely inadequate onomatopoeia intended to describe what the rhythm-guitars are supposed to sound like. Inadequate to a non-English speakers at least as the English spelling simply doesn't have the consistency to give me a clue on how I'm supposed to pronounce 'djent', like 'gentleman'? Then no, this is definitely not what the guitars sound like. Clinical, over-processed and too distorted, that's what they sound like.

Anyway, if you can do without the tagging, this is simply a modern instrumental Prog Metal album with some jazz influences, indebted to Meshuggah but with the extreme parts left out. The influences from modern day King Crimson in the guitar arpeggio's add a nice touch that definitely distinguishes this band from other bands in the field. Something that is really welcome as there are lots of projects in this style. AAL is one of the best loved examples and the praise is certainly understandable from a technical perspective: this involves all the virtuosity and compositional standards that fans expect from this sort of music.

But despite the interesting ideas the album is too much a "play safe", hardly stretching outside the previously set standards for instrumental jazz-metal fusion, and indulging way too much in pointless shredding. Worst of all is how emotionless and sterile this music is, as if it was made by an - admittedly very fast - computer program. It sounds as if it involved more hours spent on a laptop then actually playing instruments. No, excuse me while I want more spontaneity, interaction, dynamics and tension in instrumental music.

All objections aside, if you're a Prog Metal fan you can't go wrong with this. If you aren't a Prog Metal but still want to check out modern instrumental metal, I'd rather recommend other bands such as Octopus (Chile), Excivious, Chimp Spanner or Cloudkicker. I'd say AAL is music for musicians rather then for listeners. Anyway, the ideas are there, cut out a few solos and I'd still give it 4 stars.

THE SHADOW THEORY Behind The Black Veil

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 13 ratings
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bonnek
After putting Deadsoul Tribe to rest, Devon Graves announced Shadow Theory as his next project. The band, involving acclaimed musicians from Pain of Salvation, Complex7 and Threshold, leaves a much more professional and solid impression then the musically somewhat disappointing Deadsoul Tribe. So this is an album I really wanted to love a lot. Alas there are some problematic points for me.

The most problematic of all is that whatever Devon comes up with, it will always be inferior to the great Psychotic Waltz. That is no different here, and no matter how proficient the musicians are, the creative genius and uniqueness of Psychotic Waltz is entirely absent. The metal part of the songwriting is often based on old-school thrash-y riffing, and it sounds very uninspired and stale to me.

On top, Devon Graves has never been able to match the brilliant melodious vocal lines he used to come up with in the old days. Maybe it's because of the bland riffing, but whatever the cause, his melodies during the heavy parts sound very formulaic, and they are barely distinguishable from those of the other songs. It's only during a few quieter and more acoustic parts that he seems to find his melodic qualities. I would very much recommend him to record an acoustic album in the vein of Lunatic Soul.

"Behind The Black Veil" is an unremarkable album that will be quickly forgotten. It's not a disaster but it's still a disappointment. There are a couple of enjoyable moments but I've heard this type of music from Devon way too much by now. Don't get this until you got the complete Psychotic Waltz and Deadsoul Tribe's "Murder of Crows" and "Lullaby for the Devil".

TRIPTYKON Eparistera Daimones

Album · 2010 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 20 ratings
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bonnek
Hoofed Lord of Metal, you have not forsaken us! I am a huge fan of all sorts of progressive rock music, progressive metal hybrids included, but damn, have I been missing some straight, real, true, undiluted and vintage Metal lately. It's not that such albums weren't released but I found that so few had anything to say that hadn't been said more convincingly earlier. Luckily there's Tom G Warrior and his gang of mutants to remind us of the ominous epic power that metal can have.

"Eparistera Daimones" is a perfect continuation of Warrior's previous album "Monotheist", then still under the banner of Celtic Frost but given the minimal differences with this release it can't be doubted who the creative brain was behind that album. It's no straight copy though; in fact I would say that the Avant elements have been toned down a bit in favor for the Gothic Doom-Death power. There's not a trace of Black Metal here at all, but still it doesn't get any blacker then this. Essentially, this album reaches down straight to the filthiest pits of human existence, only to come back triumphantly with a menacing slab of rancid rotten doom. I think the end-result is even an improvement over "Monotheist". (Yes, an improvement over another monolithic metal album).

Celtic Frost was a ground-breaking band in the 80's, but after the badly received "Cold Lake", they faded from the radar. After almost 15 years of silence, only interrupted by the sub-par "Apollyon Sub" project, I had given up on Tom G Warrior. I'm so glad to be proven wrong again for the second time in a row. My best metal album for 2010, not a single doubt about that.

AMORPHIS My Kantele

EP · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 6 ratings
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bonnek
This short EP is one of my favorite Amorphis releases, it starts with an acoustic version of "My Kantele" from the preceding "Elegy". The song flows much better in this arrangement, maintaining a beautiful folksy vibe throughout and Koskinen's vocals sound very natural and intense. The outro with the sitar is quite brilliant.

Also "The Brother-slayer" and its instrumental sibling "The Lost Son" count amongst the greatest moments in Amorphis' career for me. I don't think the band ever got as Prog as on this particular track. They combine elements from folk, hard-rock and space-rock to a fresh and exciting new blend. The trippy jam of "Lost Son" even rivals Hawkwind at their core business.

Talking about Hawkwind, Amorphis' version of "Levitation" here is simply essential, it's even more exciting then Hawkwind's own studio original. Actually, Amorphis not only captures the essence of the original song, but they also add the energy and intensity of Hawkwind in concert. The jam in the middle section is fantastic again.

More space-rock Prog follows on "And I Hear You Call", a cover from Kingston Wall, a now forgotten space-rock band from the early 90s. It's the only track that features some growls, but apart from that, the arrangement isn't very different from the original, Amorphis just added their own energetic touch.

Back in the 90s, fans of the earlier Amorphis albums criticized the band for dropping the metal element in their sound too much, but the band would nevertheless continue in this direction on the ensuing albums. It won them some new fans as well, such as yours truly.

FEN Epoch

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 33 ratings
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bonnek
With "Epoch", Fen delivers the kind of harsh but atmospheric album that I had expected from Agalloch in 2010.

But while they are comparable to Agalloch, the band has found a sound of their own by adding elements from the British post-punk and shoegazer tradition, such as the big atmospheric synths from The Cure (Desintegration era), the Pink Floyd-derived clean guitar arpeggios from Fields of The Nephelim, and the occasional whispered shoegazer vocals, which were introduced into the Black Metal real already 16 years ago by Ulver. "Epoch" manages to conjure up a moving atmosphere drenched in melancholia, but as to the songwriting they are still dwarfed by named bands.

Because of the shoegaze vocals, the album ends somewhere halfway between the latest albums of Agalloch and Alcest. So Fen can be assured of a nice ride in their slipstream and, given the hype surrounding this type of atmospheric post-Black metal, they can expect a strong position in the 2011 year lists. Compared to Agalloch's "Marrow the Spirit", "Epoch" is an improvement on all counts. First of all they reach a higher level of musicality, mostly due to the more inventive drumming and the less cliché guitars. But also the vocals are much better, at least the growls and shrieks are, as they are much dirtier, grimier and nauseating then Agalloch's, and that's exactly how they should be.

The clean whispery vocals could still be improved a little but they aren't overused so that's ok. The songwriting is fairly good, but after a while the dreary mood of the music gets a bit too monotonous, there's not one song that really stands out neither. The production is a bit rough but that perfectly suits the music.

Fen still has some growing potential and I expect they will blow us away once they manage to make their songs more distinguishable from one another. Until that happens I'll stick with Alcest for my fix of - deep breath - atmospheric post-Black Metal with touches of post-punk and shoegaze. Nice one.

NEUROSIS Through Silver In Blood

Album · 1996 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 42 ratings
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bonnek
Through Silver In Blood brings the best of all things Neurosis had been experimenting with. Tribal beats start pounding and building up with layers of electronic sounds and guitars, at 3 minutes, a heavy bass groove gets this monster rolling and it doesn't let down anymore. As in most sludge-core-whatever bands, the vocals might be the hardest bit to get into. Neurosis has the advantage of featuring two skilled shouters, one with those typical dry hard core shouts and another with a deeper growling style. Luckily none of them does any clean singing, an attempt at accessibility that would have greatly diminished the impact of this album.

Neurosis are masters at dynamics. Their sound is very rich in texture, as they employ lots of sampling and sound effects. It ties them to the bands they got their inspiration from. Most obviously that is Swans of course, whose trademark is all over the place here, particularly on the hardest hitting tracks like Eye, Purify or Locust Star. Another ground-breaking industrial band that comes to mind is Foetus. The closing Enclosure in Flame has some traits of them.

Neurosis add brutal doses of doom metal to that industrial sound, as if things weren’t dense enough yet. No, easy digestible music is not Neurosis’ trade. Luckily there’s some room to breathe left and right, as in the opening minute of Purify.

Neurosis were one of the biggest creative forces of the 90’s, blending very diverse influences into a steaming melting pot that would spew a whole generation of copy-cats. Some of those produced excellent albums as well but none ever matched the fire and inspiration of this masterpiece. Approach with utmost care, this may hurt your ears and crush everything inbetween to pulp.

OPETH Deliverance

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 101 ratings
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bonnek
Back in 2002, Deliverance was as a big disappointment to me after the stellar albums that preceded. I had come to know Opeth in 2001 and had devoured their entire back catalogue in no time. Resulting in playing "MAYH", "Still Life" and "Blackwater Park" on almost endless repeat. I thought Deliverance to be a few leagues behind but I’ve recently found my peace with it.

First of all, the tracks "A Fair Judgement" and especially "Deliverance" have been instant Opeth classics from the very start, 5 star stuff. But also "Wreath" is really impressing. Admitted, it sits closer to the death metal of Bloodbath then to regular Opeth but it is an entirely strong composition. I saw them perform it live in NYC (May 2009, in a nice package with Enslaved!) and it has kind of stuck ever since.

After the most impressive first 35 minutes, the level nevertheless decreases. "Master's Apprentices" has a rather monotonous start, both repetitive and gruff but not intense enough, just brutal without much emotion. It evolves into a nice piece once the clean vocals kick in. "By The Pain I See In Others" leaves a similar mixed impression. Especially the sinister vocal effect in the first verses and most of the grunting doesn't do much for me here

Opeth wanted to separate their heavy side from their mellow side with this album and its companion "Damnation". It led to magnificent results on "Damnation" but it reflected badly on "Deliverance". In fact, the only two tracks that entirely satisfy me have the typical heavy/mellow balance that we've come to like Opeth for. It's far from a disaster, but still far below the surrounding albums for me.

NEVERMORE The Obsidian Conspiracy

Album · 2010 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.23 | 17 ratings
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bonnek
After a long absence and a couple of solo projects, Nevermore returns with an album that should be very satisfactory to their fanbase. The reason being that the album doesn't deviate an inch from the trodden paths on the previous albums.

Despite its qualities, the familiar approach often disappoints me. In the opening track for instance, Warrel Dane fails to come up with vocal lines that he hasn't done countless times before. Also the guitar riffs and chord changes often have a familiar ring to them. Things improve on "Your Position Throne", not that it hold any surprises but the band has found that eerie tone back from their earliest albums, where the influence from Gothic bands such as Bauhaus was still a more important element to their sound than the power-thrash of the 3 last albums.

All goes very well till the track "Emptiness Unobstructed", which also reminds too much of older songs. "The Blue Marble" brings some welcome variation after the preceding onslaught of powerful riffing. It's a nice little ballad that abstains from anthemic metal ballad clichés. Clichés abound on "Without Morals" though, which is another Nevermore track we've heard too much. With "The Day You Built The Wall" the album gets back on track. "She Comes In Colors" and the closing title track especially are also satisfactory thrash epics.

"The Obsidian Conspiracy" is an album that won't disappoint the Nevermore fanbase, it's only nitpickers like myself that have gotten tired of the formulas that Nevermore returns to all too frequently. Overall, a safe but good album.

NEVERMORE Dead Heart in a Dead World

Album · 2000 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 20 ratings
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bonnek
Nevermore made quite a buzz with this album in the 2000 metal scene. The music was described as a combination of power metal and Thrash metal, and given Power Metal was very much a hit and miss with me in those years, I approached the album with some skepticism. Unnecessary, this was love at first sight.

One of the qualities that won me over is how varied the album is. Despite my love for metal, I'm often put off with how repetitive and one-dimensional most metal albums are. Not this one. Kicking off with the thrashy "Narcosynthesis", the song soon breaks open for the magnetic melodic chorus. Power metal indeed, but staying way out of the spinal tap traits of the genre. More power thrash follows on "We Disintegrate" and "Inside Four Walls". The latter also gave me a slightly Gothic impression due to the spooky wailing guitars in the chorus. Later I would learn the band are fans of Bauhaus. Cool!

With "Evolution 169" the band goes for a gloomier sound, slightly melodic doom-ish. "The River Dragon Has Come" sits close to Progressive Metal in my ears and sounds like a track that could have been from their preceding album. Next on is the ballad "The Heart Collector", mellow, cheesy, brilliant. Quite a contrast with the tech-thrashing of "Engines of Hate" and the thrashed Simon and Gartfunkel cover "Sound of Silence". Really love that one. "Insignificant" is another strong ballad, always reminded me of Psychotic Waltz. By contrast, "Believe in Nothing" is a cliched radio-airplay ready-made power ballad. Not bad probably but never liked it much. Luckily they kept the best track for the end. "Dead Heart in a Dead World" is devastating.

A metal essential but not my favorite Nevermore so 4.5 it is.

SOLITUDE AETURNUS Adagio

Album · 1998 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 7 ratings
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bonnek
On "Adagio", Solitude Aeturnus reached back to the sound of "Through the darkest hour" and they combined it with the crunchier bite of "Downfall". In my opinion it is their quintessential album, having their best songwriting and presenting all facets of their style.

In comparison to earlier work, the album doesn't have any weak moments. It also offers quite some variations as the band masters the rocking doom style as well as slowly dragging sections, everything pervaded with the epic feel typical for doom metal. It's hard picking favorites, but next to the obvious contenders such as "Days of Prayer", "Lament" and "Believe", I'd also point to the slightly more experimental tracks such as the dreamy "Empty Faith", the devout "Never" and the gloomy droning "Personal God". With "Heaven and Hell" Robert Lowe proves he could stand in for Dio any time. But Candlemass beat them to it.

Whenever thinking of Solitude Aeturnus, we can't avoid mentioning Candlemass, the band's whose imposing melodic doom style is the very reason for Solitude Aeturnus's existence. "Adagio" doesn't offer new chops but is the perfect synthesis of everything that makes them so strong. "Adagio" should be an instant success for fans of Candlemass's 80's albums.

TESTAMENT The Formation Of Damnation

Album · 2008 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 36 ratings
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bonnek
A welcome return for Testament, 9 years since their previous studio effort and after all the health issues Chuck Billy went through this album is nothing short of a little miracle. First of all for existing, secondly for being so damn good. Just like Metallica's "Death Magnetic" and Megadeth's "End Game", also "The Formation of Damnation" is an old-school back-to-roots release.

Unlike those two other bands, Testament never strayed much from their roots and again they prove that if you're born a Thrash metal dude, you better stick to your guns and deliver! That's what they do and they do it with amazing energy and attitude. Similar as on the preceding "The Gathering", Chuck Billy mainly sticks to Death metal growls, but there are also more melodic moments again such as on "Dangers of the Faithless". Alex Skolnick is back on guitars and delivers his classic Thrash metal riffing and great leads. Despite being old-school, it all sounds really fresh and enthusiastic. You can hear the band's love for what they're doing in every track.

It's retro, done, déjà vu, but it's pure and heart-felt, and it completely blows away Metallica's forced attempts at sounding rejuvenated. One of Testament's best albums.

AMORPHIS Magic & Mayhem: Tales From The Early Years

Boxset / Compilation · 2010 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.19 | 8 ratings
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bonnek
Unlike the rest of the sane world I've never been the biggest fan of Amorphis' Death Metal beginnings. So I can't tell you how relevant this collection of re-recordings from their early days might be for other Amorphis fans. Everything is done very skillfully and they respected the heaviness and atmosphere of the originals but on the whole can't say I find most of the versions here adding much to the originals.

The selection of tracks is taken entirely from the first 3 albums and has no weak songs whatsoever. The sound is fuller and heavier - and probably more professional - but still it's one of the main reasons why I'm a bit lukewarm about this album. The sound is very heavy and bombastic, which is fine for a couple of songs but I find the effect from such big productions always wears off fairly quickly. I also lack some attack from the drumkit and the guitars are over-processed for my taste.

Another qualm is that all songs sound the same now, the original albums all had their own unique atmosphere. Tomi Joutsen is a great singer, probably Amorphis' best vocalist, but I don't find his voice suits all the material. The tracks from the first album are all brilliant, suiting his low growls perfectly. The band is steaming on these tracks and "Vulgar Necrolatry" is easily the highlight of the album. The songs from the second album have been upgraded with the psychedelic flair of later Amorphis work. Uncalled for IMO. Still "Magic and Mayhem" turned out just fine. My biggest gripe is with the songs from "Elegy". Joutsen fails to breathe life into these songs and well, didn't they sound just fine like they were originally?

SPIRITUAL BEGGARS Return to Zero

Album · 2010 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.49 | 6 ratings
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bonnek
It won't surprise anyone anymore but it remains just spot-on, Amott's groovy heavy retro-doom rock hobby-band SPIRITUAL BEGGARS is back after a 5 year absence and brings us exactly what we could expect. Vocalist JB who sang on the 2 previous studio albums has left the band for his own and very similar project GRAND MAGUS. His place is taken by the Apollo Papathanasio from the Greek powermetal band FIREWIND. He sounds almost exactly like JB: classic heavy rock voice, powerful and raw when needed, but balanced against a deep low-end and great warmth. Nice. Also Amott is in fine form and treats us with fat catchy riffs and good rocking grooves. Per Wiberg's contribution is reasonably modest so we'll probably have to wait for the new Opeth to fully enjoy him.

There is enough variety on the album and filler tracks are carefully avoided. Just don't expect anything new or groundbreaking, a solid stoner-doom-hard rock for fans of --fill in any 70s hard rock band--. Really nice, but it might have been a bit more exciting and dangerous maybe.

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