Metal Music Reviews from siLLy puPPy

STEVE VAI Flex-Able

Album · 1984 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 10 ratings
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STEVE VAI hardly needs an introduction after having played with Frank Zappa, Alcatraz, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake not to mention achieving a stellar success in his own right but while he would become the rock world’s undeniably most unique and proficient guitar shredder, his early years displayed a much deeper and experimental young VAI whose ties to progressive rock were at the forefront more than any pretensions of rock god status that would take place in a few short years as he would become one of the most technically adept shredders of the 80s.

Fresh out of several years as Zappa’s premiere “stunt guitarist” having played on albums like “You Are What You Is,” “The Man From Utopia” and “Jazz From Hell” as well as a string of successful live recordings from the “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” series, VAI managed to scrape enough money together to buy a small house in the LA suburb of Sylmar and with a mere 5000$ put together his first home studio where he would record a slew of goofy and off the wall music that initially was made for friends but was destined to become STEVE’s first album FLEX-ABLE along with the supplemental companion EP titled “Flex-Able Leftovers.”

Much of this was due to the fact of his fear of becoming famous and opted to simply make music that he wanted to instead of pursuing any commercial endeavors. Having stated he was simply living in the moment, he created new music to distribute amongst close friends with no preconceived notions of any sort. Released in 1984, FLEX-ABLE may come as a shock to anyone who encountered this zany album after growing to love STEVE’s more technical instrumental albums such as “Passion And Warfare.” This album in many ways sounds like a completely different artist with few clues as to the direction Mr. VAI would detour but it was this first album that made STEVE VAI a star in the rock and metal world for its unorthodox and hyper creative guitar playing.

VAI was inventive from the very start and FLEX-ABLE displayed a plethora of disparate ideas ranging from creative uses of the whammy bar, advanced hammer on abuse, alien sounding musical scales, compositional mastery as well as a healthy love of extraterrestrial life and all things spiritual, esoteric and eclectic. Add to that, VAI showed a mastery of the business aspects of music as well. FLEX-ABLE was innovative in becoming one of the first truly independent albums (another Zappa trait). While the album was deemed too personal for public consumption, VAI was convinced to release it but found that record companies not only wanted to usurp his publishing rights but would only pay mere pennies on the dollar in royalties. VAI opted to self-release and off this one album alone that has sold around 300,000 copies to date, STEVE has made millions.

As is commonly known, STEVE VAI was the ultimate nerd guitarist having studied at the Berklee School of Music and played with the late great Frank Zappa. FLEX-ABLE displays even more Zappa connections with fellow band members drummer Chad Wackerman, trumpeter Bob Harris and bassist Stu Hamm as well as a large extended guest list that make FLEX-ABLE the ultimate musician’s party album. Like any given Zappa album, the instrumentation was wide and varied and included not only guitar, bass, drums and keyboards but also more exotic instruments such as bell lyre, vibraphone, piccolo xylophone, clarinet, flute, sax and violin amongst other various chimes and bell-like percussion.

While originally conceived as gag gifts for friends, the idea was to press up a limited run of flexi discs (also known as phono sheets, Sonosheets or Soundsheets, a flexible vinyl sheet with a molded-in spiral stylus groove that played like a normal record). You know those think little bendies that are often attached in the middle of magazines and the like, thus the origin of how FLEX-ABLE got its title. A combo of a changed plan with the spirit of a can-do attitude and thus the ultimate description of one of rock’s most innovative guitarists indeed. After turning down the exploitative record labels, VAI created his own Akashic Records, found a distributor in the form of Important Records and received an unheard of amount of 4$10cents for each album sold.

And the album become a hit in the underground guitar world not only for VAI’s guitar playing technical prowess but for its sheer audacity to take the listener into VAI’s own universe designed by his own warped sense of humor. The album has since become a cult classic. It has been released with two album covers. Firstly with a cover donning a jet black background and a pink/purple hand tugging on an elastic pink/purple heart and then again with a cartoonish caricature of STEVE on an orange stage alongside an alien and rubbery guitar. The latter contained bonus tracks that would find their way onto the “Flex-Able Leftovers.” (these tracks include: “So Happy,” “Bledsoe Blvd,” “Burnin’ Down The Mountain,” “Chronic Insomnia” and was my intro to the album.

And the music! This album contains some of the wildest tracks ever! While STEVE’s virtuosic guitar shredding does debut here, it is limited in small doses with the highlight on the metal rocker “The Attitude Song,” which would eventually be included on the Guitar Hero video game series. However the rest of the album is completely different. One of my favorite VAI tracks of all time opens in the form of “Little Green Men,” the ultimate Zappa tribute complete with a frenetic off-kilter jazzified parade of whimsical satire and adroit virtuosity runs of vibraphones and time signatures run amok but also conveys a sophisticated yet playful story about how aliens are amongst us and kept from our knowledge through careful control of perception. Perhaps one of the most hilarious tracks of all time :P

“Viv Woman” displays hard rock attitude but also a healthy horn section whereas “Salamanders In The Sun” is another Zappa inspired flirtatious flute driven melodic track that is light and fluffy but also incorporates some stellar guitar playing. “Call It Sleep,” one of the most experimental tracks sounds like a sleepy guitarist waking up and having a hard time getting it together but ultimately prevails in a stunning guitar workout. This one has cool guitar slides and what sounds like tuning manipulations. “Junkie” begins like a music box, a vocal driven sorta jazzy track about a drug addict and includes some extraordinary unorthodox guitar weirdness. “Bill’s Private Parts” is a tiny snippet of percussive bombast whereas “Next Stop Earth” debuts VAI’s unique ability to make the guitar “talk.” It is 34 seconds of two guitars having a conversation, a technique fully utilized on future releases.

“There’s Something Dead In Here” is an atonal, non-melodic horrific sounding progressive rock on acid type of recording. This is probably the most “out there” track which is only for the most hardcore. The only two tracks that i’m not really found of are the corny combo of “Lover’s Are Crazy” and “The Boy/Girl Song.” These two tracks are prominent because they appear near the beginning of the album and are the most commercial sounding which for better or for worse debut another aspect of VAI’s music, my least favorite, the schmaltzy ballads with stupid lyrics. While i can understand the desire to keep the album from getting too wild, these two tracks just seem out of place.

While my first experience of the album was with the four bonus tracks which are some of my favorites on the whole album and some of the most creative, i’ll have to save criticism for them on the “Flex-Able Leftovers” album which is where they made their first appearance. FLEX-ABLE is a nerdy album through and through and will probably fly over the heads of non-musicians. There is nothing “normal” about this album. This was the creation of a highly developed musician making music on his own terms with little regard for public consumption. Luckily, this sort of music had a cult following with yours truly being a part of.

This was definitely a grower but perhaps the most consistent of VAI’s many lopsided albums save a couple tracks. While often cited as his low point, if you can get past the fact that this is not shredder’s paradise (and i’m a shredding fan for sure), you can experience a fantastically creative album unlike anything else ever made even by VAI himself. Historically speaking, FLEX-ABLE is a brief moment in time between the adventurous Zappa years and VAI’s metal god status with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. It displayed ALL of VAI’s musical talents far beyond the lightning speed fret abuse he has become more known for. This is the dawn of not only a talented guitarist, but also a producer and business entrepreneur as well as composer and arranger of talents. A one of a kind album that deserves its cult status.

SKYGLOW Thousand Years Of Terror

Album · 2018 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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In recent years there has been a prolific output of technically gifted musicians from behind the former Iron Curtain with Russia leading the way. Metal vocalist Alexander Mokin, having been raised in the city of Saratov found a connection with myriad extreme metal bands ranging from the classic era of In Flames, Be’Lakor and Metallica along with the more technically gifted wizardry on display with bands like Death, Dissection, Dark Tranquility, Necrophagist and The Chasm.

Mokin started to write his own music in 2012 and four years later was joined by long time friend and guitarist Vlad Kudryavtsev to form the band “Eyes Of Skyglow,” later shortened to SKYGLOW. Once Sergey Stepenenko from Excruciation By Silence replaced Kudryavtsey and handled both guitar and bass duties, the lineup was almost complete with drummer Dmitriy Kim filling the last spot.

In 2017 the band released a short two track demo called “Curse Of The Butterfly” and in 2018 they see their debut THOUSAND YEARS OF TERROR cast its shadow over an unsuspecting world. After a brief virtuosic performance of acoustic classical guitar leading the way, the music bursts into the full pyrogenic fury of technical thrash metal. These guys are riff monsters with a clear Vektor type of fury on display with a youthful energetic bombast, yet with a seasoned flare for dynamic shifts, alternating tempos and dramatic displays of neoclassical virtuosity strewn about.

The inspiration behind the theme of the album lies in Mokin’s analysis of government corruption that tells the tale of a millennium of the horrors of Russian history. While the music is firmly based in unrelenting tech thrash metal, there are health doses of Western classical music in the form of guitar and keyboards that crank out pleasant melodies that develop into fully formed thrash fury. While fitting well into the technical thrash crowds, this is melodic thrash metal that utilizes the lush compositional structures of classical music.

While the world is saturated with a gazillion metal bands as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, very few stand out amongst the ever increasing crowds. SKYGLOW is quite a different story altogether. This is a band that means business and pulls of the chops to accomplish their goal of the tech thrash metal soundtrack of Russian history in all its ugly regalia.

While a mere fledgling in the metal universe, SKYGLOW sounds like a seasoned band around for decades as THOUSAND YEARS OF TERROR not only exceeds in lyrical continuity but bedazzles with virtuosic prowess of the highest degree. The production is also noteworthy as it sounds like a bona fide professional release.

Fueled by shapeshifting time signature rich thrash metal riffs, choppy blastbeats meet jazzified percussive pummelation and brilliant classically rich intermissions accompanied by top notch thrash vocals, SKYGLOW is a band to look out for. On this debut album they display a maturity few bands muster up in a whole career. While the band claims The Chasm as their closest metal relative in stylistic terms, i hear a whole lot of Vektor inspired technicalities that show off their chops in perfect unison.

This is no clone band here. These guys really deliver one brutally satisfying track after another. So far, one of my favorite metal releases of 2018. Perhaps not quite to the level of finding a totally unique sound of their own, but they nailed the traditional classically infused thrash metal sound perfectly. Recommended.

BUDGIE Budgie

Album · 1971 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 30 ratings
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If you’re serious about diving into the origins of heavy metal you will no doubt tackle the usual suspects such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but in the early gestation years of the late 60s and the fully formed heavy rock bands that provided the antecedents of the greater metal universe, there were quite a few contenders that didn’t quite attract the same level of success as the big three. The Cardiff, Wales based BUDGIE was one of the earliest such bands that was a seminal influence on the NWOBM scene that would emerge at the tail end if the 70s. While formed in 1967 under the less-than-metal moniker Hills Contemporary Grass, they changed their name to Six Ton Budgie before finally truncating it to the more known BUDGIE which is an informal term for “budgerigar,” an Australian parakeet which would become their mascot. This power trio of Tony Bourge (guitar), Tony Shelley (bass, vocals, mellotron) and Ray Phillips (drums, percussion) chose this name as a diametrically opposing term in relation to their bombastic bluesy rock bravado.

While Black Sabbath was in 1971 the heaviest band in existence, BUDGIE wasn’t too far behind. Their eponymous debut released the same year as “Master Of Reality,” followed the trends of the more successful bands and could be generalized as heavy rock straddling in between the heavy Sabbath riffing with Led Zeppelin inspired compositional constructs as well as Shelley’s Robert Plant inspired vocal style. The Sabbath inspired parts come to the forefront with the opener “Guts” which is a little too close to Sabbath’s own “Hand Of Doom” which sounds like a good case for plagiarism to my ears but the album quickly drifts off into their own unique middle ground between the great Sabbath and Led Zep. Many have cited as BUDGIE being the first version of the Canadian band Rush since they are a power trio and deliver a tight and compelling band sound out of only three musicians. On this debut they do indeed have that heavy rock gusto that Rush would unleash on their first two pre-progressive albums. Likewise BUDGIE, while rooted in ballsy blues rock with a more bombastic approach, did engage in progressively tinged compositional constructs.

While BUDGIE may have borrowed a lot from Sabbath and Led Zep, they have also been the influencers as well with tracks like the whimsically titled “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” a clear antecedent into Golden Earring’s hit “Radar Love” which also displays Shelley’s unique bass slapping style with a little funk technique and heavy rock groove with Phillips pounding out the supporting percussive drive accompanied by Bourge’s guitar antics. Very heavy stuff for 1971 indeed and progressive as it clocked in at 8:41 and meandered through a series of clever musical moves not common in the bluesy rock world of the day. “Rape Of The Locks” allows Bourge to show off some of his guitar tricks with a series of flashy solos before erupting into a boogie rock style that would become the staple of bands such as ZZ Top in the coming years. Tracks like “All Night Petrol” find Shelley doing his best Robert Plant vocal exercises but alongside a Sabbath inspired doom laden riff in a mid-tempo groove. “You And I” shows a mellower side with a short acoustic ballad.

BUDGIE created a very interesting sound for sure and although they didn’t quite have the over-the-top performance charisma that Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin delivered to the world, they provided a unique glimpse in between the musical sounds where those two bands existed. While parts of BUDGIE’s debut are clearly inspired by certain tracks from their influences, somehow they polish it out with their own unique stamp. The blues oriented hard rock riffing is more akin to 60s bands like Cream with Sabbath overtones (due partly to Sabbath’s producer Rodger Bain in the picture), but they crafted their compositions completely differently with more complex constructs that meandered into more unexpected territory. In other words less calculated and more free. While destined to be more of a footnote of history for providing the blueprints of heavy metal riffing that would be fully realized by bands like Metallica in the next decade, BUDGIE are well worth checking out in their own right. The synthesis of heavy rock with progressive touches makes this more than a historical artifact.

OZZY OSBOURNE Scream

Album · 2010 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.47 | 22 ratings
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By the time the second decade of the millennium hit, OZZY OSBOURNE had more or less settled into a career of constant touring as well as America’s favorite deviant dad on the reality TV show The Osbournes. Despite it all, he still found time to head into his own home studio to record one more album, his tenth overall. Originally intended to be titled “Soul Sucka,” it was changed to SCREAM and was released in the summer of 2010 and to date remains his last solo album as he would hook up with his old buddies Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi to reform Black Sabbath (without Bill Ward). Jumping on board is newbie guitarist Gus G who replaced OZZY’s longest lasting guitarist Zakk Wylde who would focus on his Black Label Society. Also departing was Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin who would be replaced by Kevin Churko who also served as producer, engineer and mixer as he did on the previous release “Black Rain.” As Wylde also played keyboards on previous albums, Adam Wakeman, son of Yes’ own Rick Wakeman joined the crew to take over that part.

Despite OSBOURNE’s metal creds diminishing over the decades as more extreme forms of metal had long taken root and grown into veritable monsters, OSBOURNE still remains quite popular and his album hit #4 on the Billboard album charts. Part of OSBOURNE’s continued endurance is not only due to his reputation as the godfather of metal but a brilliant marketing strategy with SCREAM being promoted by downloadable content for the Rock Band video game series as well as public stunts at sports events. While not biting off heads of bats any longer, OSBOURNE proved he still had a knack for getting the word out. OZZY learned a while back that outside forces in the songwriting department were the breath of fresh air that he needed to spruce up his musical charm and therefore all eleven tracks were written by OSBOURNE and producer Kevin Churko with four of them finding extra help from Wakeman.

Stylistically SCREAM pretty much continues what OZZY began in the 90s with “Ozzmosis,” namely a blend of his 80s classic metal that utilizes heavy metal guitar riffing, bass and drums with a more down-tuned sort of 90s alternative metal approach finished off with OSBOURNE’s signature poetic vocal style. One thing about SCREAM that differs from previous albums is a more distinct use of industrial electronic effects especially on tracks like “Let It Die” and “Let Me Hear You Scream.” Gus G proves to be a more than suitable replacement but isn’t allowed to really shine in his own way as OZZY’s musical cast is more of a brand name at this point and the individuality isn’t allowed to let loose however he does shine a bit with a classical guitar intro on “Diggin’ Me Down.” Generally speaking, the emphasis of guitar solos that were prevalent in OZZY’s earlier years has been replaced by heavy thrashy riffing with the Zakk Wylde squeals still in play. In fact, i’d never know that this was a different guitarist if not for the credits.

Whether you can appreciate SCREAM depends on how well any of the albums after “No More Tears” worked for you. There is nothing substantially different and SCREAM is very much an OZZY-by-the-numbers affair with a few electronica additions that stand out. The tracks consist of the usual catchy melodic guitar hooks rooted in 80s classic metal and the production is bass laden with a continued alternative metal feel. Guitar solos do occur but are rather brief and there are more bridges and slower paced segments which add some needed contrast. Once again OZZY delivers a fairly decent album but certainly will never go down as his crowning achievements either. It does seem at this point OZZY was growing rather stale and despite mustering up an album’s worth of material, it was becoming apparent that it was time to move on to something new so when the Black Sabbath reunion took place, it was the perfect time to do so.

PYRRHON Fever Kingdoms

EP · 2010 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Tech metal is one of those nebulous areas of music that i still find very difficult to figure out why some bands totally work for me and others don’t despite all the tech chops being checked off like clockwork. While bands like Deathspell Omega and Gorguts have soared to the top of the charts for their innovative and creative avant-garde take on established sub-genera of the metal universe, others sorta fall between the cracks. PYRRHON is one such band that despite cranking out all the expected techy aspects in abundance, sorta fail to inspire beyond a certain level and that is no more apparent than on their debut EP release FEVER KINGDOMS which came out in 2010.

The band was founded all the way back in 2008 when guitarist Dylan DiLeila and bassist Mike Sheen met by happenstance on a subway platform and then found drummer Alex Cohen to join the crew. Along the way they found Doug Moore to join in as vocalist. While PYRRHON has in recent years upped their game and joined the ranks of the more known ranks of the tech death metal universe alongside other surreal noisemakers such as Portal, Ulcerate or Mithras, on FEVER KINGDOMS they take a rather generic sounding approach with a sound that somehow finds itself somewhere between death metal with the gutteral growls and frenetic angular riffs but with more of a mathcore in yer face grind that churns on relentlessly in full extreme metal fashion.

While these elements are not that bad within themselves, this EP unfortunately lacks any sort of variety or attention grabbing ideas. And along with that, i find the drumming style of Alex Cohen a little lackluster for the type of tech death they are trying to capture. Another band that is similar is Gigan who master the surreal and detached psychedelic metal sound that they strive to create. In their case the musicians are bombastic and unapologetically ferocious and have the chops to pull it off as well as an imagination that allows a flexibility that is needed for the cosmic metal ride. FEVER KINGDOMS seems to just plod along predictably with each of the five tracks sounding alike with the same riffs recycled.

What it boils down to with PYRRHON’s debut is that something is woefully missing to give this sonic noise parade some sort of spirit. It plods along checking off all the boxes of extreme tech metal but doesn’t deliver in anything that is very satisfying. In the tech death universe where sonic maelstroms can easily resemble any other, the differences are very subtle and the tight wire act between something outstandingly original and woefully cliche and lackluster can be a very small margin of differences and in the case of PYRRHON’s FEVER KINGDOMS falls short of the interesting mark and leaves me quite unsatisfied especially after experiencing their more mature albums first.

DEATH Scream Bloody Gore

Album · 1987 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.27 | 57 ratings
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When it comes to metal music legends, the story of Chuck Shuldner’s epic journey with his influential band DEATH has to be one of the most enduring as Schuldner is not only regarded as the godfather of the entire death metal subgenere but one of the most innovative musical influences in the entire metal genre period ( . ) with each album in his all too short career taking massive leaps of evolution over what came before. When it comes to the origins of death metal, the endless debate will surely revolve around who really created it and the answer will forever exist in the morbid murky nebulous annals of history and the idiosyncratic definitions of when and where the death metal sub actually split off from its parent thrash metal. I have developed my own take on this and instead of assigning a clearcut definition, i prefer to view it from a rather biological evolutionary perspective since musical developments occur in much the same manner as do animal and plant species. One species clearly could not exist without branching off of another and each slight differentiation may or may not constitute a relabeling of its characteristics and corresponding nomenclature.

In the case of death metal, there can be absolutely no doubt that the underpinnings of the sub originated with the English heavy metal pioneers Venom whose macabre and bantering din laced with the first vociferations of harsh shouted vocals would ultimately blossom into what would later be called extreme metal. In the beginning Venom was in a metal limbo or rather a somewhat embryonic extreme metal stage where thrash, black and death metal were all nestled within the very DNA of the caustic sonic waves that emerged from their baleful expressions of societal contempt and verbal vitriol wrapped up in distorted decibelage and breakneck speed outbursts. Out of this primordial cesspool sprang forth other early degenerates such as Celtic Frost, Slayer and Kreator as they began to diversify the intensity and focus of their bombastic approaches. These could be considered the proto-death metal bands that not only launched the nascent beginnings of the thrash scene but also were ultimately influential for the evil contorts of Bathory which would hatch the wretched spawn of black metal, death metal’s evil twin.

The next phase in the development of death metal is undoubtedly the Bay Area’s own Possessed who took Slayer’s extreme speed and demonic gore to even greater extremities with lightning fast blitzkriegs of thundering riffing, bantering percussive drive and Jeff Becerra’s guttural vocals, a style that to many, defines the very essence of the death metal sub entirely, however musically Possessed were very much still a thrash metal band as they hadn’t quite taken that final step into low-tuned tremolo picking riffing accompanied by the double kick blastbeat drumming that utilized the ugliest aspects of minor keys, atonality and wicked chromatic chord progressions. They were still a few baby steps away from what we would call death metal today, but personally i find them to exist in that crucial phase 2 development of death metal much like a tadpole (which would be Venom and friends) would development limbs (the Possessed phase) but still not quite the frog that is free of its fully aquatic features and thus keeps it from being a full fledged amphibian, the completely liberated death metal stage.

Chuck Schuldner’s DEATH is where that very amphibian phase of death metal finally came of age. Schuldner had been unleashing his sonic terror onto the world with his many demos (released under the moniker Mantas as well as DEATH) but these too were somewhere in the Possessed camp of proto-death with thrash leanings. Always the visionary even at the young tender age of seventeen, Schuldner set out to evolve his own brand of extreme metal into something even uglier, taking his primary metal influences of Possessed and Slayer to the next level. In the search for the musical talent to take him to this new level, Chuck had one helluva time finding anyone to fill these roles and after moving from his native Florida to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to Canada and then back to the Bay Area. After placing an ad or two, Schuldner finally found promise in the 17-year old drummer Chris Reifert but was unsatisfied with the music scene as nobody else fit the bill to fill the shoes of his new musical vision.

Undeterred, Schuldner opted to record his debut DEATH demo “Mutilation” completely by himself with only Reifert along for the ride, therefore Schuldner performed all lead and rhythm guitars along with bass and vocals. Although John Hand had briefly joined the band, he didn’t play on any recordings or participate in any live settings either. “Mutilation” proved quite the hit on the underground cassette trading community and caught the attention of the fledgling extreme metal label Combat Records which enabled Schuldner and Reifert to record their full-length debut SCREAM BLOODY GORE. The process proved to be more trouble than expected as the album was recorded once in Florida and then by record company demand had to be re-recorded once more in California with Rnady Burns as the producer. While many tracks such as “Infernal Death” and “Baptized By Blood” had appeared on prior demos, half the tracks on SCREAM BLOODY GORE were completely new and therefore the album has an interesting range of primal to more sophisticated, albeit nowhere near as complex and crazy as DEATH would become with each subsequent release.

Point blank, SCREAM BLOODY GORE was a shout out to the metal universe that something new had emerged and that something was the equivalent to a nuclear bomb being dropped at a Bon Jovi concert turned horror movie where audience members’ body parts rained o’er the blood stained lands. And so it was. Death metal was born on 25 May, 1987 as SCREAM BLOODY GORE made its debut to an unsuspecting public that while unheard by the masses has only gained its legendary status as the following decades ensued. Like many metal fans, i myself had only come to experience the magic of DEATH in a posthumous Chuck Schuldner reality. Despite being the DEATH album with the least finesse, there’s a certain rawness and assured certainty in the powerful delivery that infuses the ethos of hardcore punk with the provident shock and awe for an entire branch of the metal universe to spiral off of. SCREAM BLOODY GORE has to be one of the most ferocious sonic attacks of all the 80s, taking the frenetic bantering of Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” and adding a sense of brutality and offensiveness never heard before. Much of the subject matter was inspired by horror movies such as “City Of The Living Dead,” The Beyond” and “Zombie” and Schuldner pummeled the senses with a sense of sonic horror hitherto unmatched.

When all is said and done, one can only bow down to the metal god that was Chuck Schuldner and pay reverence to his pivotal role in the great big bang of the death metal scene. Perhaps other acts such as Morbid Angel or Obituary would have eventually reached similar musical conclusions, but it was Chuck Schuldner who relentless strived to exercise extreme creativity that would ratchet every single album he touched into higher levels of musical expression in his ceaseless reach for the stars and beyond. While no one could ever conflate the magnanimous progressive achievements of albums such “The Sound Of Perseverance” with DEATH’s earliest offerings, there is also no denying that no one quite dished out the old death school charm like Schuldner did on SCREAM BLOODY GORE with not only its landmark old school death metal cover art but also with the pummeling guitar riffs, the frenetic skin punishing percussion or the grim growly gusto of Schuldner’s vocal style.

While this debut may not be the my first album of choice for repeated listens out of the septet of DEATH’s canon, it is clearly the one that deserves the most respect for paving the way for everything death metal related to follow and remains as enigmatic today as it must’ve sounded all those decades ago. THIS is truly one of those “must hear before you die” sort of albums not only for its immortal legendary status of ushering in one of the most popular metal styles of the 90s but must be experienced for its punishing ear assaults that crank out one addictive mutilated groove after another. After recording SCREAM BLOODY GORE, Schuldner would move back to Florida leaving Reifert behind as he would opt to remain in California to create his own band Autopsy. And so the tradition of a new lineup for every album was born along with an entirely new subgenere that continues to evolve in a post-Schuldner world but still carries on his musical DNA in the tapestry of every fiber of the death metal universe.

GIGAN Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescense

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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GIGAN (ガイガン) took a five year hiatus from the studios but after fan speculation as to whether or not Godzilla finally won the final battle, the mystery is solved as the Tampa, FL tech death metal champs release their fourth album UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE, which once again finds founder and main creative director Eric Hersemann ushering in yet another new lineup of the band. While drum abuser in chief Nathan Cotton joins the cast for a reprise following 2013’s “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science,” vocalist Ethan Browne is out and newbie Jerry Kavouriaris is in. However, to be honest despite the rotating cast of vocalists and musicians since the band’s inception, all manage to fit their respective roles perfectly and therefore one would be hard pressed to differentiate one vocalist’s ghoulish growls from another.

While tech death metal bands in the 21st century are aplenty and many fade into the generic backdrop of this boisterous and noisy nook of the musical universe, GIGAN (ガイガン) have proved themselves as rising above the din drudgery and taking the extreme metal by storm with their utterly unique mix of tech death chops, jittery angularities of mathcore style guitar riffage all packaged with dissonant Gorguts styled progressive freeform compositions laced with exuberant brumes of psychedelic haziness glistening over the bombastic aggressiveness that will somewhat bring other avant-garde noisemakers Pyrrhon, Portal or Cephalic Carnage to mind but only in a “nearest family tree” sorta way.

GIGAN (ガイガン) had been ramping up both their progressive and aggressive metal assaults on each subsequent album and IMHO peaked with their approach on their previous album “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science” with their hyperdrive relentless speed, churning angularities and psychedelic infusions that created the perfect speed metal mediation session. Hersemann steers his plangent progified beast into somewhat new directions with UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE. One of the most noticeable differences is the abstaining of speed of light tech antics for the entirely of the space metal roller coaster ride.

While Cotton has proved himself to be one of those unbelievably blitzkrieg fast types of drummers who can navigate the percussive constructs like a caffeinated squirrel with an adrenaline rush, on this one he is much more selective in how he unleashes his fury. In fact, much of the time the drumming is more akin to sludge metal bands like EyeHateGod or post-metal bands like Isis. Same goes for the down-tuned guitars and overall feel of the album. It seems that there were no new limits to breach and the only place to go was to retreat to some sort of more familiar grounds and therefore the tempos have been tamed with speedy outbursts only occurring for periods of contrast. “Ocular Wavelength’s Floral Obstructions” is the perfect example of this. A down-tuned distortion-fest that runs the gamut of chilled out distorted heavy sludge metal that jumps into tech death overdrive and back.

While poising themselves more into an accessible arena that allow certain segments to breath, GIGAN (ガイガン) perhaps are trying to widen their appeal for only a small sliver of us freaks thoroughly enjoy music that pushes the triumvirate aspects of tech metal, progressive constructs and psychedelic detachment to break orbit into freeform destruction, but personally i find that is exactly what GIGAN (ガイガン) achieved with resounding success. For me UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE is somewhat of a step down as far as exploration of taking the aforementioned elements to their extremes. Having disconnected from the world’s consciousness being achieved, it seems GIGAN (ガイガン) is more susceptible to finding that happy medium between freeform freedom and audience connection.

As with all GIGAN (ガイガン) albums, UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE requires a number of listens to really sink in for even hardcore and jaded prog saturated metalheads such as myself can barely grasp this on a single spin. There are simply too many elements to keep track of and only patience can yield the proper results even if the process is equivalent to taking a census of hostile asteroids hurling through space in myriad directions. My first impression was of disappointment with the new stylistic approach but subsequent listens have me more impressed with the diversity that has blossomed from the new developments. Jazz infused tech drum rolls still grace the angular sonicscape, the expected guitar squeals still there but simply surrounded by less frenetic Gorguts-ish avant-garde sludgery. Yes, it grew on me. Another winner.

MOTORPSYCHO Lobotomizer

Album · 1991 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 4 ratings
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MOTORPSYCHO is one of Norway’s most prolific and diverse sounding bands having racked up much critical acclaim for their ambitious stream of never-ending albums that feature genre-blending stylistic approaches and are most recognized in the world of progressive rock. However in the beginning when the band was founded by vocalist / bassist Bent Saether, guitarist / vocalist Hans Magnus Ryan and original drummer Kjell Runar Jensaen, the band was firmly grounded in the alternative heavy metal and grunge that was taking over the world in the early 90s. After a couple of warm-up demos, MOTORPSYCHO made their debut in 1991 with LOBOTOMIZER which found the band at their rawest, least progressive and as the cover suggests rooted in a stoner-tinged psychedelia or more appropriately called stoner metal.

LOBOTOMIZER fits somewhere in the murky area between hard rock, grunge and alternative metal. Most resembling Soundgarden in their earliest years with heavily distorted down-tuned guitar riffing, chunky bass and that now famous grungy drum along stylistic percussive drive, MOTORPSYCHO also exhibit a heavy speedy drive that keeps the music churning along with only a couple tracks like “Wasted” and “Eternity” slowing things down a few notches. While the heavy rock still retains a rather bluesy compositional approach not dissimilar to Alice In Chains, Melvins or Monster Magnet, the band was already a little more sophisticated than the average grunge band even at the very beginning with more dynamic compositional approaches that were displaying progressive tendencies albeit unfulfilled.

While most of LOBOTIMIZER is on hard rock overdrive, “Eternity” stands out as one of their most psychedelic offerings with lush acoustic guitar strumming, electronic swirling effects reminding me a bit of Hawkwind and more tripped out electric guitar antics. “Hogwash,” one of their crowd favorites in live performances extends over eight minutes and provides a cool psychedelic jam that utilizes a heavily distorted guitar groove and Geir Nilsen’s guest appearance on Hammond organ bringing a veritable 60s vibe to the table. The best and most accomplished track is reserved as the the closer with the near twelve minute “TFC” which takes both aspects of heavy grungy rock and psychedelia and churns out a lengthy mind bending trip into the alternative promised land with all kinds of Krautrock-ish freakouts thus flaunting their freak flag creds.

While LOBOTOMIZER is heavily steeped in the early 90s regalia of grunge and alternative metal, it’s clear in retrospect albeit probably not at the time that MOTORPSYCHO was more sophisticated than the average grunge band on the block. Snuck into the mix was the use of violins and other sound affects to augment the trippiness effect and the interesting mixes themselves evoked an extreme sense of thoughtfulness absent from the major players of the day. While MOTORPSYCHO would score big in their native Norway all throughout their alternative 90s years, success would escape their clutches on a global scale. Although LOBOTOMIZER is often ranked as the band’s weakest effort, i find this to be a truly satisfying slice of early 90s alternative metal / grunge that offers a lot more sophistication than the average Nirvana album for sure. Will Saether’s vocal antics evoke the 90s, Ryan’s guitar feedback and fuzz just as easily bring the 60s to the forefront. Perhaps not their best but not one to be skipped either.

GIGAN Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery and Super Science

Album · 2013 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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GIGAN (ガイガン) forge ahead and create another dose of 21st century technical space death metal on their third album MULTI-DIMENSIONAL FRACTAL-SORCERY AND SUPER SCIENCE. And as the name implies this is indeed a twisted space age fantasy world run amok fortified by the marriage of pummeling brutal progressive death metal bathed in an icy cold space ambience that offers a glimpse into the farthest reaches of the galaxy as if the sonic resonance of an obliterated world had somehow transmitted its fractal based coding into musical form.

GIGAN (ガイガン) for all intents and purposes is really the baby of Eric Hersemann who covers most ground here. He contributes guitar, bass, synthesizers, theremin, xylophone, lyrics and production. Album number three finds two new members join ranks as Nathan Cotton replaces Kesava Doane as drum abuser in chief and Eston Browne taking the vocal parts away from John Collett II. Despite the new team players on this surreal death metal galactic journey, the band continues undeterred as GIGAN (ガイガン) spawns one of their most brutal, most progressive and most surreal psychedelic space metal releases of their career.

MULTI-DIMENSIONAL FRACTAL-SORCERY AND SUPER SCIENCE is in effect a refinement of the style that GIGAN (ガイガン) had begun to develop on their debut EP “Footsteps Of Gigan,” that being a definitive style of pummeling brutal yet technical death metal that utilizes aspects of math rock angularity with ridiculously jittery and unrelenting progressive time signature deviations yet soars along at a million miles an hour in a rather calculated manner. Sandwiched in between tracks is the sonic iridescence of frigid spaced out ambience that at it’s most intimidating sounds much like when a CD is skipping and when at its most placid more like a space fog or some sort of precognizant whale song being sorted out deep within a beluga’s brain.

Either way, the underlying psychedelic ambience seems to anchor the brutality thus keeping it navigating in a comprehensible stream rather than lash out viciously in unpredictable behaviors although the riffs crest out in peaks and troughs like schizophrenic sine waves on steroids. While classified as death metal due to the unintelligible animalistic bantering, screams and guttural growls, the guitar takes many liberties as once it establishes a clear path of ear canal destruction with pummeling extreme metal riffs, it takes little side journeys into angular alley with frenetic finger breaking workouts more akin to mathcore legends Psyopus or Behold….The Arctopus.

Hersemann had had extraordinary luck in attracting some of the most technically sophisticated drummers in his GIGAN (ガイガン) project with each ridiculously talented member dishing out one pummeling jazzy percussive variation after another as well as bantering blastbeats from the underworld and back. MULTI-DIMENSIONAL FRACTAL-SORCERY AND SUPER SCIENCE finds the overall sound of GIGAN (ガイガン) reaching its creative apex as the fragile production that melds the hyper-surreality of the ambience and the muddled ferocity of the technical death metal find the perfect unison which allows the hyper-frenetic sonic sadism to enter the realms of transcendental metal mediation especially when the seductive riffing repetitions offer the ultimate escape on the zenith of this ultimate GIGAN (ガイガン) album experience.

TRAUN Deleted Scenes

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Ex-Estradasphere drummer Dave Murray’s TRAUN project only has three EPs that tell this tale:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

There are, however, four EPs that were released and the fourth one is titled DELETED SCENES which is exactly what the name says, a bunch of leftover tracks and various different drafts of tracks from the TRAUN trilogy.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon The Black Metal Princess Escape From Spa 9 DELETED SCENES (bonus tracks)

Musically DELETED SCENES runs the same gamut as the other EPs with frenetic shapeshifting of genres that are classical music one second, jazz the next and maybe even some downtempo or heavy metal thrown in. They not only take the expected genre blending into extreme arenas but they also often incorporate extreme avant-prog avenues with crazy time signature changes as well as sudden start / stop tempo changes. Everything from dynamics, genres, tempos and moods mix it all up and often.

Seriously unless you really adhere to the story on TRAUN MUSIC dot com then this is really just a fourth album because i can’t figure out from the music alone that any storyline exists behind it all. It’s one of those series where you can just enjoy the music or actually add more intrigue by delving into the actual meanings behind the accompanying sounds. While the other EPs hover around the 20 minute mark, this one actually extends past the 31 minute mark making it the longest of the four. This one is just as good as the others and if you want to check these out, you really need to go for the whole shebang. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

TRAUN Escape From Spa 9

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN MUSIC dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon

The Black Metal Princess

ESCAPE FROM SPA 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #3 - ESCAPE FROM SPA 9

This one doesn’t quite hit the 20 minute mark and most tracks are barely over a minute long but pack in an album’s worth of ideas at times. “The Deserts of Traun” begins the genre jumping journey with a sombre violin and classical piano in avant-garde fashion. “Making Haste” goes into frenetically paced jazz-fusion that alternates between slow and fast tempo. “Mayor Of Ghost Town” starts with a storm and a suspenseful mystery crime show theme style. This one has vocals and what sounds like a theremin. Police sirens and other noises jump in and out. “The Lone Coachman” spends a while in electronica land only to burst into heavy metal guitar riffing with an atmospheric backdrop droning away. “Pirate Stronghold” begins as a mellow classical string piece but turns into a cartoonish sounding form of accordion rock reminding me of Mr. Bungle.

“Lizardback” begins as a mellow acoustic guitar sequence that has a country vibe with slide guitar with some unexpected Tuvan throat singing. The title track is the longest and exceeds three minutes. It begins with some ambient noise and then bursts into crazy brutal prog with heavy guitars, electronic noises and ridiculously challenging time signatures. It goes through bursts of excitement and then calms down to nothing. The heaviest track on board and the most complex. “Vampire Invasion” is another classical / lounge jazz piano with violin in a tango type form. Some operatic vocals pop in from time to time with some death metal growls making an appearance at the end. “Flight Of The Water Baron” is a symphonic metal piece with heavy guitars, piano and then becomes a violin led classical piece and then they join forces. “The Fruitless Kingdom” is all over the place as well. Bouncy electronica cedes to mellow classical and then symphonic metal. “Mel’s Home” ends the short album with jazz funk keyboard riffs.

At this point i still find no sings of an overall theme that connects to the music but it really doesn’t matter. This music is like taking a long journey abridged into a short time span. This album is only 19 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

GIGAN Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes

Album · 2011 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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The beauty of the pummeling technically infused extreme metal of GIGAN (ガイガン) is that despite the band’s best efforts to unleash every possible form of sonic brutality in the playbook, somehow they create an underpinning that keeps drawing me back to explore their music on a deeper level in an almost subliminal nature. Well, come back i do and by doing so i have found GIGAN (ガイガン) creeping up on my list of favorite über-extreme musical acts as each subsequent listen ratchets them up the list ever so slightly more. And despite the almost shoegazy effect of juggling the tech death metal elements with grindcore, progressive rock and dark space ambience that hypnotize as well as bombastically lambaste, GIGAN (ガイガン) prove they have the musical hook equivalents of the arch-enemy of Godzilla in the movie that was the first foe to inflict damage on our favorite walking lumpy lizard only the tortuous assault is tantamount to a sado-masochistic romp into the sonic assault world of this power trio from Tampa, FL, yeah the cradle of US death metal.

It took three years but the triumvirate power force of Eric Hersemann on bass, guitar, synthesizer, theremin, xylophone and newbies John Collett on growling death vocals with Kesava Doane as one of metal’s most technically skilled drummers rivaling the likes of Behemoth and Nile, return with a newly formed band that carried on mainman Hersemann’s tortuous metal antics and upgraded in pretty much every way while retaining the same identifiable features that were unleashed all the way back on 2007’s “The Footsteps Of GIGAN (ガイガン) EP.” The second album QUASI-HALLUCINOGENIC SONIC LANDSCAPES continues the sonic bombast and angular dissonance and takes the journey even further into uncharted GIGAN (ガイガン) territories.

While the monster in the movies was clearly land bound, this band of the same name is clearly aiming for the stars with their spaced out surreality as evident in their multi-syllabic song titles in the form of “Mountains Perched Like Beasts Awaiting the Attack,” “ Suspended in Cubes of Torment,” “The Raven and the Crow,” “In the Tentacled Grasp of a Buried Behemoth”, “Transmogrification Into Bio-Luminoid,” “Skeletons of Steel, Timber and Blackened Granite,” “Vespelmadeen Terror” and "Fathomless Echoes of Eternity's Imagination”

While the metal approaches would take a turn on the next album “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery and Super Science,” the underlying musical approach on QUASI remains the same. GIGAN (ガイガン) dishes out the expected pummeling brutality which is based on old school death metal conformity but expedites the onion effect with layers of realities that have a hierarchical level. While the brutal death metal attacks clearly takes precedence with their sonic supremacy, it seems that the underlying psychedelic suaveness of the theremin, synthesizers and atmospheric backdrop that only emerge in brief interludes between tracks and pauses within. The tension that is created between the utterly chilled and the bombastically frenetic is a very strange tension indeed much like eating fried ice cream in a vacuum packed anti-gravity chamber.

GIGAN (ガイガン) is certainly a tough nut to crack and only the most ambitious who crave the most ruthless metal assaults married with the angular avant-garde prog and nerdy space oriented sci-fi themes laid out in paramount elixir will dig this, because of the fact that this music is laced with avant-prog sensibilities and exhibited in full tech death metal regalia. The psychedelic accoutrements are displayed in not only the ambient backdrops between tracks but also in some of the extraordinarily weird guitar riffs that occur in the higher registers with iterating almost robotic whizzing up and down the scales somewhat reminding me of math metal wizards like Psyopus or Behold…. The Arctopus. Did i mention the drumming? Fucking phenomenal. My arms hurt just listening to this shit. Solid as a fucking rock. GIGAN (ガイガン)!!!!

TRAUN The Black Metal Princess

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon

THE BLACK METAL PRINCESS

Escape From Spa 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #2 - THE BLACK METAL PRINCESS

Each track has a storyline about how it relates to the concept. This is detailed in great artistic form on the TRAUN dot com website. This album, much like the Estradasphere albums Murray played on, runs the gamut of dreamy psychedelic ambience, electronic wizardry and heavy metal to bursts of jazz, folk and classical plus lots of ethnic influences as well. “The Voyage Home” begins with a mopey disoriented beat with guitars that sound like they’re going in and out of tune. Very soundtrack feeling as with “The Lilac Moon.” Ends with surf guitar incorporated. “Preparing The Pit” begins with sounds of an ominous storm but becomes echoey guitar with reverb. Piano and weirdness ensue with evil sounding vocalizations joining in and then metal guitar, bass and drums. These short tracks really are all over the place and nothing hangs around for too long.

“A Stranger In The Landing” jumps into avant-garde hard bop with a Latin flare. It quickly becomes symphonic prog and then adds heavy guitar and flutters around in freeform style. This second installment is much more surreal than the first and that’s saying something! Once again it’s amazing to realize that this is a huge project with thirteen musicians delivering rock (guitar, drums, bass, keys), classical (violin, viola, bassoon, cello, upright bass), folk (accordion, acoustic guitar, flute, mandolin) and jazz (baritone and tenor sax). “An Undisclosed Location” alternates between speakeasy lounge jazz, avant-prog and 60s psychedelic pop with a few spoken words to convey storyline details. “Looking For Clues” provides a marching band feel with military drums but becomes quirky and well, very weird! It goes all over the place with dreamy pianos, rock guitar, classical. Ideas last about five seconds on this one but it all strings together. This one actually lasts more than three minutes and goes through jazz, downtempo etc. “The Terrace Computer” begins as creepy ambience and then becomes angelic harp-like ambience. This one stays fairly consistent but still has outbursts of energy but remains fairly electronic oriented with guitar coming in.

“Miriaun Crossing” is a classical piano riff with violin and remains that way for the entire near two minute run! Very tranquil and a lull in the sonic storm that is this album! “Mel Function” jumps into a loungy jazz mode with a sultry sax and a rather normal sounding generic delivery and stays that way. “Passage Through The Mire” begins with crickets chirping and arpeggiated guitars creeping in with jittery electronica. It becomes ominous soundtrack type music with a sombre cello and raspy ghoulish vocals in the horizon but morphs again into rather Middle Eastern sounding rhythms but remains somewhat on a leash although rock beats. This is rather unique but conjures up a hellish overall feel that finally unleashes the black metal aspects although they only peek in before disappearing into the classical symphonic backdrop. Excellent orchestration here with even some surf guitar coming in at the end. The title track ends with a mellow folky vibe orchestrated with piano and harp that picks up with black metal elements and freaky ghoulish vocals. This album is only 22 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

TRAUN The Lilac Moon

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

THE LILAC MOON

The Black Metal Princess

Escape From Spa 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #1 - THE LILAC MOON

Each track has a storyline about how it relates to the concept. This is detailed in great artistic form on the TRAUN dot com website. This album, much like the Estradasphere albums Murray played on, runs the gamut of dreamy psychedelic ambience, electronic wizardry and heavy metal to bursts of jazz, folk and classical plus lots of ethnic influences as well. Just within the first track “The Crystal Caverns” many of these genres are present. However while the first track is more on the aggressive side, the second in line “Aervallis” is more of an airy Celtic folk song with busy Disney-esque classical leanings that leap into heavy progressive rock and back to dreamy folk. It takes no time at all to realize this is a huge project with thirteen musicians delivering rock (guitar, drums, bass, keys), classical (violin, viola, bassoon, cello, upright bass), folk (accordion, acoustic guitar, flute, mandolin) and jazz (baritone and tenor sax).

“The Broken Barge” continues with a speakeasy jazz lounge feel while “Inn Of The Dreaded Hippy” is right out of the Mr Bungle playbook with crazy keyboard workouts and time signature rich prog jumping in and out of metal with every other crazy idea thrown in for good measure. “The Thieving Wall” only continues the eclectic output with crazy heavy prog rhythms angularly darting out all over the place at breakneck speed with a slight surf rock vibe. Sort of like Secret Chiefs 3 on steroids. “Greywater Hideaway” is sombre and piano rich as well as slow and sumptuous and short like all the track which all hover around the two minute mark with the exception of the opener which hits three. The title track is flute rich prog folk rock track with more Celtic feels while “Errands Of Captain Yargh” is an explosive death metal explosion with industrial overtones.

“The Old Road” is back to prog folk only in a love affair downtempo electronica. “Valeriana” begins with mandolin and sounds like Renaissance music but quickly incorporates heavy rock guitar stomping and then morphs into classical soundtrack music. Damn, it’s hard to keep up with this ever-changing sonic feast! “Brig To Nowhere” begins with a pulsating electronic noise with a guitar playing in mono in the background but it becomes extreme metal guitar chugging with steady riffing but morphs into more progressive technicalities. Occasional breaks reveal a symphonic backdrop. “Embers In Snowfall” is a slow ambient folk outro. This album is only 21 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

OZZY OSBOURNE Black Rain

Album · 2007 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 20 ratings
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After 1988’s “No Rest For The Wicked,” the record company started cleaning up OZZY OSBOURNE’s bad boy image, which hard to believe by the standards of the 21st century, was quite the iconoclastic rage in the 80s with every televangelist and religious pundit lambasting the madman as public enemy #1 in the fight against moral deprivation and Satanic influences in popular music. This rebranding began with 1991’s “No More Tears” which after two decades of occult imagery and bat head biting antics depicted a clean and sombre OSBOURNE with an angel wing sprouting from his shoulder sporting a look of contemplative retrospectiveness. This was about the point when new high tides of heavy metal music were sprouting off from the parent source like a big bang and suddenly OSBOURNE’s role as heavy metal innovator suddenly shifting to godfather status where his legendary status as a solo artist and as lead singer with Black Sabbath overshadowed any musical contributions from this point on.

“No More Tears” also proved to be a huge commercial success proving that the OZZMAN could reinvent himself after his initial peak with Randy Rhoads and after this point he would never look back and try to repeat those years of classical innovation but instead veer off into the world of his Sabbath roots updated into a more alternative perspective but never missing the mark of OZZY’s quirky idiosyncratic nature. From this point forward, albums were mere supplemental to the hugely successful Ozzfest that institutionalized big ticket multi-band arena metal for the rest of time and in all of the 90s only the studio album “Ozzmosis” would find its way into the hands of fans. As the touring of OZZY’s rich canon of material continued to attract new followers, OSBOURNE’s interest in new music was so tamped down that he only released 2001’s “Down To Earth” and then only by the constant demands of his record label. And that’s where everything began to change forever!

Soon thereafter, OSBOURNE would go where no hostile preacher or heavy metal fan of his 1980s heyday would have ever suspected and that was into the world of reality TV in a show aptly called The Osbournes which starred his entire family thus essentially becoming The Brady Bunch of the 21st century and giving the good ole USA a much needed upgrade in portraying the national family values that had been stuck in rut from decades past not to mention a major boost for an MTV that lost its way many years prior. The show was a major hit and lasted a total of four seasons and showcased OSBOURNE more as a worn out drugged out family guy as opposed to the rock’n’roll rebel from another era. Of course between the hit series and the lucrative touring schedule meant OSBOURNE was not motivated in the least to release new material and during the show’s tenure the only album to hit the market was the repugnant cover album titled “Under Cover.”

At long last in 2007 a new album saw the light of day and OSBOURNE’s 10th studio album BLACK RAIN was released and took on a more serious tone than any albums that preceded. Proving that OSBOURNE’s cult of personality was solidified for time immemorial, the album debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts despite mediocre critique and a mere drop in the sea of music that had become a veritable metal universe of diversification. The album was released with two covers. In the US it came out in a brown cardboard slipcase with only a stylized log of OSBOURNE’s name whereas elsewhere a dark image of OSBOURNE standing under a stormy sky, getting soaked while fires burn in the background. BLACK RAIN saw the return of Zakk Wylde on guitars while Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin stuck around after the nauseating “Under Cover.” A new bassist in the form of Rob “Blasko” Nicholson was recruited and a new lineup was born.

Despite the seven year gap, BLACK RAIN sounds much like its predecessor “Down To Earth” with Sabbath infused traditional doom metal riffing more tailored for the alternative metal crowds presented in a bouncy stomping grind albeit with a considerably more robust production and mixing job than any album in the past. The liberal use of dynamics and stereophonic techniques gives BLACK RAIN a healthy boost of crunchy metal riff distortion with clever uses of silence as well as instrumentation and synthesized embellishments that seamlessly blend together making BLACK RAIN a seemingly exact science in perfect heavy metal extraction. Songwise, this album is another matter altogether. The album starts off with three exquisitely strong tracks. “Not Going Away,” “I Don’t Wanna Stop” and “Black Rain” which all hearken to OSBOURNE’s past both melodically and lyrically but with an upgrade in sophistication. They blast onto the scene and shout out that OZZY is back with a vengeance alongside Zakk Wylde delivering one heavy bluesy metal groove after another with the expected soloing and technical bombast with the title track even finding OZZY play the harmonica, something he hadn’t done since his Sabbath days.

The rest of the album is somewhat of a mixed bag though. BLACK RAIN contains the suspected ballads: “Lay Your World On Me” and “Here For You” which are particularly sappy and lackluster even by OZZY’s standards. While the rest of the tracks are classic heavy metal sounding they lack the oomf of the three standouts that lead the pack. “The Almighty Dollar” has a nice bass groove with interesting production and the remaining tracks are all decently done but OSBOURNE definitely sounds like he’s settled down and no longer interested in creating the most outrageous and earsplitting music possible. While once the madman turned in the godfather. This sounds more like the godfather has taken the next step and become the grandfather of heavy metal and that is by no means a bad thing. Having nothing to prove, OSBOURNE instead proudly does what he does best and that is create guitar riff driven metal that center around his poetic critique of the world around him which in this case takes on corporate capitalism, environmentalism as well as declarative stances that he’ll NEVER leave the metal world.

BLACK RAIN while a mere footnote in the lengthy and successful career that OSBOURNE has enjoyed for several decades (he was almost 60 at the time of recording) is by no means a throwaway album as it has plenty of interesting tracks to warrant an inclusion in anyone’s heavy metal collection. While it’s true that this one will do little to attract younger fans who haven’t already jumped on the bandwagon, neither will it cause anyone to jump ship in disdain. In the end, BLACK RAIN does play it a little too safe in many ways and i could personally jettison the ballads but the album sustains a driving grind from the beginning despite tapering off towards the end. The album could’ve used another strong track or two but for what it is, i have listened to this one many times and the tracks that have struck me as good continue to get better. OSBOURNE proved he can continue on well into the 21st century and although most likely retired from breaking any new grounds hardly shows any signs of falling of his godfather precipice any time soon either.

VARIOUS ARTISTS (GENERAL) Metal Madness: Vol. 1

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Metal Related Genres
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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VARIOUS ARTISTS - METAL MADNESS: Vol. 1 https://wisteriatn.bandcamp.com/album/metal-madness-vol-1

Rate Your Music's own Abishai Smith is back for another huge colossus of a project on his newly created Wisteria Records and this time he’s not holding back (um, well maybe he never has!). While it’s hard to believe, Bishopboy1999 (his site user name) puts out a punishing behemoth of a compilation in the form of METAL MADNESS: Vol 1 which includes a whopping 66 tracks by no less than 39 artists from all over the globe spanning the entire subgenre aisles at your friendly metal superstore. Yeah, that’s right. You name it. Progressive, death, black, sludge, technical, screamo. It’s all here! Ok, sorry you glam metal lovers. That didn’t make the final editing sessions. The album swallows up 388 minutes of your life to get through but when all is said and done…. THIS FUCKING COMP ROCKS!!! Although it took me only a mere two months to sift through ten tracks at a time for a few listens. It was definitely worth it as there are indeed MANY metal bands with great talent out there lurking in the shadows. Do yourself a favor and check them out on this handy one-stop listening center.

The comp starts off with two tracks from the sequencer and MIDI based POSITRON (France) which harnesses elements of black metal and industrial to create hyperactive little electro-metal pieces. The music is based more on the industrial elements with a rather polished metal backing. OK, but not my favorite style of metal.

HEDNINGER (Canada) brings the headbanging elements on board with a rather Amon Amarth-esque take on melodic death metal with Viking march styled melodies, soaring guitar riffs and pummeling percussive drive with a nicely placed bass part that doesn’t get buried in the din. The vocals are angry and shouted with emphatic warlike charge. Three tracks from these guys.

THRASHING MOSSDOG (US) takes the brutality to the next level with some stellar brutal death metal that offers a unique mix with blackgaze as a pummeling death oriented guitar riffs and percussion ascend from a blackhole of noise haze with the vocals screaming and still barely emerging from the gravitational pull of the chaotic din. Compositionally the track sounds more like black metal as well, so this is some sort of blackened deathgaze, perhaps? Cool stuff. 2 tracks from these guys.

Next up, SCOREDATURA (Australia), uh whaaat? Do you know what datura is? It’s a hallucinogenic drug that will make you jump off buildings and shit. And it sounds like this is the soundtrack! Taking a completely different detour, this band pumps out 2 tracks of fine djent-rification laden progressive instrumental metal with sizzling neoclassical guitar solos, thoughtful compositions and sounds like something that would’ve emerged on the Shrapnel Records label had it come out two decades prior as it’s prime finger melting wankery of the highest calibre. Animals As Leaders fanatics will eat this up!

THE BLUE PRISON (US) aka Keigo Yoshida only contributes one track but what a killer one it is! What would i call this? Sounds totally unique. “Patriot” is characterized by a military march percussive style, sizzling neoclassical shredding techniques and a tear inducing ambient synthesized background that evokes the fallen angels haunting the heavens above. The guitar work is absolutely outstanding and the emotional tugs are equally compelling. One of my favorite tracks on the entire comp. Thematically chilling and technically executed to perfection.

Next up, MOLEKH (Ireland). Now these guys have conjured up some of the absolutely wickedest sounding metal since Deathspell Omega scared the shit out of us with their trilogy of jangly Satanic liturgies over ten years ago. This band pummels with unrelenting percussion, similarly scary jangly atonal guitar riffs and franticly possessed shouted vocals that sound like several exorcisms ravaging the vocalist at the same time. The atmosphere is just plain creepy with strange theremin type guitar runs creating strange sounding effects. MOLEKH is another favorite discover as they have nailed the creepy technical black war metal sound like very few have. A true talent i’m anxious to hear more from.

LIGHT DWELLER (US) follows with four tracks of brutal blackened death metal mayhem. A great followup with similarly blackgazy death metal pummelation of unrelenting percussive fury, downtuned guitar string abuse, tortured shouted vocals and technically challenging compositions that allow harsh dissonance and steady stream rhythms to bombard the senses with the occasional break into bleak bouts of slowed down guitar parts for contrast. They also utilize the creepy atonal jangle guitar effect for maximum brainfuckery and it soooo works. Their debut EP is called “Nullity Of Light” but their music could easily fall into the “Nullity Of Sanity” category as well. I love it!!

Named after a birth defect in which the baby’s intestines extend outside the body, GASTROSCHISIS (US) deliver a short one track of pure adrenaline goregrind with the expected adrenaline infused grotesque nature that one would expect. Fast and furious and to the point.

DEVICE (Brazil) offer 4 tracks of an old school death metal sound bringing more of a classic era Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse or Bolt Thrower style to the table. Superbly executed with snarling vocal growls, classically themed deathened drum rolls and nicely delivered guitar riffs from below hell with a semi-melodic underpinning. Evil yet just enough sweetener to get through. Nice.

FRAYED ALIVE (US) deliver one track of brutal slam death metal goods on “To Dwell In Time” with deep growled unintelligible vocals the almost sound like a demonic frog croaking with subdued guitar riffs, blastbeat percussion and nice atmospheric passages that make this sound quite unique. A nice mix of dark ambient, sludge metal tempos and death metal overall feel. Awesomely evil sounding!

THE HORN (Australia) deliver a strange blackgazy sort of metal with “Spell 8” that has a heightened dark ambient fuzz with a murky mix of heavy black metal riffs, tales from the crypt vocals and a relentless percussive driven groove that allow a subdued melodic guitar run to creep through the sonic brume. “Spell 30a” follows suit but offers Egyptian sounds similar to Nile only these guys are more groove oriented in a weird galloping way. “Child In Time” is completely different as it covers the classic 1970 Deep Purple song and completely brings it up to date. Beginning with a demonic spoken word intro it slowly ratchets up both the dark ambient melodic backdrop as well as the ever encroaching guitar presence until it bursts into full metal fury. The keyboard work is extremely impressive. This is one helluva cover track! These guys are another favorite. This is another outstanding evil as fuck sounding band that released an astonishing number of albums dedicated to The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Three tracks from these guys.

NTIZKVM (Philippines) kill it with a primeval lo-fi indie sounding war metal track with “Dark Ends Of Eternity.” Sloppy guitar and drum action, psycho killer vocal ranting. All the makings of a great underground kvlt classic. Particular interesting is the drummer’s use of cymbals which accompany the pummeling blastbeats. Nice blackened journey into the underworld!

NON EST DEUS (Germany) only present one track but at nearly 10 minute long is one of the longest of the compilation. Another black metal band although this one reminds me more of the second wave 90s bands like Rotting Christ with a steady fast beat but not blastbeats. The vocals very much remind me of Hellenic black metal as do the guitar riffs which are rather boogie-woogie oriented like AC/DC on speed. While i’m reminded of those other bands, this is really rather unique in how it’s presented. Very digestible for black metal as it’s melodic but also badass. Kinda has a Violent Femmes folk punk groove to it as well.

Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa (France) immediately brings Metallica’s “One” to mind as the opener seems to simulate the opening riff of that track and when i see the name of the track is “The Exalted Ones,” it almost seems like a given that that intro was used as the basis for its development however don’t worry because it branches off into totally different arenas. This is atmospheric black metal and sounds like it. Buzzsaw guitar distortion at mid tempo. Creepy deranged vocals and a dark ambient fuzz. Melodic with tremolo guitar parts. Kinda has a touch of Doors psychedelia in the keyboard department. The guitar becomes thrashy at times. Also becomes very noisy and changes things up including an unexpected sax presence toward the middle. Cool track.

CULTOR NOCTIS (Belgium) continue the black metal streak with more dungeon synth oriented bleakness. Quite a downer and depressive with guttural howling of keyboards with downtuned guitar arpeggios that lead. Brings Sweden’s Shining to mind as the actual metal kicks in but while Shining is a slower drudging band, these guys aren’t afraid to unleash some wicked speed and heft in their depressive black metal. Nice chord changes offer a semi-progressive metal workout. The subdued frigid vocals convey the ultimate nadir of bleakness. Very effective.

THERESIA (Japan then Canada) offer another dose of depressive black metal only with higher octane and more agression. The percussion pummels the blastbeats, the tortured vocals scream from the pits of hell while the buzzsaw guitar. While the track plods along in a straight forward manner, i have to say that the violent vocals pleas make this the most unhinged track on the entire comp.

INNER SUFFERING (Ukraine) continue the depressive black metal show with four tracks characterized by heavy drumming, atmospheric backdrop, jangly dissonant guitar riffs and a doom laden dirge effect which offers an interesting hybridization of styles. More subdued screaming vocals from the pits of hell. While stylistically similar, the lengthy near twelve minute “Slow Dance On The Ashes Of Failure” take a funeral doom metal detour with echoey doomgazey ambience and slow dirge driven tempos glazed with atmospheric gloom that takes a lengthy journey into the darkness and never relents as it becomes slower and darker and even bleaker and more depressive. Oh god. Keep me away from that gun!

SADAEL (Armenia) continues the dirge driven doom laden melancholy with dissonant guitars and bleak atmospheres conjuring grim reapers for dark rituals in a near ten minute dark march into a mid-tempo metal excursion. The semi-spoken, semi-growled vocals provide a rather grim narrative of sort that exacerbates the darkness. One one track from the Armenians.

MOONDWELLER (Russia) provides another two tracks of atmospheric black metal that takes more than a few cues from Darkspace with thick atmospheric complexities and heavy pummeling guitar riff based black metal aggression. Instrumentally this is well executed but the production seems a little off for my tastes. The keyboards have a rather cheery vibe to them that clashes with the metal aspects.

DONARHALL (Germany) continues the atmospheric black metal but only one track with more emphasis on the atmospheric part as it straddles along with arpeggiated guitar chords heavily amplified for a lengthy period of time before breaking into black metal bombast mode. Honestly, this one is a little too generic for my tastes and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the legions of similar sounding acts.

COMA (Austria) brings back the depressive blackgaze with wrenching heavy distortion only the oddest vocals are delivered on at the 14 minute plus “Dance, Burning Butterly” with guest Narbengrund (of Totengeflüster) who sounds more like a Goth rock singer instead of the expected raspy evil sounding vocals associated with black metal. The track turns into a weird noisy psychedelic trip with a faint piano providing some sort of melody but then when the metal returns it becomes angry, bombastic with stomping power chords and furious growls from the pits of hell. This track continues to alternate between a sort of sound collage with clean arpeggiated guitar and the distorted black metal. Pretty cool. Their second track “Ghosting” sticks to the atmospheric black metal with the deranged growly vocals, dark ambient backdrop and heavy buzzsaw guitar. The time signatures are quite progressive though. This is another favorite band of this comp.

REMOTE (Russia) dish out one track of heavy duty sludge metal that marches around at a mid-tempo stomp with nice beefy type distortion and screamed vocals that bring a sense of impending despair. The sludge riffs are thick like an oil spill on the ocean’s surface and the melodic prance brings a quickened Black Sabbath vibe to the forefront. Nice filthy raw sludge metal here.

DEKONSTRUKTOR (Russia) delivers another dose of Russkiy sludge metal from the land of frozen tundra and vodka. Their one track takes a more lo-fi approach and a high energy galloping guitar riff and heavy percussion that makes this one border on death metal however the vocal style is definitely in the same camp as sludge metal bands such as Neurosis or Eyehategod. Nice aggressive sludge metal albeit nothing tremendously out of the ordinary either.

SMOKE (US) deliver another one track of American sludge metal all the way from the sludgy swamps of southern Louisiana. The track “BMF” makes me think “Big Monster Fuck” as the sludgy creeping guitar riffs that allow as much sustain as possible slowly build up for full attack. The track builds up to more of stoner metal vibe in the vein of Kyushu but the vocals take it to the twisted world of black metal as raspy vocals scream from the abyss. Nice.

SUNDRIFTER (US) dials things down a bit from the extreme metal universe but continues the stoner vibe as a tribal drum starts things off. The heavily distorted guitar has a Sabbath sort of feel as do the bluesy shuffles. The vocals are what ground it to the stoner rock world as they are clean and sound a bit like Jim Morrison of The Doors. This band sounds more like Danzig than a bona fide metal band but the heavy guitar, bass and drum are ferocious enough to get them in this club.

THE SLEEPER (Germany) changes the direction with their one track into the world a more progressive metal sound with a rather alternative Alice In Chains sound from the “Dirt” era. In fact Steven Jost’s intro vocals sounds very much like Lane Staley but the track takes on a heavier melodic metalcore stance as the Between The Buried And Me type style merges with a Linkin Park sort of piano riff. This is an interesting mix between alternative metal, metalcore and even touches of nu metal.

yrs. (Germany) is one of those newer band that just refuses to use capital letters in their name. What’s up with that guys? These guys dish out two tracks of eerie atmospheric sludge metal with depressive background ambience, a melodic guitar riff attack and anguished vocals screaming from the abysmal bottom of hell. The band name makes me think “years” which brings to mind some sort of sentencing and condemnation to a jail cell in some dark torturous location. If the tag depressive sludge metal existed, i’d definitely use that since this is a sludge metal equivalent to the anguished black metal of Shining and similar bands. We get two tracks from this band.

EMPRESS (Canada) cranks out four tracks of their unique style of atmospheric sludge metal which has a more evil sort of take on 90s Neurosis. They provide a heavy distorted groove, tribal drumming patterns, gazy atmospheric mix and a subdued shouting vocal effect emerging from beneath the heavy distorted din. When the guitar drops the incredibly evil sounding bass is allowed to shine which is my favorite instrument for these guys. Bouts of shoegaze type psychedelic meandering also occur. With four tracks they are one track away from featuring their entire debut EP “Reminiscence.” While sounding a bit like a more aggressive version of Neurosis, these guys have a firm command of their murky atmospheres married with heavy guitar sludgery. Nice tones they achieve and the instruments don’t bleed into each other too much leaving enough independence to be heard. Definitely an up and coming talent here.

APE CAVE (US) continues the sludge metal attack with a progressive edge with heavy guitar riffs that have an angular edge unleashing jittery time signatures and an edgy sort of percussive bombast. In fact the drummer is highly skilled with blitzkrieg lightning fast drum rolls. The vocals alternate between depressive clean and anguished angry growled screams. Their one track alternates from clean guitar led calmness to heavy distorted sludge outbursts. Nice attention paid to the details which makes this a pleasant mix. Another up and coming band ate watch out for.

TALLER THAN TREES (Belgium) provides two tracks of atmospheric sludge metal more in the post metal vein of bands like Isis and Pelican with repetitive grooves, lazy percussive backing and sludgy distortion. The vocals emerge as growly screams more in the vein of Eyehategod or early Neurosis. Not the most original band but passable. Needs work on variety the monotonous riffs become generic.

BESTIA (Poland) continues the sludgefest with a fierce heavy dual guitar assault that allows a bassier riff to cruise along with a higher registered one. This is also a band that blurs the line between metal styles. While the guitar riffs are based in sludge metal, the growly vocals are more akin to old school death metal such as the Morbid Angel years. The tracks have a more melodic alternative metal sort of approach that sound a little like accessible 90s grunge however it’s all balanced very nicely as not to be too saccharin and have enough metal ballsy gusto to feel like i want to run down the streets beating my chest and growling like a fucking animal! Nice semi-dissonant arpeggios and just off enough to have an edge yet grounded in traditional compositional structures. These guys have an instantly addictive mix of styles that will remind everyone of some band or other but really don’t sound like any other. Nice two tracks from the Poles.

LEFT TO WITHER (France) offers one of my least favorite types of metal hybridization and yeah that means screamo, an offshoot of hardcore punk meets math rock but this may be that i haven’t really delved to deeply into this little nook of the hardcore universe. It’s usually the vocals that drive me away (and i’m saying that as an extreme metal fanatic.) OK, on this French band’s two tracks, we indeed get a nerdy math rock that is heavily distorted with the expected unintelligible emotional outbursts that in this case emerge as the expected angry screams. Touches of atmospheric sludge metal make this a littler more digestible for me. Heavy sludge riffing, hardcore drum assault and a decent amount of slide guitar and interesting changes make this a nice set of headbangin’ hardcore.

SATURNIST (Finland) present just one track on this comp but these Finn’s know how to make an impact with this almost twelve minute doomfest. These guys take the traditional doom metal route with immediate Black Sabbath connections from the getgo as the tintinnabulation of bells and a bass gently usher in an incrementally more aggressive stance. The riffs are very Sabbathy as they churn on but close to the three minute mark a distorted atmospheric break allowed guitar sustain to transmogrify the music into a more 90s based doom metal not unlike Candlemass or Saint Vitus. Although it takes almost five minutes to introduce the vocals, once they hit, they are nicely unique not sounding like any of the aforementioned influences and instead convey more of a clean vocal style that sounds most like bands like Slough Feg rather than a doom metal band but it’s a nice contrast. Although the track plods along, this is indeed a nicely done doom metal track although not really groundbreaking in any way.

DEATHBELL (France) delivers the next round of doom metal with the expected nonchalant flows of distorted guitar riffs, lazy percussive backing and gloomy marches to infinity. What’s not expected is the vocal style of Lauren Gaynor who makes use of a high clean vocal style that is melodic and rises above the bass heavy instrumentation. Over their two tracks, they implement Sabbath-esque chord changes only dragged out into near funeral doom arenas but yet retain a sort of Kyuss styled stoner vibe to the mix. Rather catchy for doom metal but delivers all the doomy, gloomy goods.

SWALLOWED WHOLE (US) provide a rather unique soundscape on their one track. Straddling somewhere in the ether mix of black, industrial and death doom metal, this Seattle based band deliver an ominous assault on the senses with somewhat catchy melodic riffs that have a black metal guitar, a cymbal laden percussive backing and a freaky deep gargling vocal style. The melody is somewhat catchy but kind of teeters in and out of tune in an apparent dissonant / consonant tug-of-war. With a name like SWALLOWED WHOLE, their unique sound does kind of convey that they recorded this track at least in the belly of a whale! Now wouldn’t THAT make a killer recording studio? LOL

V.H. CLEANER (Australia) is the odd band out on the mix. They really aren’t a metal band at all but rather are more known for vaporware, plunderphonics, electronic and dark ambient. However, here they do implement some mean guitar distorted riffs that although echoing and writhing about like land locked octopi, they do provide a darkened ominous assault on the senses. A very short track that not exactly metal still fits the overall vibe.

SZAR (US) deliver the only drone metal track on the comp. This Louisiana based act is really the alter ego of Thomas Dwayne Hargrave who plays all instruments but don’t get too impressed. Drone metal is the easiest metal to play with virtually zero effort, however it is about the right atmospheric dynamics and SZAR does provide a nice romp through glaciated guitar sustained distortion with minimal drumming and more chord changes and faster tempos than frozen in time acts like early Earth. Drone metal is not my favorite in the least but this is decent.

Our metal circus ringleader saves his own contribution for the very last and while that alone doesn’t surprise me, the fact that this is not metal at all really does. ABISHAI ends the long journey through this comp with a little bit of a pallet cleanser. Instead of dishing out yet one more dose of heavy guitar distortion and growly vocal attitudnal misalignment, Mr Smith ends with a dark ambient track titled “Immortality And Hatred Within The Zealots.” While i would’ve loved to hear ABISHAI’s own metal concoction, this one is a nice grounding piece that keeps the darkness churning on til the very end.

CONCLUSION: Bravo to Abishai for creating a fan-damn-tastic METAL MADNESS comp! I do hope that the VOLUME ONE part of the title refers to a future Volume Two and beyond because this dude has proven to be a veritable talent magnet that has turned me on to some totally ripping good times here. Granted there are ups and downs on this one and everyone who can fantasize what their favorite type of comp should be, probably has not worked through the painstaking processes of compiling what is available for them to work with. While i’m sure everyone could think of a better way to do it themselves, the fact is they didn’t and Abishai shows a mature way of compiling some veritable contemporary talents in the underground metal world. Sure i would’ve loved to hear more power metal, more thrash or even more technically based avant-garde weirdness but i do have to say that there is more than enough here to please any extreme metal fan even if they don’t dig every single track. Although some tracks are stronger than others, there are really no throwaways either. This was a pleasure to experience 66 tracks worth of dark underground metal even though it took me forever to get through it a few times. I mean, wow. This easily could’ve been broken up into six volumes, so this could easily be considered a box set of sort had it come out before the digital age. EXCELLENT album! More of these please ;)

ARENA Pepper's Ghost

Album · 2005 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.37 | 9 ratings
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Although only formed in 1995, ARENA had became one of the great prog revival bands of the decade by imitating Fish-era Marillion and then quickly latching onto a veritable sound of their own as Clive Nolan found a new niche away from his other neo-prog bands Pendragon and Shadowland. A decade after the formation of ARENA, the band changed up their sound yet again on their sixth album PEPPER’S GHOST which after many lineup changes in their earlier years emerged as the third album in a row with the same cast members. At this point the collaborative songwriting efforts of Clive Nolan (keys), Mick Pointer (drums) and John Mitchell (guitars) was in full swing as they once again as they independently created their own parts and then adapted them to a band setting which surprisingly combines well into another album of thoughtful constructs that deliver another epic concept album.

The concept of PEPPER’S GHOST revolves around five different individuals who travel through time to defeat a demon all of which is narrated through a comic book included in the packaging. For a tale so tall it connotes a stylistic upgrade in sound and on PEPPER’S GHOST, the band ramped up their decibalage and tempo to the point this blurs into heavy rock territory for much of the time without ever feeling like a metal album so i guess it could be considered heavy neo-prog or something of the sort. The term PEPPER’S GHOST comes from a projection technique developed by John Henry Pepper, a 19th century inventor whose technique casts the illusion of ghostly objects fading into and out of existence in a room but can also “magically” transform certain objects into totally different ones. How this term and storyline weave together is beyond me but arcane enough to accept blindly without question.

Musically PEPPER’S GHOST carries on where “Contagion” left off. There is no significant deviation to the stylistic approach, the interplay or any sort of song structures as with other albums, ARENA craft seven tracks with the final “Opera Fanatica” being the most ambitious and lengthy at time run of of just over thirteen minutes. Despite the similarities, there are several differences as well. First is the abrupt heaviness that makes PEPPER’S GHOST the most hard rock leaning album up to then with crunchy guitar riffs and even more ambitious solos that occur from time to time however ARENA have lost none of their atmospheric prowess as Nolan conjures up beautifully powerful ambient backdrops to accompany the more aggressive guitar and bass. Ironically the drumming does not take on a more aggressive role as Mick Pointer creates more subtle drum rolls that add rhythmic contrasts. Rod Sowden delivers another brilliant vocal performance as always however this time around his lyrics seems submerged beneath the heavier production and guitar dominance.

Another difference is the type of melodic developments. The album begins with circus music that finds itself reprising throughout the album’s musical development which adds a sort of gypsy jazz swing element dispersed throughout the album when least expected. For some reason PEPPER’S GHOST doesn’t seem to be as well revered as previous ARENA albums and that’s quite the shame because i find PEPPER’S GHOST to be just as compelling as any of the earlier albums minus the magnificence of the perfection of “Contagion,” however ARENA doesn’t shed their origins on this one, they merely augment them with a more diversified palette that allows more extreme dynamics, faster tempos and more ambitious lyrical themes in their concepts. Personally i find this one to be slightly more addictive in the melodic hooks in comparison with some of the earlier albums. For anyone avoiding PEPPER’S GHOST on account of the lower ratings, i have to say do check this out for it’s on par with any of the other classic neo-prog albums of the era.

SUMMONING Minas Morgul

Album · 1995 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 2.98 | 9 ratings
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And just as the second wave of black metal had exploded in the metal underground, it seemed as if some bands were ready to move on almost from the very beginning. One such band is Austria’s SUMMONING that released their debut “Lugburz” in March of 1995 and by October released their followup MINAS MORGUL without their drummer Trifixion, were reduced to a duo and radically changed their musical direction. While “Lugburz” was an interesting debut, it was well within the mold of the second wave black metal template started by Mayhem and Darkthrone but beginning with MINAS MORGUL which takes its name from the fictional language of Sindarin in the J.R.R. Tolkien universe in fact means Middle-earth, that more generic black metal approach had completely transmogrified into something different.

It was with this sophomore release where Protector and Silenius, now a duo began to merge the dark ambient and dungeon synth atmospheric sounds of their side projects Ice Age and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas with their black metal antecedents as heard on their debut and the early demos prior. The result was one of the earliest significant deviations from the second wave orthodoxy into what would soon be tagged as atmospheric black metal since all that remained from the debut were the Tolkien tinged lyrics and the raspy unintelligible vocals. Oh the unholy horror of it all!

This is what i call their video soundtrack black metal debut and it was no surprise to learn that the album cover for MINAS MORGUL was taken from the 1991 video game “Ishar: Legend Of The Fortress.” And so began the next chapter of the SUMMONING universe where more relaxed epic symphonic marches with repetitive and quite catchy ear worms would become the focus of the hypnotic trance of eleven tracks that utilized the tremolo guitar distortion as a backing instrument and the role of Trifixion reduced to a more obsequious and programmable drum machine while Protector and Silenius shared the role of keyboardists, vocalists and strings.

MINAS MORGUL is a pleasant journey into mystic lands where anthemic and even Medieval folk tinged melodies prance about like chilled out pilgrimages over the mountains and into the valleys below like Hobbits on a mission to fulfill their destiny of ridding the world of the stranglehold of evil once and for all. Each track begins with a slow and repetitive keyboard based riff and then repeats ad nauseam to infinity at times however the subtle changes in the tempo and dynamics slowly fortify the overall soundscape to satisfying crescendoes with the guitar distortion ramping up while Protector delivers his famously frantic shrieks and raspy declarations of all things Middle-earth.

While i am quite fond of the debut album, i can hardly fault SUMMONING for tackling something so utterly unique at the time and ultimately successfully carving out a tiny niche all their own in the burgeoning and expanding black metal market. The template laid out on MINAS MORGUL was indeed an interesting one to explore and while many kvlter-than-thou black metalheads of the day may have run to Lucifer in utter contempt to complain, the overall success of this darkwave ambient dungeon synth mixed with black metal elements is quite addictive actually. Despite the recipe having been created, i don’t find MINAS MORGUL to be nearly as refined to the high quality perfection of the later releases as it’s a tad uneven in quality and the drum machines sound a little canned at times however they do effectively drive the monotonic mood setting steady pace that the duo were going for. An excellent experiment that would only continue to get better and kudos to these guys for making such a huge change.

DEEP PURPLE The Book Of Taliesyn

Album · 1968 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.37 | 46 ratings
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Recorded only three months after their debut, DEEP PURPLE quickly released their sophomore followup THE BOOK OF TALIESYN which continued all the traits of “Shades Of Deep Purple” with a mix of originals and covers, however despite the basic similarities that include different styles such as psychedelic and hard rock mixed with classical music arrangements interspersed throughout, THE BOOK OF TALIESYN nurtured these ideas even further with more sophisticated compositional approaches that are now regarded as some of the earliest proto-prog archetypes of the late 60s despite the fact that the album was mainly aimed at the hippie crowds in the US where it was released in October 1968. DEEP PURPLE surprisingly was completely ignored in the UK (where it was held back until 69) with their earliest albums until they became so popular in a few short years (with “In Rock”) that they could not be ignored any longer.

The album title is a slightly alternate spelling taken from the 14th-century Book Of Taliesin which is one of the most famous of all Middle Welsh manuscripts that were attributed to the bard which was famous for setting a wide number of moods in the Medieval courts in the days of King Arthur in Camelot. Likewise the album THE BOOK OF TALIESYN is a loose concept album attempting to evoke the same sense of diverse mood shifts that a bard would propose in the context of the situation. The album contains seven tracks that range from spunky little blues rockers such as the opener “Listen, Learn, Read On,” “Exposition” and other segments in different tracks which all all tinged with a period glaze of psychedelic keyboard embellishments that deviate into fantastic classical musical expeditions which finds Jon Lord dishing out some impressive keyboard playing that was only rivaled by Keith Emerson in The Nice.

The original tracks were composed by Ritchie Blackmore, original vocalist Rod Evans, Jon Lord and Ian Paice making the early episodes of DEEP PURPLE very democratic in nature. Ironically the album cover art (which is my favorite of the DP canon) was created by John Vernon Lord (no relation to the keyboardist). There are three cover tracks as well. The most popular track of this album is the Neil Diamond cover “Kentucky Woman” and the two part track that begins with “Exposition” cedes into a woefully out of place more bluesy rendition of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” The final cover and in my opinion, the best track on the album comes as the closer and is an excellent cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” which introduces a new highly developed progressive rock approach to the band’s resume as it churns out over ten minutes of satisfying musical changes taken Ike & Turner’s funky soul domain into surreal psychedelic and classically tinged progressive rock territory.

At this point DEEP PURPLE was far from a household name and listening to THE BOOK OF TALIESYN these days give few clues to the world class act they would become in their Mark II days. While this album is satisfying on many levels, it feels like they were trying to pull off too many ideas that never feel resolved. The mix of psychedelic bluesy rock mixed with outbursts of classical keyboard segments display veritable exciting ideas gestating in the midst and there are even moments where the chugging of the guitar and riff sound like they are ready to break into such classics as “Highway Star” however for the most part the album soars along in psychedelic blues rock mode and while Rod Evans certainly had the perfect voice for the 60s hippie scene, he lacked the overall powerful effects that Ian Gillan added down the road. Fans of DEEP PURPLE should certainly check out these interesting origins even if all the proper elements hadn’t quite coalesced in a totally satisfying way. Not a bad way to get your groove on. The newer remastered versions are quite superior to the original as far as i’ve heard.

ULVER Nattens Madrigal: Aatte Hymne Til Ulven I Manden

Album · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 26 ratings
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While ULVER (Norwegian for “wolves”) has become synonymous with eclectic genre jumping between albums like virtually no other band in history of recorded music, in the beginning they at least attempted to create a series of albums in their “Black Metal Trilogie” which began with 1994’s “Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler.” However despite the supposed “black metal” part of the equation, even on their sophomore album, the wiley wolfy ones were pulling the old switcheroo by performing their second album in the metal-free zone of the dark Norwegian folk drenched “Kvelssanger.” For their third album they make a reprise and finish out the trilogy by bringing the black metal back to the forefront and on NATTENS MADRIGAL - AATTE HYMNE TIL ULVEN I MANDEN (translated from Norwegian as "Madrigal Of The Night – Eight Hymns To The Wolf In Man”), not only do they recapitulate the full fury of the debut but unleash the full fury of caustic black metal which races along like wolf pursued prey fleeing for its very life.

While the three albums are connected thematically, NATTENS MADRIGAL was the band’s international debut and most likely the first taste of the Norwegian wolf pack by the majority of the planet. The third installment of the trilogy is a concept that revolves around tales of the dark side of humanity that uses metaphors in the form of wolves in the moonlit night as depicted by the cover art. The album was recorded immediately after “Bergtatt” with no specific timeline for release but as the band got signed by Century Media in the late 90s, vocalist Kristoffer Rygg who is credited as Garm states that the band wanted to unleash their most abrasive and venomous attempt on second wave black metal as their international debut not only as a guidepost for their involvement in the early scene but also as a final farewell before they moved out of the black metal scene entirely. There was also a little shock value involved to freak out their new label as well.

NATTENS MADRIGAL is a relentless beast despite calm surreal interludes that incorporate ambient, industrial and other pacifying sounds. While these sounds are plentiful, they merely punctuate the main compositions that exude an overall abrasive and caustic second wave metal attack with adrenaline fueled blastbeasts, searing buzzsaw guitar riffs and lo-fi production that banishes the bass into Hades. As typical for the day, the din is fortified with vile, angry raspy shouted vocals typical of Darkthrone, Mayhem, Marduk and other similar second wavers of the 90s Scandinavian black metal scene. While the lo-fi aspects of NATTENS MADRIGAL are quite similar to the majority of over-adrenalized 90s black metal, ULVER excels in composing tight melodic constructs which at times such as in “Hymn I: Of Wolf And Fear” breaks out of the super aggressive mode and converts into melodic classical guitar with modern production before descending into the lo-fi hellfire pits once again.

While on the surface NATTENS MADRIGAL seems like a typical 90s black metal release, however it is in fact an interesting closer in their “Black Metal Trilogie” as it eschews the atmospheric and folk touches that the debut “Bergtatt” utilized and opts for a more primeval raw and angry evil as fuck sort of sound. While the fans of the day never could have predicted that after such an energetic and unrelenting display of black metal fury that constitutes the third and final installment of the trilogy, the clues as to where ULVER would take their next journey lay in the cracks between the caustic distortionfest. The ambient, industrial and psychedelic folk snippets between tracks would become the focus of the newer chapters of ULVER’s ever-changing journey. While i can’t say that i wish ULVER would have stuck to their black metal roots because so many other band’s were jumping on the bandwagon, i also cannot say that i don’t love the hell out of the early black metal albums that ULVER conjured up. On this one, they not only somehow managed to create beautiful melodies beneath the unbounded brutality but seeded the blueprint of their future musical adventures. NATTENS MADRIGAL is a satisfying adrenalized high octane 90s black metal release fortified with cool electronic embellishments.

JUDAS PRIEST Firepower

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 13 ratings
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It’s hard to believe that the metal gods of the 80s who formed all the way back in 1969, yep, that’s 49 years ago are still around almost 20 years into the new millennium with their 18th studio album are still cranking it up and pumping out the metal glory. While most metal bands have formed and disbanded within this time period, JUDAS PRIEST somehow seems immortal as they unleash their classic 80s sound in modern form on their newest sonic artillery range FIREPOWER. On their previous album “Redeemer Of Souls,” PRIEST seemed to be having an identity crisis of some sort. The album sampled a bit from their entire career with one of the most diverse sounding albums since their Gull Records days, but on FIREPOWER, Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, Scott Travis and the newest member of the pack Richie Faulkner (who replaced found K.K. Downing in 2011) zero in on the classic 80s PRIEST sound that made them some of the metal lords of eternity. In fact if someone were to re-write history and replace “Turbo” with FIREPOWER and listen to their canon in sequential order, no one would probably even notice if they were not familiar with the real order or course.

While JUDAS PRIEST may have had mixed reviews with their 80s output, it’s generally agreed upon that they hit a high note with “Painkiller” and although it seemed that the band were on top of the world ready to rule another decade, Rob Halford upped and left leaving the band to find a new singer while he jumped into other projects like Fight and his self-penned band Halford. Once he found himself back in the band on 2005’s “Angel Of Retribution,” the original lead singer was back but that old school PRIEST magic was not. After a divisive attempt at a prog album “Nostradamus” and their decently performed but rather safe feeling “Redeemer Of Souls,” PRIEST finally return with one of their most confidently performed albums since “Painkiller.” To help rekindle the spirit of yore, producer Tom Allom rejoins the cast after an absence stemming back to 1988’s “Ram It Down.” To keep things fresh and modern Andy Sneap stepped in as co-producer which means FIREPOWER sounds like classic PRIEST in all thunderous heavy metal glory with a crisp punchy modern production fit for the modern era.

Right from the very first guitar gusto bursting out on the opening title track, it’s clear that PRIEST were going for the aggressive guitar riff heavy sound that is all their own with a serious feistiness not experienced since the “Painkiller” days although Halford is a lot more conservative with his high-pitched falsetto but nails the mid-range dynamics of his vocals perfectly showing not a single sign of multi-decade strain. The following “Lightning Strikes,” one of the singles follows in classic PRIEST form with heavy dueling guitar attacks, catchy and dynamic melodies with bombastic bass and percussive backup from Hill and Travis. Both of these tracks easily could have slipped in on any of the 80s releases. However just when it seems PRIEST was going completely retro on us with a few classic sounding tracks, they start to show a more diverse picture starting with “Never The Heroes” which shows influences from Halford’s solo career more than classic PRIEST with Fight inspired riffage although the soaring sustained guitar chord choruses yank the listener back into the classic era.

Some tracks like “Necromancer” carefully craft riffs around previous classics only changing it up enough to keep you guessing where you’ve heard it before much like Iron Maiden’s “Book Of Souls.” “Children Of The Sun” which sounds more like something from the Ripper years with clean guitar arpeggiated sections with thrash laden riffs showing that PRIEST were just as interested in incorporating other aspects of their career rather than a totally 80s free-for-all. Likewise the piano based “Guardians” serves as an intermission reminding more of the “Nostradamus” album before jumping into the now familiar guitar driven riffs of “Rising From Ruins,” another heavy melody rich stew of aggressive guitar driven metal only with softer verses that build up momentum.

The rest of the album continues this trend and pretty much continues the strong selection of compositions. While the album is surprisingly consistent in its quality, the album does hit a brick wall at the end with the head scratcher of a tune “Lone Wolf” which with a dirty bluesy shuffle sounds very weak amidst the heavier tracks. Likewise the “Sea Of Red” finale seems a bit anti-climactic as well as it slowly oozes in with a soft melodic acoustic guitar passage that also seems out of place in the midst of heavier company and not a very dynamic way to end the album although it’s not necessarily a bad tune by any means. Perhaps if it were placed elsewhere it would have packed a bit more punch. It also sounds like the classic PRIEST sound mixed with a Maiden “7th Son..” era with the un-PRIEST-ly sounding background vocals. When all is said and done, PRIEST deliver on 14 tracks of classic heavy metal fortified with a modern production as well as a contemporary lyrical subject matter.

FIREPOWER proves that PRIEST is not even close to ready for the retirement home as far as pumping out feisty adrenaline fueled classic metal anthems, however the news of of Tipton’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease resulting in his possible dismissal from the band’s line-up beckons the lingering question if the band after nearly a half century of head banging service will simply call it a day and at long last bask in their heavy metal god status glory that few others have achieved. The ingredients displayed on FIREPOWER do have a rather epic flare of gusto that would be a good note to end on. Personally i never expect much from classic era metal bands to deliver something compelling but i was pleasantly surprised with FIREPOWER. True it may not go down as the number 1 favorite PRIEST album of all time. That indeed would be a tall order to fulfill, but neither will it go down near the bottom. While not a perfect album by any means, for a band who’s been around for so long to put out an excellent midrange album this late in their career, that’s certainly a classic comfort i can wholeheartedly support and with metal music having spun off in so many crazy directions since the classic 80s, it’s really cool that one of the veteran acts of the day can create something that grounds them to the past while keeping both feet in the here and now.

OZZY OSBOURNE Under Cover

Album · 2005 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 1.95 | 10 ratings
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Every so often in a metal god’s career, someone gets a wild hair up their ass and release something that is equivalent to entering the torture chamber and in the case of the godfather of metal himself, OZZY OSBOURNE delivers his biggest turd in the punchbowl of his career with his ninth album titled UNDER COVER which as the title suggests is indeed an unbelievably unnecessary collection of fourteen gawd awful tracks that makes me wonder after which party the quality control crowd passed out at when this was given the ole a-OK for release.

To be honest, i am not a huge fan of cover albums period but there are rare examples of where a band can pull off a track or two (such as Voivod’s extraordinary Pink Floyd cover “Astronomy Domine” or Marilyn Manson’s version of the Eurythmics classic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This.”) There are even a scant few albums out there such as Between The Buried And Me’s “The Anatomy Of” which effortlessly tackles a wide swath of musical achievements that leaves me in awe, however most of the time these types of projects make me cringe and in the case of OZZY OSBOURNE’s take on his favorite tracks of all time, cringe i do indeed.

Yes, it’s true that an artist should be allowed to pay respect to other’s in the biz that moves him / her to tears and what better way than a pointless, boring and unflattering cover album to tell them how much they mean to him / her. UNDER COVER is really one big batch of ridiculously misconceived and uninspired tributes finding OZZY tackling everyone from Joe Walsh and King Crimson to Buffalo Springfield, Mott The Hoople as well as The Beatles with the cream of the crop torturous moment achieved on John Lennon’s “Woman.” A number one flop on the cringe-o-meter for sure.

Despite the ridiculous nature of this piece of musical excrement, the production team and guest stars on board is quite impressive with even Ian Hunter collaborating on “All The Young Dudes” as well as Leslie West of Mountain joining in for a guitar solo on “Mississippi Queen.” There are tons of other guest stars as well including Joe Bonamassa and Gregg Bissonette to name a few. While this is the only album to find Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell filling the shoes of the great Zakk Wylde, this is hardly something he will be bragging about when he’s telling tales of lore to his grandchildren.

This is definitely one of those fan collectibles only and since i am indeed an OZZY OSBOURNE fan who is a completist at least as far as studio albums are concerned, this one sits on my shelf and got listened to one time and never again, well until i pulled it down for this review and i have to admit that this is one of the most horrible experiences i could ever imagine subjecting onto unwilling ears and if there is a hell then this one is surely on perpetual replay for eternity. Sorry OZZY, i love ya, man but this is utter crap! Every track is AWFUL but hearing OZZY sing The Animals, John Lennon and Bessie Banks makes me want to hurl. I think i’m scarred for life :o

SWANS Young God

EP · 1984 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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SWANS emerged in the short-lived New York City no wave noise rock scene with their debut album “Filth” and earlier eponymous EP but in 1984 they not only released their second album “Cop” but also an extended play (EP) that didn’t really have a title at the time. It consisted of only four tracks and has been referred to “Raping A Slave” and “I Crawled” (both album tracks) but is officially referred as YOUNG GOD which is the title of the longest track, therefore it has pretty much gone down in history under that title. The fourth unfortunate track that it hasn’t been named after is “This Is Mine.” Once again SWANS dishes out a strange concoction of punk infused energy, metal tones and timbres all parading in a drone drenched stripped-down minimalism and avant-garde outrage.

Following in the bleakness and brutal nature of the “Cop” album, YOUNG GOD takes the stylistic approach to even more extreme measures offering a glimpse into the mind of the serial killer Ed Gein. The EP takes the no wave, no frills droning percussive march into even more bombastic territories as it even utilizes a chain against a metal table offering a bleaker industrial feel than “Cop” ever dared explore. Likewise, the tempos are even slower and it genuinely sounds as if the sounds that emerge evoke the darkest, most abstract and utterly violent musical offerings possible with an abrasive surreal minimalistic barbarity unlike anything ever conceived.

YOUNG GOD contains only a mere four tracks that don’t even add up to the half hour mark but in their wake leaves a barrage of emotionally bereft hypnotic parades of industrial bleakness and surreal surrender of everything familiar in musical trends of the day. Melodies are replaced by jagged torturous textures of jarring guitar distortion, arhythmic percussive drives that churn along like heart palpitations and the bleakest sewer rat perspective of sado-masochistic sonic torture sessions that incorporate downtuned dread with utter hopelessness.

While the overall effect is equivalent to “Cop,” YOUNG GODS is even more surreal and hypnotic as the guitar parts are more uniform whereas the Michael Gira’s vocals are much more emphatic and take on a more diverse repertoire of tortured prowess. The main effect of YOUNG GOD is one of disbelief as the grimy filth of the guitar and bass distortion churn along with the atypically timed rhythmic flow of the percussion. This one has been cited as a major influence to bands like Nirvana, Neurosis and Godflesh. The Swiss band The Young Gods even named themselves after it. This is about as subversively sinister as music can get before it totally becomes irregular formless noise.

This is the last bout with sheer musical bleakness for SWANS. After YOUNG GODS they would incorporate Jarboe into the band and her influence would forever change the band’s course into more diverse arenas. While the EP was never officially released beyond the initial vinyl pressings, the four tracks that appeared on it can easily be found on modern compilations of the early works. YOUNG GODS takes the unique musical lexicon that SWANS crafted in their earlier years and fleshes out only the bleakest possibilities. So intense is this stuff that more than four tracks of it and it may have caused death. Include this on the “scariest tracks of all time” list.

SWANS Cop

Album · 1984 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.69 | 8 ratings
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While many will claim that the 80s were one of the worst decades for music but i must disagree wholeheartedly since some of the most original thinking musical entities emerged from this period. On the aggressive side of the musical equation, the punk and metal that had been gaining steam in the late 70s and early 80s really took off during this period. While punk and post-punk had splintered into a gazillion subgenera, metal on the other hand was only starting to see the potential of different styles emerging from the hard rock that had developed it a decade before. Out of all this craziness came SWANS whose unique style to this day is unclassifiable as they exist in their own musical universe but was even more the case in their beginning days. This NYC band led by Michael Gira existed in a strange gray area between punk and metal although they were technically part of the short-lived no wave noise rock movement.

Their debut album “Filth” set the tone for their abrasive unrelenting assault on melody with undulating waves of distorted noise grinding in a jarring rhythmical fashion like a thousand jackhammers pounding the city streets in unison and only slightly deviating from each other until a true cacophonous din results. On their second album COP, the band of four continues this aggressive assault and takes it even further with even heavier bombastic drum and bass beats accompanied by screeching downtuned and dissonant guitar riffs along with Gira’s tortured soul vocalizations that preceded the world of black and death metal by several years. It’s no wonder that early SWANS have been cited as one of the major influences for the heavy down and dirty approach of sludge metal because the thick guitar riffs that buzz to infinity create one of the loudest albums of the early 80s as if the band recorded this in a deep industrial bunker in the darkest recesses of the cockroach filled underbellies of a post-apocalyptic world.

While many comparisons have been made with doom metal and i can honestly see those connections, i find COP is more of a unique fusion of snarling punk attitudinal posturing with heavily cranked up adrenaline inducing distortion from the guitar and bass akin to the early extreme metal of Venom and Hellhammer with a bombastic drone-like march of a souless percussive drive that hypnotizes by sheer brutal force. Part of the allure is the ambiguousness of the subject matter at hand with lyrics flirting with scenes of sexual domination in unseen corners in dimly lit dungeons. The tempo on COP is much slower than “Filth” which adds a sense of valium laden dread to the abrasiveness of the fuzzed out guitar tones grinding the eardrums into audio submission like the morbidly obese woman on the cover depicts in utter despair. COP took the art of ugliness to perfect heights as the holy trinity of audio, visual and emotional impact impaled the listener from all angles.

COP is almost universally deemed SWANS’ most brutal album and i doubt anyone could disagree once encountering this seductively repulsive sonic terror. If the guitar dissonance and vocal anguish wasn’t enough, the drum and bass experience a hypnotic repertoire that is jagged with off-kilter time signatures that succeed in disrupting melodic flow in every way possible. Both “Filth” and “Cop” as well as the two EPs of the same era are cited as a major influence on bands like Godflesh, The Young Gods and the 90s sludge gods Neurosis with an almost tribal rhythmic drive gone horribly wrong into arhythmic sado-masochistic sonic torture sessions. This is not one for the faint-hearted by any means. After this album, Gira would incorporate the feminine charm of Jarboe to the band’s sound which would change the band’s style and sound drastically. However on COP, these guys pumped out one of the most monstrous and tenebrous death marches of all the early 80s. While bleak, this stuff is morbidly beautiful in its own way as it creates its own musical lexicon.

OZZY OSBOURNE Down To Earth

Album · 2001 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 16 ratings
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OZZY OSBOURNE had every intention of retiring after the “No More Tours” era of the early 90s but his restless spirit couldn’t kick the heavy metal habit and ended up recording another album, “Ozzmosis” in 1995 which would cement his status as metal god in the alternative 90s. Soon thereafter that release, he and his wife Sharon had organized a totally new event called the Ozzfest Tour which was loosely based on Perry Farrell’s (of Jane’s Addiction) successful Lallapolooza tours. The event took place annually and hosted two stages and a dozen or so different bands. The festivals turned out to be a huge success which led OZZY to focus on constant live settings instead of releasing new material.

By the turn of the millennium his record label Epic was demanding a new product, so back into the studios once again to record new material which emerged with his first 21st century album DOWN TO EARTH, the first album in six years. Another lineup change in the process with only Zakk Wylde returning from past glories. The new OZZY lineup would consist of bassist Robert Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves, Metallica) and drummer Mike Bordin, most famous from Faith No More. While not official members of the band, producer Tim Palmer added extra guitars, keyboards and military drums (on “Can You Hear Them?”) as well as Michael Railo helping out with keyboards as well.

It seems that OZZY had never had a more relaxed and stable period in his life where everything was running smoothly. He had the festival tours in his blood at this point and an army of collaborators to assist in the songwriting process, which was a wise decision to employ their talents because DOWN TO EARTH contains eleven strong heavy metal anthems in the vein of OZZY’s classic 80s metal spirit but yet exuded a strong 90s vibe such as the White Zombie heavy stomp heft on the heaviest tracks as well as the industrial synthesizer action that oozes out of the background between the cracks in the heavy metal bombast. It also seems that OZZY’s rekindling of Black Sabbath has rubbed off as well as many of the tracks have that old school early metal feel with crunchy fifth root chords chugging along like demons on ecstasy.

DOWN TO EARTH finds OZZY in a great spirit lyrically as well. His poetic lyrics propound the usual subject matter ranging from rough times in life to drug influenced experiences albeit from the point of the observer instead of the user. The tracks are all quite catchy and the true addiction is in the form of great tunes that have favorable solid melodies exquisitely performed by the top notch musicians on board. As usual there are even a few ballads such as “Dreamer” and “Running Out Of Time,” but at this point even the slow numbers are quite sophisticated in their orchestration and dynamics with clever arrangements and an alternative rock swagger. OZZY truly found a way to adapt with grace into the new world all the while retaining his timeless sense of godfather of metal status.

I have to admit that DOWN TO EARTH is one that didn’t grab me upon first listen. In fact i pretty much shelved it for several years before giving it another spin. This is not balls to the wall heavy metal in full madman status rather this is a contemplative collection of well-crafted tunes that stitch together various aspects of OZZY’s career and add a few modern ingredients into the mix which yields a rather excellent batch of heavy rockers and sweet syrupy ballads. OZZY’s voice seems even more controlled and relaxed on this one not to mention that the evil as fuck album cover which is one of the best in his canon. DOWN TO EARTH may not be one that blows you away upon first listen and one would surely expect something grand from the godfather at this point but what we get is that at all but rather an incredibly consistent collection of top crafted heavy metal tracks that only got lost in the shuffle because of the preponderance of newer metal acts that were stealing OZZY’s thunder at this point. Still though, not one to be missed.

SUMMONING With Doom We Come

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 2 ratings
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While SUMMONING officially formed all the way back in the early 90s, this current day duo from Austria has been quite sparse in their 21st century releases with only four full-length albums having emerged in the last 18 years which roughly means around five year gaps in between. Lo and behold and at long last a retreat back into the Tolkien lengendarium where Orks run wild and Mordor burns in fury as the Ring of Power remains firmly out of grasp as Hobbits dodge one bout with evil after another. Finally in 2018, SUMMONING which consists only of Selenius and Protector has unleashed their latest installment of their musical accompaniment for all things Lord of the Rings in the form of WITH DOOM WE COME. As with the previous albums beginning with 1995’s “Minas Morgul,” we are treated (or tortured) to another set of epic length jaunts into dark ambient melodic marches that feel as if they are procured by Elves, performed by Dwarves, considered by Hobbits and ultimately embellished with Gandalf’s white wizard ways of crafting the perfect balance between simple melodies that are glistened over with something more precious than Golem’s lost pride and joy.

WITH DOOM WE COME is only the eighth installment in the world of SUMMONING and after years of delays (which remain unnamed), the album finds the first rays of 2018 shining upon it like a new Hobbit movie emerging from the misty fjords of New Zealand. With Middle Earth firmly fixed in gaze, SUMMONING once again delivers the expected epic video game soundtrack romp through a series of eight lengthy tracks that continue the (now) traditional theme of taking a simple (and catchy) piano or synthesized melodic flow that seemingly riffs to eternity but on the march to freedom captures subtle changes in their midst. You are correct to assume that SUMMONING have mustered up yet another album familiar to all, that being heavily atmospheric dominated melodies that crank up the buzzsaw guitar action and raspy corpse paint vocals to conjure up visions of despair and utter dismay as all hope seems extinguished and only carried through by a melodic string that holds it all together.

Whether you love em or hate em, one thing is for sure: SUMMONING has a sound and style like no other. These guys have conjured up one of the most unique elans in a strange world that straddles black metal, dark ambient and video game soundtrack epic grandeur. WITH DOOM WE COME seems to have taken the expected mix of melodic flow in military march with distorted guitar, raspy vocals and orchestrated-the-hell-out-of-it approach to even more extreme pastures. While the basics remain firmly in place, it seems that the production is off-the-hook clear and the use of choirs for background emphatics is even more pronounced and epic in nature. Just as the new release of the video game Zelda takes epic video game experiences to ever more heightened arenas, so too does SUMMONING’s emphasis on these same epic qualities that ride in the same wake. Never before have drum machines, fuzzed out guitar, raspy screaming vocals or synthesized orchestras with choirs sounded so, well…. grand. It’s more of the same but yet the quality is off the charts.

For sure kvlt black metal worshippers, who have been throwing darts at the effigies of Silenius and Protector all these years for betraying the one-dimensional black metal ethos that strangleholds so many, will find nothing on WITH DOOM WE COME to rein in their hatred for anything remotely symphonic and atmospheric in nature. However, to be fair i have never really considered SUMMONING’s form of musical expression a black metal band at all (OK after their first album that is) but rather a dark ambient, darkwave, epic video game soundtrack style of music that just happens to take the raspy vocals and buzzsaw guitar distortion of black metal along for the ride after their black metal origins. Needless to say, if you don’t like what came before, you won’t be SUMMONING any more of these demons but this duo really knows how to craft a lush and exquisitely designed romp through the musical soundscapes of the Tolkien universe and that is something no others have successfully tackled. SUMMONING have latched onto their own brand of hybridized musical expression and why would anyone expect them to explore anything else but?

WITH DOOM WE COME is a welcome respite into a familiar sound with an ever expanding production value in a set repertoire. This is very much a hypnotic type of album that seduces the listener with an irresistible melancholy yet utterly addictive hook and then slowly ratchets up the tension with the swirling sensation of synthesized embellishments that add more and more flavors to the mix. This is one for the audiophiles as the production is super crisp and clear and every detail is drenched in perfection. Yeah, i too am a lover of everything kvlt, demented and evil but that’s not SUMMONING’s game. Their shtick is in the grey zone where black metal, dark ambient and epic soundtrack music meet in the triangulated mysteries of the dark. While this is definitely akin to their previous offerings, i have to admit that i can’t get enough of this stuff and i personally have no problem with a band continuing down a path they forged for themselves. This is a really compelling listen even if it goes down familiar turf. It’s exquisitely performed and that’s more than good enough for me!

BUCKETHEAD Pike 274 - Fourneau Cosmique

Album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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B U C K E T H E A D ~ Pike 274 - Fourneau Cosmique

1st album of 2018

Two tracks that clock in at 28:04

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

“Fourneau Cosmique” (11:49) begins with a familiar BH sound, that is a synthesized atmospheric backdrop with mellow echoey guitar parts, however it quickly bursts into a heavy alternative metal type of guitar riff with the bass and drums along for the ride. Not unexpectedly, guitar solos emerge here and there trading off with the riffs. Compositionally speaking, the main melody is one of those looped recurring series of chords that maintain a rhythm guitar, bass and drums as a lead guitar joins in to provide variety. Around the 3.5 minute mark, the heavy metal drops out and the echoey clean guitars steal the show with the same rhythm and melodic progression. When the distorted guitar joins back in its less frenetic as the a sizzling guitar solo extends for a lengthy period of time building up power and speed. As the track continues its long journey, it retains the basic melody but pumps out different variations but basically comes across as a tad uninspiring as we’ve heard this a million times before and this is really quite too tame despite some crunchy metal riffing that occurs.

“Endless Experiments” (16:15) is an even crunchier metal monster with heavy guitar riffs hitting the ground running. They alternate with some freaky electronica. Unlike the previous track, this one wastes no time changing things up and heads to the other extreme where totally unrelated riffs and melodies juxtapose and clash with avant-garde sounding guitar parts. After a while it jumps back into straight forward heavy metal, then electronica, then clean guitar parts and then heavy metal slowed down. It takes no time at all to realize that this is one of those tracks that changes things up often zigzagging in unpredictable ways from genre style to genre style with heavy riffs, solos, electronic bloops and bleeps and bluesy rock all trading off with each other. This track is basically like somebody randomly hits shuffle every several seconds and where it ends up is anyone’s guess but all the styles performed are nothing new to the BH canon.

This PIKE is really nothing out of the ordinary however the two stylistic approaches generally do not sit side by side on the same release. The first track has been done to death at this point and is really quite boring whereas the second track is more unpredictably wild and more to my tastes but same problem. This style has been done to death and is performed in more interesting ways on previous PIKEs. This two track PIKE is really BUCKETHEAD by the numbers as nothing on it is new in any way, shape or form. While BH slowed down in 2017 releasing a mere 30 albums, many of them simply retread previous ideas sprawled out in the vast BH universe. Likewise the first PIKE of 2018 offers little insight that the new year will provide anything but the same. Decently played and performed but not inspiring.

OZZY OSBOURNE Ozzmosis

Album · 1995 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 26 ratings
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Despite claiming that “No More Tears” would be his last album and even followed it up with an aptly named “No More Tours” jaunt around the world, OZZY OSBOURNE didn’t take to retirement too keenly and lo and behold found himself in the studios again to record his seventh studio album OZZMOSIS which came out four years after his last majorly successful comeback album. This is a rather unique album in all of his canon in not only lineup but also for its dipping into the current alternative rock and metal scene. While most of the band members from the past jumped ship after the previous album and tour, Zakk Wylde returned for guitar duties.

Also on board for OZZMOSIS is Geezer Butler who had just left Black Sabbath for the umpteenth time and on drums Deen Castronovo joined the team after serving in Wild Dogs and Bad English. His mellow AOR ballad band history shines through on this one. Also new to the mix was Rick Wakeman on keyboards. Yes, that Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock superstar band Yes and his first appearance with OZZY on an album since the 1973 Black Sabbath album “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” when Yes and Sabbath were recording in adjacent studios. Unfortunately despite one of the most accomplished prog rock keyboard wizards on board, there isn’t much in keyboard virtuosity.

OZZMOSIS was another hit for OZZY as it reached number 4 on the Billboard album charts and went on to be certified triple platinum. This was one of those huge productions unlike any of his earlier albums with a whole army of engineering assistants and production and mastering crews. As well as OZZY and Zakk Wylde contributing in the songwriting department, so too did Geezer Butler and quite a few others including Steve Vai, Dream Theater’s John Purdell and Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. Originally Steve Vai was on board to join the team on guitar duties but had a clash of personalities with OZZY allowing Wylde to jump back in the guitarist’s role once again.

Stylistically OZZMOSIS is a lot mellower than any other previous OZZY album. Starting with “No More Tears” he had shed the lunatic madman image and cleaned up his act. That album emerged at the tail end of the glam metal scene and a lot had changed in the next couple of years. Once Nirvana released their mega-hit “Nevermind,” the entire music scene shifted towards alternative rock and grunge and suddenly anything 80s wasn’t cool and bands like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots were suddenly kings of the music scene. While many an 80s metal band attempted to adapt to the sudden changes, very few did it in a convincing way, however OZZY pulled off quite a convincing mix of the melodic heavy metal of the 80s with a spruced up take on alternative rock.

The album starts off with extraordinary strong single “Perry Mason,” which while sounding like classic OZZY is a bit of a head scratcher for subject matter for only a decade prior, OZZY was akin to the devil for the far right and no longer was he biting off bats but singing about TV based law shows. The album is rather mellow as a majority of the tracks are pop rock ballads with an alternative edge. “I Just Want You,” “Ghost Behind My Eyes” and “See You On The Other Side” are all catchy and subdued rockers that are much slower pop oriented than anything of the past. The only real metal cruncher on the entire album is “Thunder Underground” that unleashes the full Zakk Wylde guitar fury. “I Just Want You” even has a rather Nirvana type of rhythmic drive and i could easily imagine Kurt Cobain at the helm incomprehensibly screaming his heart out.

This has always been my least favorite OZZY album because of the lack of iconic metal compositions but as i’ve listened to this again after so many years for the sake of reviewing, i haven’t given this album a fair shake. True that it’s not OZZY’s most metal and it’s not his most innovative and it is certainly not the one with the most pyrotechnic guitar soloing flair, however it is chock full of catchy melodies and is probably the most Sabbath sounding of all his solo efforts for the obvious reason of Geezer contributing bass. It’s also one of the best produced albums of the 90s as the instrumentation blends together like a symphony without being overproduced. True this will never top my personal charts but not as bad as i remembered. The only complaint i have is that it doesn’t seem like OZZY evolved very much and he simply settled into a comfort zone that suited the time. While that was nothing out of the ordinary for the day, it certainly shows all these years later..

OZZY OSBOURNE Live & Loud

Live album · 1993 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 9 ratings
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After the album “No More Tears,” OZZY OSBOURNE set out for yet another tour and very much intended it to be the last one as he was reaching burn out and found his hectic schedule to be suffocating his soul and thus the following tour was called “No More Tours.” Two years after the release of his most successful post Randy Rhoads era album, he released a double album live representation of his time on the road in the form of LIVE & LOUD. By this point he was experiencing a lineup change once again with bassist Bob Daisley and keyboardist John Sinclair jumping ship and replaced by bassist Mike Inez (who would go on with Alice In Chains) and keyboardist Kevin Jones.

LIVE & LOUD is a collection of live performances from all over the world and even includes a veritable Black Sabbath reunion on the track “Black Sabbath” that took place in Costa Mesa, CA. The album was originally released in two forms with one called a fat boy 2 CD case with the album cover perforated like a speaker grill which is the one i own and have always admired the clever packaging details. The release saw another version with a live DVD which was the first time a CD / DVD combo package had ever been released. This album had some legal issues because of the track “Shot In The Dark” appearing on it as there was some sort of legal battle over the track from ex-bassist Phil Soussan who co-wrote it. This kept it from being re-released for years but has since found new life.

Ironically OZZY even won a Grammy Award for the live version of “I Don’t Want To Change The World” from LIVE & LOUD. The album rode in the success of “No More Tears” and hit #22 on the Billboard album charts and easily went platinum showing that OZZY was immune to the grunge scene that had usurped the heavy rock throne between the release of this album and “No More Tears.” Apparently OZZY had enough metal creds to weather the storm and his status of Godfather of metal was in no danger of being watered down due to the new developments of 90s alternative metal and rock. Likewise, the album found success in many other countries including his native UK which is quite the achievement for an 80s metal artist releasing a double live album in the 90s.

While most of the tracks represent their studio versions quite well without significant deviations from the norm, there are a few tracks on LIVE & LOUD that differ significantly or are a product of the live setting. The intro is a medley of both Sabbath and Ozzy tracks that finally leads to the Sabbath track “Paranoid.” This is a major source of contention for me as i feel that OZZY should have evolved past his Sabbath days at this point and ceased to rely on his past glories, however he did contribute to the songwriting so they were fair game. It’s all slightly more tolerable with the old Sabbath team of Tommy Iomi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward reunite for a few shows included here. Wylde cranks out a guitar solo BEFORE and not after “Suicide Solution” which probably symbolizes something but ultimately i find his flair for improv soloing isn’t quite up to snuff despite having a great stage present and overall rhythm guitarist feel. However he does nail the Rhoads solos on the classics such as “Mr Crowley” and adds his own guitar squeals and slides to personalize them a bit. There is also a decent drum solo by Castillo that is short and to the point instead of dragging on forever.

This is a fairly good consistent set of LIVE & LOUD tracks from the Madman however it does feel a bit by-the-numbers despite an energetic delivery of the best tracks selected from different shows all over the world. This was also the tour where OZZY had a break down when he was in Knoxville, TN. That was the venue where Randy Rhoads played his last gig. After a strenuous tour and lack of sleep, the OZZ man had had enough and had to walk out in the middle of the show. Something was clearly amiss these days as the entire band basically flew the coop and another album wouldn’t come out for a few years and then only with a bunch of guest musicians (with the exception of Zakk Wylde). Overall, a decent album but not one that i get tremendously excited about either. I’d rather hear “Tribute” any day. No offense, Zakk.

OZZY OSBOURNE No More Tears

Album · 1991 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 33 ratings
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It had been almost a decade since OZZY OSBOURNE’s career was in dire straits after the sudden death of his revolutionary guitarist Randy Rhoads but he bounced back and maintained a successful solo career all throughout the 80s. With 1988’s “No Rest For The Wicked,” the Madman had found the perfect new sidekick Zakk Wylde to take over the guitar slot after the departure of Jake E. Lee. With Lee, OZZY was somewhat stagnant and couldn’t quite shake the Rhoads loss, but Wylde added a new style of guitar playing that eschewed the neoclassical Rhoads elements and created more of a bluesy metal with touches of country rock and took OZZY’s sound in a new direction. OZZY took a full three years to reinvent himself and work on the potentials of the new lineup. The result of all this was his sixth studio album “NO MORE TEARS” which found the Madman cleaning up his bad boy image (notice the angel wings on the cover), as well as turning to outside songwriters like Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister as well as the new style of Wylde’s contributions. None of these extra efforts were in vain and “NO MORE TEARS” became a huge hit not only spawning a number of popular videos but also hit the quadruple platinum mark making it his best selling album just after the debut “Blizzard Of Ozz.”

“NO MORE TEARS” is by far, OZZY’s most eclectic and diverse album of his career which makes it a compelling listen even to modern ears. While Randy Rhoads was an excellent songwriter, the focus was placed on his neoclassical guitar shredding skills. On “NO MORE TEARS” the emphasis is on the strength of the tracks themselves that utilize strong hooks, heavy guitar riffing and more attention paid to contrasting dynamics, tempo changes and even adds some country rock aspects that Wylde brought to the work table. Also a strength for the album is one of the rare examples of a stable lineup in OZZY’s band with the entire cast of “No Rest For The Wicked” back for another round of heavy metal mayhem. This includes Randy Castillo on drums, Bob Daisley on bass and John Sinclair on keys, however both Castillo and Daisley would jump ship after “NO MORE TEARS” leaving OZZY with yet another dilemma of finding suitable musicians to fill the slots, however after three years of perfecting a new album and a lengthy tour of the last album that even resulted in a short live EP titled “Just Say Ozzy,” this stability of the lineup yielded some interesting results on this one.

“NO MORE TEARS” basically falls into two categories of tracks, well three if you count the title track which sounds like nothing else OZZY has ever recorded. There are the heavy metal crunchers like “Mr. Tintertrain,” “Hellraiser” and “Zombie Stomp” and the slower ballads “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” “Time After Time” and “Road To Nowhere.” It’s on the slower tracks where Zakk Wylde really cranks up the Southern flavors of country rock on the acoustic guitar and unlike many of the ballads of OZZY’s 80s albums, these were superbly crafted with special attention placed on lyrical relevance and tightly delivered instrumental dynamics. Although the album has no throwaway tracks, the star of the show is by far the outstanding title track which utilizes a bass heavy rhythmic drive with an ethereal atmospheric accompaniment. The longest track of OZZY’s career perfectly balances a call and response between a bass / vocal line with the heavy guitar in the verse sections with an atmospheric overload on the chorus. The track employs an interesting art rock synthesized bridge that leads up to a ratcheting up effect that leads to one of the best guitar solos on the entire album. The track is by far one of the most popular ones in the post Randy Rhoads era.

While it took exactly a decade to completely transcend the Rhoads years, OZZY OSBOURNE pulled off the seemingly impossible task on “NO MORE TEARS” which not only displays a willingness to incorporate influences beyond the metal comfort zone of the day but also comes off as one of the Madman’s most mature albums of his entire canon. While retaining the respect as the Godfather of metal all throughout the 90s and beyond, “NO MORE TEARS” in reality symbolizes a peak in OZZY’s career with the erratic release of the albums that follow seeming more like occasional side projects rather than works of passion. It also seems that OZZY’s drug and alcohol abuse had taken an irreparable toll by this point in his career possibly leading to a creative burn out. Whatever the case, “NO MORE TEARS” remains one of OZZY’s most celebrated albums for good reasons. While not focusing on the technical prowess that Rhoads delivered, the album is chock full of catchy heavy metal that in retrospect represented the last hoorah of the classic metal era as this release came out just as the more extreme death, black and thrash metal bands were taking metal to ever more shocking arenas, and of course the near collapse of everything 80s in the wake of the grunge scene. In short, this is one of the best albums the OZZ-ster cranked out and one not to be missed.

OZZY OSBOURNE No Rest For The Wicked

Album · 1988 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.53 | 25 ratings
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The years had been tumultuous for OZZY OSBOURNE after the death of Randy Rhoads as he was constantly trying to reinvent himself after the perfect band lineup of his first two albums. After a couple of albums with guitarist Jake E. Lee, the Madman was forced to find yet another guitarist after Lee jumped ship. Not exactly a surprise as it was later revealed that Lee wasn’t given credit for songwriting contributions on “Bark At The Moon,” and after the “Tribute” album was released during his tenure, it seemed too much to take and off Lee went to form his own band Badlands. After searching high and low, OZZY settled on the virtually unknown Zakk Wylde who had only played in small bands before auditioning for the coveting guitarist role with one of heavy metal’s hugest stars of the 80s. Actually the whole band had changed since “The Ultimate Sin,” with Bob Daisley reprising to take over Phil Soussan’s bass spot as well as John Sinclair usurping the keyboard throne of Mike Moran. Randy Castillo stick around on drums.

Zakk Wylde made his official debut to the larger world on OZZY’s fifth studio album “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ which ushered in a totally new sound for the bathead chomping Madman. During the Lee years, the emphasis was placed on trying to recreate the lost Rhoads neoclassical style especially on “Bark At The Moon.” While still retaining some of the same flavor, “The Ultimate Sin” meandered a bit into more pop rock oriented territory which watered down the metal aspects of the classic OZZY heft. On “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ Wylde dishes out a heavier metal feel once again while steering away from the neoclassical Rhoads era completely. Wylde contributed a more no nonsense bluesy shuffle style with distortion and metal angst turned up a few notches with heavy riffing, lesser emphasis on soloing and piggy guitar squeals. On the lyrical side of the equation, OZZY continues his assault on society with a stab at Jimmy Swaggart, the 80s televangelist who fell from grace after a prostitution scandal. Swaggart had been a huge critic of OZZY’s music and heavy metal in general.

Other tracks reveal more of the same with “Crazy Babies” and “Breakin’ All The Rules” showcasing OZZY’s rebellion-by-numbers approach and a nod to his vulnerabilities as heard on “Demon Alcohol.” Overall, “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ is a decent album with several strong tracks showcasing Wylde’s new role as heavy metal guitar god however the songwriting is still below the standard of the unreachable magnificence of the first two albums. While “Miracle Man,” “Crazy Babies” and “Tattooed Dancer” are all excellent heavy metal rockers, some of the tracks like “Fire In The Sky” and “Bloodbath In Paradise” seem a little generic by OZZY’s standards. There is also a hidden bonus track, “Hero” on the CD versions which offers a nice surprise. I would hardly call “ NO REST FOR THE WICKED, “ even close to OZZY’s best album but it is not without its charm either as it really sounds like no other in his canon. After this one, Wylde’s role would expand and so would the diverse elements of the music itself. This is one i rarely listen to, but i have to admit that it has a raw aggression that is very appealing and a few stand out tracks that guarantee a nice heavy metal head banging experience.

OZZY OSBOURNE Tribute

Live album · 1987 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.53 | 16 ratings
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OZZY OSBOURNE hit the ground running after leaving Black Sabbath mostly due to his amazing luck of finding the extraordinary talented guitarist Randy Rhoads to join his ranks. Together the two would even share a flat together where they crafted two classic albums in the form of “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman” which would catapult the Madman’s solo career to the ranks of success that he enjoyed with his former band. Rhoads had practically reinvented metal when he formulated a new style of neoclassical metal fusion that built on the classics of Ritchie Blackmore but fused it with the doom metal side of Sabbath’s metal sound along with the pyrotechnic flair of what Eddie Van Halen was famous for. The result was a blueprint for the neoclassical guitar shredding to come as well as the first steps for progressive metal artists to work off of. The duo seemed poised to dominate the entire 80s as nobody could match the songwriting skills and technical wizardry of Rhoads’ virtuosic skills. But that all came to an end on 19 March 1982 when Rhoads died in a senseless plane crash while on the “Diary Of A Madman” tour.

While a live album was planned after the tour was completed, Randy’s sudden death scrapped the whole idea and the project was pushed down the road indefinitely. Because of contractual obligations, OZZY opted to go on a short tour with Brad Gillis of Night Ranger on guitar and cover Black Sabbath songs which resulted in the release of the live album “Speak Of The Devil” (“Talk Of The Devil” in the UK) instead. While the show carried on with a new guitarist Jake E. Lee taking on the impossible task of carrying on in the slot, the project was never scrapped but merely delayed. Finally five years to the day after Randy’s untimely passing, TRIBUTE was released in 1987 in honor of the great talent who left us too soon thus memorializing him for eternity complete with an equal billing on the title credits. The album was comprised of different live performances from different venues, mostly on the “Diary Of A Madman” tour with the lion’s share recorded in Cleveland, Ohio on 11 May 1981 but a few were recorded in other venues and “Goodbye To Romance” and “No Bone Movies” were actually recorded on the “Blizzard Of Ozz” tour and are the only two tracks to feature bassist Bob Paisley and drummer Lee Kerslake.

The album was an instant hit and entered the top 10 on Billboard’s album chart and even saw a re-release of “Crazy Train” as a single. The album features Randy Rhoads strutting his stuff in a live setting and thus proving to the world that he was more than a mere studio hack. After a brief classical intro featuring snippets of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” the album showcases OZZY OSBOURNE’s reign of musical power of the early 80s with Randy Rhoads as the band’s highlight. Rhoads was not only a highly disciplined songwriter and guitar teacher but on TRIBUTE he demonstrates how he painstakingly would rewrite guitar segments that were designed for two guitar as heard on the studio albums and rework them so that he could capture the spirit of both parts woven into one. He also showed his spontaneous improvisation skills as heard on the outstanding extended soloing at the end of “Suicide Solution.” While much of the album very much echoes the authenticity of the solo albums, it’s the small fills and deviations from the norm that offer glimpses into Rhoads’ meticulous compositional skills.

TRIBUTE is one of those rare live albums that actually exceeds the studio albums from where the tracks were taken. The entire band performed extraordinarily well together and made the already strong tracks seem even stronger. The extra touches of improvised soloing and live energy was the icing on the cake. While i’m personally not the biggest fan of most live albums as i find most bands carry out their best work in the studio, TRIBUTE proves that the commanding power duo of OZZY OSBOURNE and Randy Rhoads were creating some of the most influential heavy metal of the era. While this live TRIBUTE album to Randy Rhoads was quite well received, it was the final straw for Jake E. Lee who had already been forced to sell his songwriting contributions away to join the band. After the release of TRIBUTE, Lee would jump ship and OZZY would be back to the drawing board of finding yet another guitarist and would eventually settle on Zakk Wylde. For live TRIBUTE albums, it doesn’t get any better than this solid series of performances that shows OZZY at the top of his game with one of the most deserving of guitarists who truly deserved the overused “god” status. This one is a must for anyone interested in the highlights of live heavy metal action of the early 80s.

OZZY OSBOURNE Bark At The Moon

Album · 1983 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 38 ratings
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The year 1982 was a terrible one to say the least with OZZY OSBOURNE losing one of the most gifted guitarists in the nascent years of heavy metal music in the form of Randy Rhoads who met an untimely passing in an airplane crash early in that year. After two hugely successful albums that launched OZZY’s solo career into the same league of his former band Black Sabbath, it seemed that it was all about to come crashing down. Forced to fulfill the impossible task of finding a guitarist to take the place of the unreachable heights of Randy Rhoads, OZZY finally settled on the young guitarist Jake E. Lee who had paid his dues in the bands Micky Ratt (who would later become the successful glam metal band Ratt) and Rough Cutt. After a short tour with Brad Gillis of Night Ranger as the guitarist performing Black Sabbath songs to fulfill his recording contract with Jet Records, OZZY wasted no time grieving over his huge loss and unleashed his third studio album BARK AT THE MOON as the year 1983 came to an end which found his debut on the Epic branch of the CBS label.

The death of Randy Rhoads also signaled the end of the first lineup of the OZZ’s early years. As well as Jake E. Lee jumping on board, Tommy Aldridge took over the drumming duties formerly occupied by Lee Kerslake and Don Airey (of Rainbow, Colosseum and Michael Schenker fame) joined as the first official keyboardist. The only member to cross the new frontier into the next chapter of OZZ was Bob Daisley on bass. It’s hard to fathom just how popular OZZY was during the early 80s and the fans responded with resounding enthusiasm supporting their favorite madman by adding yet another platinum album to his resume as it hit number 19 on the Billboard charts. Your experience of BARK AT THE MOON will depend on which side of the Atlantic you reside since there are two versions of the album with mostly the same tracks but different track orders. The US version contains the tracks “Slow Down” and “Centre Of Eternity” which arent’ on the UK version and likewise the “Spiders” and “Forever” tracks are only on the UK version. Remastered versions contain all the tracks but the US track order has become the standard. BTW, “Forever” and “Centre Of Eternity” are actually the same track with different titles.

Stylistically OZZY had hit upon a new sound with Rhoads joining his ranks and it sounds like all efforts were to replicate that successful formula at all costs on BARK AT THE MOON. While the neoclassical compositional constructs are apparent complete with the boogie rock flavored metal riffing as heard on the albums “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman,” it is clear that Jake E. Lee didn’t quite have the technical prowess of Rhoads, therefore his own idiosyncratic style of playing is the first thing that is noticeable on BARK AT THE MOON. Whereas Rhoads was a master of neoclassical constructs and tremolo picking, Lee on the other hand utilizes a more unique style of riff shuffling with more bluesy solos that utilize the art of guitar slides. While not as developed as Rhoads, Lee actually handles his guitar duties quite tastefully in the thankless job of filling the shoes of the one history’s greats. It was later revealed that Lee had a huge part in writing the album although he was pressured to give up such claims by Sharon Osbourne to sell out those rights so that OZZY could claim full songwriting credit. This was a major point of dissatisfaction of course which led Lee to hang around for only one more album.

Lyrically OZZY continues his shenanigans of lunatic in chief with errant juvenile rebellion in full form as heard on tracks like “Rock ’n’ Roll Rebel,” madman imagery as heard on the title track and the attempt to once again try to pull off a lame ballad in the form of “So Tired,” one that would signify a major downward trend in OZZY’s popularity as this sort of track has always been a thorn in his side. Add to the controversy was the fact that a Canadian man murdered a woman and her kids after listening to this album and claimed that the album made him do it. All of this hit at the same time that similar charges were coming to roost regarding his song “Suicide Solution.” It’s hard to understand how these things panned out in the 80s when in the 21st century it all seems so tame in comparison to modern day standards, but the religious right in the US were on a major witchhunt with artists like OZZY OSBOURNE the poster child as public enemy #1.

Despite the tragic loss of Randy Rhoads, OZZY pulled out a fairly decent album and while not up to par with the ridiculously brilliant first two albums, isn’t as bad as many make it out to be. The compositions are the same catchy melodic traditional heavy metal that was going strong in the 80s by this point and the addition of the keyboards adds another element of melodic counterpoint. Jake E. Lee, while not quite up to god status, pulled off a rather heroic duty of not only anonymously contributing to the majority of the songwriting on the album but played beautifully delivered heavy riffing with his own unique guitar soloing that had those satisfying squeals. While tracks like “Slow Down” and “Waiting For Darkness” definitely have more of a pop rock feel than metal, the title track, “Rock ’n’ Roll Rebel” and “Centre Of Eternity” aka “Forever” are all some of OZZY’s best tracks. Even the ballads aren’t as bad as many make them out to be. No, BARK AT THE MOON will never usurp the throne as the OZZ-man’s greatest moment but considering the dark chapter of his history that it emerged out of, i think it turned out fairly decent. And yeah, that “Spiders” track is just weird!

PORTAL Ion

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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The stygian band PORTAL has emerged from its secret Australian outpost after a five year gap following their previous release “Vexovoid” (which ironically has already spawned a new band with that name). Following in the footsteps of their extreme surreality that some call avant-garde blackened death metal comes the followup ION which continues the brash brutality fix that they have been known for since the beginning. While their influences may have emerged from Morbid Angel, Beherit and Immolation, PORTAL have long since found their own comfort zone of death metal reality to call their own by becoming one with a parallel musical reality that sounds as if they are somehow trapped between a hyperdrive dimensional shift and in the process something went really, really wrong. Drowned in darkness and delivered in dense undulating waves of sonic fury, ION finds PORTAL churning out their most frenetic and brutal release to date.

As the intro track “Nth” slinks into existence as if a subtle hazy brume has wafted into your room, the ghostly fortifications of muffled tortured screams emulate with backmasked effects creating a dark ambient horrorshow soundtrack and thus insinuating a return to the impenetrable layers of atmospheric darkness that had created their wickedly new realm for extreme tech death metal. However, as the first blistering notes of “ESP ION AGE” rage into the scene, we are confronted with a new interdimensional rage and fury usually reserved for only the most brutal of death metal beasts more often heard in bands like Suffocation, however the angular nature and complete detachment from traditional old school standards allows a sepulchral wall of sound that allows each wailing formless riff to pierce the soul like a dagger flaying a adrenaline fueled beating heart. Add the pummeling relentless percussive overdrive with groaning guttural growls and the divinity of chaos has been reached.

The name ION is a fitting title if you know chemistry. An ION is an atom or a molecule with a non-zero net electrical charge, meaning it is either positive or negative and very susceptible to energy changes thus creating a potential for massive instability. As such PORTAL have constructed the perfect soundtrack for a state of energy easily activated by entropic changes and thus erratic and unpredictable shifts in magnetic fields. The noises emerging from the freneticism of the guitar, bass and drums are tantamount to the ionizing effect of a built up electrical charge bolting down from the thundering skies above with pulverizing consequences for any hapless atoms in the line of fire. PORTAL simulates the same sort of lightning bolt reality with jagged undulating waves of sound that capture brutal metal instrumentation in flux with atmospheric dungeony bleakness.

PORTAL remains an enigmatic and mysterious beast. Graced with faced masks and alter egos (such as The Curator on vocals and Horror Illogium on lead guitar), the band more than lives up to this alienating image with the brutal angularity and interdimensional avant-garde compositional constructs of ION. Once the dark ambient intro cedes into the frenetic chaotic metal meltdown the album remains relentless in its caustic between-realities surrealism that culminates in the harsh noise sonic terrorism of the instrumental “Spores” and then after one more shovel in the face with “Phathom” ends the album with the psychically damaging metaphysical dark ambient horror theme outro of “Old Guarde.”

While many tech death bands try to deliver the goods by creating sonic impressions of otherworldly atmospheres and moods, nobody does it quite like PORTAL. Perhaps the strange landscapes of their land down under have given them an alternative view on reality where their angular riffs shape shift like restless sands in the great deserts that cover most of their homeland. Whatever the case, PORTAL have perfected their sonic surrealistic terrorism with nine undulating tracks that despite sounding like no other band, remain utterly distinct from each other as one seemingly formless riff frenzy somehow ekes out a series of recognizable patterns that barely allow it to be classified as music as if the band are in the process of creating a whole new grammatical paradigm for death metal. One that the listener learn this new diabolical language and lexicon before being admitted to the club. Yes, this is an acquired taste reserved for only the seekers of the most technical sort of earache music possible, but if that’s what you crave, PORTAL delivers like a charm.

DOL AMMAD Star Tales

Album · 2004 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 3 ratings
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Having named his project after a fuel refinery in the Descent 3 computer game, Greek keyboard wizard Thanasis Lightbridge decided to take the electronic influences of Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis to new heights when he formed his experimental avant-garde metal band DOL AMMAD in 2000. After churning out a couple demos he recorded a full debut album titled STAR TALES which took a few cues from Therion’s “Theli” and expanded the roles of the electronica involved. STAR TALES consists of four musicians cranking out the usual rock instruments which includes guitars, drums, bass and synthesizers but following in the footsteps of the Swedes is the addition of the 12-piece Europa Choir consisting equally of men and women covering the whole range from bass all the way up to soprano. The album could loosely be called electronic opera metal as it contains a number of swirling electronic effects, the choir adding a wide range of vocal nuances which are all accompanied by heavy metal guitar riffing. Unlike Therion, Thanasis never came from a metal background so in effect DOL AMMAD sounds more like an electronic opera album that happens to have metal involved rather than the other way around.

This album is busy and bombastic to say the least. The album focuses on strong epic melodic developments that groove on into more complex pieces. The scales are somewhat classical in nature as to add the most effectiveness for the opera performers. The symphonic touches heavily fortify the overall glut of sounds with different synthesizer sounds oozing around and wriggling about like a million landed eels after a coastal tsunami. The music rather resembles the artwork that graces the cover with a busy layout of electronica and vocalizations doing gymnastics around each other while the metal sequences chug along in a rather mundane fashion. Unlike Therion there are never really any major metal outbursts as the heavy guitar distortion remains subordinate to the airy swirl of synthesizers and vocals. The whole idea of electronica art metal is quite the unexplored idea to say the least and one that is demanding as to keep up with all the different parts, however the simple rhythmic drives guarantees you can tune in and out of the deeper constructs at will without missing a beat.

What’s even stranger is that despite 12 choir members belting out notes in varying timbres and dynamics, this appears to be completely wordless and nothing more than a series of ooo-ing and aah-ing in what sounds like some sort of ritualistic summoning of Zeus and the god gang from far above. There is a flighty spaced out effect from the constant plethora of vocalizations with the treble section winning out because the bass and tenor tend to get melded with the metal instrumentation. While the overall mood is quite consistent throughout the slightly over hour listening experience, the tracks are varied enough to keep a sustained listened and there are purely electronic intros and overtures to change things up from time to time. This is certainly a grandiose and overweening production job that must have taken forever to mix in the perfect way and for that it is utterly amazing along with other twists and turns that include ethnic percussion sections and angelic harps just to name a few.

While the whole thing comes off to me as some sort of epic video game soundtrack as i can picture different scenarios where a player is fighting the gods in chariots in the sky or some sort, the music is sophisticated enough to hold up on its own two feet. While certainly not for the faint of heart and the bane for those who cannot decipher subtleties between a ridiculous amount of sonic elements, the music overall comes across on many levels depending on how deeply one wishes to focus therefore it is equally compelling as background music as it is a contemplative active experience. For the most part, this is a relentless hyperactive driven album with galloping guitar riffs surrounded by zooming synth parts swirling about in every direction but when it all slows down and the metal drops out, it becomes a progressive electronic heavenly experience. While often compared to Therion, and rightly so is a direct lineage, DOL AMMAD takes the whole concept of operatic metal to a completely different universe and one that i really love to visit.

ENTOMBED Left Hand Path

Album · 1990 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 24 ratings
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Emerging from the festering swamps somewhere around present day Stockholm, the band that began under the name Nihillist which had pumped out a few demos switched gears after a couple years in the late 80s and redesigned themselves as ENTOMBED. As one of the pioneers of early Swedish death metal, ENTOMBED was riding the old school first wave along with contemporaries Dismember, Grave and Unleashed, thus making them one of the “big four” of that particular scene. While developing a unique style that has been retrospectively designated “death’n’roll,” ENTOMBED began very much a fully fueled death metal band as heard on their debut release LEFT HAND PATH which found the band creating a unique sound that has been very influential. What ENTOMBED did was fairly revolutionary for the day. They in effect took the punk infused grindcore energy and distortion overload and married it with the more thoughtful heavy constructs of bands like Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel which immediately changed the course of the entire death metal scene which from this moment would raise the bar.

The title comes from a term in Anton LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible” and lyrically the band engaged in some of the earliest forms of shock and awe with words drenched in dark misanthropy and baleful anti-religious disdain. ENTOMBED were also famous for ushering in some of the earliest buzzsaw guitar sounds which ironically along with the Satanic influences from early Celtic Frost and Slayer would find their home in the second wave of black metal and quickly disappear from the death metal scene from whence they spawned. Even ENTOMBED themselves quickly changed gears after LEFT HAND PATH and deemphasized the Satanic aspects of their music and began shifting to the new style of death’n’roll which they would also have a hand in raising the bar. While moving on quickly from their debut, LEFT HAND PATH became the blueprint for the multitude of old school death metal bands to build upon whether it be the Floridian branch of the scene or the Gothenburg melodic enterprise.

LEFT HAND PATH is a journey into distortion hell where the heavy detuned guitar chords pummel the senses with feedback and fuzz on steroids that were the result of Peavey amp abuse and customized guitar string torture. While not the first purveyor of heavy death themed thrash metal turned bad, ENTOMBED were one of the innovative few from Sweden who steered the genre in a new direction with a different style of composition that retained some of the features of old school rock’n’roll and 80s heavy metal while bands like Morbid Angel were becoming detached from those styles and veering into more surreal territories. ENTOMBED was in effect fundamentally responsible for putting Sweden on the map in the upcoming burgeoning death metal scene. Graced with eerie atmospheres and the tortured possessed vocal style of Lars-Göran Petrov, LEFT HAND PATH not only sounds like a depraved psychopath’s holiday but has moments of melodic beauty with graceful solos wisping away amongst the cacophonous din as if a dove had flown into a dark cave full of rabid bats.

Stylistically LEFT HAND PATH is a fairly monotonous listen which is the reason it took me so long to warm up to it. I have always been more partial to the albums that follow such as “Clandestine” and “Wolverine Blues,” but persistence has paid off and the secrets that are locked up behind the wall of sound have finally unleashed their presence upon me. While similar in style, structure and tone, ENTOMBED employed a rather unique method of song construct that allowed an interesting free form songwriting process. Try to predict where any of these tracks will lead and you will only go astray. The ten tracks on LEFT HAND PATH may sound similar upon first listen but careful listening will reveal how different they are when it comes to the different segments that are stitched together to create them. This is early death metal for sure. There are yet no blastbeat drum outbursts and the guitar squeals don’t rival contemporaries like Morbid Angel. Instead ENTOMBED unleashed a frightening murky mix of sonic assault with a few atmospheric keyboard embellishments to create a morbid mood setting rather than technical prowess. While it has taken me a while to fully appreciate the innovation that LEFT HAND PATH unleashed unto the world, i have to admit that once it sunk in, it has comfortable dug itself deep into me in ways unexpected.

EXTREME Extreme II: Pornograffitti

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 31 ratings
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After catching the attention of the metal scene with their eponymous debut mostly due to the guitar wizardry antics of Nuno Bettencourt as well as the childhood themed syncopated funky metal sound that even got the track “Play With Me” included in a couple films including “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, EXTREME rode the momentum and cranked out their second album EXTREME II: PORNOGRAFFITTI which technically is followed by (A FUNKED UP FAIRY TALE) but absolutely nobody including me knew that it was the case and seems a little excessive actually. The band found huge success with this album as it cashed in just before the total collapse of the glam metal scene that was increasingly becoming more cheesy pop than metal. PORNOGRAFFITTI is no exception to that trend however EXTREME carried out the marriage of glam metal and cheesy pop with more sophistication than say Poison, Warrant or other kitschy purveyors of cheese of the day. Add to that the funk infused compositions and they were ready for primetime.

Nuno Bettencourt was a bona fide guitar hero of the day with technical chops so bold and daring that he was admitted into the big boys club that included the neoclassical greats such as Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteem and Steve Vai. His sophisticated riffing and soloing sequences were the wet dreams of guitarists of the day and he was admittedly brilliant in juxtaposing extreme speed and seemingly improvised techniques into some of the catchiest pop infused melodies in all of 80s metal. On the pop metal side of the equation, the band wrote some incredibly catchy funk metal tunes with addictive multi-part harmonies and ear worm quality melodies that the public ate up which catapulted the album all the way to the #10 position on the Billboard charts and earning them a double platinum release.

To say the least, PORNOGRAFFITTI is quite a diverse release however the tracks basically fall into two categories. The heavy funk metal rockers that display the assiduous riffing with funky syncopation and include extraordinary complex soloing and then… there are the others. The remaining tracks are softer, sweeter and more pop oriented. These tracks include the huge #1 hit “More Than Words” which was basically a duet between vocalist Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt playing on an acoustic guitar. The track was so friggin’ popular during the day that it created a very unique situation in all of metal history that had 80 year old grandmothers lining up at record stores to buy a mostly metal album based upon the one song that touched them like grandpa never did! They most likely assumed that this was some new version of Simon & Garfunkel which led record store employees to have to convince them to buy the single rather than the album!

The followup single “Hole Hearted” was also a huge hit peaking at #4 on the charts. While also an acoustic number, this one sounded more like Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” as it was based on a 12 string guitar with an upbeat mid-tempo stomp sort of groove. Also on the album is a totally left-field turn in the form of “When I First Kissed You” which is a cheesy synthesized Frank Sinatra type of tune that showcases Cherone’s gift for crooning. Given that these mellower pop tracks were so popular makes me realize that Cherone was actually a better crooner on ballads than heavy rock vocalist because when he rocks out he sounds a lot like Paul Stanley of KISS while on ballads like this he displays more sophisticated subtleties. Sometimes on the heavier tracks his vocals just didn’t fit the bill but he always got the job done.

Lyrically speaking, the band utilized the same sort of childhood fantasies laced with nursery rhymes as heard on the debut such as on tracks like “Li’l Jack Horny” and “When I’m President” but on PORNOGRAFFITTI they also developed a sense of political satire as heard in the title track, “Get The Funk Out,” “Money (in God We Trust)” and “He-Man Woman Hater,” the latter of which opens with an outstanding display of Bettencourt’s sizzling guitar playing virtuosity before breaking into the main song. Some of the tracks are head scratchers like the lyrically WTF moment on “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)” which are the lyrics followed by “Suzie wants her all day sucker.” Perhaps the biggest cheesefest on the album comes in the form of “Song For Love” which is a rather hilarious sort of kumbaya moment where hippie ideals unite with sunshine pop embellished with metal backings. Pretty funny but amazingly addictive at the same time!

PORNOGRAFFITTI portended quite a few trends in the music scene that were about to unfold. Firstly, this album was perhaps the death knell for the glam metal world that was about to get dethroned by the grunge scene once Nirvana’s “Nevermind” hit the market. While glam metal of the 80s started out with a raw and gritty sound as heard on Motley Crue’s earliest albums, throughout the MTV years it continued to get more and more infused with cheesy pop hooks and uninspired ballads that eroded its credibility. While bands like W.A.S.P. and Guns N Roses gave it some sense of legitimacy, EXTREME’s “More Than Words” went the final step and completely eliminated any trace of hard rock or metal altogether resulting in nothing but a Simon & Garfunkel sing along type of guitar and vocal piece. While well performed, it didn’t exactly sit well with metalheads of the day.

Secondly, the funk metal scene and genre mixing would catch on with the ultimate culmination resulting in Mr. Bungle’s debut album the following year. While EXTREME may have been on to something as they saw the signs of a burgeoning alternative approach to metal brewing all around them, unfortunately they latched on to the most loathed aspects of the glam metal scene which would be their ultimate undoing. Personally, despite the negatives of PORNOGRAFFITTI, i actually find the compositions to be brilliant and the lyrics, while cheesy much of the time, are lighthearted and don’t irritate me like they seem to do to others. Perhaps the only problem i have with PORNOGRAFFITTI is that EXTREME are trying too hard to be too many different things and haven’t quite found their unique signature sound as they would on the followup “III Sides To Every Story.” Still though, this is a fun little spin that i’ve listened to a ridiculous number of times. While the production of the original is a little sucky, the newer remastered version makes up for it and possible the one to check out.

HATED Breathless Art

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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As the 21st century churns along, it seems that the heavy metal of the 80s and 90s has become ever more distant as bands continue to experiment and strive to find ways to differentiate themselves from the gazillions more bands on the planet these days. In the world of death metal, this has never been more true with the technical strain reaching out in every possible direction, sometimes hitting on something totally awesome (think Gorguts, Obscura or Portal) and more often than not retreading someone else’s surrealistic fantasy (too many culprits to mention). Hailing from the outpost city of Orenburg, Russia which is straddled next to the border with Kazakhstan comes a new type of band that also straddles borders musically speaking. HATED was founded in 2014 and tackles the retro 90s sound of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death in its full glory.

The band is a mere trio consisting of Tim “Graveyard” Verb on bass, Morgoth Hel on both guitars and drums and guitarist / vocalist who goes by the sole name Andrew. HATED succeed in producing a fiery cacophonous technical workout with the obvious influences deriving from Death albums such as “Human,” “Individual Thought Patterns” and “Symbolic.” Never before have i heard such a convincing second coming of Chuck Schuldiner’s unique and innovative sound finding new life long after his untimely passing. So convincing is HATED’s performance on their debut digital release BREATHLESS ART that if someone were to tell me that this was some sort of long lost collection of unreleased Death tracks, i would fuckin’ believe them. Even Andrew’s vocals are a dead ringer for the dead singer as he nails every aspect and nuance of Schuldiner’s idiosyncratic style. Likewise the guitar riffs, bass and drum parts simulate the complexities of the aforementioned Death period of albums.

For the most part HATED dish out an almost perfect carbon copy of Schuldiner and the rest but they do add their own to it as well albeit not as often as i would prefer. As well as the plethora of Death sound blasting out at high decibilage complete with frenetic guitar squeal solos and chugging riffs, the band at times implements standard classic 80s thrash and traditional riffing and captures the early 90s zeitgeist quite successfully. Old school is the name of the game with this one however some of the compositions take the approach of newer tech wizards Vektor with more sophisticated compositional changes and deviations from the straight forwardness of old school performances. I guess in that respect they do tackle the Death experience of “The Sound Of Perseverance” at times but the tracks have more of an old school death metal form of worship.

HATED simply nails the Death retro sound. Hyperactive intense guitar riffs complexly transverse sophisticated compositional multiverses with Andrew’s impressive vocal range effortlessly assuaging every distorted note into compliance. HATED is very much a band to look out for in the future. At this point they are way too derivative of their icons for my comfort but BREATHLESS ART is an intensely compelling listen finding the power trio in full command of their retrospective musical roles. The tracks are exquisitely designed and manage to match the high standards of classic Death. Once these guys shed the blatant Schuldiner worship and find a more original style of their own, these guys could be the next Vektor. I’m the meantime they more than impress on their rehashed and uninventive musical prowess.

OZZY OSBOURNE Speak Of The Devil

Live album · 1982 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 13 ratings
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The year 1982 was a difficult one for OZZY OSBOURNE to say the least. After recording two successful solo albums he was confronted with the sudden death of guitarist Randy Rhoads which left him in a scramble to find a replacement. Before Rhoads’ fatal airplane crash, there were plans to release a live album that covered both the “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman” albums which showcased Rhoads’ spectacular guitar playing in a live setting, however after his death the whole project was put on hold for personal reasons but yet OZZY’s label Jet Records were demanding two more records, so a compromise was made with an alternative live album with two titles: SPEAK OF THE DEVIL in the US, and TALK OF THE DEVIL in his native UK. This was also a time of great uncertainty as to how to continue his up til then successful career considering he owed a great deal of his solo success to the extraordinary songwriting and guitar playing skills of Rhoads.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL (i’ll just use that title since it’s the only one i’ve known) was basically a last minute sort of project and a whole tour was created just to support it. The SPEAK OF THE DEVIL Tour took place from 10 December 1982 to 29 May 1983 in order to produce enough material for a double live album which would fulfill his contractual obligations. The one little kink in the plans is that at the time, absolutely nobody was accomplished enough to fill the shoes of the amazing Randy Rhoads who was light years ahead of the pack. The decision was made to cover twelve Black Sabbath songs instead and the cast of musicians included Brad Gillis of Night Ranger on guitar, Rudy Sarzo freshly out of Quiet Riot on bass and Tommy Aldrige who played with Pat Travers and Gary Moore on drums. So basically a completely different lineup than the Rhoads album years.

As to be expected, OZZY’s former bandmates in Black Sabbath weren’t particularly happy with his decision as they were releasing their own Dio fronted live album in the form of “Live Evil.” Despite the disapproval, OZZY’s live album outperformed and rode on the phenomenal success he was enjoying as a solo artist and perhaps a sympathy purchase out of respect for the recent Rhoads tragedy. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL was basically a mix of different recordings from live settings. Some of these are from live performances that were not in front of audiences as to get the most possible takes and then some of the audience noises were dubbed in later. This double album includes various Sabbath tracks that cover the entire lifespan of OZZY’s stint with the band. It includes the classic “Black Sabbath” from the debut release all the way up to his last album’s title track “Never Say Die.”

It’s imperative to keep in mind the circumstances in which this album was recorded in order to appreciate it. I’ve always considered this a throwaway album of sort but when i learned of the context in which it was released, it all makes sense and i do love it for the reasons involved. In a way it’s an escapist retreat to the past in order for OZZY to catch his bearings since his usual method of coping was getting obliterated on drugs and alcohol. It was in retrospect a good move as it was something totally within his grasp to fulfill his recording contract obligations. As for the music itself! It is exactly as you would expect. The tracks performed are all of excellent quality and honor the original renditions respectfully. That is both a strength and a weakness.

While performed exquisitely by the band members and OZZY himself, this wasn’t really material that needed to be revisited at the time as the current metal scene was more forward leaning than retrospective, however given the circumstances, OZZY was doing the best he could. This is actually a very well performed album and the later remastered versions correct the lackluster production of the earliest releases. While this pales in comparison to the outstanding “Tribute” album which showcases Randy Rhoads that would come out five years later, this is still a quite satisfying Sabbath tribute album by their former lead singer and not one that i’m ever disappointed to listen to once i decide to do so.

OZZY OSBOURNE Diary Of A Madman

Album · 1981 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 42 ratings
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The early 80s were a magical time for OZZY OSBOURNE who had left Black Sabbath without any guarantees of future success. By sheer luck he met the late great Randy Rhoads and together they set a new standard of heavy rock and metal that would usher in the next chapter of heavy metal music for the 80s riding alongside the NWOBHM. After the success of “Blizzard Of Ozz,” OZZY and Randy Rhoads collaborated on yet one more album of the same style as the debut but in the process of an incessant touring schedule become more of a cohesive unit as heard on the followup DIARY OF A MADMAN (the title is possibly taken from the 1963 film about an evil spirit). Rhoads in particular found that the album was rushed through due to time pressures imposed by the label. This is the period of crazy turbulence for the OZZ man which produced great controversy and in the process a whole lot of publicity. Plagued by accusations of Satanism and an overall image of public enemy #1 for the conservative folk about, OZZY’s image of biting off bat heads and allowing his future wife to scare the band off as a ruthless manager overshadowed the fact that DIARY OF A MADMAN was a very innovative album, musically speaking, in the history of heavy metal music.

While OZZY’s lyrics continued the polemic mysticism and poetic errancy, the real star of the show was the classically trained guitarist Randy Rhoads who raised the bar over his own neoclassical guitar prowess of the debut album. On DIARY OF A MADMAN, Rhoads put his heart and soul into the compositions contained on this album which showed his musical sophistication move up a couple notches. Once again, Rhoads’ guitar playing is a fusion of the Black Sabbath metal construct embellished with the neoclassical tricks that Ritchie Blackmore developed in Deep Purple. Also in the mix is the pyrotechnic soloing prowess straight out of the Eddie Van Halen playbook only with more finesse and thoughtful in delivery. Tracks like “Over The Mountain” and “Flying High Again” have become classic standards in the metal universe and demonstrates OSBOURNE’s one two punch of escapism and drug indulgence issues, however tracks like “You Can’t Kill Rock And Roll” and “Believer” display a rather innocent sense of optimism absent from “Blizzard Of Ozz” which seemed to be stuck in a negative outlook.

One of my favorite tracks on the album and in all of OZZY’s career for that matter is the exquisitely designed title track which is a basic blueprint for the progressive metal to come. The track seamlessly melds different time signatures and unique classically infused chord progressions peppered with differing dynamics that create a bona fide masterpiece of heavy metal music. Despite having been rushed through, all songwriters and musicians on board gelled quite beautifully and the album doesn’t suffer one bit showing the professionalism of everyone on board. Likewise the album flows nicely as each track has a unique feel and stands on its own two feet. The only track i find to be a little weak is the forgettable “Little Dolls” which could have used some sprucing up. Because of the momentum created by “Blizzard Of Ozz,” the followup DIARY OF A MADMAN was an instant international hit selling well and even spawning two hit singles (unlike the debut), but as always it wouldn’t be an OZZY album if there wasn’t some controversy involved.

The controversy derives from the fact that bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake were very much a part of the songwriting team but received no credits for their efforts. Another misstep occurred with the 2002 re-issue that took erased their roles on the album altogether and was re-recorded with OZZY’s at the time bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Mike Bordin (of Faith No More.) History has rectified theses errors as the 2011 deluxe 30th anniversary edition returns the original album but these bad moves has surely tarnished OZZY’s reputation as a fair player in the world of business, but to be honest, it was probably more on the management which happened to include his wife Sharon Osbourne, the true business brains behind the scenes.

DIARY OF A MADMAN is one of my favorite metal albums of all time with strong catchy melodic metal tracks augmented by some of the best musicianship of the day that makes it feel like the timeless classic that it is. The album also feels like it was the mere dawn of a new era for the OSBOURNE / Rhoads team and everyone was anxious to see how Randy Rhoads would evolve into the next level as he seemed utterly unstoppable but sadly it was not meant to be. While on tour for this album, Rhoads played his very last show on 18 March 1982 at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum in Tennessee and died the next day in an airplane crash in Florida. The tragedy would send OSBOURNE’s career in a tailspin and another bout of deep depression. While the world was robbed of one of the greatest musical contributors to the metal universe, luckily Rhoads left behind two strong albums with OSBOURNE before his untimely demise. DIARY OF A MADMAN is perhaps the stronger of the two but personally i find each album has its own charm.

LIMBONIC ART Moon in the Scorpio

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 18 ratings
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LIMBONIC ART originated as a band of three members but as the story goes in the world of extreme metal, personalities clashed and the project was whittled down to the two members of Daemon on lead vocals, guitars and bass and project manager Morfeus on keyboards, lead guitars, drum programming and vocals. Riding in the wake of fellow Norwegian bands in the second wave of black metal, LIMBONIC ART was one of those who opted for the symphonic route in the vein of Emperor, Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth. MOON IN THE SCORPIO was the debut and displayed the early years of black metal engaging in increased uses of symphonic elements that while already explored in black metal, hadn’t been fully exploited to full effect.

The main focus on MOON IN THE SCORPIO is in creating an operatic symphonic circus of sorts although a rather deranged one. Like much black metal of the day, the guitar and bass create receptive tritone riffing loops while the keys provide the atmospheric accouterments delivered in a more sophisticated symphonic fashion. While the black metal elements such as tremolo guitar playing, demonic raspy vocals and blastbeat drumming patterns are successfully utilized, what sets LIMBONIC ART apart from the pack of the day is that the main focus is on the melodic symphonic keyboard atmospheres that make the whole affair sound like some sort of black metal version of Phantom of the Opera especially when the showtune type segments break from the bleak monotonous riffing and Deamon sounds like a Broadway star.

Overall the atmosphere is dark and chilling with the tracks slowly ratcheting up with extended lengths. The opener “Beneath The Burial Surface” cranks it out for almost fourteen minutes. The album also makes use of a variety of vocal styles including Gregorian monk type chanting on “Overature: Nocturne” and choral arrangements on “In Mourning Mystique.” While the drum machine isn’t quite as satisfying as a real drummer would have been, the truth is that black metal drumming isn’t quite as technically necessary as say a killer death metal band requires and although a little variety is always preferred, i have to admit that in the case of MOON IN THE SCORPIO it works out just fine as the arrangements are well thought out and nothing sounds canned. Add to that the nice production and mix of the aggressive metal elements and the melodic sensual darkness of the synthesizer runs, bell chimes and other sounds that make a rather compelling listening experience.

At times the droning march does remind me a bit of Summoning’s brand of atmospheric black metal but LIMBONIC ART creates a more diverse use of several different movements within tracks that go through different stages with diverse dynamics and tempos. It’s obvious that LIMBONIC ART was very much an influence for later bands like Carach Angren that mixed black metal with dark Gothic operatic features. For me the atmospheric and symphonic branches of black metal can be very hit and miss and the results depend on the proper balance of the opposing forces involved. LIMBONIC ART manages to craft the proper tug of war between those forces to create a unique and satisfying debut in the form of MOON IN THE SCORPIO and a formula that they would utilize for their multi-decade run to the present. The title of the album was most likely taken form the 1987 film but doesn’t really convey any sort of connection.

EXTREME Extreme

Album · 1989 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.12 | 8 ratings
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Coming from Boston, USA, the funk glam metal band EXTREME formed from the ashes of several other bands imploding before they barely got started. Gary Cherone (vocals) and Paul Geary (drums) from a band called The Dream, Pat Badger (bass) from a band called In The Pink and guitarist Nuno Buttencourt coming from Sinful. Once the four hooked up and began writing songs, the chemistry was complete and quickly caught attention in the live circuit of the Boston region. While forming in 1985 it only took a year to win the Boston Music Awards in both 86 and 87. This caught the attention of A&M Records turned PolyGram in 1988 and soon thereafter the band was signed and released their eponymous debut album catching the wave of the 80s alternative funk metal scene coupled with a glam appearance.

Despite the attempts to pigeonhole EXTREME into any sort of categorization however they were actually quite distinct from other bands of the day with their tracks consisting of catchy Van Halen-esque guitar riffs accompanied by funky syncopated counterpoints. Nuno Betterncourt was a particular developed guitarist offering super fast and technically advanced guitar soloing much in the vein of Eddie Van Halen. These guitar antics are most pronounced on “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today)” and the track “Play With Me” the latter of which took parts of Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca in A minor” as the intro and outro with a sizzling classical infused solo in the middle. “Play With Me” track was featured in the films “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Jury Duty” which helped get the band some greater national attention. Also, Gary Cherone had a deep voice sounding a lot like Paul Stanley of KISS and the band also employed three-part harmonies especially on the slower ballady tracks such as “Watching, Waiting” and “Rock A Bye Bye.”


While exhibiting a funk metal approach to the compositions, EXTREME comfortably fit in the glam metal scene as well with the standard gaudy hairspray and stretch pants of the day but mainly with the catchy pop hooks wrapped up in heavy rock riffing and extended soloing. On this debut album the band was still struggling to shed their influences which despite having a fairly unique sound still has plenty of sections that sound like they would fit right off a Van Halen or Queen album. The band also displays their love of genre jumping with not only classic heavy rock but the more subdued slower tracks as well but nothing near the more expansive free reign of their second album “Pornograffiti.” The album enjoyed moderate success selling over 300,000 albums with the help of the singles “Little Girls,” “Kid Ego,” "Mutha (Don't Wanna Go To School Today)" and "Play With Me" which found airplay on MTV and select radio play.

EXTREME is a fairly pleasant album to experience. The musicians are all tight with Nuno Bettencourt showing a highly developed sense of melodic virtuosity beyond the standard of the day. The tracks have an innocent playfulness to them as they are all associated with childhood experiences and the rhythms are not only catchy but have a bouncy carefree delivery save the two slower tracks. This debut album is actually a pretty accomplished recording but there a few issues i have with it. First of all the production is a little lackluster and sounds a bit too thin as if it was released on an MP3 before they existed. Secondly the band tends to try too hard to be other bands on any given track and a unifying chemistry hadn’t quite gelled yet as they were still getting their feet wet. All in all, EXTREME is a decent debut for a band that had a larger musical palette than most of their contemporaries. This debut was successful in garnering enough attention that would allow their followup to break them into the mainstream.

XYSMA Yeah!

Album · 1991 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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XYSMA was a short-lived band that formed in 1988 near the Finnish city of Turku and has been cited as one of the earliest example of the much loathed term “death’n’roll.” The band’s name has the charming meaning of “material resembling bits of membrane in stools of diarrhea.” Now yeah! That’s fucking metal! I think :o

Despite living in Finland, the band had close ties to the Stockholm scene and were buddies with the legendary Entombed with whom they cross-pollinated ideas, thus going down similar paths by linking rock’n’roll meets Sabbath type compositions with the old school death metal scene. At this point XYSMA had a mix of grindcore as well as early traces of the death’n’roll that would be more prominent on their second album “First & Magical.”

Their debut album YEAH! lies somewhere in between Sabbath, death doom, grindcore and old fashioned death metal with lots of changes between tracks and even within individual tracks. At this point the band was a quintet. Janitor Mustasch as vocalist dished out the typical guttural growls of the old school death metal scene however a few clean vocal utterances occur. The demos showed clear influences from bands like grindcore era Carcass and Napalm Death.

XYSMA had an interesting sound and its easy to see where they were going and create a rather unique mix of styles. The tracks are short with only one hitting over four minutes. The riffs are fast and furious and fit into the old school death days. The drums are the weakest link with a lazy sludge type of drumming pattern without much variation however it’s the compositions that take on aspects of old fashioned rock’n’roll in the song styles.

It’s apparent the band was on to something with YEAH! However, somehow it misses the mark feeling like a rather mediocre batch of tracks that never simmer down into the proper nourishing broth. Death metal riffs alternate with Sabbath laced guitar runs and occasional grindcore bursts of freneticism all seem randomly strewn together without much thought as how to tie them together. There’s even an acoustic opening on “Uranus Falls!” Stool sample time maybe? LOL,

While sometimes verging on brutal, YEAH! mostly floats by in the mid-tempo range with grungy guitar riffs and a rather weak percussive drive. The bass is also almost buried in the mix and the vocals do become a bit monotonous. Unfortunately XYSMA had all the elements to craft a killer metal album but hadn’t quite mastered the maturity to place all those pieces into the right places. Hardly a bad listening experience, YEAH! does deliver a nice slice of old school adolescent rawness however it sort of misses the mark in comparison to other established acts of the era.

PORCUPINE TREE The Sky Moves Sideways

Album · 1995 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 17 ratings
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Although it all began as a joke, by the time Steven Wilson and his now official band called PORCUPINE TREE made it into the 90s, the popularity of their Floydian inspired space rock was taking off like a rocket ship to the moon. After a number of demos and two fully fledged space rock albums to get their feet wet, the band was really more of a solo project but starting with this one, a real band was in play with a style that reached the culmination of the psychedelic space rock sound on the third album THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS. Your listening experience for this one may depend on which side of the Atlantic you reside because of the fact that two different versions exist. THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS was the debut album in North America and showed the band mastering their full potential as they also unveiled various aspects of the different styles they would take on future releases. The European version which came out first contained the seventeen minute track “Moonloop” as the second to last track whereas the US release nixed it in favor of a shorter running time. Since the US version is the one i’ve grown attached to, it is the one i prefer so all my gushing admiration for this album is based on it.

It was never any secret that 70s Pink Floyd was the biggest source of inspiration for Wilson and company and that was never more true than on THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS which has been compared to “Wish You Were Here” for having two sprawling tracks that begin and end the album with shorter tracks sandwiched in between, however a careful listen will yield all kinds of influences from the Floydian world up to “The Wall”. Likewise, all the tracks flow together relatively smoothly making it in reality a long series of movements that culminate into larger suites and extended musical motifs. Although Steven Wilson remained ringmaster and creator in chief even at this point, this was very much a real band effort on album number three which allowed a blossoming of musical expressions to make a much richer album than the previous two. Most importantly added to the lineup was ex-Japan keyboard wizard Richard Barbieri who deftly mixes his best Klaus Schulze styled progressive electronic backdrops over the hypnotic space rock grooves. Likewise, Wilson’s alter ego in the art pop outfit No-Man found him a steady drummer with Chris Maitland filling the spot. With all musical spots freshly manned with eager talent, PORCUPINE TREE was ready for prime time and THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS shows them honing their chops into highly addictive seductions of sound.

THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS starts off rather chaotically with sputtering electronic effects that belie Floydian space groove that soon steals the show. A false flag to throw the listener off? Not sure, but once the Floydian rhythmic flow begins, it grooves with a vengeance. While the “Phase 1” of the title track gently rolls on with a sensual rocking groove as “The Colour Of Air” movement strives to lull the listener into a hypnotic state, it does however evoke a call and response that makes me want to scream “Hello, Is There Anybody In There?” at times. Perhaps too comfortably close to “Comfortably Numb,” but even with such brazen Floydisms slapping the listener in the face, somehow the electronic wizardry derails any cached earworms from the past and keeps PORCUPINE TREE sounding like distant cousins of the Gilmour and Waters team rather than mere imitators. The near nineteen minute suite churns on into a gentle space rock groove with Wilson belting out his unique fairy tale narrations before the track goes into an upbeat psybient and psytrance mode that summons a high intensity percussive drive and multidimensional atmospheric turbulence in the “Wire The Drum” movement. Tribal drums meets staccato keyboard sequences while a bouncy bass illustrates spaced out blissful melodies. The suite finds resolution with the “Spiral Circus” finale which drifts off into the clouds and exits with a soft acoustic guitar riff with a fluttering flute run flapping around like a pretty butterfly in the breeze.

Sandwiched in the middle of the lengthy title track suite that begin and end the album are three shorter tracks (plus the “Moonloop” jam if you have the European version). “Dislocated Day” debuts a more familiar sound heard on future PORCUPINE TREE albums and the first of the band’s career to demonstrate heavier rock with hefty guitar riffs, biting percussive drive and much increased tempos. This also provides the gateway into their progressive rock leanings that would culminate on albums like “In Absentia.” “The Moon Touches Your Shoulder” on the other hand is a totally chilled out acoustic guitar on codeine type of track with a catchy melody and poetic lyrics from Wilson’s most chilled singing style. “Prepare Yourself” is nothing more than a short spaced out bluesy soloing sequence that serves as a fluffer for the the “Phase 2” of the title track, unless of course you have the European version with “Moonloop” inserted between. This track is my least favorite and i’m happy to have the edition without it (or at least thrown onto the second bonus disc). It is nothing more than a drawn out spacey sequence of synthesized loops and effects.

The final “Phase 2” is begins much like “Phase 1” with non-committing electronic atmospheric effects only finding stability after a drum roll coaxes them down to Earth. The opening “Is…Not” segment displays more love of classic Pink Floyd as it generates a heavy connection to tracks like “Have A Cigar” with restless electronica and eventually a banging bass. Once a melodic development is allowed to form, it bursts onto the scene with a dramatic guitar riff which calms the atmospheric presence into an obsequious counterpoint. Nice guitar work on this one for a while but eventually as “Off The Map” continues the suite, an estrogen filled siren seduces a rambunctious guitar to come out and play. As it arrives it begins to perform a rather spunky blues workout around the ostinato bass line. It performs all kinds of tricks yanking every emotional heartstring with a mere bending of a note or two. It gets wild and woolly before the track slowly wends down as it reprises the initial Floydian bass dominated riff that began it all, not after more bizarre excursions into ambient electronica however.

On THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS, Steven Wilson and PORCUPINE TREE not only joined the ranks of the progressive rock revival that was unfolding alongside bands like Anglagard, Opeth, Dream Theater and the neo-prog bands like IQ and Arena but were also fundamental in the revival of good old fashioned 70s psychedelic space rock alongside other space tripping bands like Ozric Tentacles. While Pink Floyd was still around in name only, it was really just a David Gilmour solo effort milking of the enterprise and tarnishing of the name with mediocrity in the form of albums like “The Division Bell”. PORCUPINE TREE on the other hand were uploading an entirely new operating system into the space rock paradigm by adding all the relevant 90s influences of neo-psychedelia and chilled out electronica such as trip hop and as well as bass heavy stoner rock in tandem with the tried and true chill pill elements of 70s psych and electronica.

While never really intentionally wanting to steal the baton away from the great Pinksters, somehow on THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS, they did just that and created one of my personal favorite albums by the group and the absolute best of the 90s output. The 2 CD re-release is well worth the time as it has a brilliant alternative mix of the title track suites as well as the “Moonloop” tracks that went missing on the US release. I’ve been holding off on reviewing this one since i couldn’t decide if the Floydisms are too derivative or not but when all is said and done, they are no more derivative of Pink Floyd than Floyd was of the blues artists who came before them and this is one of those rare albums that i literally never tire of because Wilson’s brilliant mixing and production skills weave such a massive sonic web around any similarities that it keeps them in their own unique musical territory while respectfully conjuring up warm fuzzy memories of the past. This is where PORCUPINE TREE came to fruition as a band and a trend that would only continue to develop into a more distinct musical entity.

DEEP PURPLE Who Do We Think We Are

Album · 1973 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.42 | 48 ratings
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DEEP PURPLE was always a strange act. A rather random cast of characters starting as a pool of talent arranged in a similar way to pop acts like The Monkees, somehow found its own soul as one member after another built upon what came before and finally beginning with their 1970 landmark album “In Rock”, the band had hit upon the perfect chemistry. This was the period that has been designated the Mark II era of the band’s long and changing career and was the time when Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitars), Jon Lord (keys, piano, organ), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums and percussion) were one of the most successful bands alongside Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in the nascent world of hard rock and early heavy metal. The band sold albums by the millions and couldn’t book enough shows to fill the demand of their dynamic live performances. Their success was the envy of musicians far and wide and one of those rare acts that seemed to appeal to all whether they preferred hard rock, prog, soul, jazz or classical. This band simply had a universal charm.

And then there was the negative side of the equation. After the success of their multi-platinum release “Machine Head,” DEEP PURPLE became living legends and toured like there was no tomorrow under the management’s brutal dictatorship and constant pressure to perform. All was not well with the PURPLE ones after the whirlwind tours across the world had finally come to an end. Exhausted were they and that is exactly when the pressure reared its ugly head. Instead of the sensible idea of allowing the band to recuperate from their enervating and demanding live performances, the record company and all the money grubbing whores who profited dearly from the band’s phenomenal success instead pulled out their slave driving whips and put the band immediately back in the recording studio to pump out a followup album which resulted in the very frowned upon WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE which to this day still divides hardcore fans like the DMZ between the Koreas.

As the tale goes, the infighting between management and members resulted in major schisms that led to Ian Gillan jumping ship only a few months after WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE was released. Citing fatigue as the main culprit which led to all the other issues at hand, the band carried on the best that they could although agreeing on tracks to include on the album was one of the major points of contention. The rather short album consists of a mere seven tracks and includes one of the band’s most famous tracks “Woman From Tokyo” which narrated the famous Japanese tour that also yielded one of the most celebrated live album recordings of the entire rock era with their hugely popular “Made In Japan.” After that famous single, what we mostly get is another six musical compositions that have sort of fell to the bottom ranks within the greater DEEP PURPLE canon, and that is indeed a true shame because i happen to be one of those who actually loves this album although i will readily concur that WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE is indeed one of the weakest releases within the Mark II lineup.

Often cited as nothing more than a series of disconcerting efforts and passionless pits of uninspired drudgery that showed the band playing their older material by the numbers, i see this album from a different point of view. True that this without doubt could have been a better album given all the vital circumstances needed to create a “Machine Head 2,” however even taking the album for what it is, this is one excellent album filled with classic PURPLE material. For one, i don’t want a sequel of a previous masterpiece but rather a new set of tunes that take a bold new approach to the sound laid out from what came before. WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE does just that with heavy guitar riff oriented bluesy rock in tandem with the excellent keyboard accompaniments and yet more strong vocal performances from Gillan. There is no slacking off here that i can detect.

After the initial “Woman From Tokyo” the tracks continue with an interesting array of heavy rock that is more blues oriented than on their previous albums but not too far off the cuff of other Mark II albums when all is said and done. “Mary Long” is an exception listed below (me no likey) and while “Super Trouper” doesn’t jump into the typical heavy DEEP PURPLE rocker, it does however have a unique fragility to it with a very catchy melody and smooth instrumental interplay that is more sophisticated than the average DP track. “Smooth Dancer” is an absolute gem with a heavy emphasis on a nice guitar riff (reminds me of what “Nobody’s Home” would sound like on the future “Perfect Strangers) with excellent keyboard interplay in the form of a rather honky tonk sounding piano run. The melody creates one of my absolute favorite DP tracks of their career. The keyboard solo is also quite adventurous as Lord is a relentless madman.

Next up: the phenomenal “Rat Bat Blue.” This is yet another masterpiece of music in the band’s long career with a heavy blues riff that adds some interesting progressive rock time signature workouts at key moments (albeit brief). Honestly it sounds a tad like “Rock ’n’ Roll Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer only without the lame cheesiness and elevated to a higher arts position. Brilliant grooves, excellent vocal interplay and one of Jon Lord’s most treasured sizzling keyboard performances in his entire career that makes Keith Emerson look like nothing more than a piano student who wants his mommy. “Place In Line” takes the pure blues route that sounds more like a John Lee Hooker track than the DEEP PURPLE the world had come to know, however despite this sidetrack into a sorta “Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues” that sounds a tad Janis Joplin, this track finds resolution as it ratchets up heaviness. A major faux pas for some but for me this merely finds a band paying tribute to a style of music that inspired the members all the while adding their own voice. I find it quite satisfying myself. Last up: “Our Lady.” Spacey organ intro is followed by a semi-ballad that maintains a thick organ presence and sounds a bit like a 60s psychedelic band of some sort. Not one of the best tracks of the album and definitely not a wise ending choice but i find this one to have a nice groove and beautifully intricate melody as well.

Here are a few reasons i can detect as to why this album has received such a bad rap. 1) Reputation. Yeah, this album has gotten trashed by everyone over the years to the point that someone who had never listened to this album would assume that the band was trying to record covers of The Partridge Family or something. 2) The album cover and title are admittedly awful and give the impression that all the stale and soulless tunes that have been purported to exist surely must be as such since the cover is about as inspired as a adipose laden ass sitting on a plexiglass coffee table. 3) There are some bad moments on this one although not nearly as bad as one would expect. Unfortunately one of these musical faux pas’ s comes as the second track “Mary Long” which is a rather insipid tale doubt a girl losing her virginity and even hosts a major no-no of stealing the riff from Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff” for certain parts of the track. 4) This is different than “Machine Head” and has a completely different energy. Riffs are varied, solos (both guitar and organ) are more varied. Everything is more eclectic and more ideas are strewn about which makes some people feel uncomfortable i guess, especially when the relativity factor is part of the equation (that being it followed the brilliant consistency of its predecessor.)

A perfect album this ain’t. There are so many ways this could’ve been a better album but i personally love this one a lot and find it a testament to the fortitude of a great band at their absolute worst that is still able to crank out excellent music despite wanting to pull out a semi-automatic rifle and blow everyone else around them away. While i would never tout this album as the pinnacle of the band’s career in any way, shape or form, i do find this to be woefully underrated, under-appreciated and misunderstood. While i will probably never convince anyone to the contrary, i cannot find the horrible aspects of this album that i have read about forever. This is an excellent album that only could’ve been much better with some rearranging of tracks and a few more months of recovery after a lengthy tour. However, as fate would have it, the band would splinter, Gillan would exit stage right and David Coverdale would usher in the Mark III phase. True that we cannot change history but we can alter our misguided perceptions of a great album that’s been deemed inferior for too long.

Four stars because the strengths are so much greater than the weaknesses.

IRON MONKEY 9-13

Album · 2017 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Existing in the concrete jungles and unheard of for almost two decades, the Nottingham simians IRON MONKEY swing off their vines and onto the world’s stage once again. Having formed in the 90s when sludge metal was in its infancy, the band followed in the footsteps of Eyehategod, Acid Bath, Buzzov-en and Grief when they finally released their debut album in 1997. The band got their feet wet with their eponymous debut that displayed their primal ability to deliver the sludge metal treatment like the big boys with all the caustic fury and hypnotic distortionfests turned up to 11. After an initial positive response the sludge apes quickly pumped out their second release “Our Problem” which was not only met with critical acclaim but remains one of the hallmarks of late 90s sludge metal. As is too often the case, the band became plagued with personal and music industry disputes and soon the MONKEY go bye-bye leaving a mysterious void in the potential that seemed would never find a second life.

Having been almost forgotten as a mere footnote in the growing annals of metal history, IRON MONKEY has left the thick over-grown jungles and released an album of new material. Despite existing in a rather truncated history in their early stages, IRON MONKEY still had their share of lineup changes and with this resurrection there is no exception. This comeback was orchestrated by two of the original founding members: guitarists Jim Rushby and Steve Watson. This decision is somewhat of a gamble since original hardcore punk inspired vocalist Johnny Morrow surprisingly died in 2002. Also adding to this dubious reformation was that the original drummer John Greaves wasn’t invited to rejoin the new MONKEY spanking club. Undeterred, the band has reemerged as a mere trio with Rushby adding vocal duties to his resume and Watson trading in his guitar for bass. New to the mix and picking up the drumming duties is Scott Briggs who brings his hardcore punk sensibilities to the table from his stint with the crusty punkers Chaos U.K.

One of the most immediate head scratchers for those of us who accumulated IRON MONKEY’s mere two releases and the twofer comp release is that 9-13 uses the exact same album cover artwork as the 2-CD compilation “Our Problem / Iron Monkey” which is obviously going to cause great confusion and could possibly invoke a flurry of cursing in paragraphs for the uninitiated who happen to accidentally order the wrong product unknowingly. The product inside though is quite different than the two albums that precede it. This is the new IRON MONKEY that has grown out of the old. While incorporating the expected template of grinding sludge riffery and adrenaline fueled feedback frenzies all dressed up with misanthropic vocal tantrums, the band has certainly opted out of dirge doom drudgery and added a more hardcore punk infused energetic delivery that ultimately leads back to the days of such early birds like Discharge which is a welcome change since the early albums were lacking that extra ass burning drive that this one seems to have.

In fact, the opener “Crown Of Electrodes” misleads by insinuating that the band has gone hardcore and crust altogether. The following “OmegaMangler” does nothing to dispel that conclusion. Finally on the title track which is third on the queue list, the old IRON MONKEY begins to shine through as the punk infused drive yields to the distant sludgy jungle calls of the past with that unmistakable Sabbath-esque doom shuffle and high octane distortion cranked up for full pyroclastic feedback flows. On “Toadcrucifier - R.I.P.P.E.R” we’re treated to an extraordinary bout of feedback abuse before the energized bluesy sludge shuffle steals the limelight. “Destroyer” tears the roof off the joint as it delivers one of the most unrelenting and uncompromising heaviness of the band’s entire career and one that sounds like the ultimate crowd please in a live setting. Ditto for the following “Mortarhex.” “The Rope” is perhaps my favorite track of the lot as it delivers an instantly evil-as-fuck riff supplemented by Rushby’s more than adequate for the job vocal delivery. In fact, Rushby does an excellent job at replacing Morrow as he has perfect control over the gargling grunge and sludge mood setting management that this style of metal requires. “Doomsday Impulse Multiplier” continues almost by the numbers, the full sludge effect. “Moreland St. Hammervortex” takes a stab at creating a lengthy near ten minute closer guaranteed to leave a caustic acrid taste in your mouth with intended results delivered.

In the end, i understand why IRON MONKEY felt they had to leave the jungle and jump onto the world’s stage once again. As the internet allows older music to be exposed to a wider world audience, their first two albums have gained more recognition than they did at their time of release and there has always been a sense of unfulfilled destiny as the group mysteriously disbanded seemingly forever. Overall, 9-13 provides a platform for the two founders to uncork all that pent up sludgy rage that has been simmering for two decades and unleashes it in full metal fury and for once doesn’t sound overly derivative of early sludge masters Eyehategod or Acid Bath. Here they exude a volcanic explosive energetic release that in some ways blows away their 90s output. However, the whole thing still comes off as rather retro as countless sludge bands have long surpassed IRON MONKEY in their ability to perform their metal jungle gym routine. Despite the recycled album cover that is supplemented by recycled 90s sludge tricks of the past, these guys trimmed down to a trio do a surprisingly excellent performance of a nice modern punk infused retro sludge metal routine.

Although bands like Neurosis and Intronaut, for example, have long ago taken the sludge metal paradigm to more progressive pastures leaving the 1.0 version of the sub sounding a little one dimensional, IRON MONKEY nevertheless exudes a revitalized energy on their latest 9-13 despite not offering a great deal of variation in terms of compositional development. If old school feedback and fuzz coupled with crushing riffs augmented with the classic angry vocal effect is your poison, then 9-13 won’t disappoint but if you don’t exist in an anachronistic bubble of another era, then this one just misses the mark at finding a top tier status under the infinitely more sophisticated bar that modern metal bands have raised so high. In the end, 9-13 will ignite the pistons, grease the spark plugs and rev the engines and produce the full adrenaline effect that only this sort of raw, filthy and primal type of metal can induce, but after 18 years i would have expected some sort of upgrade in compositional development. As it stands 9-13 will have to serve as a decent but not outstanding slice of super heavy sludge metal from one of the underground classics of the 90s. Whether IRON MONKEY deserves a position in the 21st century as a contemporary sludge metal act remains to be seen, but i have to admit that i’m a sucker for this sort of primordial manic outburst of energy without the overly complex layering of effects at times.

TÝR How Far to Asgaard

Album · 2001 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 5 ratings
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While the tiny little territory called the Faroe Islands may hardly be on anybody’s radar as far as the world metal music scene is considered, this little rugged subpolar archipelago located just north of the UK and equidistant between Norway and Iceland could be considered an extension of the Scandinavian music scene in general. With only a population slightly over 50,000 inhabitants, the tiny territory has produced a significant number of metal bands alone (as well as other musical genres) ranging from Heljareyga, Hamferð, Vernon, Synarchy, Asyllex, Hatursvart, Terji to this review’s subject of choice TÝR which has managed to poise themselves as the islands’ greatest musical export. All these musical connections result in the fact that the Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark with close ties to Copenhagen as well as the rest of the Nordic lands. The culture traces its language and history back to Old West Norse from the Middle Ages and the language is closely related to Icelandic which makes it one of the closest linguistic connections to the old Viking tongues of the past.

Not surprisingly the subject matter TÝR is almost exclusively steeped in Viking lore, mythology and history. Their name itself is derived from the god of law and justice in the Norse religion and the music is heavily steeped in kvæði, the traditional folk music of the Faroe Islands which consists of stanzas plus a chorus sung between every verse. The band was formed in 1998 when Heri Joensen and Kári Streymoy decided to get together and jam which resulted in a similar outlook of creating a style of musical that was designed to break down the walls that have been erected between the various styles of metal the that have been created thus the music of TÝR is a unique blend of power, doom, progressive, Viking, folk and traditional classic metal. The debut album “How Far To Asgaard” may sound like a tribute to the Lord Of The Rings style Tolkien-based themes but in reality “Asgarard” is one of the Nine Worlds and home to the Æsir tribe of gods in Norse Mythology. For the debut Pól Arni Holm was recruited for vocals and Gunnar H. Thomsen for the bass parts.

While TÝR would develop quite the epic progressive metal sound on subsequent albums, on the debut, “How Far To Asgaard” displays their knack for mixing all the styles of metal ingredients dispersed throughout the metal universe around a mostly traditional Faroese folk style of compositional construction complete with homegrown musical scales and quirky time signatures. The album starts off feeling more like a doom metal release with chugging and slowed down tempos as “Hail To The Hammer” and “Excavation” delve into the Viking world lyrically and plod along with downtrodden doom inspired riffs constructed with a folk feel and a progressive metal methodology of incorporating high register vocals and challenging time signature jitteriness. A classic 80s metal feel comes into the picture as well as the metal aspects tend to have a somewhat classic compositional style with verses, choruses and virtuosic guitar solos. The mix of all these styles may sound quite strange at first and it took me a few spins for “How Far To Asgaard” to sink in as i found i needed to calibrate my sensibilities to its quirky idiosyncrasies but after i did so found myself really loving the intricacies of how these tracks were constructed and the melodies become quite catchy once you catch the Faroese vibe.

My favorite tracks are those that think outside the box such as “Ten Wild Dogs” which uses a hammer on guitar lick as the guitar with a slightly warped sense of rhythm yet existing in the general framework of the established fusion sound TÝR have created. While the tracks are definitely metal based with Faroese folk mixed in, the track “Ormurin Langi” is a metal version of a traditional Faroese song and if anyone if familiar with some of the Pagan leaning black metal bands of Norway, Sweden and Finland such as Enslaved and Moonsorrow, this traditional style of Nordic folk music should sound quite familiar. The lyrics are mostly in English on “How Far To Asgaard” but native Faroese is also used in some choruses and of course on the traditional. Here’s another debut that i find myself against the grain on. True that it requires a little indoctrination to the subtleties and an education into the ethnomusicology folklore that it derives from, but once i put this on while driving on full audio emersion, i found i loved this one a lot as it’s some of the most authentic fusion of ethnic folk music and modern day metal i’ve ever heard and doesn’t resort to some of the beer chugging bards of future albums. Nice harmonics, instrumental counterpoints and history lessons. Excellent!

“How Far To Asgard” has been released twice. One with the original ominous purple sea album cover with the rune inspired band logo and again with an artistic vision of the Faroese landscape with Vikings gazing out from the clouds above. This second version re-released in 2008 on Napalm records after the band found more worldwide success contains the two bonus tracks "Ólavur Riddararós” and “Stýrisvølurin" which are two more examples of traditional Faroese folk music dressed up in metal clothing and are highly recommended. Not only do i like the second release better for the artwork and extra two tracks, but all the bad production gripes i’ve encountered regarded this album seem to have been rectified on this second go at it. While it’s taken me a while to get into the music of TÝR, i have to admit that after hearing a few albums, it was this debut that made it all click and now i’m hooked.

MASTODON Cold Dark Place

EP · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.75 | 4 ratings
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Following 2017’s full release album “Emperor Of The Sand,” Atlanta based sludge metal outfit MASTODON gave hardcore fans another slice of their unreleased material on this four track EP titled COLD DARK PLACE which came out in September digitally and on CD but also as a limited edition ten-inch vinyl edition that came out at the end of October 2017.

COLD DARK PLACE is basically the leftover tracks from the band’s last two album session. “North Side Star,” “Blue Walsh” and the title track all date back to 2014 from the “Once More ‘Round The Sun” sessions and “Toe To Toes” comes from the latest “Emperor Of Sand” sessions.

There is nothing on this EP that you wouldn’t expect. Nothing here is experimental or out of the parameters of the band’s established style that was displayed on the retrospective albums that these were initially recorded for. MASTODON has been toning down the heaviness in their music ever since the 2011 album “The Hunter” and COLD DARK PLACE shows the band continuing their journey into less metal territory with more emphasis on progressive rock.

While most tracks are on the borderline of progressive rock and metal, “Toe To Toes” is exceptionally mellow for MASTODON’s overall sound. There are more clean vocals displayed on this EP than on any proper album. Overall i’m not too keen on MASTODON’s direction that they’ve been going.

While metal bands mellowing out and going prog rock isn’t anything new or something i’m against in any way, MASTODON seems to be getting stale with super predictable tunes that cruise on auto pilot. This EP is okay with nothing being offensive but i find it quite boring compared to the greatness they unleashed a decade ago.

ZU Jhator

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The Italian band ZU is one of those bands that is entirely pointless to categorize because throughout their two decade career they have fully embraced their diverse palette with an extra emphasis on experimentalism. For the most part though, this trio of Massimo Farjon Pupillo on bass, guitar, piano, synth, Tomas Järmyr on percussion and Luca T. Mai on baritone sax, electronics and vocals hasn’t strayed too overly far from the amorphous free-form drone compositions with extreme metal clothing that incorporates harsh guitar distortion, heavy percussion and hellish Zorn inspired sax attacks. While totally unique in any regard, ZU share their chameleonesque genre shapeshifting once again as they continue to go Ulver on us and completely throw a curve ball with their 15th release (counting the collaborations) JHATOR which retains the meditative practice that they are famous for but drops the aggressive brutality that typically supports it and opts for a more relaxing and contemplative soundscape.

The title JHATOR is a Tibetan practice of sky burial funeral practice of placing a corpse on top of a mountain to decompose and allow the natural world to reclaim the elements that compose the body. This “excarnation” of allowing a body to be scavenged by carrion birds and natural bacteria is practiced extensively in areas such as Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Mongolia and Bhutan. This album contains two expansive tracks that sound as if they are the soundtrack for such practices as the moods and styles fit the bill perfectly. Unlike the more metal meets jazz oriented albums that ZU is famous for, this one straddles the line of post-rock type sprawling soundscapes that incorporate ambient synthesized atmospheres with experimental electronic simulations of animals, spirits and natural events accompanied by traditional Eastern instruments such as the Japanese koto (21 stringed versions as well as the 17 string bass koto), gongs as well as other unorthodox instrumentation such as a hurdy gurdy, amplified tuba and Flugabone which all requires an extra eight guest musicians to pull off.

It’s almost as if the band members went on a spiritual retreat to the Himalayas somewhere and gained inspiration in the most profound ways as the sprawling meditational tracks perfectly convey the message in pure instrumental form. The first track “Jhator: Sky Burial” opens with gong strikes followed by an electronic insect swarm of some sort that signifies the inevitable return to the Earth and the ultimate recycling of the corporeal being into the natural systems that surround us. The build up of the over 21 minute track is tantamount to the most apocalyptic sounding Godspeed You! Black Emperor material with a dreadful drone effect characterized by the subtle flux of the instruments in tandem. The second track “The Dawning Moon Of The Mind” signifies the decomposition stage and utilizes its twenty minute plus existence with a darkened droning synth background with what sound like distant angelic forces mediating and chanting while the electronic noises sputter around. The exotic instruments break in from time to time to offer ceremonial intermissions as the otherworldly dirge continues.

Despite having been around for two decades and known for not only dipping into the metal, jazz and progressive rock worlds with their cross-genre skipping eclecticism, ZU still remains a bit under the radar as being slightly too off-kilter for the average genre dweller. ZU is far too overreaching to be easily pegged into any of those genres and with JHATOR, they completely reveal completely new aspects of themselves as they effortlessly navigate the expansive narrative soundscapes that convey the message of the ancient Tibetan ritual. This album totally eschews any metal aggressiveness, any jazz syncopation outbursts or progressive rock excesses. JHATOR is exclusively grounded in soundtrack type epic sprawling tracks that simulate post-rock but come off more as deep tribal ambient type music that finds inspiration from ancient wisdom rather than from modern day society. This one is almost like a musical painting where each note is equivalent to a paintbrush stroke that exhibits its effect for an allotted period of time. Strange and hauntingly beautiful, JHATOR is a bizarre experiment from ZU that works out remarkably well.

MR. BUNGLE OU818

Demo · 1989 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 3 ratings
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MR BUNGLE released their fourth demo OU818 in 1989 after three previous demos that showed the band debut as a death metal band on “The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny” and then took a complete stylistic shift on their second demo “Bowel Of Chilly” as they completely dropped the style in favor of a Fishbone inspired fusion of ska and funk rock, however it took them a couple demos to warm up and finally scored a cohesive band sound on their third demo “Goddammit I Love America!” On OU818 they continued to hone their sound into an undeniably addictive eclectic mix that at long last sounded like no one else on the music scene. Not only did Mike Patton get his vocal act together but compositionally speaking, the band began to fuse progressive rock into the jazz-fusion and funk metal mix.

The title OU818 was a play on the popular yet lame Van Halen album of the day titled “OU812” which found the Van “Hagar” sound rapidly failing and becoming stale. This is the point where both Danny Heifetz would replace Hans Wagner on drums and Bär McKinnon would take over Luke Miller’s role on horns. The classic lineup was complete and the chemistry is magic at this point. The band had even taken it upon themselves to handle the production and it really does sound much better than the three demos that came before. While the debut demo was clearly rooted in the metal world, the band took a hiatus for the next two with only snippets of heaviness but the heavy riffing returned on OU818 with bombastic outbursts of funk metal riffing interspersed between the surreal soundscapes that sandwiched them.

OU818 is in effect a rough draft of the eponymous debut album that would appear on the Warner Brothers label in 1991. Of the six tracks aboard, four are almost nearly completed tracks from the first album which include: “Squeeze Me Macaroni,” “Slowly Growing Deaf,” “The Girls Of Porn” and “Love Is A Fist.” The remaining two tracks consist of the opening “OHUE818” which is a snazzy little intro with Patton emulating a radio DJ talking shit about the new demo and dissing the Van Halen album that was current with electronic music sputtering on in the background. While the main staple is the ska infused funk rock and metal that they had been developing, MR B had diversified its sound manyfold finding not only more metallic riffs interspersed about but a clear John Zorn influence raging on in the horn section especially on “Love Is A Fist.”

The final track only appears on this demo and despite a track name like “Mr. Nice Guy” sounding like a possible alteration of an Alice Cooper classic, it is in fact a ska funk number with jazzy guitar riffs, a beefy bass line and an overall similar sound to the riffs heard on “The Girls Of Porn.” MR B also has entered sound effect territory with the classic dialogue from the 50s school skit about how not to be a MR BUNGLE finding its way into their world as well as sudden genre shifts and time signature freak outs run amok. Overall this is an excellent demo and the best of the four as it sounds like a fully formed mature MR BUNGLE has emerged from the death metal and early Fishbone clone sounds of only a few short years before. So impressive is this demo that it caught the attention of Warner Bros who would release one of the weirdest albums of their label’s history. While this is excellent as a demo, it still lacks all the perfecting touches that a major budget provides and since four out of six tracks are on the debut in a much better finished product, this remains excellent but not really essential. Very well worth the time to explore beyond just a hardcore fan curiosity though.

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