Metal Music Reviews from siLLy puPPy

AGALLOCH Marrow of the Spirit

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 45 ratings
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AGALLOCH’s first three albums had a lot of crossover appeal that allowed those who usually don’t dabble in extreme metal to find something to latch onto via catchy folk laden melodies, post-rock compositional constructs and healthy doses of interesting electronic segments with an overall brilliant mix of all the elements simmering into a unique product. Add to that the diverse lyrical delivery that showcases John Haughm divvying his vocal dynamics into clean, shrieked and whispered enunciations that allowed a wider spectrum of emotional connection to be conveyed. On “Ashes Against The Grain,” the band ratcheted up the metal aspects a bit to add more Isis inspired post-metal riffs to ride the waves of the atmospheric tides of the Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspired post-rock sensibilities. However the band still complained that despite all efforts, the album was still over-produced and not what they had hoped for.

Add to that the fact that “The White EP” which immediately precedes their fourth full-length album MARROW OF THE SPIRIT was almost entirely acoustic folk-based and it’s no wonder that the band was wanting to up their metal creds a few notches which is exactly what they achieved (for the most part) on this installment of six tracks teased out into an hour and six minutes of full AGALLOCH glory. There were also many other changes afoot. Not only did they end their contract with The End Records and sign with Profound Lore due to personality clashes but ex-Ludicra drummer Aesoop Dekker was brought into the scene to replace Chris Greene. Having his history as a black metal drummer provided the necessary percussive backbone that allowed AGALLOCH to soar above and behind their folk metal roots and implement some extra rambunctious gusto throughout MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. However, make no mistake about it. Despite the fortified black metal aspects, this is an AGALLOCH album through and though and the metal is only one ingredient in a varied recipe.

As the opening track “And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness” slowly creeps in with a sole cello (provided by Jackie Perez Gratz of Gracyeon) in the company of a babbling brook and chirping birds, it seems as if AGALLOCH had employed the talents of Yo-Yo Ma to do his best interpretation of the soundtrack to “Schindler’s List,” however after nearly four minutes of Pagan ritualistic remorse music, “Into The Painted Grey” blasts onto the scene with some of the most intense and bombastic black metal of AGALLOCH’s entire career as it strikes with a blitzkrieg vengeance in the vain of Krallice or Weakling but soon enough reverts to the familiar past glories of melodic dual guitars painting an atmospheric folk inspired melody accompanied by tribal drumming. The track continues to parade through a variety of styles that fit the AGALLOCH brand name quite well, namely shrieked lyrics under the soaring post-rock textures which only happen to implement a higher octane of distortion and adrenalized tempo marches with the usual unexpected changes and cool production techniques.

All is good as the album begins with the usual high level AGALLOCH quality shining through but the band hits their first major hiccough with “The Water’s Monolith.” Nothing bad about the track per se but despite a really strong launching into a more aggressive musical scene, this track seems to have gotten cold feet and sounds more like an unreleased leftover from “The Mantle” as it engages a familiar acoustic folk guitar strumming with atmospheric guitar sweeps to augment the emotional depth. Likewise it engages in the same call and response of clean and shrieked vocals with the latter finding the heavy distorted grooves and familiar melodic developments. The distorted guitars attempt to disguise this malapropos piece that evokes a statue of a stag in a city park more than a darkened bleak landscape depicted on a brilliant relief surface of the album cover. A musical faux pas? Not for mere mortals, but for AGALLOCH, a major no no in their impeccable streak of perfectly designed albums.

The album regains its character with one of my favorite tracks of the band’s career. “Black Lake Nidstang’ is a whopping seventeen and a half minute composition of utter brilliance. It begins with a dramatic timpani and atmospheric ratcheting up effect that evokes a true Pagan ritual is about to take place, much like “The White EP,” but with more emphasis on the metal distortion. Add to that the Pink Floyd type echo guitars as heard on “The Wall” and brilliant transitions between segments and all is forgiven for the third track’s seemingly out of place role. This track goes through many transitions but the most bizarre comes around the eight minute mark where the track turns into a scary and depressive black / doom metal dirge where Haughm’s vocals seem on the verge of breakdown as the doom metal tempos evoke some of the most gut-wrenching performances of his career. The track cedes into a claustrophobic yet hypnotic trance inducing electronica sequence that allows a creepy Moog to allow a vibraphone and glockenspiel to ratchet up the next chapter which emerges as an echoed guitar sequence that evolves into a black metal finale, well more like a sludge metal finale with blackened overtones. Sludge riffs, sludge percussion, black metal shrieks. Outstanding track!

“Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires” continues with more of the echoey Pink Floyd inspired guitars but adds some metal guitar grunge accompaniment and the expected atmospheric mastery. As a near ten minute track, the first third is a build of to the second third where it ratchets up the black metal fury which despite a similar sound that started the album had been neglected for the most part up to this point. While employing the sickest guitar antics providing the necessary atmospheric compositional flare, the entire track retains a soaring melodic majesty that is augmented by an ambient backdrop. The closing ten and a half minute “To Drown” takes MARROW OF THE SPIRIT full circle and reverts back to the Pagan folk ritualistic aspects with a cello reprise, sound samples of nature and also includes unique tones and timbres from petrified bones and glass and metal sheet percussion that create a majestic dark ambient finale replete with whispered poetry, soaring atmospheric guitar and a bleak depressive epic and atmospheric overall feel. While the piano parts are abundant on MARROW OF THE SPIRIT, they significantly contribute to this last track that for the most part sounds like a classical piece that happens to employ some noise, metal and dark ritualistic elements.

AGALLOCH successfully added new layers of complexity to each of their albums. By the time you get to the end of MARROW OF THE SPIRIT you are wondering if you have stumbled into a Holst’s “The Planets” recital that has taken on a Wagner-ian bombast as it slowly staggers out. While not as perfectly implemented as “The Mantle” or “Ashes Against The Grain,” MARROW OF THE SPIRIT is an amazingly brilliant slice of genre bending fusion that keeps AGALLOCH at the top of their game. While the black metal aspects have been turned up a few notches and might scare aware the crossover crowd only swayed by the abundant folk, this album is more non-metal than metal. The atmospheric prowess is the dominant force that just happens to implement more bombastic metal to add even more dynamic forms of contrast. The album was produced by Steven Wray Lobdell who found the perfect balance between the myriad elements that could easily derail into a cacophonous mess but each strand of sound stands proud as it takes its turn in the great folk/rock symphony that constitutes MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. Did AGALLOCH gain their metal creds? Well, sort of. AGALLOCH was never a pure metal band. This Portland, Oregon bunch is much, much more and on this one they take their game to a staggering new level. Only the third track stands out as lackluster.

AGALLOCH The White EP

EP · 2008 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 14 ratings
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After three full-length studio albums and two EPs, it was clear that dark neofolk was a key aspect in the music of AGALLOCH which when combined with black / doom metal and post-rock, created their signature sound that won the world over beginning with the outstanding sophomore album “The Mantle.” After ratcheting up the metal aspects a bit on “Ashes Against The Grain,” AGALLOCH may have amped up the distortion and aggressive bombast a bit but it was still quite apparent that dark neofolk acoustic guitar was the underpinning of the compositional flare that the music was built around. While the first few EPs were basically a collection of leftover tracks that showed a little behind the scenes action of John Haughm and Don Anderson’s innermost musical leanings, THE WHITE EP, displays a completely stripped down journey into AGALLOCH’s most primal musical aspirations and in the process creates their first consistent EP, stylistically speaking.

Technically this is the second and final installment of a pair of EPs that began with “The Grey EP,” but really, screw that. The previous EP was fairly weak and uninspiring. It was nothing more than leftovers from “The Mantle” bin, but THE WHITE EP is something completely different. This collection of seven tracks that meander over the 32 minute mark has a complete life of its own and single-handedly showcases ALLOGACH as first and foremost a dark ambient neofolk band that just happened to dabble in metal on their studio albums. Oh, and these are completely original and have not appeared elsewhere. Unlike the previous offerings, this EP is majestic and sublime. It takes the listener on a journey and one that is a pleasant ride on every stop on the way. The passion is afire and quite apparent simply by reading the cast of characters involved. While the full-length albums were limited to four or five musicians at the most, this one hosts a whopping nine.

THE WHITE EP’s mission becomes obvious from the getgo with the voices of children on the opening “The Isle Of Summer” which were borrowed from the 1973 film “The Wicker Man.” Likewise, the album ends with these same vocal samplings and in the middle develops a rather ritualistic Pagan musical meandering that captures the merging of acoustic folk guitar, electronic ambience, tribal percussion and sounds of nature all intertwined to create an alternative soundtrack to the 1973 film that without a doubt was one of the primary impetuses in the creation of the overall AGALLOCH sound. Listening to this EP is like digging into the soulful essence of a musical act at its primary inspirational level and the fact that AGALLOCH pulls it off so well only showcases the evidence that these guys’ heart and soul was in this every step of the way.

This is primarily an instrumental EP with vocals, albeit whispered, spoken and chanted provide mere supplemental instrumental roles rather than lyrically based. While the acoustic guitar is the primary instrument that drives the parade of chords that coalesce into the melancholic melodies that emerge, there is ample additional instrumentation in the form of timpani based percussion, accordion, synthesizers, jew’s harp and even a Peruvian ceremonial horn. Oh yeah, there’s a goat horn too! While acoustically divine, the electric guitars emerge as an ambient backdrop to great effect and interesting piano runs emerge to create a rather classically inspired connection as well. Despite all these accouterments of timbres and tones, everything really connects seamlessly along with birds chirping alongside dark ambient installations. It seems that everything just flows perfectly from beginning to end.

By the end of this listening experience, it almost seems as if i went on a random hike through the woods in an undisclosed Oregon forest and just happened upon a Pagan ritual underway. Awed by the spectacle, i stopped to observe the entirety as i happened to catch it from its initial opening as i became caught up in the spectacle of it all. The music inspires reflection and inner contemplation upon the physical reality upon which i stand and allows the spirits of the Earth to evolve my consciousness. While neither technically demanding nor commercially distracting, THE WHITE EP nevertheless implements extremely addictive melodic hooks that are augmented by subtle electronic and production techniques yet makes me feel as if this is purely acoustic.

THE WHITE EP is all about atmosphere and emotional upwelling. This is Pagan ritual music at its finest. Perhaps their stint with Nest on they 2004 split inspired a more stripped down approach that eschews the adrenaline inducing emotional responses of metal, but all i have to say is that this is by far the best of the AGALLOCH EPs and despite dropping one of the most characteristic elements of the overall AGALLOCH sound, proves to be quite compelling in its introspective simplicity and soul stirring emotional tugs that inspire a true connection to the natural world much in the way the film “The Wicker Man” was supposed to. I’ve never warmed up to the soundtrack of that film despite its overall popularity and THE WHITE EP has emerged in my world as the perfect alternative soundtrack for what that movie was supposed to make me feel. No metal here at all. Headbangers beware. This is soul stirring dark ambient laced neofolk all the way with some extra layers of electronic sophistication. Brilliant.

AGALLOCH Ashes Against the Grain

Album · 2006 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 54 ratings
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Given that AGALLOCH took their name from aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) which is a fragrant wood used for incense, the band really have spent their career operating like a slow flowing resinous sap that such trees exude. Not only is this true in their shoegazy post-rock meets black and folk metal musical style but also in the fact that this Portland, Oregon based band really took their time to craft their studio albums. After the success of “The Mantle,” the band began performing their music live for the first time which meant even less time for song crafting and studio production values. It took four long years before they would follow up “The Mantle” with their third full-length album ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN (not counting the two EPs) but in that time the band came to a couple conclusions.

Firstly, “The Mantle” was a behemoth in its making with tons of extra non-metal instruments, electronics and production tricks which proved extremely difficult to replicate in a live setting therefore the band had to restructure much of that album to adapt to a live setting. This scenario resulted in AGALLOCH’s decision to scale back the bloated accoutrements and focus on a more stripped down approach that they could effortlessly convert from studio album to live setting without having to reconstruct the entire range of compositions. This proved to be a wise decision not only for adaptive purposes but also in the fact that it would’ve been a bad move to simply construct a “Mantle II.” Therefore ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN developed as a completely different beast from its predecessor, which in the long run proved to be a very good thing.

Secondly, as a studio only band, John Haughm not only contributed vocals but also played acoustic and electrics guitars as well as handling all the percussion duties. Clearly unable to tackle all these duties live, AGALLOCH brought in Chris Greene as the band’s official drummer and thus officially made the band a quartet. While Greene was added to the musical cast and joined before recording began on this album, he still didn’t perform drums on “Falling Snow” and “Not Unlike The Waves.” Due to his dissatisfaction of adapting to the band, he would depart after the European tour and replaced by Aesop Dekker ( of Ludicra). However, after ironing out the kinks in their studio / live performances ratio, AGALLOCH set forth to record their third album which was plagued with problems including the entire album being lost in a computer glitch that made them re-record from scratch. Ugh.

In every way, ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN is everything “The Mantle” wasn’t, at least in the context of the world of AGALLOCH. Yes, there are many similarities. This is still a skillful mix of black and doom metal with dark neofolk and post rock, however on ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN the entire recipe has been shifted. While “The Mantle” was primarily neofolk based with influences from Death In June and Sol Invictus dominated the sonicscape, on album #3 the focus was directed more in the sludge / post-metal camp. While Godspeed You! Black Emperor had always served as a major wellspring of creative juju, on ASHES, the band was beginning to blend in more with contemporary post-metal bands such as Isis, Neurosis and Pelican. While Godspeed had been subjugated to the underbelly compositionally speaking, heavy sludge metal riffing and upbeat tempos became the dominating factors on ASHES.

While the metal has been ramped up, there is no shortage of electronic freak outs, acoustic folk or moments of inner retrospection via catchy melodic hooks. Opposite of “The Mantle,” ASHES begins more aggressively with less catchy ear hooks but ultimately slowly weaves its magic as it progresses. While on “The Mantle,” it took a few tracks before the metal dominated, on ASHES the slower neofolk domination doesn’t kick in until the fourth track “Fire Above, Ice Below.” And also serving as the photographic negative duality is the fact that while on “The Mantle” the folk emerged beneath the grungy distorted din, on ASHES it’s the metal that has to emerge above the folk. I think i see a pattern here, hmmmm.

ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN does not provide the immediate satisfaction that its predecessor allowed. This one takes a bit more work to decipher. While “The Mantle” was an instant classic in my ears, ASHES had to prove itself but it has unleashed new magic every time i’ve spun it and created an alternative AGALLOCH perspective in many ways that to this day i’m not entirely sure as to how it has unleashed its magic. Somehow the band has woven another post-metal meets folk and electronic tapestry that shape shifts when least expected and manages to drag things out as long as possible and playing the ole switcheroo just before things become stagnate. While the band has stated that this is their worst album due to the fact that it relied on too much production mileage, i have to disagree. AGALLOCH is one of those bands much like Pink Floyd that have inherently entwined themselves into the production process and would be a lesser band for not having done so. There are no virtuosic instrumental moments on an AGALLOCH album. This band creates a larger than life listening experience that is all encompassing. That is a good thing.

Yes, this one is a grower unlike “The Mantle” which casts an immediate spell, however this one is well worth the effort. It requires several intense listening sessions but well worth the effort indeed. While i admit the initial opening generic aspects of “Limbs” may not evoke any passions of fire, it doesn’t take long for the majesty to sink in. ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN ultimately comes off as a classical music album dressed up in contemporary clothing such as post-rock, metal and folk. Much like its predecessor, ASHES maintains a distinct musical flow between tracks but unlike “The Mantle,” relies on a series of opposing forces rather than easily cooperative ones. There is more tension that results from a heavier post-metal dominated soundscape than the lush acoustic folk pastoral marches of the past, however careful listening will find similarly plucked acoustic elements imbued throughout albeit not in the forefront. This is particularly more noticeable in the midsection of the album with “Not Unlike The Waves” coming to the forefront.

The three part suite “Our Fortress Is Burning” concludes the epic journey in an entirely satisfying fashion. It begins with a prognosticator of how it will end, with a bubbling volcanic gurgle of electronic excitation but in the beginning it ushers in a post-rock guitar riff that slowly builds into a more recognizable Mogwai type of riffage with a Pink Floyd type of guitar performance tacked on. While unified in name only, this three part finale only reflects the entire nature of the album that tacks many suites together as a united whole and arbitrarily labels them linguistically, however these last three tracks that constitute this suite are the most magnanimous of the bunch as they effortlessly juxtapose countless styles of post-rock, black metal, space rock and folk. Overproduced? I don’t think so. This is musical perfection. Get over yourselves if you think otherwise. As Act I cedes into Act II, a little musical heft is added with the percussion. This is a slow burner so expect post-rock baby steps. The Third Act is entirely dedicated to an intense electronic frenzy of the quasi-formulaic world of quantum level electronic weirdness with guitar feedback or at least that’s what comes to mind when it eerily transpires.

Indubitably, comparisons between “The Mantle” and ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN will result since these were AGALLOCH’s peak years that defined them as the legends they have become. While similar in nature, ASHES takes a logical leap in ascension from what came before in that it doesn’t rely on instantly catchy melodies as the hook basis. In contrast, this one is a murkier affair that if one were to analyze the cover art of the two albums, perfectly reflects. “The Mantle” with its black, gray and white cover art easily portrays an image of a stag amidst a wintery tree-lined landscape whereas ASHES displays a nebulous unfocused image of a bird in a Van Gogh after a wild night on the town sort of way. Likewise, the musical constructs reflect a more surreal and less comprehensible manner of how the sonic parade of sounds is laid out. The result is a feeling of less warm and fuzzy melodies and an impending dread much like the feeling of that moment before the storm hits which while somewhat placid in the physical realm is mortifying in the anticipatory emotional factors that precede. ASHES perfectly captures that “bardo” state in between major events. This was a slow burner but when all is said and done, a more sophisticated slice of musical fusion than “The Mantle” and a more than worthy successor.

AGALLOCH The Mantle

Album · 2002 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 71 ratings
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AGALLOCH took their name from the resinous wood of the aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) and on their sophomore album THE MANTLE, this Portland, Oregon based band demonstrates how to let their musical cross-pollinations flow like sticky sap through an hour plus timespan that encompasses a wide spectrum of sounds and styles yet never outstays its welcome. THE MANTLE was a major improvement over the already developed and mature debut “Pale Folklore,” yet the first album was crippled by a lackluster production job that prevented the band’s true atmospheric prowess and uncanny ability to juxtapose disparate sounds in completely logical yet untried manners. THE MANTLE showcased the band in its comfort zone as it gracefully oozed out lusciously strummed acoustic folk guitar chords, electronic embellishments, black metal inspired doom and gloom and post-rock fueled compositional constructs that allowed the music to build to dizzying crescendoes and beyond.

Their first release of the new millennium, THE MANTLE has become one of those must-have albums in any metal collection as it embodies a perfection like few others before or since. Much in the vein of their debut, THE MANTLE tackles a wide range of influences that weave the possibilities of the dark neofolk sounds of bands like Death In June and Sol Invictus with the extra bombast of the metal world in the form of doom inspired riffing dressed up with black metal tremolo picking and shrieked vocals that played tag with clean sung lyrics sometimes resulting in whispered poetic prose. At first mistaken for a Scandinavian band for their use of guitar work utilized by bands ranging from Ulver, Katatonia and Amorphis, AGALLOCH allowed the black metal universe to expand beyond its second wave limitations of the legions of copycats and followed in the footsteps of the innovators that ultimately made them a part of the club that managed to craft a new hybrid of musical innovation.

The album’s signature sound is instantly addictive as the introductory acoustic guitar strumming of “A Celebration For The Death Of Men” demonstrates the band’s ability to create instant ear hooks augmented by subtle changes in atmospheric variation. The track cedes seamlessly into the following monster composition “In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion” which runs the gamut of metal meets neofolk possibilities and not only creates a seemingly infinite variety of subtle changes but demonstrates how the band ratchet up the band’s theme by connecting the tracks into a larger whole, in this case a pseudo-concept about how images can be conveyed through sound. The images in this case are real photos of Portland, Oregon landmarks beginning with the stag on the album cover in a shrouded mysterious blanket of foggy gray and nebulous murky atmospheric detachment. The music perfectly suits the assortment of photos that are included in the liner notes.

THE MANTLE is a slow burner and not one to be listened to in a hurry. This is not what one would deem a headbanger’s type of metal as it seems a vast majority of the real estate is dedicated to dreamy acoustic folk, shoegazy post-rock and hypnotic grooves embellished by electronic wizardry and outlandish production techniques. In fact only on the fourth track “I Am The Wooden Doors” does the black metal inspired fury have domination over the mellower aspects of the album and yet even here, is graced by unorthodox acoustic guitar solos that break in beneath the distorted metal galloping of the guitar grunge. Perhaps another amazing aspect of THE MANTLE is how the vocal harmonics create a whole other level of melodic counterpoint. Not only do the vocals range from the growled, clean, whispered and shrieked but in how they work together to create a larger atmospheric experience.

Sometimes one vocal style will dominate whereas other times clean and shrieked vocals will trade off by ushering in a call and response sort of forum. While many a black metal album’s shrieked vocals are indecipherable, AGALLOCH create almost the most perfect balance of lush melodic musical passages with grainy irascibly charge yet well enunciated periods of black metal magic embedded into the folk dominated soundscapes. The ratio between the sleepy time folk tranquility and the majestic metal heft is meted out in a satisfyingly elegant proportions and while there are points when certain hypnotic post-rock passages appear to be wearing out their welcome, AGALLOCH has a firm understanding of just how far to milk any certain idea before pulling out the rug and taking a 180 stylistically speaking.

THE MANTLE also masters the art of the reprise, that is, simple melodic hooks that are introduced early on and then find their ways back into the mix only with completely different variations but somehow bring the feel of an epic journey where one must revisit past destinations before moving on. In addition to the aforementioned influences, THE MANTLE brings the epic grace of Opeth to mind, especially from albums like “Morningrise” with the brilliant commingling of acoustic and electric elements but also finds epic bands like Pink Floyd-esque guitar solos and space rock feel in “The Hawthorne Passage.” The way that the entire album is laid out evokes a great rock opera and i detect many small touches that remind me of Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” not necessarily in musical delivery but in the compositional posturing and dynamic flow of one track to the next as they incorporate subtle sounds and themes (such as military march drumming and sound samples.)

AGALLOCH found musical perfection on THE MANTLE. All the elements that had been laid out so brilliantly on “Pale Folklore” aligned perfectly on this sophomore release. The album has become a classic in the metal world for great reason. This is one that has the double effect of being instantly addictive yet offers an infinite variety of details to offer satisfying repeat listens. In fact, this is one of those albums i can safely put on perpetual replay and never grow tired of hearing since it conveys such a vast array of moods, tones, textures and timbres graced with a sophisticated production that allows every little detail to shine through the grim, depressive atmospheric displays that permeate THE MANTLE’s post-apocalyptic soundscape. When it comes to a brilliant display of how folk, metal, post-rock and atmospheric ambient sounds are woven together, i cannot think of an example better than THE MANTLE. Just digging this out for a review led me to keep it on replay for several days straight and i’m still awed by it. THAT only happens when an album is friggin’ awesome beyond belief. Yep, THE MANTLE is just that.

AGALLOCH Tomorrow Will Never Come

EP · 2003 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.31 | 9 ratings
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After releasing the debut “Pale Folklore,” AGALLOCH started the trend of releasing EPs between their full-length studio albums. The second of these TOMORROW WILL NEVER COME emerged after the sophomore album “The Mantle.” However, instead of releasing one EP between “The Mantle” and “Ashes Against The Grain,” for some reason the band decided that two EPs would somehow be a good thing. Why? Since each one has only two tracks, the world will never know.

This one comes off more as a single than an EP. While the first EP “Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor” was 28 minutes in length, TOMORROW WILL NEVER COME consists of a mere two tracks that only last 7 minutes and 32 seconds. Hardly worth wasting resources over yet there were 500 copies that were initialed by Jason William Walton, so i guess a money making gimmick this was but in the end a really unnecessary addition to the AGALLOCH canon.

“The Death Of Man” (Version III) is nothing more than an alternative take of the famous introductory folk strumming that gracefully initiates “The Mantle” in all its glory. However, there is really nothing that great about this and only subtle atmospheric touches differentiate it from the original. After hearing this all i want to do is hear “The Mantle” and wonder why in the world this was released.

The second track, the title track is at least original and not found elsewhere. This is a nice dreamy folk track exclusively performed on acoustic guitar and shows a bit more classical guitar influence than the usual dark neofolk of AGALLOCH albums. While the guitar strumming is beautiful, the addition of field recordings in the form of a documentary don’t seem to fit in very well. This stylistic approach was originally desired for Don Anderson’s tenure in the band Sculptured but was rejected (for good reason.) This track also displays the massive influence the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor had on AGALLOCH’s post-rock aspects. The subtle freaky atmospherics that whiz by behind the folk guitar with the psychotic spoken ranting is right out of their playbook.

This is not an outstanding release. It is worth hearing for history’s sake but nothing redeeming at all. Only the second track is an original but nothing to write home about. A disappointing little tidbit following the band’s classic “The Mantle” and an obvious attempt to cash in on its unexpected popularity. For completist’s only.

AGALLOCH The Grey EP

EP · 2004 · Non-Metal
Cover art 1.91 | 10 ratings
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Since AGALLOCH took three years between their albums “The Mantle” and “Ashes Against The Grain,” the band released two short EPs in their stead. The first, “Tomorrow Will Never Come” in 2003 and the second THE GREY EP in 2004. This one was a released with only 1000 copies and contains a mere two tracks of reinterpreted mixes of two tracks from “The Mantle.”

“The Lodge (Dismantled)” takes extreme liberties by adapting the 4 minute and 40 second track into a 13 minute and 4 second noisefest. With a basic tripling of time length one would expect more variation but the track is very repetitive and quite uninteresting outside of the original album context. It does however prelude the harsher noise style that would define “Ashes Against The Grain” with the extremities that end it similar to those that would develop into “Our Fortress Is Burning… III - The Grain.”

“Odal (Nothing Remix)” is perhaps the greatest deviation from an original song ever. It is literally indecipherable as the track that appeared on “The Mantle” and is basically a 7 minute and 47 second electronic drone track that starts out with a receptive “washing machine” groove. It cedes into more of an industrial type of track with a haunting atmospheric organ and some clanging on some sort of metallic objects reminiscent of early Einstürzende Neubauten. This is the more interesting of the tracks if you like nebulous industrial noise sounds, however it is completely devoid of any of AGALLOCH’s signature sounds and doubtful that fans will be interested.

THE GREY EP was technically designed to complete a trilogy that included “The Mantle” and the the “Tomorrow Will Never Come EP” however i find the two EPs that follow “The Mantle” rather pointless as they convey nothing extra to “The Mantle’s” magnificent mix of cross-pollinating musical styles nor does it convey anything lyrical at all. This one is nothing more than a couple of experiments that probably would’ve been better to release years later as a compilation of weirdness after the band broke up. This is only for hardcore completists.

AGALLOCH Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor

EP · 2001 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 13 ratings
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To the casual listener of AGALLOCH’s albums, it may be unclear as to whether the band is a black metal band dressed in dark neofolk clothing or a folk band that happens to delve in the metal universe, however it becomes clearer if one is to explore beyond the full-length albums and into the equal number of EPs. While on the albums, the mix is pretty even, on the EPs, most are totally dedicated to dark neofolk with no metal at all. AGALLOCH’s first album “Pale Folklore” came out in 1999 and starting with their next release they began a trend that would continue throughout their career. They would release an EP between each album. While most would be completely folk based, this first EP titled OF STONE, WIND AND PILLOR is the exception in that it is an eclectic mix of five tracks that differ quite substantially.

This was intended to be AGALLOCH’s debut to be released as a vinyl 7” that would include only the first three tracks: the title track, “Foliorum Viridium” (from the demo) and “Haunting Birds.” The title track displays the unique mix of black metal, post-rock and dark neofolk that would catapult AGALLOCH onto the world’s stage and become their signature sound. The track is more upbeat than anything else on this EP and would’ve fit well onto “Pale Folklore” as it emphasizes the shrieked black metal vocals, heavily distorted guitar riffing and atmospheric doom and gloom. The following two tracks “Foliorum Viridium” and “Haunting Birds” are completely different as they are instrumental and non-metal. The former, a haunting orchestrated symphonic affair with choral effects and the latter a recognizable early prototype of the introductory acoustic guitar folk layout that would begin “The Mantle” and would become its signature defining characteristic.

Since the project was put on hold until 2001 and released after the full-length “Pale Folklore,” the band decided to add two additional tracks. The first was the Sol Invictus cover “Kneel To The Cross” which offers an orchestrated atmospheric folk tinged melody that is enhanced by the repetitive vocal chants that break into a more recognizable dark neofolk style similar to “The Mantle” but deftly incorporates an interesting clean / shrieked vocal dynamic over the acoustic guitar melodic drive. The last tune is a musical score titled “A Poem By Yeats” which incorporates poetic prose of W.B. Yeats poem “The Sorrow Of Love.” This track is another heavily symphonic neofolk offering that displays AGALLOCH’s mastery of the darkened acoustic world with layered atmospheric elements. It also includes a beautiful piano run that ushers in a shoegazy mix of keyboards, vocals and echo effects. The melodies are beautiful and soaring as the poetry is reciting in spoken prose.

Although OF STONE, WIND, AND PILLOR was intended to be the debut preceding “Pale Folklore,” i find that it works as the perfect bridge that leads up to “The Mantle” as it displays the logical extension from the black metal dominated debut to the more post-rock / dark neofolk laced sophomore album. While the EPs in AGALLOCH’s canon have been ignored in favor of their more lengthy full-length albums, this one is quite majestic in its short 28 minute time run. The melodics are melancholic and haunting and while eschewing the metal almost completely displays in perfect form how well AGALLOCH were at concocting sophisticated compositions based on heart-tugging melodies. The only complaint i have is that it has an annoying silent stretch at the end with some pig squeals that finish it off. I wouldn’t complain if it were longer either but it is an EP, but a really, really good one nonetheless.

AGALLOCH Pale Folklore

Album · 1999 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 36 ratings
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American rock history has rarely been in the forefront of the European scenes as it seems the US has always been playing catch up rather than being innovators but every once in a while, a band or two happens to catch the rest of the world off guard with something completely bold, daring and original. This applies to the heavy metal universe as well. One example is when the Texas based Watchtower exemplified the bombast and fury of 80s metal and applied it to an adventurous progressive rock paradigm. The world would never be the same. One could also argue that the Portland, Oregon based AGALLOCH has had much of the same effect on the post-second wave black metal that has become a staple of the 21st century extreme metal world and has allowed a relentless explorative pursuit within the black metal world ever since.

This band dates back to 1995 when guitarist / vocalist John Haughm (formerly of Sculptured) and keyboardist Shane Breyer (formerly of Susurrus Inanis) began to take early explorative measures in the black metal universe that would amalgamate the disparate worlds of black metal, post-rock and progressive rock with the neofolk of bands like Death In June. As soon as guitarist Don Anderson (also formerly of Sculptured) joined, the band set out to record their first demo tape “From Which Of This Oak” which was released in 1997. While still deeply rooted in black metal, the band had hit upon their own style and with the addition of Jason Walton on drums, the band would forge their unique style that would be unleashed onto an unsuspecting world with their full-length debut PALE FOLKLORE in 1999 just in time for a new millennium.

AGALLOCH immediately scored a unique eclectic mix of musical elements that hitherto had only been attempted by Scandinavian bands such as Ulver, Opeth and Amorphis. PALE FOLKLORE features a mature homegrown integration of doom and black metal along with acoustic folk arpeggios and post-rock compositional structures that sprawled into lengthy melancholic tracks that exhibited a wide range of growled, clean, whispered and shrieked vocals. The pagan based themes in the lyrics focused on depression, nature, folklore and the supernatural all splayed in a post-rock nonchalance that set up mood altering passages that found closure with heavy black metal crescendocore. Unique to this debut was also the female operatic vocals that occasional pop in performed by Anderson’s girlfriend of the time. While the album took three years to write and record, only one track from the demo, “As Embers Dress The Sky” make it on PALE FOLKLORE.

The album begins with an epic grace of the “She Painted Fire Across The Skyline” suite which in three movements perfectly prognosticated the evolution of black metal into the new millennium. The juxtaposition of the disparate metal, folk, post-rock and doom elements took the compositional flow of post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the neofolk of Death In June and layered in doom metal marches, black metal tremolo picking and distortion with the occasional flare of neoclassical elements bleeding through. Likewise the atmospheric properties of the keyboards added a frosty veneer over the aggressive metal passages assuaged by acoustic folk melodies. Add the disparate vocal styles and the extraordinarily diverse drumming patterns and the result was one of the most unique metal albums of 1999. The band has cited that in addition to Ulver and Godspeed You!, influences include Katatonia, The 3rd And The Mortal, Swans as well as music from movie soundtracks.

All in all PALE FOLKLORE may not be as focused as “The Mantle” or other subsequent albums but in effect lays the groundwork for all that would come and proved to be an influential release in its own right. Entrenched with soaring atmospheric orchestrations, keyboard tinklings, metal bombast in contrast to acoustic folk melodies, PALE FOLKLORE found a unique niche in between the orthodoxy of 90s black metal and even the Neurosis styled post-metal of the same era. AGALLOCH simply took the cross-pollinating effects of all these elements to a new level and managed to put the US on the map within the black metal world. If you ask me, AGALLOCH probably has the most in common with Sweden’s Opeth. They both exhibited a unique trading off between sensual acoustic guitar passages and bombastic metal explosiveness that were cleverly woven together. Out of all the AGALLOCH albums, PALE FOLKLORE is the most diverse in tempos, timbres, time signatures, vocal styles etc. A more than competent debut.

KRALLICE Krallice

Album · 2008 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.43 | 3 ratings
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KRALLICE began in 2007 and was masterminded by two ultimate guitar nerds. The first was Colin Marston who had just graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music technology in 2004. He soon would put the band Behold… The Arctopus on the map for being a highly innovative progressively oriented technical metal band and soon would also display his bass playing skills in the metal trio Dysrhythmia. The other half of the KRALLICE equation was in the form of Mick Barr, who has become one of the best known avant-garde guitarists of the 21st century with such bizarre and twisted musical concoctions such as Orthrelm, Ocrilim, Octis and Crop-Tech. These two never planned a band together but decided to collaborate to test the waters and ended up liking the music so much that they turned it into a more permanent project, thus KRALLICE was born.

Both of these guitarists have been known for their hyper-technical math metal since their beginning and together they create one of those larger than life bombastic furies unlike their contemporaries. They wasted no time creating their eponymously titled debut and released it in 2008. Barr handles vocals, guitar and bass and Marston on guitar and bass as well. Lev Weinstein joins the duo to perform equally compelling drum antics and a few additional vocal parts were performed by Nick McMaster. The debut KRALLICE album is characterized by a pummeling and brutal raw black metal sound that adopts the classic second wave lo-fi approach with many feedback and reverb affects added for that extra dimension of devilish distortion. Barr and Marston have notoriously utilized multi-layered guitar effects for their surreal bombastic and brutal dual guitar metal attacks and all those tricks and trinkets debut here as well.

While noticeably rawer and less produced than future albums, KRALLICE engaged in some of the most technically challenging black metal that has been released with a veritable influence coming from the San Francisco based Weakling which only released one highly revered album “Dead As Dreams.” Like Weakling, KRALLICE performs dissonant speed of light riffs with a reversing atmospheric presence that zigzag through surreal time signature frenzies and engage in an extremely progressive technical prowess that provides the ultimate example of “difficult musical listening.” The vocal style is muffled screams that emerge from beneath the bantering din and the drums were tuned as low as possible and recorded from a distance. Another trick is that the bass was played through two amps with different effects to allow a strange merging of different distortions.

Technically speaking, KRALLICE is on the top of their game with all the crazy antics and orotund creative extremities whizzing by at a million miles per hour however for whatever reason, the music of KRALLICE has never been able to inspire me beyond the technical admirations that they present. While taking every liberty to expand the lengthy compositional approach of what Weakling began including a sprawling 15 minute plus closing track, KRALLICE simply lacks interesting compositions as they all sound quite samey throughout, a trait that haunts their music to the present day. While bands like Deathspell Omega and Gorguts amongst others have found a thematic approach as to wrap their technical chops around, KRALLICE on the other hand sounds very much like a technically oriented band that forces the themes onto the desired calculations. This debut is interesting in how it creates musical textures and timbres hitherto unexplored but like all of KRALLICE’s lauded works fails to inspire repeated visits.

AC/DC High Voltage (International Version)

Album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.94 | 49 ratings
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AC/DC was formed in 1973 by the Young brothers, at the time Malcolm, Angus and George with a heavy rotating cast that found Bon Scott joining in 1974. The band released their debut album HIGH VOLTAGE in Australia in early 1975 and followed it up with their second “TNT” coming out at the end of the same year. In between the band found a more stable lineup with Phil Rudd joining in on drums and Mark Evans landing the role as bassist. While starting out more glam oriented with the 1975 version of HIGH VOLTAGE, the band had already developed their classic ballsy bravado that developed the bluesy hard rock into a sound all their own. Despite having carved out their own musical niche, the debut album didn’t quite have all the ingredients in perfect order yet and as a result the band quickly ironed out all the kinks that were fine tuned on “TNT.”

“TNT” found the band cranking out nine brash original rockers plus a Check Berry cover, whom the band claimed as a major source of inspiration. With this second release, the band became quite popular in their native Australia which attracted the attention of the international record label Atco which signed the band and preceded to release their international debut. Instead of doing something more sensible and concocting a new title, Atco decided to release a different version of HIGH VOLTAGE which would in reality take the seven tracks from “TNT” and only the two tracks “She’s Got Balls” and “Little Lover” from the Australian HIGH VOLTAGE. Just to make things more confusing, the title track “High Voltage” first appeared on “TNT,” NOT the debut!

When all was said and done, international HIGH VOLTAGE was nothing more than a compilation of the first two Australian albums which lifted the best tracks and compiled them into what most AC/DC fans of the world (including myself) have owned, loved and collected. To be honest, i have only experienced the Australian HIGH VOLTAGE in preparation for this review but in reality i have heard most of the tracks since many have been released as the compilation “74 Jailbreak” and elsewhere. International HIGH VOLTAGE is the much better product than the Australian debut. It shows the band in full bad boy boogie-woogie hard rock mode and already dripping in adrenaline fueled confidence. Graced by their garage rock sensibilities, AC/DC’s apparent middle-fingers-to-the-world attitude and hedonistic errancy found them being lumped into the punk rock scene as their debut hit the UK simultaneously as the burgeoning punk rock scene was getting underway.

While similar in many ways, the punk connection is one that the band bitterly deflected as they have always claimed that they were nothing more than a rock and roll band and accused punk of being nothin more than a fashion statement, not a musical one. The international debut of AC/DC found them instant success with tracks like “It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll),” “Rock N Roll Singer” and “The Jack” proving to be some of their best known hits that have found their way into the AC/DC playlist long past the premature passing of the late Bon Scott. AC/DC delivered a completely different style of hard rock that stood out from pretty much everything else that came out in the 70s. While the Young brothers were Scottish by birth, Bon Scott added yet another Scottish touch as he was pretty much the only bagpipe player to perform in a hard rock band as heard on the opener “It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll).”

While HIGH VOLTAGE isn’t the band’s best album, this combo version of the first two Australian releases was the perfect release to unleash on the world displaying their unique twin guitar riffing assault, Angus’ schoolboy persona and Bon Scott’s unique vocal style all coming together in perfect synergy. While the music is quite simple, it is addicting and dripping with attitude. AC/DC emerged as a band that took simple riffs, basic melodies and seemingly banal lyrics and animated them into a commercial powerhouse. While panned by the critics, the fans ate it up and catapulted the band to the top of the world in a very short time. The rest is history but outside of Australia, this is the album that started the whole ball rolling and the world has never been the same since.

AC/DC High Voltage

Album · 1975 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.57 | 17 ratings
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Celebrating my 1000th review on MMA! I began this journey with my first review of AC/DC’s classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” the very first album i owned that exists on this site. I haven’t done another review from this band since and figured that hadda change. So why not start with another AC/DC classic, the very first album that was released twice. Once in Australia as the debut and once again internationally only with completely different tracks.

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Ugh. How incredibly confusing are the early years of AC/DC. The 60s British Invasion of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was notorious for having dual identities of albums that were never supposed to be experienced on the other side of the pond but that was supposed to have died out by the 70s. However the record companies didn’t agree with that consensus and more pop oriented bands like The Sweet continued this trend into the 70s and the same happened to Australia’s AC/DC when they went international. The confusion in the case of AC/DC emerges from the fact that they released two albums respectively titled HIGH VOLTAGE and “TNT” in their native Australia, both in 1975. The problem emerges when considering the the band’s international debut which came out the following year in 1976 was ALSO titled HIGH VOLTAGE, however that edition was in reality a compilation album that contained tracks from both of the two Australian only releases.

AC/DC stood out from the crowd even from the beginning. While Australian, Angus and Malcolm Young were actually born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland but due to a massive freeze in 1963 ended up immigrating with their large family to the land Down Under. After going through the motions of warm up bands, the brothers (which originally also consisted of George) formed AC/DC in 1973 and went through many lineup changes before the classic band of Bon Scott joined in 74 in time to record their first album. At this stage, AC/DC was much more of a glam rock band although Angus Young already donned his signature school boy run amok look. What was lost on subsequent albums was the fact that Bon Scott too dressed in an alter ego but in his case a school girl complete with pig-tail adorned wig and a lovely dress to match!

The band released the Australian version of HIGH VOLTAGE early on in February 1975 and found almost instant success in their Sydney based homeland. This album stands out from the rest including the second album “TNT.” First of all, while Bon Scott was already at the helm on vocals and Angus and Malcom Young shared guitar and bass duties, the album includes different tracks that were recorded when George Young (bass, guitar, drums), Rob Bailey (bass), Tony Currenti (drums), Peter Clack (drums) and John Proud (drums) were still in the band, therefore creating a rather stilted debut album with a mishmash of performers on board. Despite the glam look and rather unstable lineup situation, AC/DC had pretty much developed their bad boy boogie-woogie swagger that implemented heavy blues rock riffing augmented by Bon Scott’s idiosyncratic vocal style.

While most fans in the world have most likely only heard the international version of HIGH VOLTAGE, since it’s by far the best known of the two, this homegrown first version still exists and has been reissued multiple times in Australia. The differences between the two include the fact that the international version was basically the second album “TNT” minus the Chuck Berry cover “School Days” and the track “Rocker” which would make it onto the international version of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” This Australian version only shares the two tracks “She’s Got Balls” and “Little Lover” with the international release. The rest of the tracks consist of the same hard bluesy rock that the following albums display only at this point, the band are a little less feisty and more emphasis is on the blues rather than the hard rock.

While the tracks are as catchy as ever, they don’t quite have the same ballsy bravado and would remain Australian artifacts for several decades before the majority of the tracks would finally make it onto the compilation release “74 Jailbreak.” This is probably the least essential of the Bon Scott era albums. Not only is it a bit harder to obtain since the YouTube videos are even blocked to most of the world but it is the least compelling of the band’s early albums as everything hadn’t quite gelled into place yet. The AC/DC that would climax into 1979’s “Highway To Hell” wouldn’t quite come into play until “TNT” hit the market at the end of 1975. Still through, if you are a hardcore AC/DC fan, this one is well worth the time.

IMMORTAL Northern Chaos Gods

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 4 ratings
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IMMORTAL was one of the early pioneers of the second wave of black metal that found the brutal gut wrenching fledgling subgenre spawning from the deathened thrash leanings of the early bird evil ones such as Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer. After all this time though, bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Satyricon and Gorgoroth who launched Norway onto the world’s stage as the most aggressively fearful bands that the music world has ever been subjected to, have pretty much strayed from their roots of the early black metal orthodoxies and either disbanded in search of other musical endeavors (such as Ihsahn spawning a solo career out of Emperor) or have completely jumped into the world of the avant-garde or experimental alternate realities. While a few bands of that era such as Gorgoroth and Sweden’s Marduk have kept a relatively pure form of second wave black metal as their primary focus, none have done it so gracefully and elegantly as Bergen’s IMMORTAL.

As is well known in this sector of the extreme metal universe, all has not been well between founders Abbath and Demonaz who were founders of this darkened nightmare inducing dinfest and parted ways in 2003 after the release of “Sons Of Darkness” but found common grounds long enough to pump out yet one more release in the form of 2007’s “All Shall Fall.” Despite trying to bite the bullet and get along for the sake of the music, the collaborative efforts of Abbath and Demonaz hit a low point and resulted in the ugly legal battles as to who owned the coveted trademark band name. After years of “legalistic battles in the north”, Abbath finally jumped ship permanently and embarked in his own self-penned career move whereas Demonaz continued the legacy of the original band moniker. After nine years of fans’ nail biting and dismay, a new IMMORTAL album has finally hit the market. The band’s ninth studio album NORTHERN CHAOS GODS not only continues their love of a certain direction of geography (uh, “Battles In The North,” “Sons Of Northern Darkness” and this one) but shows a newly energized IMMORTAL on top of their game. Did you really think they went away forever? What exactly does their name mean anyway?!!!

Demonaz stated that this album was to be as grim, dark and cold as possible and that wish has been granted in full black metal grimy regalia. Right from the very first bombastic blast of the opening title track, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS evokes the pure essence of a 90s black metal band catapulted into the modern era. By retaining a sense of the lo-fi bombastic melding of guitar, bass and drums with that classic “shrieking from the depths” vocal outrage, IMMORTAL emerges from the underworld of uncertainty and back into the Earthly plane of existence to reclaim their throne as the most enduring and authentic examples of classic second wave Norwegian black metal. With recognizable and almost downright familiar compositional bombast that evokes their earliest post-death metal years with classics such as “Pure Holocaust” coming to mind, Demonaz unleashes a ferocious fury of guitar riffing, deranged hellfire vocal torture alongside Horgh’s percussive orotundity and the bass bombast of newbie Peter Tägtgren who has played with many extreme metal bands including Hypocrisy, PAIN, Exodus, Therion, Sabaton and Edge Of Sanity, JUST to name a few. He also serves on this one at the helm of the production and mixing room.

I honestly can’t say that IMMORTAL has been anything but consistent. While many claim one album or another is superior to the next, i personally find them all to be compelling and NORTHERN CHAOS GODS, while not deviating significantly from their standard formula of head banging earache inducing black metal from the 90s, still fucking crushes the soul like a ton of bricks. On this release, Demonaz, Horgh and Tägtgren deliver a collection of eight of the most crushingly heavy tracks that the band has unleashed on an unsuspecting world in a long, long time. I, for one, never expected to experience such a fine and quality laden product as this one. This is indeed classic no nonsense black metal that eschews all the frills. No atmospheric touches, no ventures into avant-garde weirdness, no Satanic gimmicks, no none of that.

In fact, this album seems like the perfect recalibration to a more simple return to the roots of the black metal early years. Much like the grunge did to glam metal of the 90s. This is a balls to the wall return to the basics that emphasizes what made second wave black metal so utterly addictive in the first place. With a production that is perfectly balanced between lo-fi middle fingers raised and modern stereophonic bliss dowsed in pyroclastic musical outbursts of black metal fury, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS not only unleashes the frigid wintery ice cold temperatures translated into sonic form but proves that IMMORTAL are the current CHAOS GODS that are living up to their name and are here for eternity. A surprisingly consistent and fiery comeback from one of Norway’s most enduring and constantly kickass black metal bands. Will they return you may wonder? What is their name? Tell me now, WHAT…. IS ….. THEIR…. NAME? I just hope it’s not another nine years.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious

Album · 2009 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 27 ratings
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After dropping their avant-garde fusion bomb in the form of the debut “The Butcher’s Ballroom” onto an unsuspecting world in 2006 with their deliciously provocative fusion of swing jazz, heavy metal, classical opera and progressive rock, Sweden’s zany DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA returned three years later to present the world with an equally mind-bending, genre-blending mishmash of musical madness in the form of SING ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DELIRIOUS. While a few lineup changes occurred in the three years passing with new trombonist Daniel Hedin joining the cast and trumpeter Martin Isaksson replacing Tobias Wiklund, the general gist of this sophomore release pretty much carries on exactly where “The Butcher’s Ballroom” left off and continues the journey into the demented DSO universe.

While “The Butcher’s Ballroom” put DSO on the map as experimental rock and avant-garde metal pioneers, SING ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DEMENTED is the album that got them larger worldwide recognition. Once again this whacky band delivers the goods in the swing department as they not only captured the jazz swing revival that was propelled by such acts as the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies but they also scoured the planet to find other suitable types of swing genres such as that of European gypsy music and Balkan folk to add to their symbiotic stew of their metal fortified dancehall. Mix in some Middle Eastern, some tango and top it off with a heavy metal bombast of dual guitar heaviness and you have a recipe for true eccentricity delivered like no other. In fact, SING ALONG SONGS was nominated in 2011 for the Eclectic Album category in The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards.

While not exactly differentiating substantially from the debut’s unabashedly brilliant delivery, nevertheless SING ALONG SONGS continues in perfect form with a whole new batch of ten exquisitely designed heavy stompers that swing, sing and bedazzle with a million tiny details tucked into the nooks and crannies. The whole festive affair is polished into a squeaky clean production with In Flames producer Roberto Laghi at the helm. In short DSO created their second brilliant masterpiece of mind-melting fusion in a seemingly effortless fashion that damns, dements and distracts the listener from mere ordinary musical experiences. If anything, SING ALONG SONGS perfects the techniques of the debut and adds new subtle elements to the mix which to the careful attentive listener will find a mind boggling amount of brilliance embedded in every aspect. Set mind status to fully blown!

“A Tap Dancer’s Dilemma” starts things off sounding like a Satanically spawned version of the Glenn Miller Orchestra that was somehow abducted by evil forces and had their DNA cryogenically spliced and preserved only to find its way into a strange new millennium. The track really sounds like Glen Miller’s “In The Mood” with its swinging characteristics but augmented by the metal riffing, Spaghetti western trombone and trumpet as well as the vocal dualistic antics of the operatic soprano prowess of Annlouice Wolgers and Daniel Håkansson’s playful male vocal counterpoints. In fact the entirety of the album finds these two throwing the ball back and forth which gives a lively call and response conversational oomf to the process.

“A Rancid Romance” shows immediate diversity to the album’s flow as it takes a tango groove on piano and bass and adds super heavy metal guitar riffing. Wolgers’ and Håkansson create a lyrical dialogue and interesting variations between the verse / chorus and bridge construct as the melody recurs throughout but new elements piled up bringing the whole thing to an interesting chaotic crescendo where progressive touches kick in with time signature freakouts alongside tension inducing drones that ultimately end in a symphonic acoustic classical Paganini violin solo.

As the tracks continue they only get more interesting. “Lucy Fears The Morning Star” engages a Wagner-esque classical pomp, a heavy metal stomp and high C glass shattering vocal sublimeness from Wolgers. “Bedlam Sticks” has more of a cartoonish feel. Sorta like an Elvis Presley meets Dracula vocal style that cedes into a rather demented bouncy metal stomp. “New World Widows” finds a respite from the bombastic approach with a nice echoey clean guitar intro that cedes into another bouncy metal rocker with Wolger’s diva vocals soaring like a white-winged dove. “Siberian Love Affairs” takes the Eastern Europe polka as a short interlude while “Vodka Inferno” continues another swinging metal stomp with some of the oom-pa-pa polka rhythms. “Memoirs Of A Roadkill” adopts a Django Reinhardt style of gypsy swing with exquisite guitar riffing but takes an unexpected Radiohead-esque alt rock turn. “Ricerca Dell’anima” implements a surf rock approach to adapt to the DSO way of doing things.

The album ends with the longest track “Stratosphere Serenade” that begins with a dynamic cello workout followed by some stellar metal guitar riffing. This is probably one of the more progressive tracks as it is a dialogue between the metal and classical elements with more varied time signatures than most tracks. Yet another track that sounds unlike the rest with many interesting movements within. The track climaxes with a lengthy fadeout of a recurring riff that speeds up. Quite the satisfying end of the demented journey. While being pegged as avant-garde metal, DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA should be considered to exist in their avant-garde world. The metal bombast is supplemental only to add a level of heaviness to the underlying swing jazz, gypsy folk, tango and classical elements.

This is experimental music in every possibly way and the ultimate statement of a 21st band that effortlessly amalgamates disparate 20th century genres. This is music nerd’s paradise and pretty much designed for those who love the individual elements that went into it. Personally this is my sort of music and the dynamic catchy melodic hooks that SING ALONG SONGS FOR THE DAMNED AND DELIRIOUS means i get a lot of mileage out of this one. In fact, it’s one of those albums that works on many levels. It is truly ear worm hook music that guarantees a pleasing melodic sing-along style experience while on a deeper level is super-sophisticated as it unleashes treasures upon multiple visiting experiences. While many avant-garde metal leaning bands have come and gone, none have so successfully pulled off what DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA achieved on their first two albums. As far as i’m concerned both are flawless examples of commingled creativity taken to the highest levels.

THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL The Forgotten

Album · 2013 · Mathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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While the mathcore style of metal (a subgenre of metalcore, often referred to as noisecore or experimental metalcore) had its roots back to post-hardcore punk of the 80s with most notably Black Flag and Minutemen providing a unique inspiration in the polyrhtyms, dissonant riffs and complex rhythmic tempo changes, the sub really took off in the 90s with bands like Botch, Coalesce, Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan added extreme metal elements and were leaders of this brutal and bombastic pack. The sub was fairly popular throughout the early 2000s with bands like Between The Buried And Me and Psyopus taking it to its logical conclusion by adding ridiculous layers of progressive complexities. The sub kind fizzled out with some of the bands dropping the math/metalcore aspects and focusing on just progressive metal.

Well, knocked out but not dead, the mathcore / metalcore style still inspired a many up and comers with its schizoid freneticism fueled by extreme metal bombast. Belgium’s THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL didn’t want to accept that the party seemed to be over and nobody was dancing any more. Come 2010 this band would release a two-track EP titled “Flesh.Made.Void” but wouldn’t put out their debut album THE FORGOTTEN until 2013. Quite similar to the progressively infused metalcore antics of Between The Buried And Me’s colorful “Colors” era, THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL turns out to be one of the genre’s best kept secrets with their exquisite talented musicianship as they schizophrenically zigzag through different soundscapes and tie them all together quite well.

The album is bookend by two completely non-metal tracks. “The Lost” is a lounge jazz opener that sounds more like something you’d hear at a speakeasy from the 20s that even has a trumpet in the mix. The finale “The Alone” is a mellow-rocker that slowly ratchets down the intensity into a mesmerizing cooling off period that attempts to pacify the listener after having been sonically assaulted. Everything in between though, is pure intensity! This actually begins at the final moments of “The Lost” which bursts into heavy rock elements before the next track “Minus Infinity” begins the mathcore assaults. Right from the getgo, bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and Between The Buried And Me certainly come to mind by THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL have latched onto their own style of mixing the mathcore with disparate non-metal elements.

One of the strongest elements of THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL are the excellent diversity of guitar riffs. With a mathcore tag, one can expect the usual frenetic schizoid million-mile-an-hour riff assaults whizzing up and down the scales with staggeringly complex time signature abuse, but guitarist Kenzo effortlessly scales the metal guitar with Deftones styled alternative metal riffing, swing jazz, or just plain old heavy metal. The band contrast the deafening orotundity with spaced out moments that uses piano, trumpets and horns to great effect. While the vocals are permanently set on aggro-over-the-top screaming like hell has taken over, there are creepy vocal samplings that pop up from time to time. While frenetic in nature, the music doesn’t always gallop as fast as humanly possible, but rather contrast within the dissonant metal phases is quite common as well. Tracks like “Grim Haven” are just completely unhinged and only for insane asylum dwellers!

Forget trying to find a physical copy of this one. They sold out the scant copies made a long time ago. This is pretty much a Bandcamp experience only but if you’re interesting in bands like Between The Buried And Me, The Dillinger Escape Plan or War From A Harlots Mouth with a penchant for jazz-influenced mathcore and outstanding turn at the drop of the hat changes, then THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL is a band you should check out. BTW, the word ZYGOMA refers to a bone of the side of the face below the eye which forms part of the ZYGOMATIC arch and part of the orbit in mammals. Also known as malar bone. It’s sort of a roundabout nerdy way to explain what to expect here. A form of music so crushingly brutal that it’s like a punch to the face that DISPOSES of parts of your anatomy! While devastatingly bombastic, the thread that keeps THE FORGOTTEN together is it always retains a melodic thread stitched throughout.

LYKATHEA AFLAME Elvenefris

Album · 2000 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 11 ratings
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LYKATHEA AFLAME is, or was actually, one of those many artsy tech death bands that seems to cause derision in the metal community. On the one hand you have the metal purists who find any tinkering with the metal basics of brutal, distorted essentials that separate the genre from the greater rock universe will taint the defining musical “aesthetics” and wish to install a eugenics program to keep metal from “breeding” with other musical genres. And then you have those who love the idea of a brutal tech death band that has the gall to follow in the shoes of avant-gardists like Mr Bungle by adding completely opposing musical moods and styles to the frenetic bantering of the head banging bombast which LYKATHEA AFLAME does in abundance. And of course, you have many who fall somewhere in between.

This band came from the Czech Republic and released this one well known, well loved as well as well hated album after they morphed from their previous incarnation as Appalling Spawn. While in A.S. they had already begun the process of expanding their horizons beyond the Cryptosy meets Nile death metal paradigm, on their sole LYKATHEA AFLAME release ELVENEFRIS, they really let the dog off the leash and like a randy slut at a frat party, mixes company with more styles of music than a brothel sees when a navy ship docks in Bangkok. The result is a blissful journey for the aforementioned artistic types and a wellspring of irritation for the purists who cannot comprehend the massive effort that went into this one.

ELVENEFRIS is a long beast to say the least, so it requires a major commitment to sit through this one but for any open minded tech death metalheads out there, this is on the essential listening list as it randomly drifts at hyperactive speed through a plethora of genres that meet and greet the brutal Cryptosy inspired blastbeat drumming, Nile inspired compositional drive (think Egyptian themes and thundering epic heavy metal melodies that intertwine with the chaotic death metal riffs) and a seemingly random chaotic romp through the tech death universe. What sets LYKATHEA AFLAME apart from almost every other extreme metal band of the day was that they were equally at home with long drifting ebbs and flows that delved in post-metal, classic 80s heavy metal and even metalcore, Pagan black folk metal and of course progressively infused compositional efforsts.

While bantering death growls and orotund pyroclastic aggression is the norm, LYKATHEA AFLAME provide tender moments of melodic folky sections with clean and “properly” sung vocals as well as pacifying new age passages, the longest which ends this sprawling repertoire of just over 72 minutes. It’s fair to say that ELVENEFRIS started a trend in the extreme metal world that allowed bands like Between The Buried And Me, Augury, Unexpect and others to radically expand the parameters of what was acceptable within the confines of a death metal listening experience. As with any form of extreme music ranging from punk and industrial to metal, there are those who staunchly resist such artistic liberties and others who wholeheartedly embrace it. Personally i straddle both lines of thought. I love the pure unadulterated styles of death metal but when done right, an artsy mind-blowing mix of genres is exactly what scratches that itch.

It occurred to me that the type of musical delivery that artists like LYKATHEA AFLAME offer comes from a form of musical thought. As a musician i have found my own inner soundtrack operates much like the music presented on ELVENEFRIS, that being a seemingly random parade of riffing variations decorated with various dynamic and tempo shifts that seem to drift in and out of whatever background music of the moment happens to be. Think of this sort of thought process as having a continuous spectrum of counterpoints churning in our heads where metal, post-rock, circus clown music or whatever just sort of emerges as the dominate format at any given moment. It’s sort of like a pipeline to that invisible world where creativity comes from and while that is usually the first step for an artist in crafting their works, LYKATHEA AFLAME seemed to find it adequate to utilize these random inspirations into a freeform explosive callithump.

This is very much tantamount to what some musical savants can conjure up as they can effortlessly transcribe a Mozart piece to sound like a Dixieland jazz number on the spot. So too does this occur for a select few musical minds who seem to think in music, however very few artists record their music in this astroplane sort of style. Virtuosos like Steve Vai have had tracks that utilize this process as well as other avant-garde metal artists like Maudlin Of The Well, but in the grimy pits of the extreme death metal world, this sort of thing doesn’t emerge too often since death metal by its very nature is more of a hellish beast that is firmly based on a set of unspoken rules. LYKATHEA AFLAME was paramount in taking this underground musical world into the ethereal dream state and channel the results into what would emerge as ELVENEFRIS.

Many consider ELVENEFRIS to be a masterpiece while others a complete piece of trash. Having the same sort of musical loves of never-ending musical variations and genre bending, i have to say that i fall in the camp of loving this album however at the same time, my inner critic emerges to also agree that this is by far an imperfect album. Firstly, it’s way too long and some of the meandering in certain sections, especially the lengthy post-rock and ambient parts can be way too long and little editing would’ve made this much stronger. Both post-rock and ambient can be fine in their own realms but the contrast here seems awkward and not planned out as how to integrate it into the overall mood swings of the album. As many others have stated, the ubiquitous snare drum bombast provides a rather generic percussive drive throughout the album’s run. More percussive variation would’ve gone a long way.

If only the other elements of the music were as diverse as the need for an incessant tempo change and addition of changing subdued elements ELVENEFRIST could’ve been a much better album. LYKATHEA AFLAME should have developed into a true artistic powerhouse had they recorded another album or two but even taken as is, ELVENEFRIS is a powerfully unique technical death metal experience that more often than not delivers the goods of a true extreme avant-garde maelstrom of metal madness. On the plus side, the album balances melody with dissonance quite successfully and never relies on any trick or trinket within the metal passages for too long. While not perfect in my mind, LYKATHEA AFLAME, like many bands that have emerged from Eastern Europe delivered a strong album that offered a completely new way to experience the perpetually expanding world of the death metal universe and despite the incessant complaints of the wimpy non-metal parts, this is a brutal death metal beast of an album to be reckoned with.

XHOHX Karyotypexplosion

Album · 2007 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Hey extreme prog metal addicts. Can you literally NOT get enough of all musical nooks and crannies filled with every prog trick in the book? Incessant mathcore time signatures on steroids and brutal dissonant chords forced to perform tricks that should be illegal by international law? Random tempos that will make your head explode? Ping pong prog taken to the most extreme levels imaginable? Hey! We got that too. While many a band seem to layer pop hooks in slick layer of production and suave compositional layout, some bands like Belgium’s XHOHX just go for the jugular. Think of this mere duo of Ramon Ribas Coca (guitar, drum programming) and Oregolakatzor (bass) as the genetic lab experiment that mixes the DNA of Morbid Angel, Ruins, The Flying Luttenbachers and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and then something goes terribly wrong.

This band had no intention of playing it even keel and stretching out all their ideas in a decade long career. None of that BS. This noise factory with the palindrome moniker just let it all out in one huge burst of freakifying mindfuckery in a 46 minute musical statement and then jumped back into the murky depths from whence they came and on their one and only release KARYOTYPEXPLOSION you can experience the entire history of prog attributes in this one listening experience. However, i guarantee you very well could lose your mind in the process. Well, the most chaotic and extreme moments of prog that is. No neo-prog or sweet melodies here at all.

There are literally a gazillion bands in the history of prog and metal that have branched out into a gazillion directions creating two of the wealthiest nooks of the entire rock universe, but even in this land of plenty, once in a while an artist occasionally manages to defy all the odds and create something utterly unique and virtually existing in its own little evolutionary branch of the musical universe. A scant few bands such as Mr Bungle, Unexpect, Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna and Frank Zappa literally went somewhere no one ever thought possible and thus charted whole new methodologies of musical construct. XHOHX follows suit but goes so far, so fast that it will takes decades for anyone to latch onto this one.

XHOHX engages in a newer form of progressive rock recently tagged brutal prog, the kind of avant-prog that Yugen took to new extremes by unapologetically increasing every aspect of the holy progginess oneness and then dialing it up to the eleventh power. This is music where chaotic dissonance runs supreme but like any really good music that delves in all the most extreme attributes you can throw into the boiling pot, XHOHX manages to smooth it all out with an underlying atmospheric presence that sort of streamlines the overall flow into an RIO / avant-prog paradigm that would be recognizable to fans of Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, Present or even Thinking Plague for that matter.

However, that’s pretty much where any comparisons to other bands stop. The rest of the equation is pure brutality. Brutal metal delivery, brutal dissonance, brutal tempos, brutal vocals, brutal brutal prog to the friggin’ max. This is truly technical music that is bleak and devoid of anything warm and fuzzy whatsoever. While the album primarily consists of bantering angular blasts of brutal metal riffs, schizoid vocals that range from insane asylum shrieks to growling grunts, this is truly a cacophonous maelstrom of the most deranged soundtrack of the insane you could EVER imagine and believe me, i’ve heard a lot of this insane maniac music. This one blows it all away. Even mathcore pigs like Psychopus and Behold…. The Arctopus would cower in fear in the shadow of XHOHX.

Point blank: XHOHX is without doubt THE MOST EXTREME MUSIC i’ve heard. EVER!!!! This is relentless and unforgiving. A tumultuous clamor and clatter of the ages. While the album generally runs on extreme mathcore mode for its first eleven tracks with the fastest and jagged angularities possible, the final track “Nukleark” breaks the trend of punkish shorter time lengths and stretches out to a proggifying near 15 minute time span, however despite remaining as unrelenting and earache inducing as the previous 30 minutes, this one actually engages in quieter moments without the heavily distorted guitar runs attacking like a bombed ammunition factory.

BE WARNED!!! This is brutal prog for brutality’s sake, however if you absolutely crave THEEEEEEEE MOST extreme type of music possible, then you cannot go another day without hearing XHOHX and their monumental masterpiece KARYOTYPEPLOSION. There is method to this madness. Careful attentive listening is a must. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Listen at your own risk. Even the few piano runs are so scary that you’ll want to duck under your covers and pray for your soul to escape permanent damnation for just hearing this bantering musical blasphemy. I’m in! And find this mess irresistible when i’m really in a VERY naughty mood ;)

MIKE PATTON Adult Themes for Voice

Album · 1996 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 2 ratings
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MIKE PATTON's first solo album ADULT THEMES FOR VOICE is a bona fide journey into the avant garde. Unlike anything else in his career before or after he decided to splice and dice vocal recordings he made in hotel rooms on a mini-recorder and for whatever reason released them for the world to scrutinize. This is just his vocals and some production manipulations. With such a low rating it seems like much of the world is not in tune with Mr PATTON's strange and bizarre world of vocal shredding. This album is in the same vein as Demetrio Stratos' solo albums where Mike is simply showing us his ability to take his voice to strange unthought of places. Strange indeed. At times he screams, squeaks and moans, howls like a monkey and does things I lack the proper vocabulary to describe.

This album was inspired by his love of Japanese noise bands like Hanatarash. I have owned this for quite a while but have only listened to it a handful of times. It is basically a sonic diary of a creative vocalist spontaneously doing what he feels inspired to do and then taking it apart and sewing it back together. The result is a very mixed bag. I actually find some of this stuff highly creative and a tad interesting. This isn't however an album that one puts on often because 45 minutes of its inconsistency is a little too much. Some tracks taken on their own are downright ingenious and beyond bizarre. An interesting experiment but I would definitely file this one in the “collector's / fan” category because very few will find anything redeeming in this. I actually much prefer Mike's following album “Pranzo Oltranzista.” That is a truly bizarre avant-garde album that works for its entirety.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum

Album · 2007 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 34 ratings
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It boggles the mind that a fairly nondescript black metal act named DEATHSPELL OMEGA, having only emerged in 1999 from their undisclosed crypts somewhere in France, began as an average second wave act simply regurgitating the Nordic templates that had been sewn by the likes of Mayhem and Darkthrone. After crafting two rather generic and by-the-numbers releases, this mysterious cult of undisclosed characters suddenly transmogrified from commonplace to an unabashed innovating force on the black metal scene with their 2004 release “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice.” Not only did this band introduce the progressive extreme metal music world to a hitherto unparalleled sophistication in lyrical and musical content, but struck a few nerves as the rather reactionary blasphemy of the typical black metal paradigm had shifted to a highly intellectual and philosophical stance on Satanic theology and one that required careful deconstruction and erudite scholarly effort to unpack.

After releasing the supplemental EP “ Kénôse” in 2005, DEATHSPELL OMEGA unleashed their most ambitious album yet in the form of FAS - ITE, MALEDICTI, IN IGNEM AETERNUM in 2007. The Latinate title which translates into English as “Divine Law - Go Accursed, Into Everlasting Fire” coupled with the representative cover art of a blinded man eternally falling into the darkness away from the light alone are more than enough to portend a very darkened and intoxicating musical experience that lurks within the second chapter of their theistic Satanist’s trilogy. Continuing the lyrical content of its predecessor, FAS - ITE explores the poetic prowess of post-surrealist George Bataille with selected lyrics lifted verbatim from his works “Theory Of Religion” and “The Solar Anus” with purpose of teasing out the true tenets of Satanism by espousing the theory of that Satan is not the antithesis of the Christian God but rather the purified nihilism that the darkened forces are an inextricable aspect of human nature.

FAS - ITE, MALEDICTI, IN IGNEM AETERNUM eschews a quickened emergence into a bantering din of black metal but rather slowly oozes in with a dark ambient apocalyptic tone that transmogrifies into a dissonant post-metal stream of consciousness that slowly ratchets up the impending dread and despair with the opening “Obombration.” This prognosticator of doom and gloom delivers a deathly chilling mix of dreadful dissonance in the form of jangled and mangled guitar riffs with growly raspy vocals that don’t quite sing and don’t quite speak but exist somewhere in between yet in poetic prose as the triad of guitar, bass and drum patterns slowly buzz around the lyrical delivery gaining more devilish strength after each cadence until it all cedes into a quiet and pacified Christian choir after the jangly post-metal guitar sequence spooks the living daylights out of you.

After a pacifying calm before the storm, “The Shrine Of Mad Laughter” bursts out in full decibalage and suffocates the tranquility as the brutal black metal assault banters on for ten and a half minutes. Not only does FAS - ITE excel at the contrasts explored on “Si Monvmentvm” but takes them to further extremes and accentuates them at every opportune moment. The quiet parts are spookier than before with psychotic pianos tinkling around schizoid guitars and spectral voices while the aggressive outbursts develop into extreme technical workouts with buzzsaw guitars in dissonant angularity chaotically battling with the bass which in turn is at war with outlandishly jazzified drumming fills. The whole thing gives the impression of an angry swarm of locusts covering the entire atmosphere and ready for the attack of all living souls for it’s redemption day and the dark forces have won the infernal battles.

This classic DEATHSPELL OMEGA tug-of-war between the creepy dark ambient and excessively brutal blackened free-for-all zigzags throughout the album while the indecipherable lyrics dictate the philosophical diatribe. While the band has remained a virtual mystery with no official website, no photo ops and no indication that they exist in our universe in any way except for the sonic slugfest that bursts out of the speakers in rumbling minor keys with subdued guitar solos and bantering math rock in the form of black metal, they have identified a few of the members under pseudonyms. Hasjari on guitars, Khaos on bass and Mikko Aspa on vocals. The percussionist remains free of identity but is clearly the most talented member of this ensemble as the percussive one runs the gamut of tortoise speed post-rock trance inducing monotony to full-fury technical jazz wizardry outbursts that last for lengthy periods .

Holy crap! FAS - ITE, MALEDICTI, IN IGNEM AETERNUM with its mere 46 minute run tops my list as the scariest album of all time. DEATHSPELL OMEGA scoured the deepest recesses of dark psychology and implemented every possible technique both perceivable and subliminal to create a theological assault on mind, spirit and body and the effect is staggeringly effective. With the second installment of their trilogy the band continued not only to redefine black metal but in its wake ushered in a new level of experimental extreme music that took philosophical lyrical content to new unprecedented heights of left-brained intellectualism. This by far is one of the most evil-as-fuck black metal albums ever to have been recorded and despite many lower musical forms striving for such unholy perfection, DOS win the goat’s head trophy without even breaking a sweat.

While nebulous in comprehension and as jittery and non-static as the quantum world of the microverse, the overall effect of perplexity, brutal bombast and post-dissonant meandering guarantees a startling fight or flight response but like microwaves from cell phone towers that leave an intangible energetic enemy with no defenses for counterattack. And this is only the second installment of the trilogy. FAS - ITE is in short, the ultimate synthesis of black metal and progressive rock as it adopts every trick in the playbook from both disparate sides of the extended rock universe and genetically alters their DNA into a sadistic musical demon like no others had done before. This is music so brutally intense and so intellectually advanced that it in effect lays to waste all the mere mortals who have posed their way into the world of evil metal. While “Paracletus” would continue the saga, FAS - ITE, MALEDICTI, IN IGNEM AETERNUM remains the most intense chapter of this deep and darkened psychoanalysis into the greatest mysteries the universe has to offer and executed perfectly.

DEATH Spiritual Healing

Album · 1990 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 56 ratings
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Out of the seven DEATH studio albums that were released in the band’s fourteen year run (as DEATH) it’s this third one SPIRITUAL HEALING that gets cited most as the weakest of the pack and i can only imagine that the gawdawful cover art could possibly contribute to that more common than not opinion, however personally i really cannot understand exactly why this one has been singled out of the subsequent pack as the worst of the lot. As was notorious in the ever changing lineup, Chuck Schuldiner experienced a third guitarist on just as many albums this time with Rick Rozz being replaced by James Murphy (an unknown at the time but would go on to play in Obituary, Testament, Konkhra and Cancer). The worst artwork of the Eric Repka catalogue aside, SPIRITUAL HEALING musically speaking, continues the forward thinking march into incrementally increased progressiveness and less of the straight forward brutal rawness with a focus on more intellectually stimulating lyrical content.

Although the sub-genre of death metal began with 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore,” the close ties to thrash metal were still at the forefront and while each following release took baby steps into a complete cutoff from its parent sub, SPIRITUAL HEALING still retains a heavy thrash riffing brutality augmented by a more sophisticated compositional approach but doesn’t quite reach the level of the true progressive nature of “Human” and beyond. Album #3 is very much a transitional album from death metal’s thrash laden birth pangs to the ever increasing technical sophistication displayed all throughout the 90s. As one decade ceded into another, Schuldiner too was laying the 80s version of the band to rest and slowly but surely ratcheting up the intensity that would culminate on 1998’s “The Sound Of Perseverance.” So what it adds up to is a slightly more melodic version of the first two albums that has slivers of the more technical touches such as Schuldiner and Murphy’s excellent dueling guitar soloing.

Lyrically Schuldiner was maturing rapidly as he left behind the blatant shock and awe subject matter of zombies, mutilation and gore and began to tackle the complexities of human society with a special interest in the most fucked up aspects including deformed babies from coke addicted mothers on “Living Monstrositiy,” abortion on “Altering The Future,” schizophrenia on “Defensive Personalities” as well as the expected evangelistic brainwashing punditry as evidenced on the gawdawful cover art. These types of themes would become increasingly more relevant and refined on the following “Human” release. While the insane time signature changes and labyrinthine song structures hadn’t quite blossomed completely, there are hints of the future with little snippets of frenetic time bending as well as sudden breaks that deviate from the expected “normalcy” of the previous albums.

One thing’s for sure and that i would bet nobody would deem SPIRITUAL HEALING as their favorite DEATH album of all time but that is not to say that this album deserves any of the bad reception that it has received. Schuldiner dishes out the expected punishing brutal riffs at intensively high speeds with his by then signature death growls and succeeds in whipping the rest of the band into shape so that the eight tracks are completely consistently tightly delivered with the bombast and as much caustic abrasiveness one could hope for in the fledgling metal sub-genre. Yeah, that album cover really has to go. I understand that it was meant for the album to evolve more into a psychological horror soundtrack rather the blood and guts themes of prior but something about the whole Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker theme on the cover just doesn’t work. Just for the record… there ARE NO BAD DEATH ALBUMS! This included. Another excellent slice of the early death metal years.

AUGURY Illusive Golden Age

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 4 ratings
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The tech death metal march has been incessant since the floodgates opened with such bands as Gorguts reaching such milestones as 1998’s now classic “Obscura” which paved the way for bands to genetically splice the DNA of death metal and modify it with disparate strains of progressive rock ranging from the vast fields of jazz-fusion to the unearthly vaults of avant-prog. While Tampa may have had its heyday as the spawning ground for the morbid fecundity of old school death metal, the frigid French speaking lands of Quebec have proven to have an equal pull for a new strain of the more abstract realms of technically infused death metal not only beginning with Cryptospy and Gorguts but branching out into the bizarre metal multiverses of Quo Vadis, Martyr, Beyond Creation and most weirdly of all Unexpect, JUST to name a few ;)

Also catching the tech death metal army that rampaged throughout the naughts came the Montreal based AUGURY who successfully awed and bedazzled an increasingly finicky metal audience whose standards had been raised significantly since the 90s. “Concealed” displayed a modern mature form of tech death infusion with elements of jazzy black and folk metal with heavy doses of acoustic spaced out ambience alongside the pacifying effect of Arianne Fleury’s feminine diva charming beauty that tamed the rampaging brutality of the beast. Come 2009, a full five years of perfecting their craft and AUGURY had attained a technical prowess rarely matched in the big boyz club of such technical wizardry. “Fragmentary Evidence” cemented the band as one of tech death’s major players and despite the loss of Fleury managed to wield their jazzified battle axe for an unprecedented second coming.

As the years slithered by with one passage around the sun after another yielding an ever increasing supply of technically gifted musical maestros battening down the hatches and conjuring up their own sonic storms of dissonant din, AUGURY was nowhere to be found and with the exit of half the band, namely bassist Dominic Lapointe and drummer Antoine Baril, it would’ve been a no brainer that AUGURY were a two strike assault team and then down for the count. In the metal universe modernity, nine years seems like a lifetime and as new bands like Ulcerate, Portal, Obscura, Gigan and Gorod gaining tech death god status, every passing year AUGURY was becoming more of a distant memory rather than a glimmering hope of resurrection. Lo and behold and nearly a decade later, not only have the two departed members rejoined this caustic cast but the long anticipated third album has finally arisen from seemingly nowhere.

Despite the nine year gap, ILLUSIVE GOLDEN AGE surprisingly picks up exactly where “Fragmentary Evidence” left off which is both its boon and bane depending on what one’s expectations were set on. The boon is that AUGURY crank out eight incredibly complex distorted and dissonant demons of death metal like they never left the scene. Each member has retained his respective maestrohood prowess with Patrick Loisel’s vocal shapeshifting skills losing none of the intensity heard all the way back in 2004. Likewise Marcotte, Lapointe and Baril haven’t lost their technical chops in the slightest with the production and mixing job completely up to snuff with the highest of AUGURY standards that set the bar so high from the getgo. The bane is that after nearly a decade these guys have lost a lot of their compositional magic making mojo as the majority of the tracks lack those distinguishing features so creatively laid out on the first two albums. Add to the fact that this album seems a little stuck in the 2010 timeline and hasn’t taken into account the modern realities that surround the bubble that it seems to have been created in. Could it be this was indeed created back then and only recently finished?

All that being said, ILLUSIVE GOLDEN AGE still cranks out some mighty fine tech death although at this point in the game feels a little stagnant. Woefully missing are those beautiful non-metal passages that ceded into the blistering brutal chops that allowed the band to craft an inkling of a melody that the musicians could tightrope walk upon throughout a track’s running time. After nine long years it would seem like these guys could’ve upped their game and continued their role as the compass of creativity in a sub-genera that can easily grow stale when the musicians get too much into their heads and sever the sonic thread that binds them to their audience. While it’s hard to give such a decently performed album a bad rating, at the same time the lack of the aforementioned elements only make me want to revisit the first two albums that have that extra magic layer of attraction as intangible as it may seem. While not a complete waste of time ILLUSIVE GOLDEN AGE seems to have missed its target and remains, well… ILLUSIVE.

AUGURY Fragmentary Evidence

Album · 2009 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 17 ratings
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As with many perfectionist technically oriented bands, many years can pass between albums and such is the case with Montreal, Quebec based AUGURY that took five trips around the sun before releasing their much anticipated sophomore FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE after taking the tech death metal by storm in 2004 with their lauded debut “Concealed.” In that five year period, amazingly the lineup of musicians remained the same however the band lost one of their most defining features with that being the additional operatic diva charm of Arianne Fleury who graced “Concealed” with a stabilizing contrast to the unbridled aggression of the technical death metal assaults that constituted the majority of the album’s near one hour length.

Despite the loss of Fleury, there are many guest vocalists on FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE that attempt to fill the void although not quite as successfully i may add. As a matter of fact five out of the nine tracks have guest vocalists which include Sven de Caluwé (Aborted, System Divide), Youri Raymond (Cryptosy, Unhuman), Sébastien Croteau (Necrotic Mutation), Filip Ivanovic (Agony), Eric Fiset (Obscene Crisis, Nervous Impulse) and fellow Montreal residents SyriaK and Leilindel from Unexpect. Since the feminine charm of Leilindel is limited to a mere pair of tracks, FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE is a much more testosterone driven maelstrom of frenetic energy without the many pacifying moments that allowed some cooling down periods.

Overall album #2 is a lot more technical in nature with the progressive wankery turned up several notches with lots of jazz-fusion in the works. Many of the opening intros and sudden clean guitar passages display a very fusionistic approach in chord progressions, time signature chops and advanced atonal harmonics. The closing and longest track on the album “Oversee The Rebirth” is perhaps one of the finest moments in technical death metal-jazz fusion i’ve ever heard with some of the swankiest jazzified guitar techniques recorded which extends the variations on the theme for a full satisfying eleven minute stretch. The track also exhibits the cleaner almost James Hatfield type of vocals set in folk metal style that appeared abundantly on “Concealed” but utilized sparingly on FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE.

While more adventurous in tech death metal assaults that pummel and bombast the senses with less downtime for deep breaths, FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE is a tech death metal beast finding the musicians in fine form and more technically developed in the five year period since “Concealed.” The guitar chops remind me a lot of Necrophagist with brutal punishing riffs that implement the occasional neoclassical virtuosic sweep. Also mentionable is the extraordinary bass work of Dominic Lapointe whose finger dancing skills display uncanny mastery of one of the most physically demanding instruments in a metal band, the bass guitar. Likewise for Étienne Gallo’s inhumanly percussive juggling drum abuse. Damn, how many stick were sacrificed to record this?

FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE is a superb followup to “Concealed” in every way but one. Without Fleury’s feminine spell casting charm, the pacifying folk inspired acoustic elements present on “Concealed” are sadly missed on this one and in the process has lost the atmospheric robustness. This album is just simply a much more aggressive beast and while i do not dislike that for a second, it seems that while the debut was perfectly balanced, this one seems like a slightly lower calibre in its wake. However, in its stead there are plenty of technical death metal chops to salivate over with the superb production and mixing allowing for a near perfect modern tech death listening experience. It also seems the more diverse tracks are tacked onto the end and they could’ve been redistributed in a better way but make no doubts about it. FRAGMENTARY EVIDENCE displays exactly what a modern 21st century extreme metal album should sound like and while not perfect delivers many of the goods.

DEATH Leprosy

Album · 1988 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 63 ratings
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Following in the footsteps of Slayer and Possessed, the Orlando, FL based Chuck Schuldiner single handedly developed his band DEATH into a major metal powerhouse and then dropped his fully functional death metal bomb onto the unsuspecting world of heavy metal with his debut album “Scream Bloody Gore.” While in effect a solo album with only the percussive bombast of Chris Reifert as a partner in musical mischief, Schuldiner had unknowingly unleashed an entirely unexplored universe of metal possibilities with darker and more sinister themes that utilized punishing guitar riffage, primeval raw distortion and those famous Schuldiner only blood curdling screams that finally took that last step out of the only recently developed thrash metal into the ultimate world of extremities.

One can basically view DEATH’s all too brief existence as an incremental step-by-step evolution from the deathened thrash metal beginnings of Mantas to the full blown independence within the death metal camp on “Scream Bloody Gore.” On Schuldiner’s second album LEPROSY now under the DEATH moniker, Chuck (on bass and guitar) almost employs a complete lineup making this one sound more like a real band effort and not just an early solo noisefest. Thus on LEPROSY there were two more musicians with the only album appearance of Rick Rozz on guitar and Bill Andrews picking up the drummer role after Chris Reifert went off to start Autopsy. The result of the new lineup and some time to iron out the kinks presented on the debut resulted in a stunningly brilliant followup.

LEPROSY provided a much needed intermittent step from the raw primeval bombast of the debut and the increasing progressive touches that climaxed on the final album “The Sound Of Perseverance.” While not quite in the progressive death metal camp, LEPROSY displays proto-offerings of the famous abrupt time signature changes and adventurous stylistic changes from chugga chug riffing to the histrionic guitar solos with an riveting changing it up of the drums that create an interesting mixture of styles all throughout the album. The proto-prog labyrinthine tendencies are in full regalia on LEPROSY and would only incrementally accrue on each subsequent release. Never mind the pink album cover. These sounds emanate from the deepest trenches of hell. Despite the choice of color for the album cover pastiche, Edward Repka’s artwork is quite creepy!

While it’s true that DEATH was still in its infancy and was climbing the ladder to one of the most innovative metal bands of all time, LEPROSY provides an interesting snapshot into the late 80s when glam metal bands like Whitesnake and Poison were dominating MTV, the pop charts and the overall public’s perception of what metal was. While not exactly taking the world by storm in terms of popularity, Schuldiner was staunchly nurturing his newly sired craft into an incredible maelstrom of technical wizardry that would provide the blueprint of metal ingenuity for generations to come. For any fans of DEATH, you know you’re either in it wholeheartedly or just casually dipping in to hear what all the fuss is about. It’s simply impossible to follow Schuldiner’s brainchild career without experiencing every single stop in the road along the way. LEPROSY provides that interesting phase two realm.

While i personally prefer the four more progressively infused albums that came last, LEPROSY is by far my favorite album of the first three as it successfully captures in perfect balance the raw and unrelenting origins of the DEATH universe but also begins to create more elaborate compositions that utilize not only traces of melody married with the youthful exuberance and sloppiness that comes from the initial stages of a band’s existence. This is truly a subway stop on the road to greatness but because of Schuldiner’s personal style and ferocious approach, i find this to be the quintessential satisfying release in the early years of old school death metal. Tech death is probably my favorite extreme metal style of the 21st century but LEPROSY is a classic that captures a moment in time that can never be repeated and captures it brilliantly. Brilliantly i say, brilliantly! Grrrrrrrrr.

AUGURY Concealed

Album · 2004 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 18 ratings
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The Canadian province of Quebec has long been associated with an exotic artistic flair that they inherited from their French connections with some of the nation’s most arty examples of both progressive rock as well as avant-garde metal having emerged within the province’s border. The Montreal based AUGURY is yet one more band to emerge from this fleur-de-lis setting and has been quite the contribution to the more progressive side of technical death metal. A long plan in the making with the blueprint being sown in the 90s, AUGURY finally formed in 2002 after lead guitarist Mathieu Marcotte at last left his band Spasme. The search was then on for the suitable team to carry out the desired agenda of creating a pummeling death metal sensation laced with various styles and nuances of disparate genres.

After the many auditions and plucking from other unknown bands from the local scene, the final lineup ended up with Dominic Lapointe (bassist from Atheretic), Patrick Loisel (vocalist, guitarist), Étienne Gallo (drums) and soprano vocalist Arianne Fleury. The band quickly coalesced a series of new tracks with each members adding their signature elements to the mix. As the death metal band became more adventurous, many new elements of folk, progressive rock and classical were added and after some time in the production and mixing processes emerged the band’s debut album CONCEALED in 2004. The album caught the tech death world by storm and put AUGURY on the map from the start and although a mere bunch of newbies on the scene, came across as well-vetted masters of the scene as if they were some sort of supergroup.

While it’s true that many a death metal band that throws in a few “alternative” passages can qualify as progressive these days, AUGURY is the real deal. “Beatus” starts off with a symphonic acoustic guitar passage with feminine diva soprano vocals slowly entering the scene but after the proper melodic developments are introduced, the band breaks into some serious death metal which is by far the dominant style on CONCEALED with million mile per hour crushing guitar riffs, stylized technical drum frenzies and thoughtful interplay between the bass, guitar and percussion. The band not only focus on tight top notch compositional styles that differentiate each track from the next but find interesting methods of adding softer and acoustic intros and interludes to create an interesting dynamic contrast.

While the album is primarily in-yer-face tech death metal with galloping angular guitar riffs on speed, there are many passages with Enslaved type viking metal that emphasize traditional folk melodies that implement clean vocal techniques and while Fleury’s feminine charm is usually reserved for moments of contrast, on the Celtic folk inspired “The LaIr Of Purity” she takes the reins with a prominent beauty and the beast role as well as the clean male folk vocals. However on “As Sea Devours Land” she gets to unleash her lead vocal charms as she escapes the diva role and is allowed to belt out her full metal charm. The album is well paced with nice little folky acoustic parts that segregate the brutal death metal from more subdued moments. Melody is the emphatic focus which is allowed to expand into neighboring dimensions.

CONCEALED is a really brilliant exercise in progressive leaning technical death metal. It exceeds in the tech department with the excessive guitar wankery behind the scenes including a few neoclassical solo moments as well as dishing out pleasant progressive developments. Likewise the band implement firm control over the ratio of brutality to the sensual counter forces which give AUGURY a much broader spectral resonance than the average death metal band. All in all, the album flows almost flawlessly with only the all acoustic “From Eden Estranged” wearing out its welcome with a rather unnecessary and repetitive strum-athon through the acoustic nothingness. AUGURY is a band where the mastery of the musical elements on board is exquisite and the production is perfectly crystal clear yet abrasively pleasant when the rougher aspects dominate. CONCEALED is a must hear for lovers of aggressive and complex death metal taken to extremes.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA Kénôse

EP · 2005 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 11 ratings
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Starting with their third album “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice,” the French black metal band DEATHSPELL OMEGA went from a rather run-of-the-mill second wave clone going through 90s Darkthrone inspired motions and undertook a major leap of sophistication with their Satanic liturgical distortionfests with hitherto unthinkable experimentalism and progressiveness that catapulted the entire black metal world to a completely new level.This was also the beginning of the trilogy of albums that tackled metaphysical theology from a Satanic perspective with lyrics inspired by the French philosopher Georges Bataille.

Sandwiched in between the three albums “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice,” “Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum” and “Paracletus” were many EPs and splits. KÉNÔSE emerged as the first “in-between” release and although technically classified as an EP, runs slightly over 36 minutes. During this period DEATHSPELL OMEGA, while black metal in menacing sonic demeanor, structured their albums more like progressive rock albums of the 70s. The official trilogy albums themselves mimicked the structure of vinyl double albums whereas some EPs such as this could count as fully fledged albums within their own right.

KÉNÔSE was intended to be supplemental material to accompany the “Si Momvmentvm” album. The term KÉNÔSE is French for “kenosis” which itself emerged from the Greek language (κένωσις, kénōsis), refers to the self-emptying of Jesus’ will and becoming receptive to the God’s divine will which refers to the Biblical passage in Philippians 2:7. This release pretty much perfectly fits between the newly adapted “Si Monvmentvm” and the even more challenging and experimental “Fas - Ite.” While similar, KÉNÔSE exists in its own universe and delivers one of the most terrifying banterfests of DOS’ avant-garde black metal career.

This EP consists of a mere three tracks simply titled “I” “II” and “III” with the opener serving as the longest and casting an ominous spell with a four minute death march that slowly ratchets up the tension before bursting into the more famous jangle black metal dissonance that DOS have made their frightening signature sound. “II” continues the indecipherable vocal litanies with ever changing mixes of guitar riffs, time signature changes and hypnotic percussive bantering until it reaches a frightening angularity of complete rhythmic breakdown by the end. “III” calms down a bit with a Gregorian chant type of vibe dressed up in a dissonant blackened doom metal wrap. The track hypnotically lollygags in a near nine minute rant that ends the EP leaving a feeling of despair and sadistic sacrifice of the soul.

KÉNÔSE ups the ante manyfold. The musicianship is off the chart with the guitar and bass mostly existing as a single super instrument and the drumming all interacting in staggering complexity like the aural specter of the entire jazz, classical and metal universe unleashing the darkest forces of the underworld in unison. The production is perfect as it allows the more subdued build-ups to hypnotically seduce complacence before the full metal fury unleashes the full Satanic theological rage about esoteric theological rants about hypostasis and philosophical quandaries. In short, this is the absolute perfect example of an authentic progressive black metal album.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 275 - Dreamthread

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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B U C K E T H E A D ~ Pike 275 - Dreamthread

2nd album of 2018

EIGHT tracks that clock in at 29:41

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

After several years of a seemingly endless output of material with the years 2014-15 having found 178 Pikes alone, 2018 has been quite the surprise as we enter in the month of August and B U C K E T H E A D is only releasing his 2nd PIKE of the year titled DREAMTHREAD.

The main reason for this absence of new music has been due to a heavy touring schedule finding BH at a coop near you which i found myself viewing the chicken lover in a live setting for the very first time in lovely Berkeley, CA.

I was beginning to wonder if the folks at KFC tired of the blasphemous use of their greasy grub packaging donning BH’s head for so long and put a lock on the coop and stealing his guitar. Lo and behold the eclectic one is back just in case you missed a new album every day :o

The opener “Hypnagogia” by definition is the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep such as in the phrase “hypnagogic state of consciousness” and BH gently lulls out the perfect sleepytime nightie night night music. Much like the mellow PIKEs of the past, this one somnambulistically meanders on placidly with a gentle rhythm, background ambience and delicately strummed guitar strings.

And then the true surprise! Just when i thought this was going to be one of those mellow only PIKEs, “Thread 1” becomes one of those shapeshifters starting out with a heavy metal thunder and then alternating between weird electronica and free form rock that mixes it up with energetic metal outbursts. Yeah, this is the BUCKETHEAD that i was waiting for! Nice Jedi mind trick with the opener! This track is pretty much all over the place and i love it!

“Thread 2” changes the mood to a slower metal piece but then erupts into a guitar solo and electronica frenzy. Another shapeshifter as it ventures into funk and then thrash metal and there’s really no need to continue track by track since the “Thread” series jumps all over the place ranging from the hypnagogic dreaminess of the opener to funk metal to thrash metal to hyperactive jittery electronic freakiness. Guitar riffs are aplenty as are solos. Rhythms, timbres, dynamics and tempos shapeshift with no rhyme or reason.

This is my favorite type of BUCKETHEAD album but i have to admit it’s not adding anything new to his overall collective of styles on his PIKE series. He’s simply recycling all his tricks and trinkets that he’s always relied on. The tracks are all performed brilliantly and the production is totally cool. I love listening to this even if it’s not breaking any new ground and great to finally see a second BH PIKE emerge from the egg factory.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Legendary Tales

Album · 1997 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 32 ratings
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Known as the pioneers of fusing power and symphonic metal into epic fantastical journeys, Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli created their progressive neoclassical driven band all the way back in 1993 in Trieste, Italy under the moniker Thundercross before finally changing it to the more familiar RHAPSODY, only then to be altered once again to RHAPSODY OF FIRE in 2006 due to trademark issues. Really? It took someone ten years to figure out they didn’t deserve the name? Geez.

Riding in the wake of power metal bands like Helloween, Running Wild and Blind Guardian, RHAPSODY was all about fantastical voyages into the world of mythical creatures, wily wizards and the eternal battle of good and evil and their debut album LEGENDARY TALES the band began the lengthy and never-ending epic journey into their high fantasy musical world of “The Emerald Sword Saga” which spanned over five albums ending with “Power Of The Dragonflame.”

Fantasy and mythology are nothing new in metal of course and traverses throughout the entire metal universe with bands like Summoning devoting their entire subject matter to Tolkien inspired themes. RHAPSODY took a similar approach only changing things around a bit to create their own mystical folklore that finds the similar Middle Earth approach between the battle of good and evil in a glorious bravado.

The album takes the frenetic energy infused riffing of power metal and applies rich symphonic and emotionally dense segments that include flutes, recorders, harpsichord, violins, cello, mandolin and a rich eight piece choir (tagged as the Choir Of Immortals) along with the expected metal instrumentation of guitar, bass, drums and classic operatic over-the-top vocals. The sheer scope of the journey is performed with technical wizardry and easily takes the listener to the epic lands far away from the reality we experience in the here and now.

Yeah, power metal can be a bit cheesy at times but when it’s done right, it is grand and intense. The problem usually arises in that the band in question doesn’t quite have the chops to pull off their visions. RHAPSODY is chock full of virtuosic talent focused on Luca Turilli’s speed-drenched guitar wizardry, Alex Staropoli’s keyboard gymnastics and excellently constructed compositions that focus on all aspects of the music without any particular style or genre stealing the show. These guys have mastered the art of musical foreplay and climax like few others in the metal world yet deliver all the metal goods in ample doses.

While the metal riffs are primarily based on 80s Manowar taken to more ambitious extremes, the neoclassical solos reminisce of Yngwie Malmsteen’s classically charged shred wankery. The keyboards on the other hand exist in a neo-Baroque universe that compliment the guitar segments but often find moments of expressing unadulterated J.S.Bach glory. Mountains of melody emerge through carefully constructed flute and recorders while choirs caress the soundscape with harmonic bliss.

RHAPSODY’s debut LEGENDARY TALES truly took metal’s most virtuosic and ambitious aspects to new heights with outstanding musical performances within perfectly drawn out journeys that fleshed out emotional depth with a stellar performance by vocalist Fabio Lione whose vocal range shatters glass when on fire and yet carries a perfectly calm demeanor when poetic prose is in order. It’s no wonder RHAPSODY has been so successful starting from this not so humble beginning. All the elements have already gelled with the band’s vision having been crystal clear by mapping out a complete five part saga for their debut.

The excellent performances are even more stellar with the superb production job from Gate-Studios in Wolfsburg, German with Sascha Paeth of Heaven’s Gate and Angra fame at the helm. This is a stunningly rich collection of ten outstanding tracks that contain no samples or synthesizers. All instruments heard are the real deal. While i am blown away by LEGENDARY TALES it falters only in the more tightly composed epics that follow but consistency has been one of RHAPSODY (OF FIRE)’s strengths and this debut is certainly no exception.

OBSCURA Diluvium

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 3 ratings
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OBSCURA in a way carried on the interesting cross-pollinating potentials of Necrophagist after guitarist Christian Muenzner jumped ships and brought forth his virtuosic neoclassical shredding skills infused within the sensibilities in a death metal context. While Muenzner would move on to crank out some solo releases as well as hook up with various bands such as Spawn Of Possession, Paradox, Alkaloid and Eternity’s End, OBSCURA retained a great deal of the his influence, that being the delicate balance of tech death metal bombast with the reverie of classic progressive rock. Throughout OBSCURA’s history only founder Steffen Kummerer has remained the glue that keeps the band together but somehow through thick and thin he has proved to be quite the director of the ever rotating cast of stunningly brilliant musicians who cross paths with him. On OBSCURA’s fifth studio album DILUVIUM, a new lineup is in play with Tom Gelschläger taking up guitar duties following Rafael Trujillo’s departure after “Akróasis.”

Tech death metal in the 21st century is an increasingly complex beast with bands spiraling out in all kinds of directions and often fizzle out into unrecognizable territory and alienating the extreme metal fanbase before latching onto something tangible to grasp onto. OBSCURA has been the exception to this rule with each following album getting more focused and tighter than the last. While the band started out more as a simple brutal death metal band, their progressive tendencies ratcheted up to the point where “Akróasis” seemed like the band could go full-on prog but on DILUVIUM, they dial back the prog aspects a bit and instead hammer out some extremely heavy and tight death metal delivery with more direct riffing, more recognizable song structures that remind a bit of Necrophagist with easier to follow compositions that only judicially exercise the meandering tendencies into more complex departures. DILIVIUM is the final album of the four album concept series following “Cosmogenesis” (2009), “Omnivium” (2011) and “Akróasis” (2016).

As “Clandestine Stars” abruptly begins DILUVIUM, it’s clear that OBSCURA aren’t wimping out as they mature but rather place their wisdom in better musical constructs rather than less intensity however this album isn’t afraid to experiment or continue bold and daring bouts into the progressive metal world in the least. The opening track announces the bombastic return of Germany’s premier tech death metal band with a vengeance but soon begins the welcome contrasting sounds by incorporating some cool coded vocals that i personally haven’t really heard since Cynic’s debut “Focus” all the way back in 93, well at least not as well incorporated into a heavier metal sound and not just for one track but the coded vocal effects find their way scattered throughout the entire album. Unique for the band and the album for that matter is the track “Ethereal Skies” which utilizes some symphonic effects in the from of cello, violin and other string arrangements but don’t worry - this track is still a brutal beast with the full death metal bravado, neoclassical guitar wankery with the string arrangements simply adding a bit of ambience and a few moments in the spotlight.

DILUVIUM simplifies the compositional constructs a bit and there are less meanderings into the arcane prog world which the previous two albums dived into, however simplicity is not in OBSCURA’s vocabulary and new forms of complexity emerge with the riff changes, Sebastian Lanser’s technical drumming craziness as well as Linus Klausenitzer’s excellent fretless bass workouts. The return of V. Santura’s excellent production skills guarantee a continuation of the beautifully mixed subtleties that marry the sensuality and aggressiveness fitting for a 21st century extreme metal album. All of this is great news for those who dislike long drawn out bouts of spaced out sonic surfing into the sonicsphere and eschew the heavyhead banging bombast that fans of this stuff are utterly addicted to. Being both a proghead as well as a metalhead, i do not prefer one or the other finding both styles compelling but something about DILUVIUM screams seasoned metal band reaching new heights of glory.

After five albums, OBSCURA shows no signs of slowing down or toning down the ferocious intensity. Instead the band is more focused by cranking out precisely cut progressively tinged tech death metal candy like there is a bottomless wellspring of creative energy to be tapped. As i see it, OBSCURA is playing the cards exactly right. There is always the tendency for a techie band to go for the jugular and continue the journey into the inaccessible for the average fan but on the other extreme the temptation to tame the music down so much for greater exposure can mean that it becomes tediously inane. OBSCURA on the other hand simply changed the equation around a bit by not jettisoning any of their signature traits but merely rationed them in more intelligent proportions. The result is perhaps the most balanced album of their career, one that walks the tightrope between the tech death and progressive metal that they have juggled throughout their career. While some may like this more or less than the previous albums, i simply find this to be yet another satisfying edition to a solid canon of intelligently designed sci-fi fueled tech metal that satisfies from beginning to end. Well done, guys.

THERESIA An Invitation To Darkness

Album · 2018 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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After making their debut on the Wisteria Records Various Artists Compilation METAL MADNESS: VOLUME ONE, the Japanese turned Canadian depressive black metal band THERESIA make their true debut with their first EP release AN INVITATION TO DARKNESS. While the band formed in Japan in 2016 they moved to both the UK and Canada and somehow ended up in the unlikely setting of Regina, Saskatchewan.

All along the band was more into noise rock than metal but their influences also include Gothic rock like Christian Death as well as the Japanese band Sodom And Silencer. Somehow the trio found themselves more in black metal mode with hints of the noise, punk and Goth in the mix, however with pummeling distorted guitar riffs, angry shouted vocals and a muted bass that fuses with the murky guitar parts, there is no mistaking this for anything other than black metal with lyrics screamed out in both English and Japanese.

The band is led by vocalist Ikiryō with Misaki on both drums and guitar and Okiku on bass. This EP is way too short while although it has four tracks, the first and last are simply an ambient intro and a short crust punk outro. The short opener “Dear Kayo… An Invitation For Darkness” begins like the first Black Sabbath album with thunder and church bells chiming with some Japanese poetry being read.

The only two real songs are “Funeral Games” which nicely continues the bell chimes and breaks in true depressive black metal riffing along with pummeling percussion that isn’t exactly blastbeat style but certainly has energetic bursts of pummelation that equal the intensity. The vocals offer glimpses of bleak hopelessness and unhappiness perhaps obtained through all that moving from country to country and ending up in one of the coldest nations on Earth!

“The Graves Of Passion” has an even more disturbed sound with insanely crazy distorted guitars, a frenetic percussive pattern and even more unhinged vocals angrily vociferating through the din. The flow is very much of second wave black metal with a straight forward delivery and not overly unlike many other bands of the 90s and early 2000s. The final closer “Deathmask” sounds more crust punk but with a blackened veneer followed by a short snippet of spoken words at the end.

THERESIA shows promise with a strong drive and excellent delivery of black metal however the EP is way too short. I believe a debut should at least be 20 minutes long and offer a variety of tracks even if set in the same genre mode. While performed quite well THERESIA needs to work on some sort of way of differentiating themselves from the legions of other black metal bands out there. Definitely one to look out for but just getting their feet wet in the morbid metal games of the 21st century. Definitely worth checking out but it seems like it’s just getting started and then ends!

KHANATE Khanate

Album · 2001 · Drone Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Sometimes understanding where a band got their name will tell you a lot about the overall vibe their trying to instill with their music. In the case of KHANATE, a so called supergroup due to the fact that the four band members vocalist Alan Dubin (Old, Gnaw), guitarist Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O)))), bassist James Plotkin (Old, Scorn, Phantomsmasher) and drummer Tim Wyskida (Blind Idiot God) all got their feet wet in various doom and drone oriented metal bands that had an impact on the metal scene. The name KHANATE is a term for a political entity that appeared on the Eurasian Steppe and most synomous for the time of Genghis Khan and his massive Mongol Empire. This is music of conquest indeed, the type that administers its bombast at a snail’s pace and unleashes all the torturous apparatuses to fulfill its goal.

While drone metal was derived from doom metal, many of the bands that fit into that child sub somehow managed to separate themselves completely. I mean, does anyone associate bands like Earth, Sunn O)))) or Boris with doom? Maybe only superficially but they certainly evolved into a more post-metal realm that utilizes all that fuzzy drone sludgery in a world all its own. KHANATE’s self-titled debut on the other hand totally embraces the doom metal roots from whence the drone sub spawned. Therefore this album contains four long sprawling terrifying tracks (and a short dark ambient one in the middle) that utilize all the grating layers of feedback, insane asylum shrieking and fuzzed out bass in conjunct with heavy doom laden riffs that flow like Antarctic molasses only they also have hints of their doom metal roots from the likes of Black Sabbath and Pentagram.

While drone metal is mostly a miss in my books as it is usually repetitive and sprawling to infinity, KHANATE found the perfect formula to create elongated timespans filled with AAAALLLL the frightening possibilities. First of all, Alan Dubin’s vocals are absolutely terrifying. In fact the whole album makes me think of scary dude from the movie Scream inviting all his buddies over to make some music. They shoot up a little heroin and the party’s on. It’s fright night with all the amps turned to eleven, intent to scare at full capacity and experimentalism is set to high with only the tiniest trace of established doom metal orthodoxy allowed to provide a somewhat shaky canvas to paint upon. Slasher metal anyone? These guys are great at keeping the tracks distinct from one another despite operating on the same set of principles, namely scare the holy crap outa anyone who gets near.

KHANATE couldn’t have conquered new territories if not for the outstanding production that graces this album. While the plodding rhythms flow like cooling magma down a only slightly sloped terrain, the guitar, bass and drums all conspire to create just enough variation to keep one’s attention span from teetering off into elsewhere. These guys paid attention to every small detail and the result is an addicting feedback fuzz laced with sludge celebration of slow, miserable and lugubrious outbursts of pure dread. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been lumped into the funeral doom world because it certainly evokes the same desperate depths of despair. The middle piece “Torching Koroviev” takes this to even more extreme levels as it eschews the metal aspects and creates a dark ambient gut-wrenching experience.

Julian Cope described this album as an orchestrated root-canal and you know, that’s not too far off the cuff. This music has a fuzz back feed that does remind of the dentist’s drill only it’s like going to the dentist on LSD where every seemingly banal move becomes a torturous tale of misadventure and every sonic change is a new demon invited to the party where you are the victim of demented torturous abuse. The album is good all the way through but the final two tracks “Under Rotting Sky” and “No Joy” really delve deep into a dark and unforbearing underworld that resonates as an eternity of suffering where no souls escape in a true tesseract of impending hopelessness. This is some of the coolest drone doom metal around as KHANATE mastered the emotional depth to pull it off. This is very different than any of the band’s other projects and totally recommended for those looking for the most extreme examples of doom based metal on slo-mo.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice

Album · 2004 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 27 ratings
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The term “black metal” was simply born as a title of the 1982 Venom album who was one of metal’s first bands to venture into a more ambitious extreme new world but like Rosemary’s baby was just a mere sprout that morbid and fertile imaginations would transmogrify into the harsh and ugly wave of extreme metal that began in Scandinavia. While bands like Hellhammer and Celtic Frost nurtured this evil spawn through the toddler years, it was a fast learner and soon the Swedish band Bathory would unleash the first true black metal with its trademark fast tempos, shrieking vocals, heavily distorted buzzsaw guitars and tremolo picking. Originally the style began as more as a Pagan based rebellion against religious intolerance but soon it would attract a second wave of followers who would take it to absolute extremes.

Once the floodgates were opened, a whole legion of imitators followed and this extreme form of metal splintered into myriad directions. Atmospheric with ambient keyboard use, industrial black, war black, Viking, blackgaze and even hybrids with death metal and many other non-metal genres. The great evolutionary diversification splintered with subject matter ranging from hostile misanthropy, anti-Christian sentiments, Pagan folklore, romantic Gothic tales and depressive hopelessness. While bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Satyricon, Emperor and Gorgoroth frightened the masses with their cacophonous din with some even having burned down a few churches in their wake, these face painted miscreants were more focused on adolescent angst and shocking appearances as the rebellious antithesis of Christianity rather than delving into the philosophical theology of true Satanism.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA were a part of this legion of imitators with two albums that sounded like countless others based in the second wave of black metal with their second album “Inquisitors Of Satan” sounding like it easily could’ve been slipped into the Darkthrone canon and no one would’ve thought twice about it. As if Satan himself had selected this mysterious and anonymous French ensemble, the band emerged from a rather generic epigone to one of the most experimental and intellectually developed outfits within the entire black metal universe. On their third album SI MONVMENTVM REQVIRES, CIRCVMSPICE (Latin for “If You Seek His Monument, Look Around You,) DEATHSPELL OMEGA launched the first of a trilogy of albums that focused on the Theistic Satanist’s perspective and one that ostentated that Satan is pervading every aspect of the physical and metaphysical universe and that Man’s relationship with Him should be one of reverence and devotion.

While lyrically entranced in Satanic metaphysics in a liturgical presentation, stylistically the works are heavily influenced by the 20th century French philosopher Georges Bataille. Musically DOS evolved significantly beyond the second wave tritone dissonance into a sophisticated progressive black metal band that utilized wide varieties of stylistic shifts interspersed with unpredictable time signature changes and even incorporated complete deviations from metal altogether into Gregorian chants that take references from the Christian Bible and fully invert them as heard on the beginning “First Prayer” that finds backmasking wrapped around the liturgical sermon. The album, like true Satanic ideologies, is rife with symbolism both visually in the album cover and liner notes but also with the juxtaposition of Christian philosophies with dark arts metaphysics. This is the real deal. A musical experience so dark and heavy that it makes Anton LaVey’s Church Of Satan look like a skit with the Church Lady on 80s Saturday Night Live.

SI MONVMENTVM REQVIRES, CIRCVMSPICE is a very long album. At 77 minutes and 47 seconds it was intentionally designed to mimic the structure of progressive rock double albums from the 70s with each fictitious side opening with a prayer with an additional lengthy devotion occurring with the eleven minute plus “Carnal Malefactor.” While the album doesn’t let up in its intensity for one second, the diverse elements that flow through manage to keep even the most attention span deprived metalhead from bouts of ennui. While segments flow and find repetitive segments of structure, the band’s approach is to change the instrumentation subtlety and also at time startlingly abrupt, by offering up new riffs, new drumming patterns or vocal rants. At times the band plays together as a cohesive unit in traditional black metal fashion but more often offers up the most avant-garde and mind bending displays of angular dissonance and progressive bombast. The overall impression of this album is that of a black mass from a fly on the wall perspective.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA took the entire metal world by storm with SI MONVMENTVM REQVIRES, CIRCVMSPICE, having created one of the most thought provoking and musically mysterious metal albums of the ages. This is the kind of blackened art album with the sophistication of great classical composers with every composition, production value and lyrical utterance casting a darkened cloud over the world and twisted into an unholy irreverence in an antithetically aligned manner that goes far beyond a flaming vitriol for Christianity but rather ups the game to become its equal. While DEATHSPELL OMEGA could be viewed as a pseudo-intellectual cauldron of mumbo jumbo, there is no denying that their craft has mastered the art of Christian inversion to its logical conclusion and utilized its own contradictory Biblical passages against it with a thoughtful and peremptory authority. While cleverly presented, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, the newfound masters of the great Satanic theological soundtracks hadn’t quite attained perfection as it would on the follow-up “Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum,” but it’s pretty damn close.

STEVE VAI Modern Primitive

Album · 2016 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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For true STEVE VAI fans who have kept up with his output since the beginning, one of the most amazing transmogrifications in music history occurred between his debut album “Flex-Able” and his second “Passion And Warfare.” So much so that for much of the time both albums seem to have been recorded by completely different artists, however that’s somewhat of an exaggeration since both albums contain more than enough of the trademark VAI-isms that transcend compositional style as well as exhibiting his Zappa roots however the debut was more experimental whereas the sophomore release showcased a much more developed technical shredding style.

This evolution makes more sense with the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Passion And Warfare which hit the market in 2016. While VAI has always been generous in the addition of bonus tracks when he re-releases an older album, this one was the greatest gift of all as it came out as basically a double album called MODERN PRIMITIVE / PASSION AND WARFARE (25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION). The unreleased album’s worth of material covers those mystery years between his first two albums when he scrapped solo albums in order to work with David Lee Roth and Alcatraz.

A double album indeed as the double CD release contains two cardboard sleeves attached and in yin yang fashion with each side acting as an independent album albeit in Siamese twin fashion. This review will only cover the MODERN PRIMITIVE album since PASSION AND WARFARE will be covered in its own review however i will cover the four bonus tracks attached to the end of P&W. While MODERN PRIMITIVE is indeed technically a bonus album for P&W’s 25th Anniversary release, it can also be thought of as an album in its own right since had destiny not intervened, this material very well could’ve been VAI’s second album.

The title MODERN PRIMITIVE refers to the fact that these tracks were started but never finished. VAI wrote “Flex-Able” between the ages of 20-23 and PASSION AND WARFARE between the ages of 27-29. The material on MODERN PRIMITIVE was started when he was between 23-26 but were never finished. At the age of 55, STEVE VAI finally found the time and the excuse to finally complete these tracks and release them as bonus material. Some of the tracks were destined for P&W but didn’t make the editing cut and thus sat in the vaults for two decades plus.

Many of these tracks emerged under the intent of being released in a period band called The Classified, a vocal jazz rock group that featured Sue Mathis on keyboards and vocals, Tommy Mars also on keyboards and vocals, Stu Hamm on bass and Chris Frazier on drums. This material was played live at many successful gigs but never recorded at all, so these recordings for the most part were written in the 80s and finally recorded in the second decade of the 21st century. While most of the musicians would return, Sue Mathis did not.

Like “Flex-Able,” MODERN PRIMITIVE still exhibits a healthy dose of Zappa influences, especially from the “One Size Fits All” era which becomes quite apparent as the schizoid vocal jazz scat opener “Bop” bursts onto the scene. Belying its title, there is nothing one would consider hard bop in the least but rather immediately provides a link between VAI’s first two albums as it retains all the quirky whimsical charm of the debut while developing the technical prowess of the second. How much of this resulted from its initial birth pangs and how much is the addition of VAI’s modern perspective will probably remain the biggest mystery of his career.

“Dark Matter” shifts completely in a Hendrix type rocker with a lot more wah-wah and shredding techniques added. Not to mention the PASSION & WARFARE production magic. “Mighty Messengers” musters up the funk bass groove but ultimately becomes a rather by-the-books vocal rock track that exhibits some guitar wankery and sound effects. “The Lost Chord” is one of those cheesy ballads that i find underwhelming and this one is no exception although Devin Townsend is the vocalist. It indeed sounds like some mellow track off one of his albums albeit with VAI’s sensual guitar antics. It’s ok but seems like a waste of Townsend’s dynamic vocal range. “Upanishads” is another chilled out progressive slow burner. It never really goes anywhere despite some guitar soloing. OK and that’s it.

“Fast Note People” is yet another chilled out rocker with some snazzy instrumental backing. VAI’s vocals turn me off but this has lots of backing vocals and turns into a more Zappa inspired fairy tale of sorts. “And We Are One” is once again a slow chilled out ballad with VAI and a female vocalist performing a duet. Yawn. “Never Forever” finally picks up some steam and sounds like one of those spacey P&W tracks with soaring guitar runs but VAI’s weak vocals ruin it for me. “Lights Are On” is finally a true rocker with some real good VAI guitar action going on. It reminds me most of P&W and seems like it was destined for that album but got nixed. It would’ve fit in perfect and better than weak tracks like “ I Would Love To.” “No Pockets” sounds completely different and is more of a garage rock track which is a Bob Harris track where he is vocalist.

The final three tracks are the “Pink And Blows Over Suite” with the second part hitting over the thirteen minute mark. “Part 1” slowly fades in with pleasant sound effects and then becomes a female vocalist ballad with lots of smooth backing vocals. Obviously part of the vocal jazz group years. Even this short intro to the suite is rich and dynamic with lots of VAI-esque time signature deviations at his most extreme and a rich lush production that offers beautiful counterpoints to the vocalists. “Part II - Mars Attack” continues seamlessly with the music melody from “The Nutcracker” backed by a deep drone in key. It remains ambient with whistles and in jazzified classical mode with electronic overtures. In fact it sounds more like a show tune piece than anything VAI would have released. There are some stellar classical piano runs but no guitar really. The tempo remains slow and the mood darkened. For an attack from Mars i would expect more musical drama! The shorter “Part III” closer finally picks up the steam and turns into a more festive jazz-rock-funk mood with VAI’s sizzling guitar soloing. It ends in the same vocal jazz style that began the three part journey. Probably the best part of the album.

PASSION AND WARFARE is included in its entirety. There was really no need for remastering since the album was cutting edge at its time of original release in 1990 and sounds modern even by today’s standards however there are four bonus tracks tacked onto the end. “Lovely Elixir” is a slow guitar ballad. It’s like many tracks distributed throughout VAI’s musical career and rather uninteresting. “And We Are One (Alternate Solo No. 2)” is pretty much just another version of “And We Are One” from the MODERN PRIMITIVE album. This version is just as slow and uneventful as the original. “As Above” is a resurrected demo and has a military march percussive drive with VAI’s soaring guitar sound. Sounds like something that may have been nixed from the original P&W lineup because it sounds a little like its opener “Liberty” but pretty decent overall. “So Below” is actually a Niels Bye Nielsen Orchestration and sounds more like a movie soundtrack in a classic John Williams fashion than a STEVE VAI track. Ok but nothing OMG.

It has to be remembered that this album is a combo package. Although i’m reserving my review for PASSION AND WARFARE on its own page, as a rating these two cannot be separated. P&W is a guitar classic but has some obvious flaws but one that i easily give four stars because the strengths far outweighs the weaknesses. The bonus material on this P&W 25TH ANNIVERSARY album is pretty much throwaway material but the MODERN PRIMITIVE does have some decent stuff on it although nothing that i would consider lost treasures therefore this disc really only deserves a two star rating but since this is a combo package i’ll give it all a three. If you already have PASSION AND WARFARE, there’s really no need to run and get this if you haven’t already. But as a true STEVE VAI fan i feel obliged to have all this extra stuff because of the few interesting tidbits and for those who want some historical context then this one does deliver the goods.

STEVE VAI Flex-Able Leftovers

EP · 1984 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.58 | 4 ratings
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STEVE VAI’s debut album “Flex-able” was the result of his time between several years as “stunt guitarist” for Frank Zappa and his future as a rock / metal guitar god once he joined David Lee Roth and Whitesnake which helped launch his career as one of rock’s greatest solo shredders of all time. The material presented on his debut album which appeared in 1984 was the result of two years of recording (82-84) of which only eleven tracks appeared but STEVE’s output was quite prolific. What started out as a project to record goofy nonsensical tracks only intended to be heard by his friends resulted in a debut album with the excess of eight more tracks appearing on the FLEX-ABLE LEFTOVERS EP that was released the same year.

This EP may be a source of confusion since it was released twice in 1984 by two record labels and then again in 1998 as a full length album with an additional six tracks recorded during the same period with all three releases sporting completely different cover art. Yikes! The first release of FLEX-ABLE LEFTOVERS appeared as a vinyl 10” with only 1000 editions appearing on the Urantia label which featured fairy tale cover art that had a yellow impressionist background with a hand tugging on a heart in water. The second pressing of also 1000 editions was released on VAI’s newly created Akashic Records and featured a similar cover as the original “Flex-Able” album cover with a jet black background with a pinkish purple logo and in the EP’s case a similarly colored VAI playing guitar. Both of these EPs had the exact same track order which was changed up for the 1998 re-release.

IN SIDE (aka Side One)

One "You Didn't Break It" Two "Bledsoe Bluvd" Three "The Beast of Love" Four "Burnin' Down the Mountain”

OUT SIDE (aka Side Two)

One "So Happy" Two "Details at 10" Three "Little Pieces of Seaweed" Four "Chronic Insomnia”

The EP was expanded to a full-length on Sony Records released in 1998 with a completely different track order which included six unreleased tracks that were recorded during the same period of 1982-84. This one was released on CD only and included one major change of recording live drums to replace the original drum machine on “You Didn’t Break It.” All the tracks received a complete re-editing and mixing. To make it even more confusing four of the tracks appeared as bonus tracks on the CD release of the “Flex-Able” album that appeared in 1988. These four tracks include: “So Happy,” “Bledsoe Blvd,” “Burnin’ Down The Mountain” and “Chronic Insomnia.” Whew! The 1998 track list is:

One “F.u.c.k Yourself" (Listed as #[email protected]! Yourself) (Bonus Ed. 1998) Two "So Happy" Three "Bledsoe Bluvd" Four "Natural Born Boy" (Bonus Ed. 1998) Five "Details at 10" Six “Massacre" (Bonus Ed. 1998) Seven "Burnin' Down the Mountain" Eight "Little Pieces of Seaweed" Nine "San Sebastian” (Bonus Ed. 1998) Ten "The Beast of Love" Eleven "You Didn't Break it” (Bonus Ed. 1998) Twelve "The X-Equilibrium Dance" (Bonus Ed. 1998) Thirteen "Chronic Insomnia”

These tracks contained many but not all of the same session musicians as “Flex-Able” with Mike Keneally and Stu Hamm joining in from the Zappa crowds. The instrumentation once again ranged from the standard guitar, bass, keyboards and drums to the more exotic which included coral sitar, violin, piccolo xylophone, bell lyre and vibraphone. Also in the mix were various vocal effects from many guests as well. While “Flex-Able” was a stand alone eclectic moment in the rock universe, FLEX-ABLE LEFTOVERS has even more bizarre concoction which include some of the most foul mouthed profanities that STEVE VAI has ever uttered in his predominantly PG-rated career therefore this is the one album that received the Parental Advisory label most due to the 1998 add on “F.u.c.k Yourself,” a shockingly hilarious critique on society and the world in general, guaranteed to either offend you beyond belief or have you rolling on the floor laughing so hard that tears are rolling out of your eyes!

FAVORITE TRACKS include: The opener “F.u.c.k Yourself” and the second track “So Happy.” A very bizarre WTF spoken word oddity that shows VAI’s uncanny ability to replicate spoken words in perfect pitch and tempo on guitar. “Massacre.” A bitchin’ guitar workout fretted over a techno beat that performs some of VAI’s best guitar antics of this era. “Little Pieces Of Seaweed.” OMG. This is just too much! This is INSANE!!! Yes, it’s got Zappa written all over it but it is filthy, raunchy, brash and experimental as hell. VAI unleashes all the production techniques including backmasking, torturous fret abuse and freaky compositional liberties. Aspects of VAI’s entire career can be heard in this one. The ultimate summary in one track. “The X-Equilibirum Dance” is a funky chunky bunch of proggy weirdness! The funk bass finds a guitar slinking in and out of sync with it and while the guitar goes to la-la land, so do the drums and bass join in offering a weird in-and-out-of focus strangeness. “Chronic Insomnia” is pure experimental guitar that would sound more at home in a no wave band like DNA. It’s actually quite frightening as a bunch of guitar sounds emulate an exorcist or something. It’s two minutes of pure mind f.u.c.k.e.r.y.

OK TRACKS include: “Details At 10.” Despite a quite cool track. This is too much straight outa the Frank Zappa playbook. Perhaps a rejected track from the “You Are What You Is” album. Nice but it’s not outstanding either. “Burnin’ Down The Mountain” is a slow acoustic guitar track with shakers that offers a pleasant melodic development but never really gains steam. “You Didn’t Break It” offers a Van Halen type of guitar riff. It was written by Bob and Suzannah Harris and features Bob on vocals. It’s not bad and VAI’s guitar adds some sizzle to an otherwise meh sort of rock song.

THROWAWAY TRACKS include: “Natural Born Boy.” One of those boring rock instrumentals that has no memorable melody and displays a generic lead over rhythmic guitar. “San Sebastian” is another one of those boring melodic tracks that chimes along and never really goes anywhere. “Beast Of Love.” One of those ballad type tracks with VAI’s awful vocal style. I can handle his voice when the track is interesting but this one is rather bland.

Overall, a great bonus for true fans. There is some excellent material on here that i could not possibly live without however this one falls short of the essential tag. As expected the term LEFTOVERS implies material that didn’t make the original cut for a reason. In many cases, it was because the material was obviously too weird and that’s the material i love the best, but some as stated are rather meh while some are just ok. However, the cream of the crop on here means this is well worth checking out if you love the most weird Zappa influences of VAI’s early work as well as his impeccable production and guitar playing skills.

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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siLLy puPPy
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.

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