Metal Music Reviews from topofsm

EMPEROR Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk

Album · 1997 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 50 ratings
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After already creating one of the greatest albums, "In the Nightside Eclipse", Emperor decided to do it again right. This is one of the rare examples of when a band can make a large change in their sound and still do it right. Emperor deserves respect for doing something new instead of rehashing their sound when they were already at their peak, but also deserve more respect for the quality of this album on its own merit. Thus, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is a highly recommended black metal album with tons of symphonic elements that bring out their best.

Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is fantastic for the wall of sound that's all over the place. It's completely ahead of its time, and instead of the symphonics being cheesy and overblown, they melt perfectly into the other instruments to give of an epic feeling without the cheese, which is the problem with so many of Emperor's "successors". The guitars are sharp and heavy, leaving off most of the rawness from the previous album. And, of course, no Emperor album would be complete without Ihsahn's pure, sharp, evil shrills, which pierce right through the sound and deliver all the demonic feeling of hell.

The songs work well to build the atmosphere of the album, so while the songs are memorable and the riffs are great, they don't really stand out from each other. Metalheads should be familiar with "Thus Spake the Nightspirit", though, which features some pre-avant garde Ihsahn styled riffs and guitar solo. Its driving 12/8 rhythm gives off a frantic pace, and goes into a heavy slow drive towards the end. "With Strength I Burn" may also be one of the greatest metal songs on the Earth, featuring some of the most epic-sounding arpeggios, and a clean section towards the end that would break the most kvlt black metaller into tears.

Ultimately, those starting looking into black metal need to listen to this guy. It's a classic album, and will be around for many years to come. In its original form, its symphonic metal that does everything right before the followers got everything wrong. It's a complete symphonic metal orgy of chaos and darkness, and you won't regret the purchase.

NILE Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka

Album · 1998 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 29 ratings
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While not a classic in any sense of the word, Nile's debut, "Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka" is still a testament to the greatness of Nile. It doesn't have any of their more epic styled songs, and the production has yet to be bumped up a notch, but that hardly makes it less enjoyable for a Nile record. In fact, it will probably appeal more to straight-up death metal lovers, rather than those who dislike overtly technical and excessive attributes in their metal.

The first thing to notice is the songs are rather short, a stark contrast to what the band would become one day. It gives a sort of grind feel in that sense, in that a lot of the tracks go by at a rapid speed and leave as soon as they arrive. It is indeed harder to pick out tracks even after a few listens, but that's ok. There are also more sections with pure Middle Eastern ambience, such as the track "Kudurru Maqlu", and the complete march piece, "Die Rache Krieg Lied Der Assyriche". Apart from that, there isn't really much different from what we know from Nile.

That being said, the more creative and progressive elements are a bit more noticeably absent. Many of the songs are straight up death metal, like "Barra Edinazzu". There are some great snipppets of what would come eventually, most notably the highlight of the album "Ramses, Bringer of War", which lifts Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War" and incorporates it wonderful into an Egyptian styled death metal piece, definitely a great adaptation. The closing track "Beneath Eternal Oceans Of Sand" is also great, transitioning from dark ambience to tech death in a snap.

As always it seems that Karl Sanders does well leading the team to construct some great metal. His guitar is noticeably present and throughout the album there are lots of those blistering solos that buzz through, giving more harsh oppression to the Egyptian slave-driving mood. The drums lack a bit of personality, and seem to be rather standard fare though. That seems fine, because the song structures still speak for themselves.

As a Nile album, it is easy to see why this one isn't brought up as much as other releases. It isn't bad at all, it just lacks quite a few elements that makes Nile great. That doesn't mean Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka isn't great. On the contrary, it stands on its own as a good collection of Egyptian death metal at a rapid pace with plenty of its own merit

DREAM THEATER Falling Into Infinity

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.37 | 119 ratings
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Dream Theater had a massive following after two of their greatest albums, Images & Words along with Awake. Fanbase wise they were at their peak. It is unfortunate that this album should be released immediately after these two, because unfortunately this is where they dropped a lot of the complex prog technique, something they were champions of. That being said, there's still great prog metal to be found here, and plenty of substance still.

Overall, this album is very soft for a metal album. Derek Sherinian plays keys here, and his tone is very smooth and clear, a stark contrast to Moore's proggy synth tones or Rudess' unusual experimental sounds. This smooth tone ties the album together into a more etherial feel, and since the band is playing fewer jagged time signature twists and angular note choices, it gives the impression of a more pop-oriented sound.

This may be the case on a couple songs. "You Not Me" is an unforgivably annoying pop rock song, and "Take away my Pain" and "Anna Lee" could also easily be heard on your mainstream radio station. That being said, the softer feel works in the band's favor on a lot of the songs. "New Millenium" and "Lines in the Sand" are rocking songs with a very King's X feel to it to give some good feeling edges (the latter even features Doug Pinnick on vocals, so it makes sense). "Trial of Tears" is a long form song with lots of beautiful atmosphere and wonderful lyrics from John Myung behind it. The band even hits a peak at an instrumental track "Hell's Kitchen", which is a stunning testament to the skills of the musicians, where it is beautiful and shows some wonderful technique all around, it's probably their best instrumental track.

There is some nice metal on here, though none of it's very heavy. "Just Let Me Breathe" is a very energetic track, and the best example of prog on this album with a demanding bridge section and some fantastic instrumental interplay. "Peruvian Skies" is also great, starting off as a grungy ballad but going into some heavy energetic riffs, giving some dramatic light to an incident of a girl being kidnapped. "Burning My Soul" is also metal, but unlike the other is slow and churning, maybe the darkest on the album.

All in all, Falling into Infinity is still a great album. It is only maligned because it isn't what Dream Theater fans are looking for. It's true to an extent, with a couple pop songs that mar the album. But as for the rest, I feel it is a collection of music that is Dream Theater at their best when they learn to drop the showoff crap and really play.

DEVIN TOWNSEND Deconstruction

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 52 ratings
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For those looking at the other Devin Townsend Project outputs, they may be missing something from the rest of his catalogue, especially if they miss Strapping Young Lad. Ki had a really heavy mood, but used soft instrumentation and atmospheres to convey it. Addicted used solid metal instruments, but used them to create really catchy and colorful moods. This is the album where Devin brings back his sound full swing, over the top everything back together into his full fledged prog metal album Deconstruction.

In terms of sound, it can be compared mostly to his solo album Ziltoid: The Omniscient. It's got a lot of the progressive sounds under fairly heavy riffing. The humor's there, though unfortunately Devin has switched Ziltoid's clever tongue in cheek over the top humor for some sophomoric cheeseball toilet jokes. The main difference is that Deconstruction's instrumentation's significantly heavier, and the song structures are more chaotic on the whole. That being said, there are also some unusual "circus" style noises that permeates the album, giving it a unique, zany feeling under the heavier shell.

This album works best as a whole and the highlights don't stand out as much because it's more of a cohesive work. That being said, the title track is probably the highlight. The riffs are crazy and fun, especially when it comes to Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah when he guest stars and pulls out a solo. The humor is decidedly more self aware, like Ziltoid, especially when the choir begins to sing about cheeseburger condiments. Other standouts include "Juular", which is a short, fast-paced track with some dark riffing, and the guest vocals of Ihsahn certainly give the track a more nightmarish attitude. "Sumeria" gives a very large crushing feeling, and the intro verses are absolutely stunningly epic. It's as bombastic as it comes, and brings a large scale feeling to the album. "Stand" is also a highlight, with some midtempo heavy riffs that are downright groovy.

At a look at the album tracks, though, and you'll notice that I've neglected two of the longest tracks on the album, "The Mighty Masturbator" and "Planet of the Apes", which together make up a good thirty minutes of the album. They are good too, but don't quite match up to what one may expect from an epic. Rather, they are simply long extensions of the album. For "Planet of the Apes" case, it starts off with some awkwardly timed riffing and verses, but makes up for it with a heavy but ethereal outro along with a nice catchy chorus. "The Mighty Masturbator" is made up of several long sections of music sort of glued together, going a while in some repetition of some standard Devin riffs and arpeggios, going into a dance rhythm, and ending on a pompous orchestral riff. The dance section hurts the song a bit, though, there's some rather repetitive annoying beeping that goes on for an extended period of time, and it never seems to end.

Along with just a couple awkward sections, this album has maybe a few flaws. The production is good for the most part, as to be expected from Devin, but there are a lot of loud parts in the album, also to be expected. At the most chaotic and heavy, the instruments drown each other out, which becomes a problem sometimes. It also is the cause of some of the other problems, most notably the guest vocals. A handful of the artists stand out, such as Ihsahn, Floor Jansen, and Paul Masdival. At other times, you'd hardly notice that they're there, partially because of the chaos. Because of this, they don't bring the variety to the album that they could.

At the heart of it all, though, Deconstruction is still a solid release for Devin. It's got all the trademarks: the walls of sound, the melodic arpeggios, the humor. It's not really a Ziltoid, Terria, or even Alien in the case of Strapping Young Lad. It may be the heaviest release in the "Devin Townsend" realm, but that may pull it back a bit. The three albums listed aren't quite as chaotic as this one, but somehow they manage to be over the top and tongue-in-cheek when it needs to be, which this album seems to lack. They also have their strong moments of beauty and melody, which are a bit absent from here. That being said, it's still a Devin Townsend album, and he's still got the touch to make a good album such as this, a worthy release and a good one from 2011.

MEGADETH Rust in Peace

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 215 ratings
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Really, what more about this album has been said that hasn't been said already? Rust in Piece is Megadeth's Magnum Opus, along with Peace Sells... and for good reason. This is the point where the band took their complex progression and multi-sectional thrash to its logical extreme, before regressing into more standard metal with Countdown to Extinction. Through the creative sections along with masterful riffs, this shows that Megadeth were far from just screwing around with music.

There are plenty of arguments about Megadeth vs Metallica, and one reason people see Metallica as better are their long-form progressive metal tracks. While the tracklist shows that the song lengths for Megadeth aren't excessively long, Megadeth preferred to throw out the repetition on albums like this and bring tons of interesting sections into a well-constructed, concise format. One of the best examples of this is one of the deeper cuts on the album, "Five Magics", which starts off with some repetitive bass and guitar interplay, before blasting off into multiple high-energy sections, ultimately climaxing into a gigantic buildup. In less than six minutes they say more than, say, the eight minute opuses "Battery" and "Master of Puppets"

They do not suffer from sporadic changing syndrome that causes some to groan when listening to the more instrumentally challenging bands. All the riffs are solid, where Mustaine and Friedman just crank out great riff after great riff. The opening shouting of the guitar kicks it off in "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due" and doesn't stuff. Most of them are energetic and thrashy, peaking out speedwise at the rockabilly-esque "Poison Was the Cure". Other times they are slow, like the latter section of the opening track. No matter what, though, they all pack a punch, with maybe the sole exception of "Lucretia" which while opening with a great melody on guitar delves into some sections that are slightly more standard in metal.

Again, Mustaine and Friedman must be mentioned. Friedman is many a Megadeth fan's favorite guitarist, and the solos on this album back it up quite well. It's difficult trying to tell what brings more to the table, the wild, endless soloing that goes on and on in "Hangar 18", or the emotional and shreddy blast that is "Tornado of Souls". The former is quite entertaining, with Mustaine and Friedman going back and forth against each other in a chaotic maelstrom of fury, getting faster and faster and building in increasing rage and technique. The latter, however, might be Friedman's masterpiece of a solo, containing thousands of exactly the right notes needed, giving a wonderful emotional and energetic touch needed in such a powerful song.

At the end of the day, you should know what you're getting into with "Rust in Peace". Megadeth is at the top of the game, and while the thrash isn't quite as extreme or dark as other bands in the genre, this still stands as an important pillar in the world of metal. Plenty have stated its influence and importance, and the music behind it speaks for itself. So if you're reading this and haven't gotten it already, there's really no excuse. Go out and get it.

INTRONAUT Valley Of Smoke

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 11 ratings
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Gaining respect in the past few years, Intronaut stands out as the prime progressive sludge band these days. It's not that Mastodon has gone a more proggy route or that Isis has disbanded, it's that they've emerged from their primordial waves of sound and filled a niche that is entirely their own, and by their progression since this album and the last, it seems that they may be staying here comfortably for a long time.

Valley of Smoke stands out in the sludge genre by being a bit more prog-oriented than, say, the repetitive post-metal roots of Isis or Pelican. Rather, instead of repetition, they relish in lots of atmospheric windy soft sections, and during the heavy sections they are in a state of constant change, shifting time signatures and shouting your standard sludge vocals to give some interesting punctuation to other sections. The time changes are never ostentatious technicality though. They serve to give a very amorphous sound to the entire album, giving another layer to the already noisy genre we call sludge.

While this album is totally about the atmosphere, the rhythm section in the group is probably the highlight. Joe Lester's bass has a really fat, jazzy tone that winds around the guitar melodies and chords really well. Meanwhile, Danny Walker does similar things with his percussion, and while it is quite obvious he is skilled at his craft, he performs very tightly and fits the music so well you may not notice the skill required to play those parts. Together, the two pull together the songs, and are the backbone of everything, giving the two other guitars a great foundation for both their reverbing soft guitars or dissonant noisy riffs.

One of the best examples of this tight rhythm section is in the intro to "Core Relations", which is set behind some soft echoing guitars, while the drums and guitar play off each other in a slow, but syncopated and complex manner. They join together so well that they build the haunting atmosphere simply by repetition, before the guitars start to fade in with the growled vocals and distorted riffs. This is probably the highlight of the album, the peak in terms of emotion and sheer songwriting talent.

Probably the other peak would be "Miasma", which is one of the tracks that gives off the most tension in the album. The verses go back and forth between shouted vocals and an emotional sung line, both in the shouted 'caveman' style so frequent in sludge music. This builds an angry and terse mood, and when the atmosphere drops in, the solemn guitar seems to acknowledge these emotions and release the tension, until it all builds into a heavy explosion of noise towards the end.

Valley of Smoke is definitely one of the stronger albums of 2010, being one where technical musicianship can go hand in hand with creating exactly the kind of atmosphere meant for sludge. It's such a cliche saying a band is really technical but the technicality works for the album, but in this case their musicality and ear for what works in a good atmospheric sludge song makes their level of musicianship shown absolutely perfect for sludge. The band knows exactly what to do to build more tension at the time, whether it's a quick shift in rhythm or an odd note choice or even simply droning on a minor scale riff. This band makes it work, and Valley of Smoke is an excellent example of their talent.

JUDAS PRIEST Nostradamus

Album · 2008 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.26 | 67 ratings
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After 15 albums of solid Priest, you may think you are pretty sure you know what you're getting into with the group. Sure, you've got your pop rock years of Turbo and your more basic hard rock esque stuff on Sad Wings, but it's still always been Priest. That being said, Nostradamus is pretty unexpected, being a double album leaning just a bit more towards prog and symphonic tendencies than we've known these guys to do.

Sure, you've got your standard Heavy Metal riffs a la Downing and Tipton all over the place, and Halford's vocals are unmistakable. But you may be shocked when the short intro is a more orchestral synthesized piece. The band has taken their ambition up to eleven in working on a concept album about, well, Nostradamus. There are short tracks that bridge between longer songs and add more concept into the two disc tale. That being said, your patience probably won't match the band's effort.

For one thing, for having plenty of Judas Priest tracks about such a mystical or legendary figure as Nostradamus, the "epic" feel doesn't show up as much as it could. Many of the tracks have a distinct midtempo feel to them and lack energy. That can be justified, as these guys have been rocking since 1974, giving these guys 34 years of metal by the release of this album. That being said, it's still not terribly satisfying hearing a rather slow and standard singing of "I am Nostradamus" in "Prophecy" when you've heard Halford tearing his vocals apart singing about the Painkiller before.

Another thing is, a lot of the metal elements have been toned down. There is a lot of symphonic influence, especially for a Heavy Metal band. This does not help, as for a band as raw and emotional as they've been in the past, they've relied a lot on their metal guitars and drums to bring them their acclaim, rather than synthesized strings and trumpets. They aren't even that particularly good, most of them are simple melodic lines and chords that don't really emulate the scope of an orchestra or even the concept at all. There are plenty of symphonic metal bands that bring out a grandiose feel that one can't help but feel is missing here. Tracks like "War" are such a disappointment when it sounds like a great place for some growling guitars along with the keyboards, but the synthesized strings overtake the guitar and it sounds like a very half-assed piece from a musical.

Anyone can point to the excuse of the band not feeling like making blasting and energetic music in the past, but there seems to be no excuse when you get to the penultimate title track "Nostradamus", which is filled with everything that makes Priest Great. It's almost as if they made an entire double album of slow to midpaced tracks to build up to this one song. Everything's catchy and rather heavy, and their cheers for the title character sound impassioned. And Scott Travis' kit seems like it started working again after over an hour of simple rock beats.

It should come to no surprise that any band should fall to becoming your average standard metal band after so many years of putting out quality work. Judas Priest have long put in the effort over the years to emblazon their names in metal history for years to come. If they feel they must put out rather tired sounding records, they have earned the respect from the metal community to do it. As long as they play their fist pounding stuff live, and tracks like the title track on this one, it shouldn't matterl. Overall, Judas Priest fans will of course get this album, but it's really not necessary for most metal fans. Even for fans, I would recommend some heavy sampling, as it's not your Priest you've come to know.

CELTIC FROST To Mega Therion

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 42 ratings
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After a bit of NWOBHM and heavy metal popularity, and after proto-thrash like Venom gained a large audience, metal became more extreme and the thrash movement started branching into heavier death and black styles. There may be nowhere better to start than with Celtic Frost's debut album To Mega Therion, where metal started getting a leg up on heaviness.

To Mega Therion may be a difficult listen the first few times through. It was at the time (and still is to an extent) a VERY heavy thrash album. There's a lot of doomy Sabbath styled plodding riffs that give an impression of an epic scope, and the occasional horns in the background serve to amplify that feeling. The guitar tone is very murky, which further evokes the mysterious evil imagery, but also may annoy the listener because sometimes it's difficult to distinguish notes and when the guitar is playing them. Overall though, it shouldn't be too much for any listener who hasn't caught themselves up in the overproduced sound that's all too common today.

In any event, it opens up in a heavy march, "Innocence & Wrath", which sounds very "Mars, Bringer of War" influence where the smashing drums and heavy guitar tones are backed up by a malevolent horn section. After that it bursts into "The Usurper" where the overall album's sound is introduced. Lots of heavy and aggressive riffs with twisting chords and pounding drums (drummer Reed St. Mark was known to break drum heads on a daily basis for hitting them so hard).

This loud, malevolent sound continues on for several songs, the highlight of the following may be "Eternal Summer", where the chords go up and down and roar at an energetic pace throughout the song, where even a short sludgy break can't loosen the energy up before the solo. Another thing about this album is the solos, which are of course a staple of thrash, but these don't seem to dwell on technical proficiency and speed, even though a lot of notes are playing. Rather, there's a lot of tremolo and bending at a rapid speed, really evoking a thrashing beast that's on an unstoppable rampage.

Little needs to be said about the following song, "Circle of the Tyrants", which is such a staple in black metal that it's become almost an anthem for it. Again, the songs continue in this blackened doom thrash mood, stopping maybe a bit for the haunting noises of "Tears in a Prophet's dream", to the rather epic outro track "Necromantical Screams", where a sludgy intro begins it, and high singing notes pierce the distorted atmosphere, until it bursts into more thrashing and ends on another energetic drive.

Overall, this may be one of the earliest albums to be a classic for extreme metal, especially black and thrash. While the songs aren't varied too much, they don't have to be, as they all evoke the giant, malevolent mood so well. Highly recommended for thrash and black fans, especially those looking for the roots of their favorite genre.


Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 12 ratings
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Scale the Summit, for the first two albums, made a bit of a name for themselves playing some mildly technical instrumental progressive metal. Even after gaining recognition through tours with Dream Theater and BTBAM, they spent a lot of time in the same basic territory. Monument and Carving Desert Canyons, while showcasing immense talent, also unfortunately showed off a band that couldn't really put a lot of variation into what they composed.

For those who weren't sure what they felt about the first two, The Collective may change all of that. It shows a complete different side to Scale the Summit, with atmosphere all over the place and the band incorporating an enormous amount of jazz into their sound. And for those who have read my reviews where I wonder why they don't put their wonderful tapping sections into more of their songs, yes, they put more tapping into their music. Some of the compositions almost reinvent what one what one can expect from a metal band, the tones are just magical, and some parts you can hardly describe without simply saying that they "Just sound so cool".

The Collective shows an immense overhaul of Scale the Summit's sound. Everything is beefed up considerably: The Technique is a bit stronger, the compositions have more variety, and just like the production boost from the first to the second album, the Collective gains another level of production. The result is the listener being immersed in waves of sound that create a wonderful atmosphere, often accompanied energetic musicianship amd a metal backbone.

The first thing fans listening since the first two will notice is the new variety of songs on the album. The band's Cynic influence is all-too apparent with the atmospheric "Whales" which just oozes the dark prog metal found in Paul Masdival's guitar style. "The Levitated" has some very tasteful and musically proficient tapping that brings out some of the most beautiful imagery. And "Secret Earth" may be the best track on the album, where the slow, emotional lead guitar is otherworldly and the rest of the instruments simply back it up perfectly with unusual chord choices and perfect groove.

While it's still clearly Scale the Summit playing, even the more energetic songs don't really match their earlier style at all. Even the "heaviest" song (not necessarily that heavy) on the album, "Gallows" starts off with a lead that may be found on either of their first two, but instead of remaining in the same groove for the rest of the piece, the band goes into completely different sections. "Origin of Species" opens with a rather heavy-ish and epic intro, and again the band creates variations upon it. However, Scale the Summit seems to revel mostly in the newer style they have gone into, and being awash in melody and magic is part of this album's strength.

In summation, The Collective shows Scale the Summit at their best, immersed in a completely new musical world of melody and emotion. There are really very few flaws to be found on the album, there are so many soundscapes that evoke so much beautiful imagery, that it stand's thus far as Scale the Summit's best Opus yet. It will be incredibly hard for them to top themselves after this, as it is by far a highlight in their career already, and a highlight of 2011. Absolutely recommended.

SCALE THE SUMMIT Carving Desert Canyons

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.43 | 10 ratings
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For those still on the boat from Monument, you are already familiar with Scale the Summit's sound. Lots of light, sometimes a bit technical instrumental prog metal meant to evoke the experiences of nature. For those who enjoyed Monument, Carving Desert Canyons is really the next thing you need to have in your collection. The downside is, really, that is quite easily is a "Monument, Part Two".

No doubt, the band has grown some. But there's still the same sound. Rarely does it go into overblown tech-metal territory, and while some parts do evoke what most are familiar with what lots of progressive metal giants can do, it's fairly subdued. Almost like a post technical metal band. Overall, it's very similar to Monument. The only real change between the albums is the production. On Carving Desert Canyons, everything has become clearer, and lost the feeling of a band in a lackluster studio trying to piece things together.

And just like the debut, it runs into the same problems. As I have stated in my previous review, the band seems to struggle with songwriting diversity. While there is certainly a large selection of riffs that the band draws from, most of them have the same feel as the others, and a lot of the album feels like more of the same after a while. Most of the album seems to draw from variations of a 6/8 style groove, often riffs that sound vaguely metalcore-esque, though presented in a way nothing like metalcore.

Again, it is this lack of diversity that drags Scale the Summit down in this album. The band are clearly good musicians, that is apparent from the diverse opener, "Bloom" which contains plenty of time changes and unusual note choices, and within its two minute running time it introduces the album spectacularly. It really makes you wonder about a lot of the songs, especially when there is a very soft inviting intro to "Glacial Planet" that could have easily been expanded on. There's also the math-rock esque bridge to "The Great Plains", where there are wonderful smooth tapping parts that the band could have put more in all over. Instead, the rest of the album not mentioned here sounds like an overlong exercise in what can be done in 6/8 riffs.

So ultimately, while being absolutely wonderful musicians that can perform with the best of them, Carving Desert Canyons falls a bit flat in the songwriting department. The band would still have yet to find a great niche to play, and would have to for the time rehash a lot of the same sounds. Eventually, the band would grow into what happens on the Collective, but for now they're in a good comfy, and admittedly original niche. Those who liked Monument should still pick this up. Those expecting diverse and over the top tech metal should really sample this before getting, but overall it's a good band playing some overall solid music.

BRIDE Scarecrow Messiah

Album · 1994 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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Christian metal doesn't set itself up well for good reception within the metal community. For one thing, it tends to take the form of the most accessible and most hated subgenres in metal (Glam metal and Metalcore are two obvious ones that come to mind). For another thing, the focus is almost always on the lyrics, and while that's not necessarily at all a bad thing, it has an overwhelming tendency to detract from the music. Bride is an excellent example of this tendency, and Scarecrow Messiah shows this triumphantly.

For one thing, Scarecrow Messiah is only somewhat metal. It seems to walk that line between hard rock and metal, and a lot of the time it prefers the former. The guitar tone isn't even heavier than plenty of hard rock artists like AC/DC and Zeppelin, so they're off to a fairly poor start. For another, they are incredibly repetitive, to the point where the riffs lose their luster within the first minute or two. Torman Maxt is one of the best parallels, since they are incredibly repetitive, Christian, and questionably metal.

For another thing, for a band that has the excuse to focus on the lyrics so much, the lyrics aren't all that thought provoking. Some, like in "Crazy" are somewhat silly, like "Got a raindrop of the tip of my tongue/If I get all I want I'll have to give you some". Others, like the title track, don't really seem to explore any Christian belief, and rather go the standard 'Jesus is good' route.

Another thing, most of the songs are incredibly midtempo. Halfway through the album it's easy to tire, since there simply aren't any fast paced grooves on it. The sole exception is the last track, which is quite a fun little bonus track sounding ditty which isn't even metal, but a fast unusual little rap styled track.

In any event, most metalheads will find this album lacking. It really is better for the rock fan than the metalhead, especially among Christians who are looking for more simple music and can look past the basic songwriting and music to look for the lyrics. Not really recommended, but try it out and maybe there's something there for you.

MESHUGGAH Destroy Erase Improve

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 38 ratings
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After several years of being a more technical Metallica, Meshuggah began to break new ground with their album "Destroy Erase Improve". The thrash elements are still very present, but there's a widespread new focus on experimentation, unusual grooves, and Fredrik Thordendal's bizarre guitar tapping. Even today, it retains some elements that aren't really used all that much now, still making it a unique listen.

If you're looking at this in terms of normal Meshuggah, Destroy Erase Improve is more varied. While most of the latter albums find a single idea or groove and tend to hang on to it throughout the songs' entirety, this album's songs have more changing within the structure. Polymetric riffs are, of course, the norm, but they are interwoven with sections that are fairly normal for thrash. This way the haunting, spacey grooves Meshuggah are known for are easily integrated into some truly headbang-worthy thrash material.

Almost any song on the album is a good example of this. You can easily look at their live standard, "Future Breed Machine" which has plenty of changes in dynamic, from a destructive intro to some spacey chords to some groovy playback to a brutal 7/8 breakdown. But most of the songs have plenty of this interplay, such as "Soul Burn", which starts off fairly slow and heavy, but the groove becomes unusually swaggering even for Meshuggah standards, but goes into total freakout mode when it goes to one of Thordendal's unusual tapping solos.

In fact, the guitars have more presence than most would expect on this album, there are lots of unusual droning chords that the band has sadly abandoned as the years have gone by. These unusual chords with a caustic feel can be fully exemplified in the instrumental track "Acrid Placidity", which is one of the most uneasy instrumentals, and quite unusual by Meshuggah standards. This section of the album permeates into the outro of "Sublevels", where everything seems to burn down in a spectacular outro, or "Vanished", where these chords drone through the blazing tempo of the rest of the band.

One downside of this somewhat more melodic side to the band is that drummer Thomas Haake doesn't have as much time in the spotlight. That being said, he is by no means outshone in Destroy Erase Improve, as he is still an integral part and his quick fills and his signature polymetric grooves align with the guitar perfectly, and should be given as much credit for the songs' grooves as ever.

In summation, this album is a thrash album that shows just what Meshuggah is. For those who aren't able to get into their later works' hypnotic grooves and unending polymeters, maybe they would be able to appreciate Destroy Erase Improve's thrash oriented approach to the sound. Definitely what progressive metal fans should be into if they like their metal extreme, unusual, and heavy.


Album · 2004 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 14 ratings
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For those uninitiated, Necrophagist's Muhammed Suiçmez may very well be the most technically proficient guitarist in all of death metal. While death bands are well known to be some of the most technical players, busting out a solo doesn't always fit best with the brutal mood they should be conveying. That is why Necrophagist stood out so much when they were active, with refined neo-classical shredding all over the place. With both their albums they may have very well started the tech-death movement we're so familiar with today.

Epitaph improves greatly upon what Onset of Putrefaction introduced. While the first record was indeed technical, it suffered from slightly muddier production and some songwriting that was far more repetive than it needed to be. Epitaph varies the songwriting, tempoes, and moods enough to keep the listener excited. That being said, many people do tire of the endless technicality and some of the non-stop shredding, so that may be a turn off.

The songs' solos should keep the listener entertained, though. There's a solo on each track and they all tend to be highlights of the track. While there's no real iconic solo like the one on "Fermented Offal Discharge" off the previous album, this one still has some pretty cool ones, even if they do tend to sound similar. "Diminished to B", perhaps in a bit of music nerd humor features a very baroque and neo-classical influenced solo that seems to trade in a bit of over the top attitude for some melody and emotion. The one off "Symbiotic in Theory" also is a lengthy one that closes the album off nicely.

Other highlights include the opener, "Stabwound", which is fast paced and energetic and feature some cool sweeping licks in between the verse and the chorus, and some neat drums playing around during the solo. "Epitaph" starts off very simple and fast paced, which should hook the more casual listener, but based on the rest of the album you can guess where it leads to.

All in all, Epitaph is a pretty impressive show. It's one of the most important albums in the tech death scene for a good reason. It does have the tendency to leave listeners cold, but for those who love tech death they should find Epitaph a most enjoyable listen.

MR. BUNGLE Disco Volante

Album · 1995 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.08 | 55 ratings
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Little more can be said about the diverse talent of Mike Patton. Along with his seemingly limitless array of genres he can play, Patton is a multi-instrumentalist and has thousands of vocal techniques, and has been able to perform sounds live thought unthinkable. Along with Patton is a few members that unfortunately have not had the same amount of limelight, Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance, who have since Mr. Bungle have gone on with Patton to create this diverse avant-garde attitude music with so many influences. Nothing really describes what this crew can do like this album, Disco Volante.

If you look at Disco Volante within the context of their other two albums, it really sounds nothing like them. However, with an album like Disco Volante, there's really no album that sounds remotely like it. It doesn't really have an explicit sound, because the tracks on it are so diverse. There's sludge, techno, folk, funk, jazz, rock, death metal, and probably a thousand other things to find on it, often changing within songs. Hence, you can only really describe the whole of the album as avant-garde, and when you go into all the little pieces, you maybe and only maybe can describe the sound of it.

One good example of this is the song "Carry Stress in the Jaw". It opens up with free jazz saxophone going all over the place (featuring John Zorn, no less!), the rest of the band busts into quick paced free jazz with Patton singing dissonant atmospheric vocal drones over it, when out of nowhere, heavy distorted death metal guitar busts in, turning a weird jazz piece into a complete thrashfest. It goes back to more of the jazz and the pattern repeats itself more, until it all busts out, and we are treated to an unusual midtempo theater organ piece with an old man speaking humorous dialogues all over it. The song has plenty more elements than can be described succinctly in this review, so that's where I will end describing it, and that's only one song! There's still 11 more to go!

This is why Bungle gets so much praise, because of their incredibly diverse music that at the turn of a dime can switch drastically into something wildly different. At the same time, some of the songs are (almost, not really) conventional. One of the best examples is "Desert Search for Techno Allah", which is a fun, danceable track featuring plenty of techno synths and Middle Eastern percussion, which sounds exactly like its title implies. "After School Special" is another song that has an almost conventional structure with a couple verses and chorus, though it is quiet and moody and features some prominent xylophone, so it's hardly conventional. "Merry Go Bye Bye/Nothing" is a perfect example of their sound, as it goes into a very bright and upbeat surf rock song that is easy to sing along to. Then, after a couple verses Patton switches from an easy going singing voice into a drastic black metal type shriek, and all the other instruments blast into thrashing avant-garde extreme metal madness, completely out of the blue.

As far as other songs, all of them are highlights, weird as they are. "Everyone I went to High School With Is Dead" is a great, sludgy opener, "Violenza Domestica" is a French film soundtrack sounding tune, and Platypus is a punky fast paced metal song with some great jazz interplay (with xylophone!), and very complex. "The Bends" is a real treat, as it's a multi part, jazz-infused soundtrack to the horrors of the ocean depths. For the most part, though, keep in mind that there's not an overabundance of metal. In keeping with the idea that you can't really describe the album in a single genre, you can't call it a metal album. Some songs have those elements, but it hardly has much example. So go into listening thinking of it as something other than a metal album.

In conclusion, if someone's looking to get into the unusual and experimental side of Mike Patton (basically anything but Faith No More), then Disco Volante may be the perfect example of it. The only limit to the amount of enjoyment on the album is the listener's patience, as there is certainly a lot to digest. That being said, once the avant-garde weirdness is embraced and you've listened to the album thoroughly, it should certainly become clear why this absolutely bizarre album is lauded as it is.

MORBID ANGEL Blessed Are the Sick

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 43 ratings
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Blessed Are the Sick is an excellent example of what made the early nineties brutal. While modern listeners have been spoiled by multitrack production and layers of sound, it is probably albums like Altars that are the most frightening and evil among extreme metal. The overt rawness brings an element of darkness pretty much unprecedented, especially at the time of its release in 1991.

Altars is my idea of everything necessary in Death metal. David Vincent's vocals are of course brutal, but again very raw, and not as deep as many death metal growls. The drums are prominent, and the bass kicks are probably the most prominent sound on the album. Trey Azagthoth's guitar has plenty of sophisticated lines, and have some pretty dissonant, yet screaming solos (check out the intro to "Abominations"). All the elements collaborate to create the next foundation of death metal, dark and heavy, yet dissonant and intelligent within that realm.

Also prominent within the album are the few atmospheric instrumentals sprinkled in the album. "Intro" brings in some truly terrifying pick scrapes and distortions, bringing in the album's grotesque tone properly. "Desolate Ways" is a somber guitar track towards the end, that properly highlights Azagthoth's sense of melody and composition. While a few build atmosphere wonderfully, some like "Doomsday March" or "In Rememberance" are a bit dated sounding or poorly put together.

Overall, though, most of the actual songs are great highlights. "The Ancient Ones" may be the best song on the album, featuring chromatic thrash type riffs in a very memorable structure. It also has plenty of searingly evil guitar lines throughout it, especially in the lengthier instrumental section. "Rebel Lands" is also very tasty, featuring some of the earliest examples of the 6/8 death metal blast, along with lyrics of war and desolation. "Fall from Grace" also pounds in to introduce the album furiously, before going into full-blown aggression. "Thy Kingdom Come" is probably the most aggressive song on the album with unrelenting blasts along with one of the most quirky and dissonant death metal solos you will ever hear.

The only flaw may be that to modern ears, this album may sound a bit dated. Which is true, at the time the recordings weren't able to put together the deep mixes available today. However, Blessed Are the Sick is still a haunting listen, and anyone who knows death metal should be able to look beyond that. That being said, It's already a classic landmark in death metal, so most fans should be aware of it already and be aware of it's evil presence.

SONATA ARCTICA Reckoning Night

Album · 2004 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 22 ratings
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There are plenty of artists that can be used as great examples of "flower metal" when referring to upbeat, symphonic, and melodic metal. However, Sonata Arctica may as well be regarded as the posterboys of the sort of genre, and Reckoning Night is one of their most prominent examples. For sure, the album is great for getting that energetic power mood into you. In some respects it may be lacking, but plenty of the acts are good at putting that speedy, bright energy into you.

Such energy is apparent right from the start in "Misplaced", which doesn't even give a minute for build up by starting with fast paced drums, going into some quick power guitar lines and going into the speed. Like this song, many of the songs on this album are standard fare for power metal, very fast, with bright guitar lines. The production makes everything very accessible sounding, with the guitars never too distorted and on equal footing with the always melodic keyboard. The other more famous song on the album that matches this style is "Ain't Your Fairytale", which features an anthemic chorus and a pretty creative solo and bridge section with some cool keyboards.

That being said, there seems to be a wasted space on the album. After the rapid opener, the energy drops to a crawl with "Blinded No More", which is VERY slow to midtempo. It doesn't seem to carry much inspiration, and even the guitar solo seems there to fill some time. Half of the supposed epic "White Pearl, Black Ocean" seems to fit the bill for this, and the closing ballad "Shamandile" doesn't work too well either. I've stated often that one of power metal's flaws is that the best stuff is usually in the speedy over-the-top stuff, so what tends to happen is either an album of similar sounding tracks or a bunch of these speed metal songs intersperced with standard ballads.

As far as other tracks go, it's mostly back to the quick-paced power metal fare we should all be familiar with. "Wildfire" is a good standout, as the chorus is fairly angry for what Sonata Arctica usually gets by with. "The Boy Who Wanted to be a Real Puppet" is actually fairly interesting, with a prominent waltz-esque feel to it intersperced with that bright power feeling, something you don't hear every day. There's not much to complain about, but then again there's still not much there either. This tends to happen to power metal, and with very bright, soft varieties like these it has the unfortunate tendency completely lack bite.

That being said, Sonata Arctica definitely shows they are good musicians who have the ability to write some great songs. "Ain't Your Fairytale" is a standard they can be proud of, along with "Wildfire" and "The Boy Who wanted to be a Real Puppet". The rest of the album may hit snags here and there, but it's still a great album to "power out" too, and maybe play World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons to.

NILE In Their Darkened Shrines

Album · 2002 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 26 ratings
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By the time In their Darkened Shrines was released, Nile was already well established in the Death metal scene. The previous album, Black Seeds of Vengeance, brought together their signature sound of low end mixing with quick guitar lines and plenty of blasts, all under a strong Egyptian and Middle Eastern sounding banner. But this is where they refined it. Songs on In their Darkened Shrines gather more explorative structures, production becomes a lot clearer, and Nile finally arrives at their large, epic scale sound they are known for.

Along with Annihilation of the Wicked, Darkened Shrines is very much what standard Nile sounds like. Tons of energy in the crazy blasts with plenty of little phrygian modal guitar lines blazing through the ear. Right off the bat it distinguishes itself from the previous album, with a droning guitar and a wave of a choir bringing the album in with a dramatic tone, before blasting into the rest of the opening track, "The Blessed Dead". There is plenty of alternation, as per usual in Nile, between the incredibly fast blastbeats (just listen to "Churning the Maelstrom") and slow, pounding death riffs (most of "Sarcophagus").

Aside from the larger scale of sound and the more refined songwriting, Darkened Shrines introduces one of Nile's fan favorite characteristics, their long, epic songs. "Unas Slayer of the Gods" is an eleven-minute long death rampage, where the band impressively goes on for lengthy periods of time with their fast, aggressive riffs, rarely letting off save for a few pounding sections and some Egyptian-styled marches. "Unas" being a fan favorite, Nile became known as one of the better songwriting groups, especially among the technical death metal scene. This is not the only track that gives an epic scale, as the album closes on the four-part epic title suite "In their Darkened Shrines". It starts off completely with an Egyptian march, goes into some of Niles most aggressive songs ("Destruction of the Temple of the Enemies of Ra"), and closing out on a dark, slow, grandiose track highlighting Nile's best slow melodies.

All in all, "In their Darkened Shrines" exemplifies some of the best of Nile's music, and introduces many fresh new elements that you still don't see too much in technical death metal. The production is great, the songs are great, there's a giant, epic feel about the album, and it contains some of Nile's best tracks. Definitely a landmark in technical death metal, and recommended to any fan of extreme metal in general.


Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.71 | 6 ratings
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There are plenty of run-of-the mill progressive metal bands running around nowadays, pulling what they can from Dream Theater and Opeth. Scale the Summit definitely came out from their own and created a prog metal tangent of their very own. However, the prog metal cliche rings true, and sometimes songwriting on their albums is lacking.

For one thing, I'd be willing to challenge that half the people who have heard Scale the Summit's sound haven't really listened to it. One of the common descriptors of their music is their super technicality and virtuosity. The band has chops, but they generally stay in a very sensible range of sound, never going into fast wankery, and instead staying in a more midtempo (for metal) range. They have plenty of shred lines along with twisting guitar melodies that certainly show that they know what they're doing, but they play them very sensibly and don't try to cram as many notes as they can into a shred line, and for that they deserve plenty of respect.

However, along with that sensible midtempo style, they reveal some of their greatest weaknesses, in that much of their music is too similar sounding. The listener will find that almost all the songs are in the same tempo, and save for a bit of atmosphere at the beginning of "Crossing the Ocean" or the end of "Rode in on Horseback", most of the songs are in the same 6/8 tempo. I honestly feel when listening to Monument (along with Carving Desert Canyons) that it's an entire exercise in variations of riffs in 6/8, with riffs of an almost metalcore style. Even at a relatively short running time of about 40 minutes, this tends to get monotonous.

It's disappointing really, since they show their ability to do some other things really well too. One of the biggest exceptions to the album of similar sounds is the aforementioned "Rode in on Horseback", which still starts off with a few of these standard riffs, but later goes into a gradual build, utilizing some inventive tapping sounding similar to math rock. There's a noticeable lack of variations like this in the rest of the album, which is a real shame.

As far as other things go, there's not much to say. For a band of their popularity at the time, the production is clear, though nothing to write home about. None of the instruments really stand out, which is a definite plus since there's no pointless showing off. The songs are coherent, they just lack development.

Scale the Summit is definitely a band to keep an eye on. Since this album they've shot into the technical and prog metal scene as something different, and they have their own distinct sound. They have shown evolution, and for those who love their other stuff, they can only find enjoyment on Monument.


Album · 2009 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 3 ratings
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It is rather unusual that the subgenres of extreme metal confine to their respective genres so much. Most bands are death, thrash, black, etc. Sure, there's blackened death, blackened thrash, death/thrash but the elements of each genre are so distinct within each band that the elements of each genre sort of play alongside with but very distinctly from each other. Dragged into Sunlight takes that idea and throws it in the trash can.

Hatred for Mankind may be one of the darkest AND most unusual albums you have heard in a while. While they may be labeled here as death metal, this is by far an inaccurate label. Don't be mistaken, there's death metal all over this thing. But there's a ton of black and thrash and grind and a surging influence of noise and sludge mixed together, making a sort of amorphous, difficult-to-describe, extreme sludge sound.

This noise grows with the rest of the album to create one of the most evil-sounding records you may have heard. It's got some doom influence, but really it's sort of the darkest black metal elements turned up to eleven giving it an eerie vibe. Putting some sound clips in of screaming and swearing give off some haunting images, and the indecipherable grindcore vocals help too. Unless you are a masochist or absolutely love being terrified, I would not recommend listening to this album at night in the dark.

The biggest drawback, which still may benefit the album, is the production. One would suspect it's intentionally lo-fi, but everything's very buzzy and any hints of melody are very difficult to pick out, giving the album its prominent sludge sound. There are some times where the cymbals override all the other musical instruments, making some of the extended blasts a bit unenjoyable.

However, Dragged into Sunlight wins in several departments, most notably within originality and evilness. The sound on this album is impossible to pigeonhole, and the atmosphere is definitely haunting. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for something new in metal, most notably fans of death, thrash, black, sludge, and grindcore. At the very least, worth a listen.

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues

EP · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 26 ratings
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With The Great Misdirect a year and a half back, it seems that Between the Buried and Me stumbled upon a gripping story concept worthy of presenting to the world. Wanting to give the fans a taste before the full-blown release comes out, the band threw out part 1 of the concept, in the form of the EP called "The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues". And it was glorious.

In stark contrast to the very melodic Great Misdirect, Hypersleep calls back to their heavy music, mostly reminiscent of the darker and more death metal oriented elements found in Alaska. It mixes this with the more epic songwriting of Colors, to create three long-form songs that stand out, in true BTBAM form, as progressive metalcore milestones.

One thing that can be said about the EP is it is a lot more chaotic than their other releases, especially when compared to their latest output. The opener, "Specular Reflection" starts off with dissonant orchestration until bursting into some bizarrely odd timed metal riffs (using complex times even compared to most BTBAM works). "Augment of Rebirth" starts similarly, with a motif reminiscent of the opening shredding of "Ants of the Sky". Overall, the songs change far more drastically and chaotically than they have in the past.

Of course, the standard BTBAM elements are all here. Tons of off time riffs, dual leads with Paul Waggoner and Dustie playing off each other as smooth as butter. Tommy's vocals transition as per usual between the loud hardcore growling and the very alternative-sounding clean vocals. And, to be expected, there's a few leaps into a couple other genres, though it may be best to leave that as a surprise.

All three tracks work best to build the EP. "Specular Reflection", as stated, starts off with a bang and continues to build and build tension with a wide array of heavy and dissonant riffs punctuated with beautiful clean vocal refrains. "Augment of Rebirth" is similar to the previous song, and builds its tension masterfully, and eventually progresses into some proggy genre-hopping weirdness. "Augment of Rebirth" is hands down one of BTBAM's most gorgeous songs, opening with some beautiful jazzy instrumental interplay, featuring an emotional solo by Waggoner, though this time very calm and introspective, unlike the anthemic or bombastic solos in "Selkies" or "White Walls".

Overall, this EP is a bit of a change of style to the darkest BTBAM available. Lots of chaos, lots of dissonance. There's not as much eclecticism as before, but BTBAM fans will love it regardless. If part two sounds anything like this, we have a lot to look forward too. Highly recommended!


Album · 2009 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.02 | 4 ratings
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With the latest trend seeming to be to be as technical as possible (Possibly spurned by the surging popularity of BTBAM, Protest the Hero, and the growing 'djent' scene), -core type music has found a need to throw in more weird, off-time riffs and a few sweeps beetween chugs. It seems that we may be at a point where technical metalcore has stagnated. "Creature" by Within the Ruins may be a good example of that.

The album is filled with examples of -core music that drive metalheads away. Breakdowns with overuse of double bass pedals are frequent, along with monotonous screaming vocals reminiscent of Randy Blythe. This is apparent from the very opening song, "The Book of Books", which starts off with a couple of angular riffs and goes into a head-on blast, but then spends the rest of the song trudging around in breakdown territory.

Credit must be given when credit is due of course. Due to the technical nature of the band, the musicianship on "Creature" is well done. As mentioned, there are plenty of odd time signature riffs. You can't even blame the songwriting too much, because plenty of the songs progress in a manner very much like Protest the Hero, with plenty of changes in sections and tempo switches can occur on a dime.

It seems, though, that Protest the Hero's style has simply become the trend in standard metalcore, if "Creature" is any example. Along with the simple chord progressions and the endless breakdowns, off time riffs have just become a staple of the genre. Within The Ruins is hardly the cause of this trend, but they seem to have become a culmination and shining example of this style.

It is with this that I must only really recommend this album for metalcore fans who are looking for some more tech in their collection. For others, the elements may be too bland, too incoherent, and too standard.

VEKTOR Black Future

Album · 2009 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 35 ratings
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In the wake of a sort of resurgence of progressive metal interest, it seems like every band has to outplay each other in terms of technicality. Every band is throwing in weird off-time Meshuggah riffs, a couple minutes of arpeggio sweeps, all within a Dream Threater style epic track.

Then you have Vektor. They put a fresh, progressive spin on old-school thrash metal, with no ostentatious material, no bs, even though there's plenty of technicality. When you hear something like that, you may think Voivod, and while Vektor takes some obvious cues from them, they manage to form a completely original new style of thrash. Not only are they putting plenty of creativity within Black Future, but the riffs are plenty catchy, and there's plenty of emotion within. Black Future may just be a new modern classic.

The most immediate element that sets Black Future apart is David Disanto's shriek, which is pretty unique within the realm of harsh vocals. It's a giant scream that sounds similar to Schuldiner on "The Sound of Perseverance". The songs are thrashy, but they take a bit of tech-prog influence when between the riffs are quick shred licks. The songs are structured in a progressive mold, and work to build the whole rather than the standard song structures.

All the tracks on the album are good, so it's hard to pick a highlight. Some of the most interesting instrumental interplay happens in "Oblivion", which has some neo-classical influence alongside standard uptempo thrash. "Deoxyribonucleic Acid" starts off with a killer tapping riff and continues on blasting. As a prog album, you have to give credit to the epics on the album, where "Forest of Legend" goes from haunting to exhilarating. The final epic on the album, "Accelarating Universe" is hands down one of the most emotional thrash tracks ever, and has some pretty intense tremolo picking and a very spacey bridge.

Overall, Black Future stands out as one of the best albums within the last decade, and may hopefully stand out in the future as a milestone. I certainly feel it is a milestone, and would recommend it to any metalhead. Definitely worth having in your collection.


Album · 2011 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.69 | 4 ratings
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With the influx of thousands of -core bands several years ago, there has been almost a counter movement of thrash bands trying to reclaim what is really metal. Some results are mixed, but Crucified Mortals' self titled release is definitely on the side that shows that thrash is still far from dying.

As far as standard thrash goes, Crucified Mortal is, well, pretty standard. Great fast riffs, two-step drumming, shouting vocals that wander into nearly a growl occasionally. Fortunately the band has some high energy and some great riffs, evoking Slayer, though without any of that whammy-worship. Unfortunately the album occasionally suffers from Slayer syndrome, where songs begin to blend with each other. This is often the case with songs that open with a sweet riff like "Perpetrator", and immediately go into thrash mode. The band even gets plenty of slow South of Heaven worship in "Perpetrator" before blasting out into a metal craze.

The production is clear, not fuzzy whatsoever, and all the instruments are audible. What's really great is the bass. The bass is so solid and it is clear (even on speakers with low bass output) that it makes me want to punch someone. This is how a thrash metal record should be produced, as it is very conducive to headbanging and the like.

Overall, you aren't going to find anything grand or innovative in Crucified Mortal's self-titled debut, and you really don't have to. It's a great thrashfest that your average metalhead should be able to get his mosh on when listening to it. Highly recommended for thrash fans and metalheads in general.

DIMMU BORGIR In Sorte Diaboli

Album · 2007 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.15 | 23 ratings
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The extreme metal crowd is a tough crowd to please. If you claim to be a death, black, or thrash metal band, you had better damn well follow through with what you say there are. Otherwise, stuff like Dimmu Borgir tends to happen. Instead of insanely heavy crushing, tearing black metal riffs, they like to use standard chugging along basic synths and replace the lo-fi atmosphere with standard orchestrated stuff. Overall, the black metal crowd does not get very pleased.

It can all be summed up with the phrase "blackened pop". While maybe it is a bit of a hyperbolic statement, it still rather describes Dimmu's later output well. It can hardly be called extreme, and some of the sections are downright danceable. Sure, there are quick double basses and tremolo pickings to be found on In Sorte Diaboli, but there's also singsong choruses, basic synths, poppy riffs, and even the vocals are rather discernable (nearly hypocrisy in black metal's realm).

What doesn't help is the production on the album. Say what you will about their recent output, it has generally good mixing, but the production is quite loud on this album, resulting in a lot of dry noise wherever the drums tend to overplay (a lot).

It also doesn't help that there are tons of angular sections of each song that seem to be put together piecemeal to make a 4-minute song. This is exemplified in the opening, "The Serpentine Offering", which starts off with a building orchestral theme, continues on, and then slows down into a more rock-based section. Then without warning it goes back into the marching theme to repeat the chorus. From there in swaggers back into its slower melodic bridge section for the singing. From there it changes times twice. The rather blender-like sections with no musical relation don't help the album whatsoever.

This is the case for most of the album, making it a tiring listen. Not only do the song structures seem to be jumbled up so the band can clam coherent four to five minute songs, but the drums play unnecessarily fast in parts. For example, "The Sacriligeous Scorn" starts off with a bouncy haunting synth riff for several bars, and suddenly comes into a blast beat. Such playing is common on the album, and while blastbeats and quick two-step drumming is common practice is common in black metal, Dimmu's midpaced music and melodic base doesn't bode well with the drumming. Especially on such a loudly produced record, where everything sounds like a producer's mess, a place where overplaying drums can do wonders to damage an album. There are plenty of progressive black metal bands (Arcturus, Enslaved, Borknagar) that play relatively slower paced black music and it doesn't need to be overplayed.

Particularly egregious is the fact that the band seems to want to put together a coherent work. There are several reoccurring lyrics that pop up in several places on the album, and it ends up telling a complete story. But it seems like Dimmu lacked the musical ideas and pieced together a few riffs with the glue of some bombastic keyboards and unnecessary drumming.

Overall, In Sorte Diaboli is the pinnacle of everything many dislike about Dimmu Borgir. There's nothing extreme about the songs themselves, and the unnecessarily double-bass friendly drums do the best to disguise the record as something extreme, even though under it all it's basic midtempo standard metal. The songs are pieced together poorly, and it's poorly produced. Even among Dimmu's latest there's a lot more worthy things to listen to. Avoid unless you know what you're getting into.


Album · 1996 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 30 ratings
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Ask any Strapping Young Lad listener and they will point to one of two albums: Alien and City. While Alien is fantastic too, this came before all the over the top synthesized orchestras, gigantic layers of sound, and orchestrated goofiness. So basically what you're left with is an over-the-top pissed off album.

This album is mostly industrial metal with a few thrash elements. It's difficult to categorize, but most of Devin Townsend's work is difficult in that respect. You can see where Fear Factory got a lot of inspiration since there are tons of dry, pounding riffs all over the place. Admittedly, there is a lot that nu-metal seems to have taken from the album as well, most often through Devin's singing voice (The Track AAA is egregious in nu-metal too). But overall if you know Strapping, you know what you're getting into.

The album starts of great. The intro, "Velvet Kevorkian" is a crushing intro. It leads directly into "All Hail the New Flesh", which is filled with bombastic melodies and melodramatic singing that is completely headbanging worthy. The first half of the album is all a total mosh-fest. "Oh my Fucking God" and "Home Nucleonics" are particularly insane, as they are filled to the brim with blasting tempi and gritty riffs.

My main beef with the album is it slows down as it goes. After the blast that is "Home Nucleonics", you're treated to "AAA", which already stated is a midtempo groovy nu-metal track (albeit a good one). A couple songs later, "Room 429" and "Spirituality" close off the bunch, which are pretty slow tracks that don't add much to the album. Overall there's just a couple tracks that don't stand out as much as they could on the album.

However, as for most of it, it's a very cyberpunky angry, blistering, over-the top sandwich of metal. Devin Townsend and Strapping fans will of course have it, and it has a rightful spot in anyone's collection.

REVOCATION Existence Is Futile

Album · 2009 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.48 | 7 ratings
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With "Existence is Futile", Revocation gives off a giant slab of the classic thrash sound with more modern production. Take that and mix a portion of Tech-Death into that, along with a few slight dashes of Pantera-groove, and you get this album.

The production is great, as said. For a thrash band it is a pretty strong point. The guitar is clear and melodic, and the bass can be clearly heard, and that's good, since there are some smooth groovy things going on in the background. Overall very well mixed.

The musicianship of the group is downright flawless on this record. The intro, "Enter the Hall" kicks off with a slow, breakdown tempo groove, building into a complete thrashfest, ending with tech-death arpeggios and a segue into the next track "Pestilence Reigns". Among all the great musicianship skills, I think one of the most notable things on here is that the major key is very prominent for a thrash band, something uncommon for such an intense genre.

Highlights include the intro, which as stated sets the bar high for the band at the beginning. The song it leads into, "Pestilence Reigns" continues this trend, eventually ending up with some fun instrumental tradeoff. The other instrumental, "Across Forests and Fjords" is fantastic as well, allowing the group to show off their strong composing and technical skills. "Dismantle the Dictator" starts off with unusual times and oddly placed angular melodies and finishes with an excellent solo.

Overall, this is a unique album with it's unusual blend of tech-death and thrash, and it works well. Granted, it's not the best neo-thrash album out there, but it speaks for itself and is well constructed. Recommended for neo-thrash fans mostly, but a good add to any metalhead's collection.


Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 48 ratings
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Some artists release an album that sounds radically different from the rest of their catalog. Nine out of ten times the fandom rejects the new sound. If the album is significantly pop-oriented, this tendency to bash the new sound drastically increases. However, Addicted is an album that should be praised as the ultimate exception to the rule.

That's right, Addicted is a pop album (as well as a metal album). Now Devin definitely had pop elements in his music before, just check out Biomech and Infinity. But this album blatantly abuses the pop elements. And quite frankly, it could hardly get better. The painfully simple beats are danceable, the stupidly straightforward background synths are catchy, and the whole damn thing is filled with blatant pop hooks. So to state, Addicted is just plain fun.

The album is not only filled with well-made pop elements, but it is graced by the vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen. If familiar with the doom-metal turned alternative rock band The Gathering, you will know that the songs will be filled with soaring female vocals that are sung passionately, and Anneke certainly co-stars this album well with Devy.

She even gets her own highlight song. "Hyperdrive!" is a reworked piece from Ziltoid the Omniscient, and it's probably the best song on the album. It's energetic and Anneke belts out the inspired lines like there's no tomorrow. In my personal opinion it is easily the perfect pop song, and the metal elements are certainly present too.

The rest of the album is filled with highlights. "Supercrush!" is pounding and the spacey choral backing voices and blasting chords in the chorus make for an emotional song backed by a simple chuggy riff. "Bend it Like Bender!" is a fun and catchy dance song with a chorus that is likely to stick in anyone's head. "Numbered!" is a powerful song that is probably the only one that can be called the least bit sad, and is again led by Anneke's vocals. Really, all the tracks are great and have their own little quirks and hooks that make them all worth listening to.

Okay, so metalheads aren't supposed to love poppy, catchy, synth heavy, fun music. Some will not get passed that. However, metalheads generally enjoy fantastic musicianship, well written riffs, and intelligent songwriting, all of which feature on Addicted. Make no mistake, this pop metal album is probably the pop album metalheads won't regret buying.

ANATHEMA Judgement

Album · 1999 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 49 ratings
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Don't act like you've never heard alternative rock before. That's exactly what Anathema is putting out on Judgement. Continuing to drift away from their doom metal roots, Anathema went far more spacey and atmospheric. While there's nothing explicitly metal on the album to be found, it is well composed and has progressive tendencies, and a melancholy mood that metalheads will be able to appreciate.

The album kicks off with "Deep", a midtempo song that introduces the pained feelings that will be expanded upon later in the album. The acoustic guitar is a bit understated, but gives the piece a sorrowful edge.

It is hard to pick out other highlights on the album as well. While the songs on Judgement are distinct, the song flow is well constructed and the pieces simply work together. "Pitiless" picks up where "Deep" finishes, but is more hard hitting and scathingly bitter. "One Last Goodbye" is a heart-wrenching ballad and an outstanding addition to the album. "Judgement" starts off ominous until it builds faster into the most aggressive part of the album, though it's no heavier than any alternative rock generally gets.

There aren't really bad points of the album. The atmosphere is well put together and the soft guitars mix well with the somber tones of the album. It could be said though that the songs between the highlights aren't so memorable and eventually just fade into background music. That being said, there isn't a bad song on the record. It has the prog atmospheres that modern music lovers can't get enough of, and contemporaneous and similar in sound with Porcupine Tree. While not doom metal, Judgement is a great album in its own right.


Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.69 | 42 ratings
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To the pop music world in the 1980s, Def Leppard were darlings of MTV (when they still played music videos of course) and 'metal' radio. While their sex symbol status and popularity were nothing to scoff at, this doesn't entirely translate to music. For the average music fan, the singles like "Pour Some Sugar on Me", "Love Bites", and "Animal" are great for the random shuffled song on your iPod. For metalheads, though, anything past High n' Dry is not worth much time.

For one thing, this is one of those albums that are closer to a collection of songs rather than one cohesive work. The band was working to create something like Michael Jackson's Thriller where every song was a potential hit single. This is good for a singles band such as Def Leppard, but after a while listening to the album the songs tend to lose their luster.

That being said, there are some downright catchy riffs to be found. The singles previously mentioned are worth every minute on a classic rock radio station due to their ear-worm melodies. Also worth mentioning is "Rocket", with a bouncy little ditty firing off of pop culture references.

Metal? Not to be found here. There's little development, no heaviness, and while metal prides itself on basing its music on elements not found in pop music, Hysteria is one of those albums that sucks all those elements up and rolls around in them.

That being said, metalheads should enjoy the song "Gods of War", which starts off with an atmospheric aura and builds into a fantastic riff in a way that bands like Def Leppard don't really do. It's not a prog song in any respect of the word, but the intro develops in a way that prog and metal fans should appreciate it.

Overall, Hysteria is a (good) collection of pop/rock singles that was caught up in the 'hysteria' of glam metal in the 80s. It was everything a radio station wanted in the day: it was filled with tons of hooks and sugary melodies played by a band that they could call metal. Unfortunately, these elements translate poorly overall to the real metal community and it is hardly a recommended album in that respect.


Album · 2004 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 9 ratings
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Finntroll has recently evolved into a Humppa-metal band, focusing all their folk elements into a distinct polka style. Recently, along with Korpiklaani, this fun style of upbeat polka metal has gained a numerous amount of fans. Your mileage may vary on how well the songs work, but altogether it's really a fun blend and worth a listen.

Granted, a lot of the melodies are pretty basic to say the least, and there's nothing really innovative going on here. Fintroll shows on Nattfodd that they've found their niche as a metal band that loves to polka, and they don't seem like they're going to change any time soon.

Depending on your point of view, this is some of the most fun music you are going to encounter in your life, or merely an annoying gimmick that's plaguing metal. Altogether, this is not going to change the way music is headed anytime soon, but it's still a worthy contribution to the world of metal.

The songs are quite melodic and catchy, and the distorted guitars put an extra kick in the "oom" for "oom-pah". Sometimes they're fast paced and goofy like "Eliytres", incredibly catchy and midtempo like the single "Trollhammeren", or dark and folky like "Nattfodd". They mix together on the album well, and each section is distinct.

Also prevalent is the theme of trolls in the album. While the non Swedish-speakers aren't going to pick up the lyrics anytime soon, it does seem to be prominent in the ambient spaces between songs, most notably in "Marknadsvisan", where most of the song seems to be the noises of drunken trolls stumbling around, the last part erupting in an enraged and humorous fight as portrayed by blasting drums and guitars.

Overall, this isn't the greatest album of all time. It is catchy when it needs to be and has it's place in the music scene. For those looking for something fun, catchy, and quirky in their music, Nattfodd is the album for you.


Album · 1991 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 98 ratings
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After three albums of pioneering albums, you would think that Chuck Schuldiner would be content with creating an entire subgenre branch in metal. Most would, however, such is not the case with Death. Instead of continuing with his straightforward (albeit high-quality and somewhat technical) death metal, Chuck brought together prog metal virtuosos Paul Masdival and Sean Rienert and laid the foundation for technical and progressive death metal for years to come.

Human isn't entirely prog-metal, as some would lead to believe. It is still primarily a death metal record. However, melody and technicality takes the forefront, and shifting song structures become the norm. Inventive drum patterns by Reinert and quick sweeping melodic fills by Schuldiner replace what used to be straightforward pounding and vanilla-death chugs.

This is apparent from the first track, "Flattening of Emotions", which fades in with a tribal double bass pattern, but eventually changes moods, feel, tempo, and eventually leads to an instrumental tradeoff section not unlike so many prog bands of today. The death metal with unusual-structure songs is the prominent style in the first four songs of the album.

The second half is decidedly more progressive, starting with the popular and frantic "Lack of Comprehension", where the phrygian modal solo becomes the prototype for the Middle-Eastern solos that become prominent in Death's later work. "See Through Dreams", another more proggy track, leads into "Cosmic Sea", a proggy instrumental with a technical instrument tradeoff section and space noises surrounding them. The album ends with "Vacant Planets", beginning with a proggy riff and developing further until it ends the album on an abrupt stop, as so many death metal albums do.

Overall, Human was one of the more important albums in the development of progressive and technical death metal. It contains progressive and melodic riffs surrounded by a brutal death metal atmosphere, and contains most of the elements tech bands today use. It is definitely a landmark album and deserves a spot in every death metal collection.


Album · 1987 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.08 | 30 ratings
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For those who are looking for classic death metal at some of it's earliest incarnations, Napalm Death is your band. If that's the case though, why is this album rated so low? Well, to be honest this isn't quite as classic as the band is. Sure, it also was the forefront of grindcore in it's heyday, but there are still a few kinks in the genre to 'grind' out.

Therefore this album is more of a punk release than anything. It was created when the term grind was just being termed, and was a heavier evolution of punk music. This shows, as most of the ever-so-short songs don't even cross into tempos of modern grind as we know it. A lot of the time there are slower (for grind) tempos that almost sound groovy.

The instruments and production don't really help either. Granted, grindcore is the last place you are going to find sparkling clean production or flawless musicianship, but the early production really comes off as quite fuzzy and sloppy. The vocals would improve vastly in later releases as well.

Overall, it's apparent that not every genre-creating album can be a flawless masterpiece, and Scum is a pretty good example. For those looking for Napalm Death's best, the later death material is what you should be looking for. And there are far better early grindcore releases, one such influential one being Horrified by Repulsion. Therefore, if you're going to get this album, it's going to be for the gimmick that it's the first grindcore album, and not much else.


Album · 1991 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 91 ratings
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Before Max Cavalera was sending out a bunch of heavy alternative albums and Roadrunner decided that accessible straightforward metal was their main product, Sepultura released Arise. Still burning with the passion from the previous milestone release Beneath The Remains, Arise is a highly recommended and slightly groovy thrashfest nearly as good as it's predecessor.

Thrash fans should know what they are getting into. This is the stuff that influenced the heavier thrash bands from the nineties onward. However, as noted, the band has slowed down their insane speed metal a bit and thrown in a bit more groovy riffs. This creates a crunchy mixture of mosh-friendly speed with the occasional half-time riff or even (gasp) a breakdown.

Many should be familiar with the opening title track, which starts the album in the best way possible, with quick paced riffs and menacing vocals. The next two tracks are excellent as well. "Dead Embryonic Cells", while fast and heavy enough in its own right, brings in one of the first breakdowns in all of metal, setting the template and standard for bands to come. "Desperate Cry" is almost what one could call the most melodic track on the album, with some driving riffs and the most notable face-melting guitar solos on the album.

The rest of the album is not quite as consistent in quality, though still definitely a contributing factor to the album's classic status. Among the best are "Altered State" which give some somewhat experimental thrash riffs after a fiery tribal drum intro. Also notable is "Under Siege (Regnum Irae)" which, again, sets the bar for future thrash bands starting with slow grooving riffs and eventually exploding into a thrashfest.

Overall, this album is a must have for thrash fans, Sepultura fans, and those looking for some of the roots (no pun intended) of metal. Along with Beneath the Remains, Arise contains some of the earliest examples of elements that are standard in thrash today. While not always a consistent album, it's definitely worth having in your collection.

MR. BUNGLE Mr. Bungle

Album · 1991 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 28 ratings
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It's common knowledge that the 3 Mr. Bungle releases are completely different from each other. Such is usually the case with band that fall under the diverse and hard to categorize avant-garde style. However, the reason this album is different from Mr. Bungle's other output is it really isn't avant-garde (or really metal in any case).

That being said it's far from a straightforward release either. There's plenty of dissonant riffs, odd instruments, lengthy linear compositions, and straight up weirdness. This is all sprinkled over an album, though, that is pretty much alternative ska funk.

So to describe the album best, these are pretty standard songs that are way too weird to be heard anywhere in the mainstream. Of course, there's no reason that vanilla alt fans wouldn't enjoy the energetic "Squeeze me Macaroni" with goofy lyrics and ska horns in the background. The same goes for later in the album with the funky "The Girls of Porn" or the loud and angry "My Ass is on Fire".

There are some hints of later albums in this too. The song "Egg", starting off straightforward enough with a quick funky riff starts delving off into weirder territory, eventually moving off into an atmosphere of complete noise not unlike the later sections of "Merry Go Bye Bye" from Disco Volante. Of the shorter more standard songs, "Stubb (a Dub)" is the most avant-garde, with several style changes within a few minutes, lots of unusual riffs, and strange vocals and voices throughout it's running time.

Overall, due to the band's popular status in the avant-garde music realm, this album will get plenty of listeners. This album is a good one and deserves plenty of listeners. However it should be looked at as a completely different monster from the rest of Mike Patton and his archive of insanity. However, fans of alt rock would definitely enjoy the weirdness, and there's a few other elements that avant-garde and metal fans should find enjoyable too.


Album · 2006 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 17 ratings
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Most of the metal genres focus on intense instrumentation, overt technicality, and outspeeding each other. Black metal is a bit different in the sense that it generally has been more about the evil atmosphere. To achieve this the bands use lo-fi production and walls of buzzing noise to envelope the listener in a haze of malice.

Diadem of 12 Stars is an example of when this can go wrong. In an attempt to make the genre more atmospheric the band extends and pads their songs with longer bouts of slow noise, forgoes the use of bass to make the shrieking guitar sound more abrasive, and makes the recording quality intentionally poor. Unfortunately this makes the band sound like a bunch of teens who just discovered black metal and decided to record in a cave (fortunately for them, this is the imagery they're going for).

The songs themselves lack development as well. Most of the songs are several bars of one tremolo chord followed by several bars of a different chord, with repetitive drums behind it. While bands like Bathory were doing this long ago there were generally changes in riffs and melodies and the vocals made variations on the theme. These early bands constructed a song off of a couple of riffs and developed it so the composition was worthy of an epic length, rather than stretching out a riff and padding it until the time is past ten minutes.

Quality aside, this is not really black metal. All the instrumentation is there, though the musical style is closer to the most repetitive of post metal. However, it seems to lack more of the atmosphere of either genre, rather being like an overlong song experiment.

Ultimately, Wolves in the Throne Room is better as a live performance band, where the immediacy of the sound is at the face. The band would improve with subsequent releases such as Two Hunters and Black Cascade. However, this band will have to start off with this juvenille release, which really strives to be more than it is.


Album · 1974 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.75 | 66 ratings
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Looking back on the earliest forms of metal, the first forms were never terribly extreme. The singers sang basic melodies, the riffs were pretty standard, everything was pretty much midtempo (except on ballads which were slow), and the virtuosity of the instrumentalists was reduced to stringing together a bunch of bent squeals and quick random pentatonic notes.

This was never the case with Deep Purple, always forward-thinking, and their skill on the instruments was clear (especially apparent with Blackmore and Lord). Their 1974 album reached ahead a couple of decades and blasted away with the title track at full speed, full of fast paced instrument solos and neo-classical chords.

The sad thing about this album is after the first track the other tracks, while good in their own right, don't quite match up to the quality of the first. The rest are the rather same midtempo rocks songs the early stages of metal were known for.

This isn't entirely a bad thing. The songs groove like they should and the solos are great of course. However, the title track lets on that the album could be so much better.

That being said, there's plenty to love about the rest of it. There's the syncopation of "You Fool No one" that's downright danceable, and the catchy bumpy chorus of "Lay Down Stay Down". For those who love ballads, David Coverdale is no Ian Gillian, but puts on a lovely show for the bluesy "Mistreated". The closing "A 200" is a spacey prog instrumental with swirling keyboards that any proghead should love. And all through this album there's enough cowbell that Will Ferrell would be satisfied.

This is indeed great work by a legendary band, but most of the songs are again, samey, and could be as fast or energetic as the title track yet fail to do so. That seems to be the album's main flaw: a missed opportunity. The band substituted a metal masterpiece for a single neo-classical metal song and a few bluesy rock tracks. That being said it's a definite must for Purple fans, and prog and metal fans should find it an entertaining listen as well.


Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 17 ratings
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The modern "djent" scene is filled with bands that take Meshuggah-riffs and water them down into weak -core influenced fake metal. While the polymetric riffs inherently take skill to play, these bands use these when these style riffs have become a popular trend. They turn the riffs into catchy riffs, rather than expanding upon them and progressing into new ideas.

Cloudkicker takes these Meshuggah riffs into the next logical progression. While albums like Nothing and I contained spacy, evil riffs, The Discovery is filled with cool washes of atmosphere. This instrumental work is something different in the djent scene, truly a breath of fresh air.

The Discovery is an instrumental album, featuring sufficiently heavy guitars with a melodic tone, while guitar chords drone in the background. True to the djent style the drums play basic cymbal and snare while the bass drums back up the guitar rhythms. Occasionally there will be a clean interlude.

On this album, even though most of the tracks are excellent, they mostly seem to flow into each other, not in the sense of Dark Side of the Moon. Rather, each song develops the atmosphere of the album in a different way. The opening alarm of "Genesis Device" starts the drums and bass pouring down with beautiful atmospheric guitar chords. This goes directly into "Dysphoria", where the chords ring triumphantly in an off time rhythm. This leads into "Avalanche", where the triplet rhythm gives these riffs an extra drive. It then cools down with "Everything's Mirrors", which is a quiet drum track laden interlude.

While none of the tracks are particularly masterful in and of themselves, they all seem to work more or less. While "Avalanche" seems to be terribly similar to the previous track and the title track does seem to go on too long, most of them work for what they need to do. The riffs do tend to repeat a bit excessively, but that is for the sake of building atmosphere.

All in all, The Discovery is an excellent modern work. There is no excuse for a metalhead to not listen to it as it is available on the Cloudkicker site for free. Kudos to Ben Sharp, guitarist, programmer, and producer of all the music on the album. An excellent listen.

TWISTED SISTER A Twisted Christmas

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 2006 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.71 | 5 ratings
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In the wake of Christmas season you are sure to see plenty of artists and their Christmas albums: Mariah Carey, Jethro Tull, Twisted Sister. What? Ok, scratch the last one. You are likely not going to see Twisted Sister on any Christmas lists. However, in 2006 the SMFs released a Christmas album filled with heavy metal riffs and old-school pounding drums.

Sure, you'd be hard pressed to call this album a masterpiece. The riffs aren't anything beyond a standard heavy metal band from the 80s, and the melodies, being Christmas tunes are of course straightforward. But the album is fun, and the simple power chords playing on amps turned to eleven gives exactly the refresher these kinds of songs need.

All a person would need convincing for them to get this album is to listen to "We're not Gonna Take it", which begins with a familiar beat: the same intro to their hit, "We're not Going to Take It". The heavy riffs make the song fun, and the chord progressions between the tunes match up perfectly. An outro of "Hava Nagila" in slow, heavy time finishes it up nicely.

The rest of the tracks are pretty good. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Let it Snow" and the ballad "I'll be Home for Christmas" featuring Lita Ford all breathe some new life into the songs most people become sick of during the winter season. However, after a while it just seems like the band needed a few more songs to fill the album. Filler of course happens, and this album is no different. It does end on a high note "The Twelve Days of Christmas" where the band asks for heavy metal gifts and their true love gives them among other things, 3 studded belts, 2 pairs of spandex pants, and a tattoo of Ozzy.

Overall, this is never going to be a Christmas classic. There is plenty of boring filler that gets the songs to sound older than they already are playing on the radio by themselves. However, for metal fans looking for some Christmas tunes heavier than the standard Trans Siberian Orchestra, A Twisted Christmas is a good one.

BOLT THROWER Those Once Loyal

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 34 ratings
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With death metal legends such as Bolt Thrower it is easy to expect that they will release another classic. Those Once Loyal is no different. It contains all the groovy riffs we have come to know and love from Bolt Thrower, along with Karl Willetts' crushing vocals and the war-heavy lyrical themes. The songs are well composed and the album is well put together.

The album starts off with the dreary wind sounds of a war torn battlefield, until the epic riffs of "At First Light" bursting in and announcing Bolt Thrower's presence. The album goes and does not let up after that. Not only are the riffs powerful but the bass is extra present on this album, so you can feel it gripping pace as the band drives on. This is especially noticed in the intro to "Anti Tank (Dead Armour)", where Jo Bench is given the spotlight.

Along with the previous tracks mentioned, there are plenty of other highlight tracks. "Granite Wall's" riff is downright menacing, and it progresses into a rapid fire guitar solo, while the rest of the song gives the impression of a tank speeding across a desert. "Salvo" has a great flow as it's opening riff and slow drums evolve into a rapid pace and pounding snare. The "Last Stand of Humanity" is exceptionally brutal, with powerful drum blast all in a short heavy piece suitable for any classic death metal album.

The only thing bad against the album is that sometimes the songs do sound similar. That being said Bolt Thrower's riffs and songs have always been similar sounding, and the formula still works. The album is still fresh material, and the band has stated that they will refuse to release material they feel is subpar. That is why this is currently the band's latest album for a while, as the band continues to tour. Hopefully Bolt Thrower becomes inspired down the road to release another great album. However, Those Once Loyal is an excellent parting gift in the meantime.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals as Leaders

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 47 ratings
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There are a lot of ostentatious solo albums out there. Sometimes there is too much shred for the listener to handle. Other times the songs are poorly written or repetitive. This album is neither. Strangely enough, Tosin Abasi did not want to do this album under this name because he felt it was too self-indulgent. Contrary to his expectations he created one of the most unique and groundbreaking albums in the past decade, under the name "Animals as Leaders"

There is not a very good way to describe the album entirely. Because of the production all the tracks are spacey, but that is not to say they sound anything like Pink Floyd since there are quick sweeps and shreds all over the place. It is a very light metal album, but there are quite a few rapid dissonant riffs. Not only are there just metal riffs, but electronic drum machines and synths are present throughout the album, as well as clean or acoustic guitars playing light jazz chords. Overall, this album owns a sound that hasn't been released before.

Most of the songs are highlights. The opener "Tempting Time" opens with spastic insanity and shredding madness and rapidly shifts into several sections, not letting up. "On Impulse" opens with mystical clean playing and builds electronic percussion until it closes with a climactic emotional prog guitar solo. "Behaving Badly" is dark and atmospheric that feature video game reminiscent guitar sound that speeds through a dark atmosphere. The short "Point to Point" develops great for a prog metal piece under two minutes, and "Modern Meat" is a low key acoustic jazz piece that like the previous track is well placed and written. The closer "Song of Solomon" is an energetic joyous piece with soaring guitar and impressive quick tapping in the middle. All the tracks in between are much like these: fast, melodic, energetic, and innovative.

There really aren't any downsides to this album. Abasi's techniques such as his tapping and shred styles are elements that haven't been found in music before. His work with Misha Mansoor in producing the album shows unique results: the atmosphere is phenomenal and unlike most other sounds. Not only that, but the guitar tone is perfect and complements the unique melodies and quirky noises the pair wanted to present.

Overall, this is simply a solid masterful album. Animals as Leaders, Tosin Abasi's solo project has produced a self titled album that can be called progressive in the creative sense, something very few bands can claim in the past decade. Although it is clearly a prog metal album, it has a ton of new elements that separate it far from Pain of Salvation and Dream Theater clones. Not only that but the pieces are well composed, and the lack of vocals does not hurt it in the least. This album belongs in every prog and metal lover's collection, period.

AMON AMARTH Twilight of the Thunder God

Album · 2008 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 33 ratings
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Amon Amarth is like the AC/DC of melodic death metal. Their songs are energetic, anthemic, and result in a chest-pounding good time. They never deviate from the formula and it works.

Twilight of the Thunder God is no different. It's a solid piece of work by Amon Amarth with some great songwriting and some haunting melodies. It's pretty standard sounding for melodic death, but it's well constructed. Although the album tends to lull a few songs in, the rest make up for it.

The opening title track grabs the listener immediately, with energetic quick tempo riffs and well constructed guitar solos. This is probably one of the best tracks on the album, as it hits the ground running with all the energetic speed it needs to. Unfortunately, there are quite a few of the next songs that are more by-the-numbers Amon.

"Guardians of Asgaard" is one of these. It's a basic midtempo song that seems like they just made it to give the album more time. "Varyags Of Miklagaard" seems to be similar, it contains regular riffs similar to the "Pursuit of Vikings" rhythms, only slowed down. "Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags" is also like this, though the opening riffs are creative and well made, the song just suffers from too-familiar song structure.

That being said, the last couple of songs make up for those tracks. "Live for the Kill" contains beautiful haunting melodies at a well-paced tempo, and is most remembered for the quiet bridge section where Apocalyptica plays the song's mournful melody on cellos, a welcome addition to the song. The final track, "Embrace of the Endless Ocean" starts off with a sorrowful riff that builds into a crushing melody when the drums kick in. This final song is sad and well placed, successfully evoking a viking dying at sea.

This album is far from perfect. Like AC/DC, there tend to be plenty of tracks that are standard fare apart from the well known ones they play at concerts. However, the good tracks are great and Amon Amarth has a working formula. This album would be recommended to anyone into some of the lighter forms of metal, and of course all Amon Amarth fans need to have it in their collection.


Album · 1992 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.51 | 105 ratings
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While Facelift had glam roots, and Dirt is considered to be a "grunge" classic, Dirt is really neither of these. Alice in Chains created a Doomy masterpiece with Dirt, and influenced many a band to come with it.

The riffs are either slow and ominous or menacingly groovy. They are a perfect match for Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell's harmonizing vocals that give a mystical aura to the work. While it does have some standard alternative elements that it's called, Dirt is plainly ominous doom heavy metal, and masterfully crafted metal at that.

The single and opener, "Them Bones" starts off with rough aggressive riffage and a killer solo a la Jerry Cantrell. The track stands out, though, since it is one of the quicker tempoed ones and the heaviest ones. After that, slower doom riffs come in such as "Rain When I Die", "Down in a Hole", and "Rooster". These are interspersed with the energetic tom-heavy "Sickman" and the groovy bass-ridden "God Smack". However, the haunting ones are probably the best, such as the title track, which features an evil melancholy Phrygian styled riff and croaking vocals to match. "Angry Chair" is just as haunting as the previous but more biting. The closer, "Would?" is a mix of the haunting parts and the energetic tempos found on the album. To be honest, almost all the tracks on the album are standouts, and the rest are merely good.

Overall, this is a highly recommended album for anyone into metal. For a collector it is a definite must. The atmosphere is haunting, the vocals are biting, the drums give off an uncomfortable feel, and the album is overall a killer journey. As for the grunge fans, they should like it too.

ENSLAVED Axioma Ethica Odini

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 52 ratings
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The progressive-era Enslaved has been changing their sound on every album. Each album has taken a logical step from the previous. After Vertebrae seemed to isolate listeners with its nearly straight prog-rock approach, the fanbase worried that the next album would be even worse.

There is no need to fear with Axioma Ethica Odini.

Enslaved seemed to beef up the black metal elements as well as the atmosphere to create yet another unique-sounding album. This isn't entirely a black metal album though. Most of the tempi in the songs are fairly midtempo and the amount of tremolo picking is diluted. The atmosphere is huge on this album, but harsh. Imagine the riffs from Below the Lights, except slowed down and with a magical aura of synths behind them.

Standout tracks include the phenomenal opener, "Ethica Odini", which moves at a fast viking pace, and contains a melodic outro not unlike Muse, containing a fantastic guitar solo. "Giants" is very heavy for the band, using death metal vocals creating a song very similar to Opeth. "Singular" contains haunting vocals and similar energetic drive to the opener.

It gets unusual with "Night Sight", which opens with acoustic guitars and soft vocals, comprised mainly of modal chords and notes, with a few uncomfortable dissonances. This eventually builds into the more conventional sounds of progressive metal we are used to.

The closing track, "Lightening" is absolutely phenomenal. The opening riff is pure atmospheric magic, and the space of the track is beyond words.

All in all, this may be one of, if not the best album of Enslaved's progressive era. The band has certainly progressed their style of metal to a heavy, yet accessible and atmospheric. Axioma Ethica Odini is already a must have for metal fans, and anyone collecting prog or black metal needs it in their collection.

PIG DESTROYER Prowler in the Yard

Album · 2001 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.19 | 14 ratings
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There are many albums out there that follow the "one giant song" formula. Oftentimes they are met with overwhelming praise (Dark Side of the Moon, Colors), while other times for whatever reason they are maligned compared to the rest of the respective band's catalogue (Catch 33, The Incident). In the case of the latter maybe things get too redundant, and there is no breathing room for the listener in between songs.

There is no room to breathe on Prowler in the Yard. That is why it succeeds so well. 36 minutes of grindcore broken up by little more than changes in riffs creates an unrelenting sonic atmosphere. At the most there will only be a few seconds between songs, and some ambient noise will only contribute to the uneasy feeling the album brings on.

That being said, the album isn't entirely grindcore. There are plenty of groove-based riffs mixed in, and there's also quite a lot of death influence. The tracks toward the end of the album border on conventional metal, but don't quite qualify. The album is also bookended within two Microsoft SAM monologues, setting and wrapping up the evil tone of Prowler in the Yard.

As for standout tracks, as with many albums of this type, it's hard to tell. Each track contributes to the whole like a movement within a suite. Tracks 19-21 can stand on their own though, but they fit well within the album too, so they don't necessarily stand out.

All things considered Prowler is a fantastic album. Grind fans should love it, and for groove fans trying to get into extreme music this would probably be the best album to start.

DEATH Symbolic

Album · 1995 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 146 ratings
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Forget all preconceptions at the door for Symbolic. While it does have death metal elements all over, it is far from the sound of classic death. The instrumental ability on this album raised the bar so high for bands of the day that tech-death became a major scene within itself. Progressive death metal became a legitimate genre, and when a legendary band such as Death began progressing beyond standard metal, it somewhat gave other bands license to explore beyond the precedent. In this manner, Death is for death metal what the Beatles were for rock music.

The album starts off with a simple lone guitar riff of the title track. Upon first listen it doesn't seem to foreshadow anything particularly innovative or technical. But a minute into the groove everything explodes. Suddenly tempo changes are the norm, and any song can go any unpredictable direction. The band explores rhythms, going off several tangents within a few minutes. The musicianship is top notch as well. While everyone knows that Chuck Schuldiner was a legendary guitarist with extraordinary talent, and while he showcases this perfectly within the album, another remarkable aspect is his tone. When he's shredding it brings a mystical aura across the heavy soundscape from the other musicians. While magical is not an angle most metal guitarists aim for, the word describes Schuldiner's playing perfectly. Gene Hoglan compliments him well. As 'the atomic clock' he not only works as a timekeeper, but he embellishes the sound so well with fantastic fills and driving groove. The bass, though, is less audible than most of Death's progressive era, though Bobby Koelble carries Schuldiner's backing guitar riffs loyally.

This is one of those rare albums where every song stand out on its own merit. Each one has a perfectly good reason to be on it too. There's no filler, and each song supports the album thoroughly. The opening track introduces the album well, "Empty Words" has a haunting intro and impressive sweeps in the chorus, "1,000 Eyes" is a relentless thrashfest, "Crystal Mountain" has a strong drive along with an emotional outro, and "Perennial Quest" makes for an epic closer. These songs and every one in between bring something to the table. I feel like there is little justification to say any one track is better than another.

So what are you waiting for? Not only is Symbolic a stunning listen from beginning to end, but it is a definitive work that lays the ground for both death metal and prog metal to come. It contains innovative ideas, top-level musicianship, and metal songs that are sure to be classics for a long time. It deserves a spot in every metal collection, and for those unfamiliar to the genre it is a good introduction.

EPICA The Divine Conspiracy

Album · 2007 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.69 | 35 ratings
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While this album does showcase a lovely voice from Simone Simons, other musical elements are pretty lacking. Riffs are straightforward. Midtempo is the norm. And while some songs are longer, with exception of the title track they maintain a standard, albeit extended, structure without developing into new movements or ideas.

The sound is what you'd expect from a standard symphonic metal band if you threw some Evanescence in as well. Therefore there are prevalent pop music elements all over the place. That being said, the orchestra added in with synthesizers from Coen Jannsen is much more prominent, to the point where much of it overpowers the guitars. As to be expected, other instruments aren't too heavy and rely on straightforward riffs.

While most of the songs are pretty uninteresting they do have the title track. "The Divine Conspiracy" is epic in the sense of composition and sound. Large choirs dominate the chorus and there is some wonderful mid-song instrumental interplay. The growls aren't terribly outstanding, but that has more to do with the album anyway. It is confusing as to why Epica would keep this album so unbalanced by making an album of mostly straightforward gothic symphonic metal songs while ending it on a bombastic 'epic' of sorts.

All in all, you are not going to find anything innovative on this album. There are much more 'epic' sounding symphonic metal albums out there, and Epica tries to be a bit too ambitious toward what they actually sound like. Within Temptation is poppier, but they don't necessarily try to be the most epic. Nightwish sounds epic, but they also have power metal elements to back it up. As for now, this album shows that the thing that Epica has going for them is Simone.

GOJIRA From Mars to Sirius

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 34 ratings
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Plod. Plod. Plod.

While "From Mars to Sirius" is indeed heavy to the extreme, that seems to be the only thing going for it. Everything else is pretty much slow paced pseudo death-like progressive metal. Not that the tempi of the songs are slow, but development and composition are. Riffs overstay their welcome and the mood of the album rarely deviates.

The sound of this album, though, is pretty unique. The guitars are heavy and atmospheric at the same time, sounding somewhat like Strapping Young Lad without the over the top attitude or synths. There is some Meshuggah influence, though the technicality lies in the technique to play riffs and runs, rather than any time signature acrobatics. The vocalist is interesting, and while offering some death growls also contributes a very harsh singing voice.

Of course, with this album you're subjected to an hour of pretty much breakneck heavy riff after breakneck heavy riff. Elements seem to blend together and memorability is thrown out the window. There are few standouts. The sludgy opener "Ocean Planet" would be one, which is again crushing and contains some top quality pinches that evoke the sound of a whale. "The Heaviest Matter in the Universe" is also notable, containing some riffs that will stay with the listener (something few of the other tracks can do).

Ultimately, this album is lacking. It's an hour of "whatever" and you're not going to find anything catchy or compelling unless you are a fan. Maybe it would be better for a new fan to start from somewhere else, or find a release by Strapping Young Lad or Meshuggah to quell their appetite for music like this.


Album · 1997 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 11 ratings
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If you think that Meshuggah is too angular and dissonant for you, if you think avant-garde metal like Mr. Bungle is too 'out there', if you think metal jazz fusion doesn't go anywhere beyond Exvious or Planet X, you are in a wild ride. While it incorporates more melody than the first, contains fewer musical elements from the second, and doesn't seem as blatantly virtuoistic as the third, Sol Niger Within is easily one of the most inaccessible albums you will ever encounter, metal or otherwise.

While having guitarist Fredrik Thordendal brings in obvious elements of Meshuggah's bizarre dissonant polymetric riffage, the music goes farther than that. There is a noticeable jazz influence, and while there is more melody, it also allows for more dissonance, so as to create a harsh atmosphere that can be compared to if you gave Ornette Coleman distorted guitars. What's more? There are also more instruments, such as a saxophone, organ, and some instruments listed in the liner notes as a Gallskrik and a Yidaki. When you mix these all together, you get quite an uneasy-feeling album, one that you shouldn't go into expecting to hear some catchy riffs or anthemic pounding songs.

Since all the tracks blend together into one forty minute track, it's hard to pick standouts. Some noticeable ones are the pair of songs "Z1 - Reticuli" and "Z2 - Reticuli" which are possibly the closest medium between jazz and metal possible, featuring the guitar and the saxophone respectively. The outro track "Tagathata" also seems somewhat separate from the rest of the opus, wrapping up the album properly. As for anything else, it's all one giant track of insanity, and should please any avant-garde fan. The only complaint are two tracks in the middle, "Cosmic Vagina Dentata Organ" and "Magical Theatre .33" which are simply bizarre improvised ad lib performances featuring the organ, which among other things interrupt the flow of the album.

Nonetheless, I believe Sol Niger Within is worthy of the title of a flawed masterpiece. The musicianship is top notch, the composition is thoroughly interesting, and it is an innovative work that, while taking influence from several obvious sources, doesn't really sound like anything else. If I had to pick one album to define Avant-garde metal, this would be it, with all the jazz influences and the harsh atmosphere. If you add this to your collection you are not to be disappointed.


EP · 2008 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 9 ratings
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Moonsorrow is one of those bands that can be counted on to pull through quality metal, and the Tulimyrski EP is a great example of that. You've got an excellent 30 minute epic track on one half, and two covers and a couple good remakes in the other. All of it is worth listening to, and if you're looking for some more folk metal for your collection, this one will fit the bill perfectly.

The draw of this album is the self titled epic track, "Tulimyrski", which means firestorm when translated to English, a very fitting name. It has all the aggression of flames all over, most notably in the fierce beginning, but also has the passion of fire all over in the form of wonderful folky melodies and tribal singing. It develops well in several movements and has many different moods, truly a worthy listen.

The cover of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" absolutely crushes the original. It has folk instrumentation and an epic instrumental section that Metallica could never really reach in the first place.

The next three songs will be less known, and ultimately less attractive to less devoted fans, but they're still pretty good. All three are in a similar mood, dark with haunting sythesized strings and black metal elements all over the place. The song "Back to North" is a cover of the black metal band Merciless and I think they made a fitting version.

All in all, Tulimyrski is a worthy EP. The only faults with it I can find is that it is heavily weighted towards the beginning epic and seems to drop in quality from there, and that the songs don't all quite fit together. That being said, this is not an album, it is released as an EP, so the songs don't have to fit together. Therefore as far as EP buying goes, you can't go wrong with Tulimyrski.

ISIS Panopticon

Album · 2004 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 53 ratings
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Waves of crushing riffs wash about on the listener right away. Everything is enveloped in dark heavy riffs. There is an atmosphere of discomfort everywhere. That's how Panopticon kicks off. After the first riff, everything goes from there. Many fans know this as Isis' masterpiece, and that praise comes well warranted.

The previous description could largely be used for the rest of the album. Deep crushing riffs are prominent everywhere. But as a post-metal release it's obviously going to have more than that. There are lucid atmospheres in every track and haunting soft passages, before everything builds up and crushes everything in its path. All together the dynamics form good chemistry, which is what makes Panopticon so good.

Of course, there are quite a few variations in style from song to song. "Backlit" starts off almost laid back and takes a while to develop and build into it's crushing insanity. "Altered Course" while still having that atmospheric sludge aura contains energy and is one of the better instrumentals, bringing Isis on par with their contemporaries Pelican in terms of instrumental work. "Wills Dissolve" is more emotionally dispassionate and starts very soft and tugs at the area of the heart that has lost hope, as the title suggests. All that, and the closer couldn't be better, "Grinning Mouths" is quite driving and the rhythms and the riffs combine into a large driving monster of a song.

The only part I hesitate to call poor in this album are "In Fiction" which maybe stays too long in soft territory and noodles too much in ambience. When you have a post metal album awash in slow tempi and low key riffs, it helps to not stay in the same style too long so as to not bore the listener.

But other than that, Panopticon is a landmark and certainly deserves its title as one of the crown jewels of sludge, doom, post metal, or whatever Isis listeners choose to call them. Its atmospheres never let up, it's heavy when it needs to be, and the builds are splendid and intelligent. Basically, it has all the elements you would want in an Isis album, and more. A worthy purchase, and always good for listening to.

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