Metal Music Reviews from voila_la_scorie

SUPERNAUT Supernaut

Album · 1999 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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Today I am going to do two things for the first time. One is that I am going to review an album entirely from listening to it on YouTube and the other is that I am going to rate an album below 2 stars.

But first, a little about Supernaut. An English band formed in 1973, they were, as you can guess by the name, Black Sabbath fans and like their mentors, played music with heavy and dark-sounding riffs. Unlike Sabbath, however, they included a spacey keyboard in their compositions. The band cut a single self-titled album of seven tracks in 1974 which was later released on CD.

Searching about the Net, there is little more information, though one site includes some info from the CD booklet which states that the band recorded a demo (the album) and had Vertigo's interest. The label said they were too heavy and requested Supernaut to record some Eagles covers to which the band obliged but were "so disgusted" that they split up. There seems to be some question as to whether this was a real band and is cautiously considered fictitious on another metal site.

Listening to the album there are two things that you will notice immediately. The riffs are really doom heavy and the guitar playing sounds really amateur. Honestly, the first time I clicked the play icon, I was immediately transported to my 17-year-old self with my Anjo electric guitar, sitting in my bedroom with a Boss distortion pedal plugged into a small, inexpensive amp and cranking out a riff that I thought sounded cool but couldn't do anything with. And this is the one very huge drawback to the album: the guitar playing sounds really amateur. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are introduced by the guitarist indeterminably hammering out his riffs on his very cheap and poorly sounding equipment. Once the drums and bass are in and the keyboards (surprising they are at first) start playing, the guitar playing slips into the flow of the music a little better and the recordings are passable as early demos of a young band. The vocals, sparse as they are, don't sound any better than the guitar.

This is available as a CD still now and I listened to this on YouTube because I was at first interested in an early doom band from 1974 and had an eye on the disc. I am glad I decided to listen first though and saved my money. In comparison, the early recordings by Iron Claw, which have a pretty shoddy production and don't sound so good and don't have the ideal vocalist, at least have a better sense of composition and playing. Perhaps it's because Iron Claw used to play Black Sabbath's debut album in its entirety at their live shows. Also worthy to consider in comparison is Necromandus, who were actually taking under Toni Iommi's management and who played excellent progressive, early doom but were abandoned after recording their album as their manager went overseas to tour in America.

I think Supernaut needed to have a guitarist who could play a little more fluidly and professionally, a better recorded guitar sound, and a proper producer in the studio to help them flesh out their style more. The actual riffs are somewhat promising and the music indicates that the band had a vision and potential but in the end lacked what they needed to make their album sound good. They get points for effort and could possibly have been a great early doom metal band. Instead, we are left with an album that is almost painful to listen to at times and has attracted criticism and scorn in the YouTube comments and no praise.

Not to be confused with the 1974 release by the Perth, Australia glam rock band by the same name.

BATHORY The Return......

Album · 1985 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 22 ratings
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Ah, Bathory! The Return.... Is that a double epsilon? I remember that day, that exciting day of going downtown with my paper route tip money and heading straight to the metal section of the music store, searching for something new to discover. And there amidst all the album covers of skulls, musclebound barbarians, acts of violence and blood, and Siamese twins tearing apart, was a simple cover of a gibbous moon shining through a gap in the clouds, a scene I had easily observed many times in my life. What kind of album would this be? I snatched it up!

Ah, Bathory! Some 32 years later and I finally decided to delve into black metal and see what there might be to captivate my constant craving for more diversity in my music collection. I brought home Immortal and thought, “The vocals really sound a lot like Quorthon of Bathory.” I brought home Darkthrone and Enslaved and thought the same. I checked out Emperor, Marduk, Gorgoroth, Satyricon, and more and each time I was reminded of Bathory. It soon dawned on me that if there was one band that inspired the sound of the second wave of black metal, it had to be Bathory.

You’ll find out very quickly that this is true when you watch any documentaries on YouTube or read anything about the development of the black metal scene. Bathory’s debut album and especially “Under the Sign of the Black Mark”, the third album, are frequently cited as the most highly influential albums in the developing black metal scene. The dark, distorted guitars and sinister riffs, the low production quality, and the back-of-the-throat, angry-burning-witch vocal style set the parameters of the black metal to come. For a riff-lover like me, “Born for Burning” had the most dread-inspiring and powerful guitar riff to make it to my cassette collection yet back in 1985, and songs like “Total Destruction”, “Sadist”, and “The Rite of Darkness / Reap of Evil” affirmed my love for this album.

On the plus side, I found the tracks I had forgotten, like “The Wind of Mayhem” and “Son of the Dammed” were at least worth hearing again, while the intro, “Revelation of Doom”, which once conjured up images of a demon in destructive rage approaching from afar, now sounds more like a giant baby crying for its formula bottle. Or is that a mammoth, Satanic tit?

Listening to this album now after at least three decades, I am reminded how the drumming mostly just keeps the beat and how there are few fills, though when one does come in, it sure feels effective. I also recall reading one single review of the album ever and the author saying that the band had an agile bassist. However, I am not hearing that bass so well. But perhaps it doesn’t matter. The real stars of the show are Quorthon’s original vocals, the heavy assault guitars, and the fuzzy production. This album impressed me much more than the debut and “Under the Sign of the Black Mark” actually turned me off the band. No one ever seems to talk about “The Return......” but for me this was/is an essential album in the tale of black metal and extreme metal in the eighties. Quorthon may have died far too young but his legacy can be heard in so many bands of the 1990’s. That’s gotta count for something!

SCORPIONS Virgin Killer

Album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.40 | 30 ratings
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There’re no lead in sound effects, no acoustic intros, or any willy-nillying to the beginning of this album. The first song, “Pictured Life” just kicks off the album with a melodic hard rock song that features Uli Jon Roth’s lead melody. The guitar sound is high toned but backed with the bass of Francis Buchholz it takes on a heavier sound. Someone out there called this song a stand out track in the Scorpions catalogue.

For me though, the next track, “Catch Your Train” is even more exciting, erupting from the album with a sustained guitar note by Roth and slashing chords by Michael Schenker, then a flurry of notes off Roth’s fretboard. When Kirk Hammett appeared alongside Roth on Eddie Trunk’s “That Metal Show”, Hammett stated how that song, with its pyrotechnic lead guitar work, had inspired him as a young teenager. The song is hurried and powerful.

“Walk in Your Park” is an early power ballad but seemingly loud in the loud parts though quite gentle in the softer moments. “Backstage Queen” a good but typical rocker.

And then there’s the title track. “Virgin Killer” was inspired by KISS and the lyrics written by Roth are about how Time is the stealer of innocence. The album cover art was decided by the record company and it featured a nude ten-year-old girl posing seductively with her genitalia obscured by a crack in the glass supposedly covering the photograph. Though no one in the band considered this as promoting child pornography at the time, the album received serious criticism in the U.K. and the U.S. and had to be sold in a black cover in some countries whereas for other countries the cover photo was replaced with one of the band. Indeed the copy I had on cassette in Canada in the eighties was the band version. When Wikipedia included an article about the album using the original album art, protests and complaints created a case against Wikipedia using what many deemed as an image promoting child pornography and pedophilia. The FBI became involved although in the end no American laws were found to have been violated.

Side two of the album features two tracks with Roth on lead vocals, “Hell Cat” and “Polar Nights”. Both of these are stand out tracks because Roth’s deep love for Jimi Hendrix can be heard in the guitar riffs. Not the best choice for a lead vocalist, Roth would eventually leave the Scorpions and start his own band, Electric Sun and take the lead vocal duties.

Other tracks on side two include “Crying Time”, which to me still carries a bit of the psychedelic mood that was on early Scorpions recordings, and another slower, ballad type of song, “The Yellow Raven” which is very soft and delicate until the powerful, hard rock ending.

This album sees for a brief time the Roth-era Scorpions really coming into their sound. The previous two albums were each quite distinct: “Fly to the Rainbow” being basically Roth’s band, Dawn Road, writing material with Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine that still had some progressive tendencies, and “In Trance” the first step toward writing shorter hard rock sounds with producer Dieter Dierks. While both of these older albums have some strengths and weaknesses, I see “Virgin Killer” along with “Taken by Force” as two excellent albums featuring some seminal hard rock and early metal performances with Roth’s guitar work standing out. According to Wikipedia, at least three songs from this album have been covered by modern metal bands. As this album seems to be much appreciated in the metal music world, I feel vindicated for loving it in spite of the fact that among my friends in junior high school, I was the only one who liked Uli Jon Roth-era Scorpions.

AEROSMITH Get Your Wings

Album · 1974 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.80 | 25 ratings
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Aerosmith's second album and one that started to see them get the attention they deserved. After their debut there was nothing. "Dream On" got a little attention but the band were wondering where all the promotion, the interviews, the radio spots, and the parties were. For "Get Your Wings" they wanted a decent producer and asked for Bob Ezrin. He offered them Jack Douglas, who would produce their string of successful albums in the seventies.

While the debut gave us a blues-based rock band with a very raw sound, "Get Your Wings" sees the band searching for a sound of their own. They were moving ahead and developing that classic Aerosmith sound, but they had not quite reached it yet. Both Jack Douglas and the band acknowledge this. When Douglas first heard the new material, he thought to himself, "What can I do to make them sound like themselves?" (Wikipedia article on Get Your Wings). Joe Perry says this:

"I knew the album, in spite of a few bright spots, still didn't capture the power of the band. We were better than the record we were making. And yet I didn't know how to get there. I didn't know how to get from good to great."

True, Aerosmith would really set the airwaves on fire with their next albums, "Toys in the Attic" and "Rocks", where the classic Aerosmith sound can finally be heard. But "Get Your Wings" is clearly a bold step toward that direction when compared with the debut album (good though I think the debut is). "Same Old Song and Dance" is clearly what the band were reaching for. A little unpolished compared to "Walk This Way" and "Back in the Saddle", there is still that roll in the rock that Aerosmith became so good at doing. The brass adds extra punch and makes future brass inclutions a natural move for the band. Songs like "Lord of the Thighs", "S.O.S. (Too Bad)", and "Pandora's Box" set the chosen standard for songs about sleeze which would inspire a whole generation of hairbands in the eighties, the S.O.S. standing for Same Old Shit while Pandora's lyrics cross "city slicker" with "slitty licker".

On the more serious side, "Spaced" is an interesting diversion into a story about a survivour of a twenty-year interstellar journey and features some guitar chords that conjure up images of Pete Townshend pinwheeling his arm. The sixties references don't get any more blatant than in the cover of the Yardbird's version of "Train Kept A Rollin'", this version first played at a slower, groovy pace, which according to drummer Joey Kramer was inspired by R&B and James Brown. Partway through, the song kicks into gear and gives a seventies version of what Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds did in 1965. And then there's a haunting ballad, "Seasons of Wither" with its sullen acoustic guitar, sorrowful lyrics, "Ooh, woe is me / I feel so badly for you", and powerful release when Tyler sings "Take the wind right out of your sails!" The song was never a single but remains a favourite of both Tyler and Perry's and in later years was performed at concerts and included on compilations.

This is an album that neatly falls into place between the preceding and succeeding albums. It still maintains some of the roughness that debut had and lacks the polish the third album would have. But it also captures the band striving for their own style that would come an album later. Not all the songs are an exciting hit but there are enough diamonds in the rough here to make the album worthwhile having for fans of seventies rock with a side note that this band is more about having groove and style and a cool sleeziness rather than going for high energy and ballsy hard rock.

Get you wings indeed. The band is this close to taking off!

ENTOMBED Wolverine Blues

Album · 1993 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 4.15 | 27 ratings
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Entombed: one of the Big Four in Swedish death metal and the first of the four that I was to encounter on CD. Fairly recently. Like, a few months ago and nearly three decades after the band's career commenced. As with many old school death metal bands I have gotten acquainted with, I found out about Entombed by watching old school death metal playlists on YouTube. Of course, the album usually mentioned is "Left Hand Path" with some attention also going to "Clandestine". It was either of these two that I had to choose for my first purchase. Then I saw "Wolverine Blues".

Blues?! A death metal band is using the word "blues" in an album title? And Wolverine? Even at the time this album was released, the X-Men character was well known. What on earth were these Swedes up to?

So, I checked out some songs on YouTube and, well, wow! Consider this: I had been checking out a couple of dozen bands or more in a subgenre I was not too familiar with and had previously avoided. At first, everybody sounded awesome. But after a while, everybody sounded similar. I wanted to find that band or album that did something different to make it stand apart from the usual death metal environment. This album certainly did stand out.

After two death metal albums in Swedish style, Entombed decided to get into some other stuff and came up with an album that sounds like a conconction of mid-seventies Black Sabbath and Motorhead with some hardcore peppered in. In-your-face, angry biker style vocals, really growly, dirty, massive-rusty-industrial-chain guitar sound, and a rhythm section that almost swaggers, this album took a death metal band in such a new direction that they called this music "death n' roll". While the title probably was supposed to sound cool, I can't help but think of crocodiles when I hear this. Death roll!

There's little point in picking apart each song. It's just ultra-gritty guitar riffs, groove, and guts throughout with some songs capturing my attention more than others for one reason or another. I'd say the first three or four tracks and the last two are my preferred songs, but the whole album is consistent, though "Hollowman" brings in a bit of melody.

After several listens, some of the excitement of hearing the entire album has worn off, but I am still very curious about the next album, "DCLXVI: To Ride Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth". For now, "Clandestine" is on its way to my place, so I'll get to see the earlier side of the band.

Death n' roll or whatever, it was really good to hear an album that combined components of the death metal sound with more familiar, traditional stuff like Black Sabbath and Motorhead.

OBSCURA Cosmogenesis

Album · 2009 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 25 ratings
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Brain knot music. The term just popped into my head as I was reading reviews of this album. I have listened to it a few times plus given randomly picked songs extra play time and although I am of the sound and sure opinion that I like it (enough to consider buying another album by Obscura), I am finding it very difficult to stride into a review.

As anyone will tell you, this album, as well as Obscura’s style, is very technical metal. There seems to be something going on constantly and the band are rarely prepared to ease back and let something playout for a bit. I admit to having a certain fondness and admiration for technical bands like Decrepit Birth, Augury, and now Obscura too, but there is that challenge to make sense out of the music of each track and, for that matter, to learn to distinguish one song from another. All instruments are moving often at great speeds and sometimes in seemingly disparate directions except that you understand that the music is actually quite coherent and the instruments intelligently integrated.

What makes Obscura and this album stand apart from much of my previous technical metal listening experiences are a couple of things and that would be the use of slower tempos and even clean and beautiful parts with acoustic guitar or a kind of Steve Vai-like soloing style and the delightful use of bass guitar as an instrument that can hold its own and even stand out in the music. I have a great appreciation for metal and prog music that gives the bass a lead melody or frequently casts the spotlight on that wonderful instrument (which I don’t play, in case you were wondering).

Because of the attention served to these aspects of the music writing, it becomes rather easy to begin to remember tracks for their standout parts rather than be doomed to be remembered as an intriguing and exciting tangle of rapid-fire, aggressive drumming, multi-single-note convoluted guitar riffs, and tangles of shredded solos with pinch harmonic wails that seem to drive through the music like hailstones in a thundershower during a baseball match. No, Obscura make it a little easier to say, “I really like the lead guitar melody here,” or “Good use of clean guitar here to add something to the song,” or “This acoustic passage is very pleasant and unexpected.” Interestingly for me, shortly after acquiring “Cosmogenesis” I got “Focus” by Cynic and I could see the possible influences this older album had on Obscura’s musical style. There is even a bit of vocoder vocals on “Cosmogenesis” as if in salute to “Focus”.

The production is very clear and that is something I appreciate for such complex and often speedy music. My one criticism might be that the growls and sore-throat screams strike me as not being necessary throughout the whole album. It’s not the first time that I was very impressed with the music but felt something more could have been done with the vocals in that the brutal style doesn’t always seem to be the best approach.

And now it looks like I have managed to write just over a page-worth of words in review of this album. Technical. Highly-skilled. Creative. Effective. Challenging.

Delightful brain knot music!

OBITUARY World Demise

Album · 1994 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 16 ratings
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So what do you do when you decide to pick up a first-time album by an established band with a decent-sized catalogue? Do you buy the debut or the most recent album? Do you buy the classic album or sift around on YouTube and buy the album you think sounds best? For Obituary, I decided on the fourth option, and based on sound alone, I decided that "World Demise" would be my first acquisition even though I knew the first three albums were generally held in higher regard.

My first two impressions were, "Man, there are a lot of blatant signs of Celtic Frost influence here," and "Why does John Tardy's vocal style remind me of an angry wrestler crying like a little boy?"

The first is easy to address. Obituary are influenced heavily by Celtic Frost and they don't hide it. The album is chock full of slow and medium-tempo ultra heavy riffs. The guitar sound too is heavy enough to sink wide holes into the pavement. It's this sound (let's credit the drums and bass for the music, too) that makes the album worth-while having, in my opinion. It's just consistent, brain-mulching, bone-crunching music.

But how about those vocals? I get where he's taking the vocals. They're rough and angry and slightly maniacal. However, I find a similarity to how Tardy delivers the words in many songs. It's like the second and fourth syllable have to be emphasized but in a way that really resembles an angry little boy but vocalizing like a WWF wrestler. Some variety would surely help this album, at least in the vocal department. "the woAARRlld deMIIIEEZZ..."

Though most of the songs follow a similar sound and style, honourable mention must go to "Redefine", which breaks the trend by having a radio broadcast, funky tune which gets treated over by the drums and bass. This gives the song a unique feel on the album. The other is the final track, "Kill for Me" because it includes sounds and music sampled from an album of African music. It doesn't mean that the song is freaking awesome but there is that different thing about it.

I'd say this is a pretty solid album. Even as a casual fan of the band, this album delivers a very satisfactory sonic atmosphere. I find I can listen this album without paying total attention. It just has a great sound to it from front to back. And those riffs!

I might have thought I don't need any more Obituary albums but I have now opened up the option to get "Cause of Death" or "The End Complete".

PARADISE LOST Shades of God

Album · 1992 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 27 ratings
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After catching their name on Banger TV's "Lock Horns" program about death doom, I began sampling the band's albums on YouTube and decided that their earlier work was more what I was going to be able to digest at the moment. Indeed, this album seems very familiar for a couple of reasons, the first being that the music often reminds me of Trouble with some songs being more obviously influenced by Black Sabbath and in one or two cases I have picked out a Metallica influence as well.

The other reason why this album was easy for me to appreciate is because the songs aren't particularly predictable. Doom riffs cross with almost psychedelically influenced early seventies riffs. A bass breakdown crops up unexpectedly, a cowbell accompanies a really cool guitar riff, or an acoustic guitar piece appears in the middle of a song. The songs come across more like a story that the old standby of verse/chorus/verse/chorus. Riffs go A, B and then just when you hear A again and are waiting for B, a completely different riff comes in. Or A returns later on just because it sounds good coming in right there. Speaking of riffs, as a death / doom album, there is a lot of terrific riffing. But I just can't get Trouble our of my head.

Just wait, though, until you hear the riff just before and just after the 4:00 mark in "Mortals Watch the Day". I keep hearing James Hetfield come in with "Death greets me warm / now I will just say goodbye". And then there's Ozzy singing "Killing yourself to live" along with a riff in "The Word Made Flesh". But the album is not so derivative of the band's mentors as it may seem because of the way they've structured their songs and add things in unexpected places, as I said before. They are very good crafters of heavy music.

The most predictable thing about this album is Nick Holmes' vocals. He has that deep, raspy style and with very little range. At least the lyrics are almost completely intelligible.

I'm hard pressed to pick a favourite track here but I find myself noticing "Mortals Watch the Day", "Daylight Torn", "No Forgiveness" (is that an Iommi-inspired guitar solo?), "The Word Made Flesh" for a Trouble-like riff and cowbell, and the album closer "As I Die". I like the focus on slower, heavy, almost groovy at times music. I feel like the band wanted you to remember the individual songs. This is an album that has made a bigger impression on me than expected.

OBITUARY Darkest Day

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 8 ratings
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Obituary are not an easy band for choosing a first album to buy. The debut and sophomore often appear in death metal compilations on YouTube and "The End Complete" gets a lot of praise from some but not all. Just looking at the ratings here on MMA, I see some albums rated very highly and yet I recently read reviews that called those albums boring and unoriginal.

To help me make a call on my own about what album to buy, I went through some albums on YouTube (skimmed quickly about, really) and finally decided on one. That album told me the band had a lot of potential but failed to convince me that I had picked one of the better ones. That led to more searching and it brought me here to "Darkest Day".

In a nutshell, Obituary were one of the important early American death metal bands to hit the scene in the late eighties (they'd been around earlier under different monikers) with their debut "Slowly We Rot". Over the next two albums, they solidified their position as pioneers of death metal. After a few albums, though, they took six years off before coming back. Their output since then seems to be considered good but also many claim the music is a rehash of ideas with each new album, one reviewer going so far as to call them the AC/DC of death metal, serving up the same formula because that's what the fans expect from Obituary.

This album is not considered brilliant by many, although most reviews give it a moderately favourable rating. I am pleased with it myself, compared to my previous purchase; however I recognize its shortcomings.

Basically, older Obituary had songs or albums that really sounded like an American version of Celtic Frost, and I hear a lot of that on this album, too. Why, even in the second track, vocalist John Tardy gives a Tom Warrior "oogh!" just before a Frosterian riff kicks in. Much of the album does rely on not only riffs that easily tap into my Celtic Frost memory banks but a similar heavy guitar sound. Just quickly listen to the first few seconds of "Payback", "See Me Now", "Violent Dreams" and "Truth Be Told" and tell me you can't hear the Frost influence. Where the album comes back to being Obituary and not Celtic Frost is in the use of the drums in certain tracks and John Tardy's vocals. Actually, the biggest reason for me wanting too find another Obituary album after my first purchase was the vocals. It was not because I thought they were just so awesome. It was rather that I understood what was being attempted but I felt Tardy often sounded like a big wrestler crying in rage like a three-year-old boy. Thankfully, I get that impression hardly at all on this album.

The songs are mostly fairly slow for death metal but there's enough variety on this album to keep it interesting. The band can speed up from time to time. And while the music can seem to be quite one dimensional, there are moments within songs or opening riffs that prove the individualism of each song, in spite of the similarities between tracks.

This may not be the best Obituary album to get, but from what I have heard, getting a higher rated album is not going to make any drastic changes to my opinion of the band's output. A rather good album from a band that I don't expect to surprise me.

MORBID ANGEL Altars of Madness

Album · 1989 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 36 ratings
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One of those essential old school death metal albums.

Wait! ONE of those? ONE?

This little baby is apparently considered one of the most important albums in the developing death metal scene and gets mentioned alongside Death's "Scream Bloody Gore". The ethos behind the music was simple: destroy everybody! Reading the quote on Wikipedia by guitarist Trey Azagthoth, the approach to the music was to create music that would make people work a lot harder after seeing Morbid Angel perform. He wanted people to wonder what in tarnation was going on, write stuff that would make other bands go run and hide.

Morbid Angel's true debut was recorded late in 1988 and released in spring of 1989. They had previously recorded a debut album in 1986 but were unhappy with the results and went back into the studio in '88. The result is a monumental album that takes a bit of Death, Slayer, Kreator, and Bathory and surprisingly some inspiration from Pink Floyd and delivers music that is fast, tight, brutal, and fairly technical with lots of tremolo picked single-string riffs played both in lower tones and higher tones simultaneously. There are stand out heavy riffs, wild leads, abrupt stops and changes in tempo and rhythm, and basically in the sense described by Trey Azagthoth, music that took death metal in a new direction, or at least pushed it further toward technical death metal than what had been achieved before.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say how "Altars of Madness" completed stomped on the speed/thrash scene in Sweden and opened people's eyes to this new approach to extreme metal.

One of the things I like about this album is that the band adds small details to the songs to make them memorable, as opposed to a collection of all brutal and immensely crushing music. "Immortal Rites" starts off backwards and then flips around. The vocals sound like a deeper version of Quorthon of Bathory. The there is this part with what sounds like orchestral sounds and the music gets a horror movie soundtrack feel. "Visions from the Dark Side" has some slow heavy riffing that resembles early Megadeth or Metallica and "Chapel of Ghouls" drops into this haunted mansion type music in the middle before changing gears a slower Slayer "Hell Awaits" song.

It's easy to play this album through and just ride with the atmosphere but it won't take much extension of attention to catch how each song is constructed independently of the others. With some albums it's not so easy to hear the distinction from one song to the next, but Morbid Angel prove they can write songs and not just a style.

Given that the development of death metal in the mid to late eighties is still something I am discovering in small bits here and there, I can't say that I personally understand all the hype about this album. But I can identify its place in the timeline from Celtic Frost, Slayer, Possessed, and Death to later bands like Atheist, Immolation, Gorguts, and Cynic.

A monumental album in metal history? I won't argue that point. And I enjoy the album more with each subsequent listen.

AEROSMITH Permanent Vacation

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.11 | 29 ratings
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Possibly one of the best comeback albums ever?

"Done With Mirrors" (i.e. done cutting lines with mirror and razor?) was more like Aerosmith's came back album. "Yo! We came back. Here's our album. Dig it." But "Permanent Vacation" sounds like a real comeback album, like a band who is ready to burst through your living room wall and out to the pool-side for an all night party of blues rock meets glam in a style that no other band could ever hope to imitate.

Whale song, air raid sirens, Indian war cries, DRUMS and BOOM! Joe Perry's guitar delivers a tricky riff that sounds like his fingers would be falling over themselves. Brad Whitford backs it with a chugging riff and we're off with one heckuvan opening track. Steve Tyler is fully on top of his game, howling with his trademark scratchy throat style.

This is Aerosmith like you've never heard them before, and that's partly because they worked with a whole slough of, a whole slew of other musicians and song-writers, and partly because they were in the Little Mountain Studios with Bruce Fairbairn. To make the album a full-on performance, the band's hard rocking blues style was augmented with clarinet, trombone, trumpet, muted trumpet, saxophone, cello, mellotron, steel drums, and organ. And to what a result! The band sound like they've been injected with a mother load of MOJO!

After the stunning opener, the band hits us again with the catchy, sing-a-long chorus of "Magic Touch", a great upbeat, hard rocker. Then we go all bluesy and swinging with the brass and slide guitar of "Rag Doll". This song has less punch and more groove than the other two. Tyler gives us some scat near the end as a clarinet and muted trumpet carry us out.

Is it ballad time now? Not yet. "Simoriah" may not be the best track on the album but it slams down another powerful pop hard rock tune.

Then comes one of the big classic singles, "Dude Looks Like a Lady". What can you say? Full swing with brass, fat sound, rocking bluesy lead guitar. Instant hit!

Side one wraps up with the blues track, "Saint John", and man, Aerosmith simply mop the floor with all those hair bands that tried to go blues in the mid-eighties. Aerosmith are just proving the cool. Full sound. Awesome!

We got croaking frogs and a creaking rocking chair. We got a steel pedal guitar and harmonica. "And if I could / I surely would / Stand on the rock that Moses stood / I say whoa boy / Dontcha lie on the track-a-la-cka". Aerosmith just come up with a style that pays tribute to the blues of yesteryear and marries it with eighties hard rock.

"Girl Keeps Coming Apart" takes us back to the big sound of brass and rock with another loud, partying song. Highlights are the spoken parts at the beginning and near the end ("There she was / buns up and kneeling / I was a-wheeling and a-dealing / My ace-in-the-hole, so to speak") and that kick ass brass. How about that guitar solo? And the instrumental close out? Great loud-in-the-car song!

And at last the ballad. And what a power ballad it is. Powerful intro and then all sweet and wow! Tyler is awesome. One of the best power ballads of the eighties. The chorus has almost an early sixties love song feel to it but buffed up for the big sound of the eighties. Love the clean guitar solo, too. When I saw Aerosmith in Vancouver in '87, this song has not yet been released as a single and they didn't play it. Wow, eh? I remember Steven Tyler doing splits off the amp stacks and cartwheels while holding on to the mic stand. What a showman!

The title track now has us on the beach with steel drums and colourful banana shirts. Break out the margaritas, the pina coladas, and the tequila!

Someone had a request? Here's a cover of the Beatles' "I'm Down" done in rocking Aerosmith style. Great job!

The album closer is a puzzling one. "The Movie" is lead by a simple guitar melody and backed by a simple heavy beat. In one part, a voice speaks in a foreign language and then the music changes to remind me of the city scenes in "Blade Runner". Thumping drums and scratching records, the production team left no instrument unturned for this album and it worked wonders.

Agreed that this is not a metal album, but there's just so much going for this one with each song crafted carefully and just stellar playing. It's a freaking awesome party rock album!

If you like that sort of thing.

FREE Tons Of Sob

Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 8 ratings
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Free's 1969 debut, "Tons of Sobs", has to be their dirtiest, hardest, sweatiest, and most aggressive record in the band's catalogue. The album comes across as a recording by a young band who studied the likes of Cream and Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart and then dropped nearly all subtlety in favour of raw energy.

After the 49 second opening track, the first part of the largely acoustic number "Over the Green Hills", a chorus of "Ahh"s fades out and heavy guitar chords backed by a hard thumping bass and a steady drum beat that could well pass for shotgun blasts comes tromping in. This is the beginning of Free's most metal song ever, "Worry". Except for the inserts of bluesy piano rolls, the song is all power, all electric and sees the band nearly totally untethered. Paul Rogers sends the needle into the red by the second chorus as he sings, "Worry / Baby, worry / There's a reason for you to". Telling her that there's a silent, deadly message in the wind, Paul's bluesy rasp gets a power overload, while Paul Kossof is going nuts on lead guitar and rhythm section Andy Fraser (bass) and Simon Kirke (drums) would be galloping if they weren't smashing holes through the studio floor.

"Walk In My Shadow" shows the Cream influence and this is a swaggering, blues number with some real good scratchy guitar chords. It's followed by "Wild Indian Woman", which has a similar feel and groove as "Walk In My Shadow" but with a slightly cleaner guitar sound. Hear Paul Rogers sing, "You don't need your horses, baby / You got me to ride." Damn!

"Goin' Down Slow" is one of those typical, slow bluesy numbers that you've probably heard a dozen times before. I'm sure I have a nearly exact version by a different title but by another band and recorded in a small bar with the sounds of people chatting and glasses tinkling. To be fair to Free, though, turn this up and it's a real monster. I guess the reason why it wasn't recorded in a small bar with people chatting and glasses tinkling is because if they had, they would have been no people chatting and glasses tinkling because everyone would have been standing stunned still by the band's full on performance.

"I'm a Mover" kicks off side two with another typical blues rocker and it's interesting to note that Iron Maiden actually covered this song as a b-side to "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter". "The Hunter" is a cover of the classic tune by Booker T. Jones and company and sticks with the raw, high power electric blues by a band that really want to show their spit and vinegar.

Things slow down a bit with "Moonshine", which is a little hard to describe, (lyrics about staying in a graveyard all night by his tombstone) except that the brief chorus reintroduces the power of the band. "Sweet Tooth" has those scratchy guitar chords and this time adds a bit of funk to the bluesy swagger. The only thing that doesn't work so well is that Rogers' voice is in the right audio channel only for some reason. The album wraps up with the rest of "Over the Green Hills", which is where the rest of the song is.

The re-issue features several bonus tracks which includes live recordings (recorded live as a band and not before any audience as there is no cheering or clapping and also no people chatting and tinkling glasses for that matter), alternate versions of songs, and studio outtakes. Of these, "Guy Stevens Blues" (dedicated to producer Guy Stevens) is yet another example of an electrified blues band featuring a guitarist who sounds like a crazy Eric Clapton and "Visions of Hell" which is mostly a slower, depressing song but which culminates in a more guitar-aggressive finale.

Free would, over the next three albums, tame their sound and give it more smoothness and polish. But they would never again show off such rawness and raunchiness coupled with some stunning punches as they did one their debut.

IMMOLATION Dawn of Possession

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 15 ratings
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Immolation’s debut album is yet another one of those essential old school death metal albums, at least according to death metal playlist makes on YouTube. As it was also one of the more expensive albums, I initially considered purchasing something from their highly rated later releases; however, while listening to bits and pieces of songs on YouTube, I felt the atonal guitar leads were too much like out of key instead of a cool effect. This may have been my impression because I was listening to the songs on my iPhone while cleaning up my children’s playroom.

The music on this album is interesting in the scope of American death metal of the early nineties. The death metal movement is generally said to have emerged in Florida and it has become my impression that those bands grew out of the thrash metal scene, with some exceptions like Obituary sounding more influenced by Celtic Frost. Immolation, who are from Yonkers, NY (if Wikipedia is to be trusted) play a much more technical style with tight, complex riffing mixed in with more standard, speedy riffs. The music in any one song shifts and changes, the drums moving along almost with the guitars rather than maintaining a steady beat. The use of double bass drumming is also more in sync with the guitars than simple, standard pummeling. As for the atonal lead guitar, hearing it in the headphones it sounds great, perfectly suited to the wild ride that is the music.

Vocalist Ross Dolan eschews the thrashy bark and growl of many Floridian bands and instead delivers the lyrics in a deep, breathy, back-of-the-throat rumbling regurgitation of air. His vocal style is similar to that of Cryptopsy’s Lord Worm except that the lyrics are at times comprehensible in contrast to Lord Worm’s vocalizations which sound more like a foreign and beastly language.

Taken song by song, each track is packed with heavy guitar riffs that gallop and twist, crazy drumming, and Dolan’s dragon-belly vocals. To me though, this album is easy to play through without hearing the subtle differences that distinguish one song from another. Part of the reason is that every song is comprised of the same sonic moves. There are no acoustic breaks, no stand-alone awesome riffs, no atmospheric parts. Each song just delves straight into the thunderous sound, different versions of the same demon dance. Another reason for the seemingly repetitive approach to the music is the production. The quality is no exactly dense, nor is it shoddy, but each of the instruments and vocals sound compacted into a warm, dark ball of sound. It would be easy to brush of the album as having little variety and therefore concluding that it gets old quickly. But each time I listen carefully to any one track, I feel I may have found the one stand out track on the album. So, basically, we are looking at an album of awesome songs with an awesome playing style that could be easily misunderstood as having little depth or breadth.

I’ll be looking into Immolation’s catalogue further with the hopes of hearing a better produced album that still delivers the same tight and technical performance.

JUDAS PRIEST Point Of Entry

Album · 1981 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 2.94 | 72 ratings
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So Metallica releases “Load” and everyone’s like, “What?” and then they release “Reload” and everyone’s like, “Oh!”

In 1981, Judas Priest released “Point of Entry” and looking back on it now, it’s like, “What?” Had they followed up with “Point of Re-entry”, well, it would have sounded like going through customs, but maybe people might have just gone along with it. Thankfully, they followed up with “Screaming for Vengeance” and everyone was like, “Yeah, now that’s what I’m talking ‘bout!”

“British Steel”, “Point of Entry”, “Screaming for Vengeance”. One of these is not like the other. After establishing themselves as metal gods in 1980, something they had been working on ever since 1976’s “Sad Wings of Destiny”, Judas Priest released a mostly fun, party rock, hard rock album with catchy choruses, hand clapping beats, and guitar riffs to rival Helix. Was there a plan? Who was responsible?

The book “The Story of Judas Priest: Defenders of the Faith” by Neil Daniels sheds a little light on the matter:

“After the success of ‘British Steel’, it was argued that Priest compromised their sound in order to make a more radio-friendly album with such songs as ‘Heading Out To The Highway’. No doubt CBS thought a softening of the band’s edges could be a potential money-spinner… it could be said that the AOR-cum-melodic-hard-rock approach served the band well in the long run.”

Daniels points out that the first singles to be released in support of the album did not help much. “Don’t Go” only made it to 51 on UK charts and “Hot Rockin’” struggled to reach 60. “Heading Out To The Highway” and “Desert Plains” would have been better representations of the album, argues Daniels.

At the time of its release, K.K. Downing was quoted as saying it was the band’s best album yet. However, strangely enough, the original album jacket did not include the band’s logo and there was no band photo. Was someone trying to distance themselves from this new direction?

When considered among the giants of the Priest cannon, “Point of Entry” looks like a decision that sounded good at the time but brought unfavourable results. Rock history is full of similar stories: The Yardbirds with “Little Games”, Warrant and “Cherry Pie”, Dream Theater and “Falling Into Infinity”. Make your own list. However, listening to this album as a hard rock album in the early eighties, it is actually not so bad. Instead of placing this among other Priest albums, play it alongside other fun, party rock albums of the day and it fits right in. “All the Way” almost could be a contender for an Aerosmith album. “Don’t Go” conjures up images of long-haired dudes in red leather pants. And “Hot Rockin’” seems to have picked up a thing or two from the likes of seventies KISS. “Heading Out To The Highway” is good enough to be listed among Priest’s better tracks anyway. The two songs that truly stand apart from the rest are “Desert Plains” and “Solar Angels” which have that more serious and somewhat majestic side that aim to tell a story or create an atmosphere.

Missing of course are any of Priest’s cast of fantastic characters like “Exciter”, “Grinder”, “The Hellion” or “Painkiller”. “Point of Entry” is about highways, relationships, and lust. Rock ‘n’ roll, dude!

DISMEMBER Like an Everflowing Stream

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 17 ratings
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Explosive!

Crushingly explosive.

It's no wonder that Dismember's debut album appears on at least a few YouTube playlists of essential and classic old school death metal albums, songs, and bands. This album sounds like it's grinding civilization to iron filings.

The main reason for this immense sound comes from the guitars, which not only have a really raw distortion sound to them but also seem like they've been recorded with the needle as far into the red as possible. But not the rest of the instruments! The bass and drums, vocals as well, are recorded normally for an extreme metal band of the early nineties. Yet the guitars could rattle your teeth from your head if the volume were turned up too high.

The songs are generally short as in somewhere between 2 and 4 minutes mostly. But one thing I like about them is that the band mixes things up a bit with mid-tempo, fast, and furious as their choices for speed settings. Even though the album has an overall unified sound and it's not easy to pick out favourites, song by song you can easily hear that the band has a degree of versatility to make their album better than just a super-sonic blast through.

I find this album interesting too because the guitar sound and Matti Kärki's vocals resemble those on Entombed's "Wolverine Blues". Well, we do find Nicke Andersson of Entombed not only playing lead guitar as a guest but also designing the band's logo.

The Hammerheart records re-issue comes with bonus tracks that sound slightly different from the other songs but are a welcome addition to the collection. "Torn Apart" comes from the 1992 EP, "Pieces" and "Justifiable Homicide" is on the 1995 EP, "Casket Garden". This final song is perhaps the most outstanding because it captures that death 'n' roll feel that Entombed went for from "Wolverine Blues".

Nice, loud, destructive, and sonically grinding album.

ANCIIENTS Heart of Oak

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 8 ratings
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There's early Baroness and there's Mastodon's progressive side. There's Opeth and The Sword. And there's a tinge of Voivod as well as classic hard rock. And all those things together give you a pretty good idea of what Anciients sound like.

I was very interested when I heard about a progressive metal band from the Vancouver area because "progressive", "metal", and "Vancouver" are all close to my heart. As I sank my ears into the music of this, the debut album "Heart of Oak", I immediately felt all was so familiar and yet with subsequent listens I was able to pick out where the familiarity was coming from.

Anciients' songs are much like classic Opeth in that they often run from six to ten minutes in length and shift, or leap, from one riff and rhythm to another. Take a song like "Falling in Line" which begins like classic early Steve Perry Journey (I just got "Infinity" a couple of weeks before this album) with acoustic guitar that leads to a classic seventies slightly technical rock riff before the song becomes heavier. The vocals are clean and powerful, bringing to mind Dave Grohl, but then the throat-shredding howls and growls shriek into your ear drums. Abruptly, a Between the Buried & Me-type bass line emerges and percussion and guitar follow in odd meter. Towards the end, the song slows down and drops big bombs of power chords and cymbal crashes before coming to a solid conclusion. All that in 8:21.

But we need not jump directly to track three. From the onset, I found myself enjoying the songs, first, second, third, fourth and then for the fifth track a short acoustic instrumental. Anciients use acoustic guitar a few times on the album, though unlike Opeth that peppered their older albums with many acoustic interludes, Anciients stick to song intros and short instrumental tracks.

One of the things I really enjoy about the album is the diversity of influences that manifest themselves in the band's approach to writing and performing songs. There are three vocal styles: clean-like-Dave, the throat-shredder, and the Akerfeldt growl/roar. You'll catch the powerful sludge attack of Baroness's "Red Album", the thundering approach of Mastodon's "Leviathan" and more progressive "Crack the Skye", some of the stoner metal crunch of The Sword's "Warp Riders", and a lot of wonderful lead guitar work. That's one of the things that has really captured my attention about Anciients music on both of their albums, and that is the lead guitar solos. We're not assailed with meteor showers of shredded notes and not caught in the pinch and wavering whine of death metal screaming guitar notes. The guitar solos sound "felt" and inspired by some of the great hard rock and early metal solos of the seventies. There is a sense for the music which in turn seems constructed to showcase the solo.

The original album closes with a surprising spacerock instrumental. Slow and lazy with a classic space rock feel, "For Lisa" sounds more like something California's retro-space-prog Astra would have done than a heavy metal band. Some may like it; others may say it's too incongruous with the style of the rest of the album.

"Heart of Oak" is aggressive music in places, progressive music in places, retrogressive music here, and impressive almost everywhere. But don't come to Anciients looking for three-minute, steam locomotive, thunder blasts. If nine minutes of meandering music that soothes, hammers, gallops, twists, turns, and then slowly pounds is not what you have patience for then look another way.

I have only one critic of this album and that's the sound quality. It could be a little clearer to help bring out the punch more or perhaps a little grittier instead. It's hard to say because the guitars pack a wallop which could be more effective with more crunch but the technical and clean side would probably sound better clearer. Turning up the volume a bit helps the rough side anyway. My copy also has two bonus tracks, which are the two songs off the original EP "Snakebeard". The sound is a little lower in production value on these two though the songs themselves are consistent with the style of the band on nearly all of the rest of the album. Admittedly though, after recently listening to so many albums that clock by in under 35 minutes, "Heart of Oak" with the two bonus tracks seems long. I mean we're talking 74 minutes of music. This is probably best played alongside an Ayreon or Dream Theater album with "Blackwater Park" added to the playlist.

AMORPHIS The Karelian Isthmus

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.35 | 21 ratings
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Once again, I have Banger TV on YouTube and its Lock Horns program to thank for pointing me to yet another band that I felt interesting enough to merit purchasing an album. On the episode about early death / doom metal, Amorphis' name came up, and as I had already heard about their "Land of a Thousand Lakes" album from checking out compilation and "best" videos on YouTube, I began sampling albums in an effort to decide which to buy first. My choice was "Land of a Thousand Lakes", but thriftiness prevailed and I bought the cheaper debut album, "The Keralian Isthmus".

This is also yet another case of me learning something through a heavy metal band as I was unfamiliar with the Keralian Isthmus and its history. The album, however, is not about that; I had to check Wikipedia.

The re-issue of the debut I have also includes five songs from the "Privilege of Evil" EP that the band recorded around the time the original project called Abhorrence was dissolving into Amorphis. Thus, even though three songs appear on both albums, they have a different sound from "The Keralian Isthmus" with one of the most noticeable being that the EP version of "Vulgar Necrolaty" has a different vocalist and a death metal-styled guitar solo.

The album's begins with a short acoustic guitar track and from there on its heavy electric guitars all the way. The music typically follows a mid-tempo speed but does have both faster and slower moments. Each song generally changes rhythm and tempo a few times, making any individual track interesting to listen to. You can expect chugging heavy guitars, barre chords, and riffs comprised of melodic, single-note-picked riffs. Sometimes I am reminded of Iron Maiden's melodic guitar riffs though the actual melodies played by Amorphis are different in style, and I'm sure there's a bit of Celtic Frost in "The Sign from the North Side". The vocals are the deep, guttural style, and the double bass drums are used more to enhance the feeling of speed in the faster moments. With song titles like "Black Embrace" and "The Lost Name of God" you might wonder about any black metal influence in the roots of the band. The production of the main album is good enough for an early nineties, metal debut, the EP tracks sounded a little rougher.

The album is a good listen overall, though I found that even after three or four times through I wasn't checking out any song titles. That's because the songs, which pack various riffs, styles, and tempo changes in each song, end up becoming not so obviously distinguishable from one another. They each play like a mini version of the album. When you hear the guitar melody at the end of "The Pilgrimage" followed by the guitar melody in "Misery Path", you could be easily misled into thinking it was the same song sped up a little.

For that reason, "The Karelian Isthmus" is a good enough album to listen to but doesn't have any truly outstanding tracks. I could recommend "Vulgar Necrolatry" as the song to listen to but really nearly any track is a good introduction to the album.

I have listened to some of the band's later material and they have really evolved their sound drastically. Comparing "Sky Forger" to this album, you'd think they were two entirely different bands!

A good album for slower, more complex death metal with elements of doom and also melodic riffs. Three solid stars!

VADER Necropolis

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 11 ratings
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My second Vader purchase, following the "less is more" purchasing scheme. Effectively, spending less money per CD (i.e. cheaper CDs) means being able to buy more. Yes, there were two other albums I wanted more but decided to go instead for a highly rated album that was under ¥900 from Amazon's marketplace.

I was really thrilled about my first purchase, "Revelations", and after sampling various Vader albums on YouTube, I concluded that pretty much any album would be a suitable follow up. And true to expectation, "Necropolis" delivers just about everything I loved about "Revelations". Same brutal, heavy guitars; same aggressive attack on the drums; and most importantly, same Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek scary, angry biker vocals.

The album includes eleven tracks, many of which run under three minutes and a couple under two minutes, so this is not an album about long conceptual songs. Still, some of the tracks flow from one to the next, suggesting there could be some concept, maybe. Two of the tracks are not actual songs. "The Seal" is some deep chanted word that sounds like "zuel" or "zoo" and some deep, ominous chuckling, and "Summoning the Futura" is a summoning rite conducted on a stormy night with booms of thunder.

The rest of the tracks are quite similar really: crushing, explosive metal played either at mid-tempo or high speed. I think the combination of Wiwczarek's vocals, the heavier-than-Slayer guitars, and the percussive assault make any of these songs stand out as pretty fecking awesome heavy music. I am tempted to point out that there is no real deviation from the formula established by the band. Based on the two albums I own plus what I have sampled, I could suggest that Vader are the KISS of death metal, meaning they release album after album without any surprises. These guys don't appear to be heading towards prog or goth metal anytime soon, or bringing in any piano or harmonica. It expect there's just brutal, heavy, sometimes fast, non-technical, non-complex death metal. It could almost make owning more than a few albums redundant, but I really like the sound of this band so much that I have ordered a third album and I'm eyeballing at least two more.

One thing I don't like however is the 2:30 seconds of empty space after the rather awesome "Where the Sun Drowns the Dark", which is then concluded with some guitar effects and an impossibly deep growl. I despise blank spaces at the end of albums, especially when the last song is a good one.

If you've never heard Vader, this album might not be the first anyone would recommend, but it does give a very good idea of how the band sounds and what they're about.

ASPHYX Incoming Death

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Newsweek, April 28, 1991 - "The jazz trombonist Ray Anderson noticed some years back that when he sang at certain pitches, his voice split in two. His vocal cords produced one note, and the skin outside the larynx produced a second. The first is a cartoonish Satchmo styling; its shadow sounds like Satchmo through an aerosol can. Together, vying their way through a standard like Duke Ellington's 'I'm Just a Lucky So and So,' they're as queerly beautiful and weird a voice as you're likely to hear."

My trombonist friend let me hear Ray Anderson's unique vocal style back in the early nineties, and I bring it up here because I have never heard anyone sing that way since until now. Well, alright, Anderson sings and Asphyx's vocalist Martin van Drunen does whatever it is death vocalists do: growl, bellow, roar, vociferate. But van Drunen does so with a maniacal-sounding second tone that seems to come from projecting his voice into the far back of his nasal passages, giving his vocal style quality unique to death metal vocal styles. It may give you chills, drive you mad, make you wince, or elicit a bout of uncontrollable laughter. In any case, this vocal sound is not going to be for everyone.

This was not my first choice for an Asphyx purchase. "The Rack", "Last One on Earth" (creepy cover!), or the latest release sounded better from the previews, or rather pre-listens I had. But if I was going to bring home as many new bands to my collection as possible then I had to go for albums under ¥1,000. I chose "Incoming Death".

This is not altogether speedy or technical death metal. The doom elements are strong in the riffs and tempo. The overall sound is really heavy and sometimes it feels like the audio equivalent of lying face down flat on the street while a 500kg weight is dragged back and forth over your body. The only reprieve we get is a solemn acoustic guitar outro to "The Grand Denial" and a similarly forlorn piano outro to "Subterra Incognito". Otherwise it's just absolute unrelenting heaviness to mash your brain to a quivering pulp.

Though much of the album stays fairly Black Sabbath-esque mid-tempo, there are pulverizing moments of slow and thunderous power chords as well as charged speed burners. The title track is a mere 1:56 and has all the grace and subtlety of a nuclear-powered locomotive exploding through the caverns of Hell. The opening track "Candiru", about a fish in the Amazon that enters its prey through the anal orifice and proceeds to eat the delicate innards from the inside, is a perfectly brutal beast to kick off the album. "Wardroid" has one of those crushing riffs that astound because I can't help but be awed by the fact that after 65 years of guitar riff-based music people are still coming up with simple but highly exciting and evocative riffs.

The overall album leaves a favourable impression; however, not every track is a thriller. Personally I find some like "It Came from the Skies" or "The Grand Denial" to be moments where the excitement dips a little. But what keeps me interested are the lyrical topics. Van Drunen's vocals are often clear enough to pick out the lyrics and there's a theme of innocents becoming victims of evil deliberate or initiated through other actions. "The Feeder" had me puzzled at first because it seemed the "feeder" was a woman who lures a man into a romantic relationship where he spends lots of money on her and eventually letting her move in, thus giving her control over his life to her wicked satisfaction. Not very death metal. But the story ends with him murdering her and eating her corpse, revealing the feeder to be the man who lured the woman!

I can't say if this is the best album in Asphyx's discography but I am suitably impressed enough to take a look at ordering one of their older releases, perhaps "Last One on Earth". For really heavy death / doom, Asphyx would be a good band to check out.

ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence

Album · 1991 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 58 ratings
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Yes, I'm a bit of a music history buff, particularly when it comes to early heavy metal. Recently, though, I have become fascinated by the development of the heavy metal subgenres in the 1980's, many of which reached full fruition by the late eighties and early nineties. Death metal, or at least the American take on death metal, strikes me as originally being the Floridian interpretation of Californian thrash metal. Most American death metal recordings I've recently acquired either originated in Florida or the bands were from other eastern parts of the country but moved to Florida.

Athiest were one of the Florida scene bands to emerge in the eighties. Though formed in 1984 under a different name, they became Athiest as death metal was coming into its own in the late 80's and released their debut before the decade was spent. Their sophomore effort, however, is held in particular high regard for its bold steps toward technical death metal. While some bands I have heard remind me of Slayer/Possessed/Kreator, Athiest's sound on this album mostly suggest a more traditional thrash metal root, with early Metallica and Exodus frequently coming to mind. The guitar sound and riffs, as well as the lead solos, are closer to the early thrash sound to my ears; songs like "Your Life's Retribution" and "Enthralled in Essence" suggesting the guitarists honed their chops on "Kill 'em All" and "Ride the Lightning". The vocals too are more aggressive, thrash-like shouting than death metal's gravelly growls.

Thrash metal connotations aside, the more interesting aspect of this album is the giant leap toward technical death metal. Athiest' second album is said to have pushed the technical envelope further and it is very obvious that the band were out to succinctly combine aggressive speed with technical agility. In a way, I find this album to be a perfect bridge between thrash and technical death metal, at once being reminded of Sacrifice's "Soldiers of Misfortune" and Metallica on the thrash side and Cynic and later Death on the death side.

One key element to Athiest's sound was the bass playing prowess of bassist Roger Patterson, who brought incredible technical skill and composition-writing ability. Tragically, he suffered the fate of too many band members when his tour van crashed on the way back to Florida from California in the wee hours, yet another case of the driver pushing himself too far and dozing off at the wheel. The liner notes to the CD's re-release say that had the band been higher profile, Patterson's death would have been as shocking to the metal community as Cliff Burton's.

For the music on this album, Patterson had already come up with all the bass parts, and being the highly skilled player he was, it was not easy to find someone who could play his parts. The band called in Tony Choy of Cynic, perhaps not a surprise as Cynic were another band eagerly pursuing the technical death metal gauntlet. The results are stupendous as the bass playing stands out amidst the intense guitar and drum work. I feel, though, that the bass and guitar levels are rendered a bit louder over the vocals and drums, at least on the re-issue with bonus tracks.

And how about this re-issue? It includes several pre-production versions of songs, which sound as good as the album tracks on my ear buds, and some demos and instrumental versions. Though not essential for appreciating this album, the additional tracks are one of the better bonus collections I have heard.

It seems most consider this a highly important album in the annals of death metal history and I won't be one to disagree. It's an impressive piece of work!

AUTOPSY Skull Grinder

EP · 2015 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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I knew "Severed Survival" was probably the Autopsy album to get but I had recently found that many "classic" and "influencial" albums were also the most expensive. Also, the sound quality of more recent albums was often better than the old school classics. So, in the case of Autopsy, I decided to sample listen to a few albums and pick the one that sounded best and that was also not too expensive. It's no surprise then that the album I ordered was also an EP, explaining why it was cheaper than others.

Thus, "Skull Grinder", the band's most recent release to date from what I can see on MMA, became my introduction to this death metal band that also skirt the edges of death / doom.

Things I like: Chris Reifert's merciless and unappologetic gravel-throated vocals, which are not entirely unitelligible; the guitar sound and some of the monster heavy riffs; the mad drumming by Chris Reifert; and the speed changes within songs.

A lot of death metal bands are about blasting through at high speeds with little time to slow down and stomp on your feet and boot your hiney a few times. Autopsy easily blast you with speed and aggression and then pull back and paddle you silly.

There are two short tracks on this release: "Sanity Bleeds" and "Return to Dead". The first is slower with a simple guitar melody and no drums. Reifert bellows like some diabolical warlord and then we get lots of crazy guitar effects. I can't say that this is one worth stand-alone play. "Return to Dead" comes on sounding like a horror movie theme song done by a metal band. It's got this eerie, demented-sounding melody. More wailing, crazy guitar effects enhance the aura of madness. Again, not a fav but interesting.

The other five tracks, though, sound awesome. Just straightforward Autopsy-style death metal. I might be mistaken but I think they have used some wah-wah on a couple of tracks which almost gives the guitar a retro feel. A possible favourite is "Waiting for the Screams" because it has one of those spine-chilling, doom metal riffs.

My only disappointment is that the album is just an EP. I would have loved a full album of songs like the five that are over three minutes. Now I have two Autopsy albums and I'll surely be checking out a third sometime in the not too distant future.

DECREPIT BIRTH Diminishing Between Worlds

Album · 2008 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 5 ratings
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So, I see here on MMA that these guys formed with the intention of playing brutal technical death metal with influences from the early Florida death metal scene. I am not sure how much of the music on this album reflects the latter; however, the former is firmly in place. This is fast, brutal, and all-over-the-place technical death metal.

I think I stumbled across the band while checking out various death metal artists on Amazon, and Decrepit Birth appeared as a recommended artist. At the time, I was open to anything and a quick listen to them on YouTube left me with the one decision: which album to get. I decided on this, their second album (out of four so far), and for it what is, I rather like it.

I must say that it is not easy for me ever to describe an album like this, nor is it easy to pick out favourite songs. The reason is that the music typically follows the same construct from song to song. We're talking about a single vocalist who roars a deep gutteral vocal, blazing fast guitar leads and complex and speedy riffing, blasting drums with both double-bass pummel drumming and speedy and complex rhythms beat out, or rather thrashed out, on the snare and toms. My guess is that the bass guitar is just as busy. I usually pick out favourite songs by awesome riffs, a cool bass break, a good melody, or some outstanding feature that makes a track distinct from the others, and it is really difficult to do that here. While a pop metal song might be described as a good children's book read out by a dramatic story teller, Decrepit Birth play more like an auctioneer. Of DOOM! Ha, ha!

But seriously, once you start giving each track it's own ear space, there are lots of bits of cool stuff in there. Just listening to the title track now, I can here some wonderful lead guitar melodies and some cool riffs here and there. There's one of the bass breaks I look out for showing up on "Enigmatic Forms". Listen to that mellow, clean guitar opening on "Dimensions Intertwine" that leads into some Nile-like riffing before returning to typical Decrepit Birth style, and then surpise! acoustic guitar! Admittedly though, just skipping through the songs does make the album seem a little repetative. So again, each track needs to be given some ear time to catch when the speed slows down, and great riff drops, and guitar lead goes soaring by, or something different happens. Interestingly enough, there's a track called "And Time Begins" which was the title of their first album.

Like many extreme metal albums I have picked up recently, I find this album sounds good and is fine to listen to front to back and any track can be pulled off for stand alone listen (the last is a short instrumental with, I believe, synthesized strings). But again, it's not easy to call out any particular favourites. The recording quality is good. The album sounds great and is on the loud side, so I usually have to click the volume a notch or two down when the ear buds are in and this comes on.

Recommened for fans of technical, brutal death metal!

MALEVOLENT CREATION Retribution

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 8 ratings
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One way that I have been becoming acquainted with extreme metal bands is by checking out playlists on YouTube, such as those with titles like “Top 25 Black Metal Songs” or “Top 50 Old School Death Metal Albums”. Along the way, I see some bands and albums showing up two or three times, and that’s when I take notice. Let’s check these guys out! One such band was Malevolent Creation.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Malevolent Creation moved to Florida to join the fledging death metal scene. Interesting. Blonde beach babe California gives us thrash metal (well, okay, that was hippy-dippy peacenik San Francisco) and the Sunshine State gives us death metal. As for Malevolent Creation, their albums “The Ten Commandments” and “Retribution” both show up on some of those compilation lists. The CD was a little on the expensive side but the re-release on Listenable Records was labeled as an essential album, so I knew I couldn’t be wrong.

After the first listen though, I recognized that this was nothing new to my ears. It’s not because I had heard the band before until recently but that their style of music and vocals was already familiar to me. Basically, this album reminds me of Slayer’s “Hell Awaits” and Kreator’s “Pleasure to Kill”, even though I haven’t heard those albums for over 25 years (two future purchases have been concretely decided by this album here!). This is not the first old school death metal album to make me think so either. In fact, I am beginning to conclude that both Slayer and Kreator were both key influences in the early American death metal scene. There are times when I felt that some songs on “Retribution” had been inspired after learning to play Slayer songs, and the vocals gruff and barked were an attempt to bring Kreator’s vocal style to the States.

These observations don’t make this a bad album. Actually, I quite like it. It is this heavier-than-thrash and more-brutal-than-thrash sound that I enjoy. The production is rather good with each instrument audible and yet all instruments and vocals are united in a smooth, warm sphere of sound. It’s not lo-fi but it’s not crystal sharp either. The production suits the music.

Though I have no real complaints, this album cannot be a favourite of mine because except for the opening track, which plays more like an atmosphere-setting instrumental or B-movie score, all the rest of the songs just blast their way through. Song after song delivers a relentless, brutal assault with little time to slow down and drop and monster riff or throw a wild dive-bombing guitar solo at us unexpectedly. Each song becomes predictable because it uses the same formula and the previous one. Yes, the album is great to listen to from front to back but there are no standout tracks for me. And, yes, I have listened to it only twice but I got the same impression from this as I did from Morbid Angel’s “Alter of Madness”: it’s an obvious link between thrash metal and what would become of death metal.

No regrets on the money spent. A good history lesson and a good listen.

AUTOPSY Mental Funeral

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.34 | 16 ratings
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The YouTube program Lock Horns by Banger TV, the same fine people who do Banger Films, has been a wonderful way for me to learn about bands. Autopsy is one such band that came up on an episode about early death metal and I had already seen their album “Severed Survival” mentioned on some old school death metal lists. “Mental Funeral” was my second purchase of the band’s output and it is this album that really made me feel it money well-spent.

There are three things that I get excited about when listening to “Mental Funeral”. First, this is a band that knows how to come up with really awesome riffs. In fact, I would say many of their coolest riffs are like an alternate universe’s Black Sabbath with maybe some Pentagram in there as well. Oh, they have their slow doom, pounding chords and their speedy, cantering death attacks. But Autopsy easily slip in this groovy riffs that swagger with the drums. The thing is, just about every song will include all three approaches, meaning you never know when a song will abruptly change gear or how it will change. A charging intro might drop down with some crushing slow chords and then throw in some swinging groove early doom riff. Nice!

Next, I love the guitar sound. It makes me think of a band that was going for a seventies doom metal sound rather than a nineties death metal sound. It just sounds like old school distortion but it’s so nice on my ears. It’s interesting to note that the title of the song “In the Grip of Winter” was inspired by the Budgie song title “In the Grip of a Tyrefitter’s Hand”. Seems like there is some old school influence after all.

Third, they did something with the drums. I don’t know if they loosened the skin on the snare or what it is, but the drums have this slightly slack, clacking, slapping sound that for me just works so well on this album. I doubt I’d want to hear it in too many other places but for “Mental Funeral” I think it’s just wicked. Add to that the fact that drummer and vocalist Chris Reifert can play his drums with slick skill makes the percussion section even more interesting to listen to. I particularly noticed how he doesn’t rely on the double kick drums too often, employing them to great effect when he does.

Now it’s funny that I noticed just now that the drummer is also the lead vocalist because as I was listening to the album on my way home tonight, I was thinking of how to describe the vocals and at first I thought of a large, drooling troll but soon it came to me that Reifert sounds like Animal from The Muppets only three times larger in size. He’s like a a troll-sized Animal doing vocals, and since Animal is also a drummer, well, it just fits. What is he growling about? I don’t really know though I can guess it’s gory and bloody and gross.

I have so far brought home nearly 50 albums since I began delving deeply into extreme metal from this spring and this album has been one of the more outstanding ones. I don’t know if Autopsy’s next album followed this style but for now, “Mental Funeral” is likely to make my top ten favourite purchases of the year.

WINTER Into Darkness

Album · 1990 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 6 ratings
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Winter came to my attention while watching the Lock Horns episode on Death / Doom. They only released a single LP, which was not really appreciated as much as it should have been at the time, according to the CD re-release booklet. However, in later years, Winter's music seems to have attracted more attention.

Hailing from Long Island, New York, the band was part of the underground hardcore scene, though their style of music contrasted greatly with the speed and raw aggression of most contemporary acts in the area. Nevertheless, Winter often played at hardcore festivals (I think they were actually called "squats" or "sit-ins" because they were generally held in basement venues and were not particularly glorious by any measure) and music events to raise public awareness about social issues.

It's interesting to imagine some sweaty, gungey underground club scene with all these hardcore types facing the stage as Winter walks on and proceeds to play extremely slow, bitterly ominous, and very heavy doom. If they opened their set with "Oppression Freedom / Opression (reprise)", their audience would slowly be bludgeoned into mind-numbing submission, slaves and captives to utter disparity and gloom. The whole purpose of that track seems to be to hammer one over the consciousness with a giant iron, rubber-coated mallet.

After this though, the secret behind Winter's approach becomes apparent: somebody was listening to "Morbid Tales" and "To Mega Therion" an awful lot. The deep vocals, the choice of vocabulary, the enunciation of the words along with the use of slow, heavy power chords is so derivative of Celtic Frost that you might be believe CF was the only band these guys ever listened to. Even the guitar solo style and very occasional leap in speed sound like Celtic Frost's most ominous, forbidding, and gloom-inducing songs. This for me seems to underscore Celtic Frost's influence on the death / doom scene. As if to corroborate my conjecture about Winter's mentors, they even named their EP "Eternal Frost".

Winter have not exactly ripped off Celtic Frost. There are no covers which would have been too obvious, and of course they are their own individual selves. The choice to play even slower or add some sparse, atmospheric keyboards make them somewhat different from Celtic Frost. Still, I don't think anyone familiar with the famous Swiss band would fail to notice the similarities.

That aside, it is a well-recorded album. The sound is full and warm, if you can use the term warm in the same sentence as Winter's music. It's above lo-fi making it easy to appreciate the music, but not crisp and sharp, which would have taken something away.

I give this album three and a half stars because it delivers what the musicians intended but doesn't come across as particularly original (am I hearing some My Dying Bride in here as well now?). For really slow, gloomy, ominous music, it could be worth checking out.

GILLAN Future Shock

Album · 1981 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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I was in a secondhand record shop in downtown Vancouver, sometime around 1986, just looking around for hard and heavy rock albums that were not well known among my generation, and then this really cool hard rock guitar riff came over the speakers. I went and asked the store clerk whose music it was and he said it was Gillan. As a Deep Purple fan, I knew who that was, and fortunately for me, there was a cassette of “Future Shock” in stock, featuring “Night Ride Out of Phoenix”, the song that had first caught my attention.

“Future Shock” is Gillan’s third album and includes the same members that were on the previous two albums: Gillan (vocals), Colin Towns (keyboards), Bernie Tormé (guitars), John McCoy (bass), and Mick Underwood (drums). The album strikes me as being more intense and harder rocking than the previous two albums in that the speed and hard rock approach are more consistent, all the while maintaining a variety that makes each track distinct. The title track is a rousing rocker while the next track “Night Ride Out of Phoenix” is a mid-tempo, heavy rock number. It’s only “If I Sing Softly” where things slow down for a pretty ballad with flute and acoustic guitar, pretty but kind of haunting, and a power ballad-like guitar solo part. The final track “For Your Dreams” combines a lonely and cold piano part with a bass/drum driven verse and a hard rocking chorus.

It may be because I listened to this album in my teens, but after I got the other Gillan studio albums that were re-released with bonus tracks in 2007, I still felt that this album was the most satisfying. The interesting thing for me is that the tracks “(The Ballad of) The Lucitania Express” and “Sacre Bleu” were not on the cassette I had but instead “Trouble”, “Mutually Assured Destruction” and “One for the Road” were on. Also, I’m pretty sure my cassette had a different version of “No Laughing in Heaven”. There are several bonus tracks here which include not only the tracks I knew from the Canadian cassette I had but many others. I often find that bonus tracks that include outtakes and B-sides have a lot of duds mixed in, but in this case the quality is quite consistent with the album. The sound quality dips a little for a couple of tracks but not terribly so. If there’s anything to get on one’s nerves, it might be Gillan’s slowed-down vocals at the conclusion of “The Maelstrom (Longer than the A Side)”. He sounds like Grover from Sesame Street bawling and moaning about not wanting to go down the hole in the middle.

Gillan does tend to employ a sense of humour in his song-writing as can been heard in the lyrics to “No Laughing in Heaven” and his exaggerated French accent in “Sacre Bleu”, but you might also get a kick out of the lyrics in “Your Sister’s on My List”: “I’m writing to you / To say that we’re through / You’re boring as shit! / But your sister’s a hit / ‘Cause she’s got BIG TITS”.

“Future Shock” is a fun and solid album. What makes it not like contemporary metal bands is the outstanding keyboard performances (organ/synthesizer/piano) by Colin Towns. He’s not the kind to play atmospherics and rhythm only and gets a noticeable share of solo time. He is a fantastic player, though sometimes the keyboard sound does wet down the metal feel of Bernie Torme’s guitar.

The Wikipedia article states that this album was ranked number 467 in Rock Hard magazine’s book of “The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time” in 2005.

NINE INCH NAILS Broken

EP · 1992 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 15 ratings
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Divorce can be a funny thing. Back in the 90’s, I was married to a woman who was into dance pop and Celtic folk music and I was into metal, hard rock, and alternative. The Celtic folk was nice but I could not be thrilled about dance pop. As our divorce proceedings were coming to an end, we met up just to discuss a few minor things. She told me she had gotten into Nine Inch Nails. What a coincidence since I had recently discovered them for myself. She liked NIN for the dance-like beats and aggression and I liked them for the heavy stuff and aggression. Probably we didn’t like the same albums or songs though.

“Broken” was my third and final NIN purchase. It sounded very different from what I had heard on “The Downward Spiral” and “Further Down the Spiral” but it was still obviously Nine Inch Nails. Around that time, there was a video for “Pinion” that I saw on Much Music (Canada’s music station). In the video, the camera followed a series of pipes running across the ceiling and down walls, through floors, in some building and the final scene brought us to a person tied up in black leather with the pipe terminating in his mouth and water spewing from his mouth out the sides. It’s just a short track and an instrumental at that. The volume slowly rises with a creepy chord sequence that repeats as effects come in. Then it abruptly ends as “Wish” begins with its quick percussion and heavy guitar. “Last” was and still is my favourite song on this album. The guitar riffs sound really like Black Sabbath to me, and Trent Reznor delivers his trademark paranoid/maniacal/obsessive style of vocals.

I hadn’t listened to the album for a long time but a few weeks ago I watched the Lock Horns (on YouTube) episode about early industrial metal albums and this one was mentioned, so I dug it out and put the disc into iTunes and on my phone. It’s better than I remembered. Now I find most of the album captures my attention. The production is clear, warm, and loud but not in the red. There is an excellent balance between heavy guitar rock band and electronic band. Some songs feature some great riffs that caught my ear while I was walking and listening, tracks like “Happiness is Slavery” and “Suck”. There’s enough variety on this album to keep it interesting, though “Help Me I Am In Hell” is another short instrumental that is simple and a little repetitive.

One comment to make here is about the two hidden tracks, “Physical (You’re So)” and “Suck”. A lot of hidden track albums will put the hidden track on as part of the final track with an intervening empty gap that can be anywhere from a couple of minutes to over ten minutes. I really despise those long pointless gaps of blankety-blank-blankness. However, on “Broken” all the empty space is filled with something like 91 1-second-long blank tracks. Why is this good? Because when putting the CD into an iTunes library, you can unselect all the blank tracks and save only the tracks with music. My iTunes folder now has only 8 music files for this album instead of eight plus 91-something blank tracks. Good thinking, guys! A huge blank gap in between two tracks that make up only one track on the CD is really the pits!

All in all, a very good bit of industrial metal. It's not every track that's a killer but there's a lot of great stuff here! On Lock Horns, by the way, the album made the list of ten essential early industrial metal albums.

GILLAN Mr. Universe

Album · 1979 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.15 | 5 ratings
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This is the first Gillan album after the Ian Gillan Band was folded basically with Ian Gillan firing himself. Well, okay, technically there was one Gillan album before this but it was only ever released in Japan, so this one becomes the real first album.

Ian Gillan had essentially retired from music after he quit Deep Purple and he went and opened a motorcycle garage and a hotel. But he was poor at managing money in a business capacity and soon found himself in trouble. He was saved by a call from Roger Glover who asked him to sing for the live performance of his "Butterfly Ball" production. Ronnie James Dio had sung on the album but as he was now with Rainbow he was not permitted by Ritchie Blackmore to sing outside the band. So Glover called up his old songwriting partner and asked him to sing. When Gillan walked on stage, the applause was deafening. He knew that he needed to get back into singing.

The process was slow. His first project, a kind of children's fantasy in a "Yellow Submarine" style never took off, and so he assembled a new band: the Ian Gillan Band. They played fusion and managed to release three albums before folding. The reason was that keyboard player Colin Towns had come up with a beautiful piano piece that the other band members didn't think suited the band's sound. But Gillan loved it. So he took Towns and left the band, who, without its namesake, curled up in smoke.

The album title track, "Mr. Universe", is a reference to a song Gillan recorded with Episode Six shortly before he and Glover left to join Deep Purple. The Episode Six song is very different, though still shows Gillan's trademark voice developing toward the approach he'd use with Deep Purple. Drummer Mick Underwood also played with Gillan in Episode Six at the time, so two Ep. 6 alumni appear here. Other members include guitarist Bernie Tormé who was not on the original Gillan album, and bassist John McCoy.

The album is a cross of rock, hard rock, and late seventies heavy metal, with some progressive aspects namely due to Colin Towns' influence. I stress late seventies heavy metal here because in the late seventies, heavy metal included a good variety of music as long as it featured loud distorted guitars and powerful long-haired vocalists. I mean, Blue Oyster Cult, April Wine, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and KISS were all being called heavy metal. What makes Gillan (the band) stand apart from those others is the heavy emphasis on keyboards as Colin Towns was a key musician in Gillan's music. Hear his piano and soundtrack composition style in the opening track, "Second Sight", and his piano work in "She Tears Me Down" as well as organ solos in other songs. Then of course there's the album closer "Fighting Man", which features the music he wrote that turned off the other members in the Ian Gillan Band.

The album includes rock styles from the slightly bluesy "Puget Sound" with slide guitar and harmonica, to the piano-dressed and somewhat prog-inspired "She Tears Me Down" to the speedy "Secret of the Dance" and the aggressive, steamroller track, "Roller". "Fighting Man" is a seven and a half minute almost-epic track that, like "Stairway to Heaven", builds slowly and reaches a climax and then concludes with an epilogue. Here Ian Gillan's trademark high-pitched scream-singing is showcased near the end, and I'll say he does a fantastic job.

As a rock/hard rock album, I think this is a pretty solid piece of work. For late seventies metal it often strays a little too far outside of the territory, especially considering that Gillan came on the scene just before the New Wave of British Heavy Metal burst loose. Thinking of bands like Saxon, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, and Raven, Gillan's music was rooted in a time several years earlier.

My one gripe with this album is the production. I once owned the 1989 Virgin release and later replaced it with the 2007 remastered version. Neither version sounds as good as I think the music could sound, which I blame on the original production. It sounds a little two-dimensional to me, lacking warmth and depth. Other than that, Ian Gillan delivers a solid vocal performance, and Bernie Tormé exercises his talent well, though the guitar solo (a real solo with no other instruments) in the title track sounds a bit dated now with its delay and dive bombs. Fans of Ian Gillan would do well to hear this if they haven't already.

VADER Revelations

Album · 2002 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 9 ratings
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This album was my introduction to Vader and I acquired it only a couple of months ago. A friend recommended Vader, and as their album "De Profundis" was one of the top rated, I set my sights on that one first. However, that album is not so easy to find for a reasonable price. So, I picked another one. But that too was a little on the higher end of pricing, and so I decided to look at albums that were not expensive by any reach and choose one of those. Thus, "Revelations" became the first Vader album to settle in to my collection.

From the get go there were things I noticed and liked about the band's sound. Of course as a death metal band, Vader employs the usual speedy guitars and brutal double bass drumming along with blast beats and severely furious drumming. But I soon picked out that this was a band that didn't follow the single-note, highly complex style of death metal riffing that many bands do. Instead, Vader use a lot of barre chord riffs and chugging barre chords that make me think of BNWoHM that was first intensified through thrash metal, then darkened through Slayer, and finally brutalized in Vader. In this way, Vader's music is actually easier to latch on to because you don't need to wrap your mind around twisting, churning, torents of incendiary riffage. This is just heavy, brutal, metal. When they do use single-note riffs, they are simpler than those of many bands and again easy to follow or even learn to play!

Accompanying this aggression is the toe-nail curling voice of "Peter" Wiwczarek. The guy sounds like a mother-huge, angry biker who could scare off a grizzly bear at a barbecue. Man, if this guy were my dad, I'd sure like to hear him yelling at the school bully's dad and not me. After hearing so many death growls and guttural rumblings, hearing Peter bellow in baritone is an exciting change.

Because I love the sound of this album, it's not easy to pick any favourites, though "The Whisper" easily has gotten the most plays simply because of the spoken part in that barrel-chested voice that utters, "This is the greatest gift you received from Mother Earth. Let's play this game." Woah! What's the gift? Intelligence? Cunning? Brute force? And what's this game? I guess I should check out the lyrics, but the image these lines conjure up is pretty wicked. Word should also go to the verse part guitar riff in "The Code", which sounds like it could have come from Judas Priest's "Painkiller" album.

This first purchase of Vader's music sounded so good that I soon sought out another lower price range album, "Necropolis", and added that one to my CD shelf, too. But that's up for another review later on. At least three more Vader albums are on standby. The only thing I can say as criticism is that the style doesn't seem to evolve or progress much and I expect that after a few albums I will be satisfied. This is not a band I can see myself completing the full CD catalogue. Nevertheless, a great first impression.

A final note: looking at the tracklist above, I see that my copy ends at "Black Moses". Perhaps the other three tracks are only available on special editions?

NILE Those Whom the Gods Detest

Album · 2009 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 30 ratings
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At the beginning of my new journey into extreme metal, I recalled the band Nile being mentioned a few times on MMA and decided to check them out. This album became my first acquisition and I have decided it will be only the first of a few.

Nile are a band that stick with an ancient Egyptian theme, and I think for many bands, commencing their careers with such a theme can be exciting because of all the possibilities they imagine ahead. However, a few albums later and the theme can start to run a little thin. Knowing that this is the band's sixth album, I had to wonder what stage in their theme's evolution I was at. Had they begun with a very strong emphasis on the Egyptian theme and then eased back on it? Had they almost dropped it and were now bringing it back a little? Did they more or less maintain the Egyptian theme at the same level? Until I hear more albums I will not know for sure. But here are my impressions of "Those Whom the Gods Detest".

First off, the Egyptian theme is mostly in the artwork, the song titles, and the lyrics, though at times we can hear what sounds like ancient brass, shamic chanting, ancient stringed instruments and percussion, and voices chanting or wailing. I like how the band has included these as additional colour and tone without relying too heavily on them. They don't fill or lead the song but add atmosphere and interest.

As a brutal death metal band you can expect some furious drumming. I have been really impressed with drummer George Kollias because he not only has perfected all the standard death metal chops of double kick bass, blast beats, and speedy fills, but he actually uses the his drum fills to emphasis beats. Usually drum fills replace beats by filling the space with a flurry of snare and tom activity. But Kollias strikes the toms hitting each drum hard first before letting the sticks do their dance on the skins. Instead of a drum fill going brrrr, prrrat-ta-tat (sorry for the crude omomatopeaia), Kollias does a brr-brr-brrah-brrat-tarr-trr-brr kind of thing. Yes, they way I write it sounds silly and there's probably a percussion speak term that describes it. Anyway, I enjoy listening to his drum tricks.

The guitar parts of the music are an interesting pallette of breakneck speedy riffs, mid-tempo crushing riffs, and slow, ponderous riffs that are so slow and heavy they are like the feet of a ressurected mummy dragging across the limestone slabs. Way back in the early days of thrash metal, it was common for guitarists to tremolo pick chords at high speeds while drummers had to stick with just fairly fast beats. These days, drumming techniques can allow drummers to play beats faster than the guitarists can keep up. So here we have some songs with mid-tempo riffs and high-speed percussion. I think Nile marry this combination with great skill here.

The vocals are really awesome. We have the tough, ragged throat brutal vocals, and deeper death growls, and also a share of the deep, gutteral, toilet-bowl-gurgling vocals. Some extreme bands vocalize everything in this deep rumble and the lyrics are completely incomprehensible. Nile use this method of vocalizing for effect and drop it in mid-sentence so that it's possible to still follow the lyrics if you listen carefully. I think it really works!

Last, the production quality is super sharp which is necessary for an album like this to succeed sonically. With all the percussive effects, the additional voices and so on, it's a real treat to hear them enhance the mood and music. The track called "Yezd Desert Ghul Ritual in the Abandoned Towers of Silence" has these fabulous slapping percussive instruments, deep growls like from a beast the size of Jabba the Hutt, swishing sounds, chanting, wailing, clinking, and an ancient stringed instrument. It's like listening to a scene from an Egyptian horror movie in THX in the movie theater.

For my first Nile album, "Those Whom the Gods Detest" has made a considerable impression. Before the summer is over I will be sure to add at least one more album to my collection and for sure a third before the year is out.

MAYHEM Deathcrush

EP · 1987 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.31 | 24 ratings
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As my revived interest in extreme metal had me looking at what I had missed over the last 30 years and a book of photographs of the Norwegian black metal scene aroused my curiosity in the culture behind the music, I sat there before the computer with my finger hovering over the mouse, trying to decide between two Mayhem albums in my Amazon shopping cart. Which would be my first purchase: Deathcrush or De Mysteriis dom Sathanas? One more visit to YouTube confirmed it. That riff at the beginning of "Deathcrush" had to be in my music collection!

I'll admit that I am not a fan of lo-fi albums. There's lo-fi that's passable and then there's just low, very low fidelity. It's so low that it might as well be called infidelity. And that's a conundrum I was facing in deciding to bring home some Norwegian black metal. Would I be able to accept the lower quality in sound production? The answer was a resounding yes. I mean that's what the scene was all about, and as I soon found out, there were a lot of awesome guitar riffs coming out of the culture that sounded quite alright in all the scratchy scrunchy sound, the riff in "Deathcrush" being the best one I had heard yet.

The vocalist, Maniac, is pretty much that: a maniac screaming with a bleeding throat like he doesn't care, scaring children and old ladies, like a madman in a complete rage. Pretty cool, huh-huh. Add to that Necrobutcher's buzzing bass guitar and the chaos on drums that is Manheim, and of course Euronymous's thrash-influenced speedy riffing and you have a recipe for Mayhem indeed.

The album is madness and sounds like madness. They mess with your head opening the album with that weirdo instrumental composed by Conrad Schnitzler and seems to serve no comprehensible reason for being on the album and that warped piano bit by Manhein that preludes "Pure Fucking Armageddon". Then there's "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" which was at sometime credited with being the most gory song of whatever period before gorier songs came out (always trying to one up on the last one), and a cover of Venom's "Witching Hour" which I failed to recognize until I read that it was a cover of that song.

I'll say this: the band's mission statement seems to have been established within these meagre 18 minutes or so. It's either that you get it and think positively of the result or you think it's utter rubbish. Personally, I rather like it. After watching a few documentaries with Necrobutcher speaking about Mayhem and death metal, I don't think they plan to change their sound much either.

IMMORTAL Sons of Northern Darkness

Album · 2002 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.53 | 34 ratings
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Not long ago I said to a friend that I was not interested in Norwegian black metal but that I had ordered Peter Beste's coffee table book of the Norwegian black metal scene because I was interested in the photography and the culture. A month later I was trying to decide which would be good albums as starters into this notorious and dark music scene. Another friend suggested Immortal's “Sons of Northern Darkness” and I decided to take his advice and added it to my first four black metal albums.

As it has turned out, I have become interested in Immortal. Abbath is such a character, and Immortal's fantasy northern winter world is a little more comfortable to me than all the hail Satan lyrics that I imagine are lurking out there in the world of Norwegian black metal. Not that I am offended for religious reasons but rather I quickly tire of any pontificating in music lyrics, be they religious or political. When I read that many of the lyrics of Immortal's songs were inspired by the Norwegian winter scenery, the forests and the mountains, I felt I could understand that much better.

First off, I like the sound of this album. The guitar tone is not really heavy but together with the bass the two instruments weigh in together pretty heavily. The drumming is solid and the double bass is put to good use without being relied upon too much. The opening track, “One by One” is a great way to kick off the album and grab my interest as a new listener. It's a great thundering, epic-sounding track. The album continues in a similar vein with “Demonium” offering some blast beats and a speedy tempo in parts, a style I think is more like their older work based on what I have heard from “Pure Holocaust” and “Battles in the North”.

Each of the eight songs here has its own sound and style, making it easy to differentiate between tracks even after the first couple of listens. I find some extreme metal bands follow the same recipe for destruction song after song and sometimes I wonder what ever happened to making albums like “Screaming for Vengeance” or “Number of the Beast” where each song was a creation independent of other tracks and sounded that way. The songs on this album are distinct enough from one another and I am glad for that.

I will say that by the time we are half way through “Antarctica” the fascination with frost, ice, snow, coldness, and bleakness is starting to wear a little thin for me. This track and the album closer, “Beyond the North Waves” are good enough on their own but listening to the album through, I find myself approaching the “meh” stage before “Antarctica” is over. Still, a consistent album in sound and atmosphere.

Finally, I want to comment on Abbath's vocals. I was surprised at how similar they are to Quorthon's of Bathory. Then later I checked out more black metal bands and I have come to the conclusion that Quorthon inspired a whole movement of vocal style. In one part of “Demonium” when the song is charging along, Abbath vocalizes something that immediately reminded me of Popeye the Sailor. That has stuck with me now, too. And so if death metal vocals can be called Cookie Monster vocals then I think black metal vocals could be called Popeye vocals. Or perhaps they already are. Well, if anything, Immortal made me want to go out and buy another Bathory album.

Anyway, “Sons of Northern Darkness” is good enough that I want to get a couple more Immortal albums. And Abbath is such a funny character to see in interviews!

DISILLUSION Back to Times of Splendor

Album · 2004 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 14 ratings
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This is the only album I have by Disillusion (they only ever released two) but my opinion of it and the band it really high thanks to this release. This is a band that combines many of the elements I enjoy in heavy metal and progressive rock. We have longer songs with complex and varied song structure, fast technical playing, an excellent rhythm section with a great drummer, awesome riffs and a good variety between high speed playing and slower riffs with melodic riffs as well, and softer parts with piano or strings added in as a welcome mood changer but without sounding superfluous. In the two longer tracks, "Back to Times of Splendor" and "The Sleep of Restless Hours" there are parts that stray from the heavier death metal side and wander determined into more progressive territory. There are no flambouyant instrumental sections of blatant exhibitionism. Instrumental passages can be technical but used with a purpose within the song structure.

As has been mentioned in other reviews, the album does an excellent job of combining the technical side of prog metal with the brutal side of death metal. I listened to the album again for the first time in a year or so and once again found myself impressed with the skill and song writing. In particular, the guitar sound is a winner for me. The production quality is also great and only in two parts where the music intentionally becomes chaotic and noisy does the clarity of the sound disappear.

There is only one thing that doesn't totally impress me and that is the clean vocals of Andy Schmidt (Vurtox). There's nothing wrong with them and they affect a certain theatrical sense that suits the music very well. But they make me think of a hardcore punk singer who has decided to sing cleanly with a hint of an operetic tone. The two-part harmoney vocals reduce this effect and the brutal vocals are just fine as they are. Those clean vocals are the only thing that doesn't sit exactly right with me. A minor detail really.

That being stated, once again I will emphasize what a terrific album this is musically. I'm not sure where Disillusion went after this. I think I listened a bit to their sophomore album when I considered which album to get but at the time was more impressed with this one. An easy four and a half stars!

T2 It'll All Work Out In Boomland

Album · 1970 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 5 ratings
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I’m of the opinion that progressive rock and heavy metal share a strong bond from infancy. It’s true that many of the metal bands of the eighties and nineties were heavily influenced by prog bands of the seventies, but more than just that, I believe that way back in the late sixties as both progressive rock and the first generation of heavy rock artists were developing their crafts, both subgenres had emerged from the nexus of psychedelic music. Simply speaking, progressive rock would borrow a lot from jazz and classical while early heavy metal would come from a combination of acid rock or heavy psych and a revamped version of the blues. Yet thanks to the experimental psychedelic rock years, both subgenres would freely choose items from the other’s bag of tricks. One needs look no further than King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man to hear how both prog and metal could be presented in a single song.

T.2. were an English band that took heavy guitar rock and blended it with a jazzy rhythm and created extended songs which sometimes featured psychedelic guitar distortion and feedback sections and other times soft, acoustic moments. In the simplest description of their music, imagine “Fire and Water” era Free with the largely unknown Necromandus. They released a single album in 1972 and a second album’s worth of material was shelved until 1997. They released three albums in the nineties which seem to have been mostly overlooked.

“It’ll All Work Out in Boomland” is an album of four tracks with side B being taken up by the 21-minute “Morning”. The song that ends up on YouTube proto-metal and early heavy rock compilations is “No More White Horses”, which opens with a simple three-chord riff played muted at first but then opens up as the music intensifies. It’s a great example of early doom metal as indeed was the music of many English bands at the time. The band is joined by a trumpet (possibly two) and then the song mellows down for the verses while powering up for the choruses. It closes with lots of drum action and blazing guitar work.

The album opener, “Circles” is also a very worthy track to mention for its jazz-based drumming and bass work and some of the guitar playing as well. But there are open chords and barre chords played with crashing bursts of distortion. Near the end, the music lays back for some experimental jazz-type playing as the guitar goes from clean jazzy exploratory notes to psychedelic distortion rumbles and feedback.

The middle track on side A, “J.L.T.” is a mostly acoustic track not unlike something Pink Floyd might have done on the soundtrack for “More”.

Side B’s “Morning” is basically in two parts, with a slow acoustic opening that leads into a mid-tempo rock song with more Free-like hard rock chords. There’s a two-minute psychedelic/experimental interlude before the second part begins, which is characterized by a more up-tempo rock number that then becomes a showcase for wild guitar soloing. Note that during these lead guitar showcases, the drums are often going nuts in parts while the bass is holding down a repetitive but frantic rhythm. The bass does stand out a lot on this album and though it often repeats its lines, bass player Bernard Jinks says in the CD re-issue booklet that he intentionally restrained himself to allow for Keith Cross (guitar) and Peter Dunton (drums) to be able to show off their talents more.

The re-issue comes with three bonus tracks, all of which are BBC sessions. “Questions and Answers” and “CD” are not on the album and feature a more psychedelic guitar sound and playing style, leading me to believe that these are older recordings. “CD” must be the hardest hitting track on the whole, uh, CD. I also feel the guitar solos on these two tracks are more emotive than what we hear on the actual studio album. The final track is “Circles” again, though I feel it’s less effective here with the BBC because the drums are not mixed very loudly and the heavier guitar chords are also quieted down.

T.2. were a band that took the jazzy blend of rock, intensified the guitar sound with lots of hard-hitting open chords and barre chords, and added some frantic lead guitar. They played longer tracks and like most bands of the day, they added mellow acoustic parts. There is also the presence of brass on a couple of tracks. They are not progressive like Genesis or Yes or even King Crimson but more like the psychedelic bands of the late sixties who added parts to songs that allowed for a galloping rhythm section to provide a backdrop for fast fingers on the guitar fretboard. An album recommended more to people who enjoy heavy psychedelic rock and early hard rock / heavy metal and less to people who enjoy experimental jazz or symphonic rock.

STRAPPING YOUNG LAD Strapping Young Lad

Album · 2003 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.46 | 14 ratings
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Around the end of 2014, I became a very devoted fan of Devin Townsend. While his solo projects and Devin Townsend Band and Devin Townsend Project were what attracted me to his music at first, I absolutely had to have the five Strapping Young Lad albums as well.

This third album in the catalogue was released several years after the highly popular City album. For many fans of the band, City was Strapping Young Lad. The debut was just a warm up. But during the intervening years between City and this self-titled third album, Devin was exploring other styles of muscial self-expression. Naturally, when a new SYL album was announced, fans were eagerly awaiting the release. Many, however, were disappointed as it was not a City II.

While City featured an unbridled aggression, waving a big middle finger at the music industry because of Devin's frustrations with it at the time, Strapping Young Lad was a little more polished, bearing some of the trademarks of Devin's other work. Nevertheless, Devin knew what fans were expecting and many of the songs are brutal auditory assaults with Gene Holgan's pummeling double bass complementing the explosive guitar and Devin's flesh-shredding screaming. The disappointment factor for me is that many of the tracks seem to have been written and recorded with that sole purpose in mind: to be loud and brutal. Of course Devin is an individual of deep thought and sensitive as well, so I have no doubt that there was great thought put into the lyrics. "Rape Song" was intended to express rage against a rapist but was misunderstood by some as condoning rape. Poor Devin had to clear that one up.

There are moments where I feel the brutality and the actual music (the chords, the drumming, the vocal work) do come together to create memorable songs, or at least songs I want to listen again from time to time. My two favourites are "Devour" and "Force Fed", the former a short screamer with a great gang-chanting chorus and the latter bridging both the older SYL and the future sound yet to come.

Of the five SYL albums, this one ranks number four with me. It's good but doesn't have the youthful rage of City nor the intentional rage of Alien, and also doesn't have the variety or daring humour of The New Black. Three stars for being one of the less creative, less intriguing products of Devin Townsend but still good enough to smash skulls.

VOIVOD Killing Technology

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 28 ratings
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The elixir that Voivod concocted in the late eighties might be rejected by some for being distasteful, too caustic, too alkali to swallow. For others, however, Voivod's three releases between 1987 and '89 are an intoxicating brew. Hailing from Quebec, a bastion of progressive music in the seventies, and being fans of hardcore punk and heavy metal, Voivod created their own unique sound in heavy metal. While bands were becoming darker, heavier, faster, more technical or more polished and slick, Voivod smartly sat upon their own vision of sound and dropped "Killing Technology" in 1987, a very surprising follow up to their speed/trash sophomore album, "RRROOOAAARRR".

From the first song, the title track, the band flies right in the face of metal expectations with a high-toned, garage band guitar sound and speedy riffing that resembles a chicken clucking. Though there are heavy chords and passages to be found on the album, guitarist Piggy (Denis D'Amour RIP) often chooses to go for a higher-tone guitar sound rather than blast us away with doom and thunder. Given that much of the song themes are about science fiction, this metallic sound sits very well. In fact much of the music is easier to imagine being played inside a cramped and unkempt, scavener/pirate type space vessel than seeing the band perform back here on the good green earth.

Denis "Snake" Bélanger delivers the vocals of a hardcore punk singer in a speed metal environment but there's a human side that is screaming through the mechanical environment of the ship's interior pictured on the cover. He packs such energy in his delivery and simultaneously infuses that human punk theatric in his barks and bellows. I really find his vocal work entertaining.

The song lyrics often sound like a B-grade sci-fi movie. I guess it can't be helped as the band members are all francophones and doing their best to write songs in English. But then again, maybe that B-grade sci-fi impression is what they were going for. It does give the album a charm and appeal.

One of the incredible things about this album though is the prog element. When I heard this in 1987, I had no idea about progressive rock. I knew only metal. But these songs were doing so many things differently and some of the weird chord changes, time signatures, tempo changes and what not captured my attention even if I didn't understand it. It sure doesn't sound like what you'd normally expect when you think of prog metal from the eighties or from any time for that matter. Voivod are unique to be sure.

I love the bass! Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault always gets his bass feature on at least two songs during this period of Voivod's career and you can hear it abruptly jump in on "Tornado" and "This Is Not An Exercise" and open "Overreaction". The drumming is overproduced and the production unpolished, but again it works to the benefit of the atmosphere.

Favourite songs of mine are "Order of the Blackguards", "This Is Not An Exercise", the title track, "Ravenous Medicine", and "Forgotten In Space", each of which have something in them I love to hear even 30 years later. The vocals, the themes, the outlandish guitar chords and riffs, the bass, the drumming, they all make this a memorable album for me. I'd personally rank this a full five stars but it's true that not all the songs are out-and-out winners and so I'll temper my excitement and give it four.

SLAYER Haunting the Chapel

EP · 1984 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 24 ratings
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Slayer are considered one of the Big Four thrash metal bands that helped establish the sub-genre, with bands like Exodus (possibly the oldest) and Testament also following close behind. But of the Big Four, two were typical Bay Area thrashers and one was a rare East Coast-bred thrash pack. Only Slayer sang about Satan and Hell, and no one seemed to have Tom Araya’s quake-inducing, biker barks. Though known for giving off the occasional tympanic membrane puncturing scream, Araya was less about shouting into the mic as he was about trying to make you fear the demon hordes as they charged at you from the furious sounds of Slayer’s explosive music. Listening to “Haunting the Chapel” now, I feel Slayer has less in common with Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth and fit in more at a dinner party for Kreator, Venom, Bathory, and Possessed.

This was my introduction to Slayer back in 1984 and thanks to my enjoyment of this album I was quick to pick up “Hell Awaits” (though strangely I never got “Show No Mercy”). The three songs on this EP have an intensity and fury to shake down pillars and stone walls. The band know that they want to be fast but still deliver a structured approach betraying their NWoBHM influences. On the re-issue, the additional track “Aggressive Perfector” sounds more like a band trying to outpace a late-seventies Judas Priest speed-burner with guitar solos loosely based on classic JP and Araya wailing a high Halford-ish note at the end.

This is quite an excellent little package of songs. Though the production quality lags behind the intensity of the music, the ambition to blow open the Gates of Hell is very clear as Hades.

POSSESSED Seven Churches

Album · 1985 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 16 ratings
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I was in my front yard, pulling up weeds and plugged into my Walkman when my girlfriend came up and leapt upon my back, snatched the headphones off my heads and clapped them over her own. She began banging her head in mocked exaggeration, saying, “Oh, yeah, heavy metal!” Little did either of us know that the music on the cassette would later be regarded by many as the first death metal album.

Back in 1985, Possessed were just another thrash metal band on the Banzai label in Canada. The speed was there as it was to be expected. In fact, Possessed seemed more hell bent for speed than most other bands. At least Metallica and Slayer and the likes could slow down for some monsters riffs. Possessed only did that twice on the album. Jeff Becerra’s vocals were darker and more evil, suitable for a band named Possessed, but after hearing Tom Warrior’s barbarian bellow, Quorthon’s sinister Popeye croak, and Tom Araya’s demonic howling, this was just another crayon colour in the box.

Possessed were about being fast, Satanic, and frightening. Few songs expressed much technically and there was no subtlety outside of the opening guitar reproduction of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” piano theme. To many, this is just a thrash album that pointed in the direction of death metal to come. To others, the unpredictable guitar solos are too wild and unformatted to be true thrash. The fact that there’s a song called “Death Metal” might also be reason to call this album the first of the subgenre. In a YouTube video tracing the musical roots of death metal back from 1990, the 10-minute journey winds up with “Fallen Angel” from this album. But as the liner notes to the re-issue suggest, “death metal” or “black metal” (the distinction had not yet been made clear) could be heard in the music of Hellhammer, Bathory, Kreator, Destruction, Death, Sodom, and Slayer. It was the primordial soup of extreme metal that would produce not one but two sub-genres with “Seven Churches” emerging as a death metal sign post.

Though the production often gets criticized, this is one of those albums that lets you forget about the sound quality as you listen. The guitars attempt speeds so fast that drummer Mike Sus cannot manage more than a standard thrash metal, fast snare beat. Some kick drumming is going on there at times but not like what we’d hear soon. The song writing is pretty typical of the time: shout “666!” a few times and roar evilly about Satan and Hell. Well, it's possible there were deeper lyrics as someone in the band was big on reading if I recall an old interview correctly. Nevertheless, as a historically significant album and a look back on thrash metal and extreme metal in the mid-eighties, this is a little gem to have.

CELTIC FROST Morbid Tales

EP · 1984 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 22 ratings
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Several years ago I was thinking about where my musical preferences would take me next, and as nothing presented itself, I began considering buying some of the old albums I once owned on cassette in CD version. While Quiet Riot, Ratt, and Motley Crue left me thinking, “Nah,” I soon found myself excitedly checking out more extreme metal bands on Amazon. Celtic Frost’s “Morbid Tales” and “To Mega Therion” were top contenders in the shopping cart.

I used to love going to the local record shop and seeking out new metal releases. Heavy metal was rather popular in my city and the store had created a heavy metal corner, and releases on Banzai Records were sure to hold material worth snatching up. Thus it was that I found the septagram with five swords and a skull adorning the cover of “Morbid Tales”, an album that was soon home with me and in my cassette stereo.

Man, what a sound! Celtic Frost crossed the speed of thrash (or at least speed metal) with slow, heavy riffs, and a vocal style that was even more gravelly than Lemmy or Chronos. Thomas Gabriel Warrior had a voice that, in its efforts to follow in the bellowing roar of Motorhead and Venom, came across even deeper, more ominous, more forbidding, and more sinister.

My favourite song back in the day was “Procreation of the Wicked” for its positively heavy and doomy, sluggish, anvil-pounding pace; however, recently I have been enjoying “Nocturnal Fear” for Warrior’s diaphragm-forced “Oogh!” which actually gets revived in the throat of Mikael Akerfeldt on some Opeth songs. It seems, though, that the song with the most influence here must be “Dethroned Emperor” as I recently discovered on YouTube cover versions by at least 46 different bands!

It’s interesting now to look back 30 years and more and see how Celtic Frost could be so influential in the forth-coming black metal and death metal scenes. The music is a bit loose, the vocals off due to their brutishness, the solos unvarying high-speed wha-wah pedal assaults, and the double bass kick drumming not used to full capacity. But the album is just so good in all its brutal honesty. Celtic Frost were going to make their statement in metal and by all things dark and barbarous, they did it!

OPETH Watershed

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 111 ratings
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“Watershed” is a crucial turning point in the musical trajectory of Opeth. A major line-up change saw the departure of long-time guitarist Peter Lindgren (since before the debut) and drummer Martin Lopez (since the third album “My Arms, Your Hearse”) and the recruitment of drummer Martin Axenrot and guitarist Fredrik Åkesson. Keyboardist Pir Wiberg who joined the band for the previous album “Ghost Reveries” remained on board.

With “Watershed”, Mikael Åkerfeldt and company developed the band’s two sides even further. The death metal side shows its fastest and most aggressive-sounding ever in the songs “Heir Apparent” and “The Lotus Eater”. However, Opeth’s progressive side, which I felt really began to broaden on “Ghost Reveries”, pushes the envelope even further hear, and in fact, I feel there are hints of the album “Heritage” that would come three years later.

The album opener is the surprising all-acoustic track “Coil” which includes not only some beautiful woodwinds with the acoustic guitars but also the guest vocals of Nathalie Lorichs, the girlfriend of Martin Axenrot at the time. A lovely though curious first track, the album’s real worth for me lies in the next two tracks, “Heir Apparent” and “The Lotus Eater” which, as I stated above, not only includes some of Opeth’s fastest, most aggressive metal to date, but also some fabulous progressive parts that go beyond what the band has managed before. Just listen to that funky dual keyboard passage with the groovy wah-wah guitar and drumming!

“Burden” is a classic, seventies type of heavy and slow number with harmony vocals and an organ. It’s almost so perfectly written that I feel it’s too much like stuff I’ve heard many times before on much older albums. Nevertheless, it gets some pretty good ratings on Opeth song ranking sites. “Porcelain Heart” is the third killer track for me. Slow and heavy and showing more technical playing in parts, it’s both haunting and brooding.

The last two tracks seem to me like the band is trying to decide where to go next. “Hessian Peel” is more like several short songs stitched together to take us on a journey that includes progressive acoustic-type music as well as heavy metal with death vocals. I might add here that Mikael’s vocals sound deeper and more sinister on “Watershed” than they do on most older recordings. It took me time to warm up to this track but I can finally appreciate and enjoy it. The final track, “Hex Omega” though is a little of a disappointment. I feel it has no solid direction and even after many repeated listens, I can’t keep my concentration on the song if there are any distractions. The one impression that remains is the sparseness employed in one part, which I recognize from a couple of tracks on “Heritage”, except that I rather like them on that album. Here I think the album is left to close with a song that begs the question, “Where are we going now?”

So here we see an all new Opeth (two new key members) taking bold steps but still keeping their death metal sound but for the last time. As history has shown, no future albums over the subsequent ten years ever included any death metal, but instead saw the band plough full onward with their progressive rock styling.

QUO VADIS Day Into Night

Album · 2000 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Yet another death metal band from Montreal, Quo Vadis became my sixth extreme metal purchase from the city of my birth. I had originally put “Defiant Imagination” in my Amazon shopping cart, reviews all seemed to insist that while that album was really good, “Day Into Night” was just a little bit better.

The music served up here is mostly very classy, skillfully played, high speed thrash metal with a strong technical side, not unlike early nineties Megadeth. It’s nothing like the brutal metal of Cryptopsy, the melodic death of Kataklysm, or the exotic multi-faceted music of uneXpect. Instead it’s fast-paced with some ear-catching drumming and some great, fretboard-burning guitar work. Perhaps because of the higher tone guitar sound, I am reminded of early Metallica and Exodus or maybe Death Angel while at the same time thinking of Annihilator and Megadeth for the technical playing.

Most of the album plays through fast, and drummer Yanic Bercier stands out for his speed and skill. One thing to appreciate are the riffs, which come as deftly-played technical riffs, traditional, melodic bar-chord riffs, and simple speedy, thrash-based riffs. Though most of the lead guitar work is not unique, it is nice to hear a band put as much emphasis on lead playing as Quo Vadis do on this album, as several of the death metal albums I have brought home recently don’t lean toward solos very noticeably. Aside from speed and blisters, Quo Vadis have a prettier side which they exhibit on “Dream” and “Point of No Return: Cadences of Absonance”. There’s a puzzling short instrumental called “Night of the Roses” which seems to be an intro to “I Believe” but is treated as a separate track for some indiscernible reason.

Muscially, the album is extremely well executed; however, a few words must be said about the vocals. Four tracks, “Absolution (Element of the Ensemble III)”, “On the Shores of Ithaka”, and the two “Point of No Return” tracks that conclude the album feature both brutal death metal growls and a second vocal that sounds like deep breaths rasped against the back of the throat. I am sure I have heard this vocal style before, perhaps in the late eighties, and for no better comparison, I think the vocals sound like Dave Mustaine attempting death vocals. Now these songs that feature both vocals are, in my opinion, the best ones on the album because I really like the death growls as the lead vocal with the raspy throat vocal as a secondary vocal style. Unfortunately, the other tracks feature only the latter style of vocals and I’m afraid on their own I don’t think they sound that great. To my ears, it sounds like someone who can’t do death growls but can’t do a thrash shout either is trying to make up a style somewhere in between and it doesn’t impress me. In other reviews I have read though, people say they really like the vocals of Arie Itman. So it’s all a matter of preference really.

All in all, it’s a very solid album musically, and if you don’t mind the vocals then it’s also an album worth checking out.

BOLT THROWER Those Once Loyal

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 34 ratings
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Bolt Thrower have a few albums listed in the MMA top 20 death metal albums, and as they showed up in my searches on YouTube I thought I should try them out. But how does one pick out the best album for one’s own preferences when there are eight albums from which to choose? YouTube has the answer with most if not all albums available in full for listening preview. Still, a preview is not the same as sinking into a purchased record.

Reading the Wikipedia article on the band, Bolt Thrower planned to cease recording after this album because they felt that they had finally made the best Bolt Thrower album. There was talk of recording another album after a hiatus but the band ceased in an untimely manner when their drummer passed away. I was trying to decide which album to get, “Those Once Loyal” or “Mercenary”, and ended up deciding on the former.

As far as death metal albums go, my experience is only just at the newbie level, but I feel that much of the music here is closer to thrash metal. It’s not as technical or brutal as death metal can be and it’s not as melodic as it can be either. Though double kick drumming is freely employed, the snare beats are not that fast and I don’t recall noticing any blast beats. Except for the deep, bear-like vocals, I feel the music sounds more like some of the late eighties thrash metal I used to listen to. At times there are some killer, slow n heavy riffs as in “The Killchain” and “Last Stand of Humanity”, which make these songs stand out for me. But most of the album reminds me a lot of early Slayer, or at least it make me feel like listening to “Haunting the Chapel”for some reason.

While this may be Bolt Thrower’s magnum opus, I feel it’s just a very good album that can be played all the way through with two tracks worthy of adding to a playlist. The album is consistent and heavy, though lacking much variation. Maybe it’s a good introductory album to the band? I like it but at the same time I want to hear more adventurousness. A decent piece of work for straightforward heavy thrash with death undertones.

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME The Parallax II: Future Sequence

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 21 ratings
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This album has been a real treat to listen to and it has remained on my iPhone ever since I brought it home a couple of months ago. I had heard of the band Between the Buried and Me before and at some point I decided to give them a listen. I don’t remember why “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” became the album I checked out on YouTube, but when I gave a quick ear to some random parts and heard the aggressive and technical playing along with the shouted vocals, I figured this was an album to keep for the right time, for when I was ready for it. A year or so later, I found my music preferences leaning towards the extreme metal persuasion, and before long the album finally joined my collection.

I was prepared for the fast and highly technical playing. I was prepared for the heaviness and the brutal vocals. I did not in any way expect the remarkable progressive side of the band. Clean vocals, beautiful melodies, acoustic guitar, synthesizers, and rapidly changing music; it was all such a treat. I almost considered that the album would be better without the emphasis on the aggressive side, but then the progressive side would probably not shine so brightly.

I can’t speak for any other albums by Between the Buried and Me, not just yet anyway, but this album keeps pulling at my attention. There’s so much happening in the songs here, so much creativity and all of it coming at ultra-high paces so that the music keeps changing like a person with hyperactive disorder on speed. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss something. The music is mainly divided between the two main approaches of technical metal and progressive rock but there are so many little things that get added that crop up unexpectedly and make the listening experience that much more entertaining.

The opening track, “Goodbye to Everything” features strummed acoustic guitar and clean, melodic vocals. It sounds like a modern British prog band might have come up with this. However, “Astral Body” begins to sound more like something from the Devin Townsend Project, especially once the screamo vocals come in at 1:53. The guitars and drums play some wonderfully complex music like Dream Theater. There’s some clean guitar with a style that makes me think of System of a Down for some reason, even though I’m not so familiar with their music. “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest” is ten minutes long and largely speedy, technical, heavy music with shouted vocals. Catch how from 5:43 to 5:45 the jaunty but brief guitar riff sounds like it’s coming through a transistor radio. After over six minutes of pummeling aggression, the song slows down to a waltz with clean guitar and vocals. “Extremophile Elite” is another long progressive/aggressive technical track which at 4:23 abruptly changes to an orchestral bit that sounds like a score from a Tim Burton movie before going back to the heavy technical music at 4:53. “Autumn”, “Parallax”, and “The Black Box” are all very short tracks that are transitional pieces between the longer tracks.

“Telos”, “Bloom” and “Melting City” form a wonderful suit of three segued tracks that speedily cover such an array of aggressive music but also includes a laid back part that reminds me of Pure Reason Revolution in “Telos” and an rushed technical/progressive take on 50’s twelve-bar blues based rock and roll in “Bloom”. “Melting City” concludes with a wonderful bass-led instrumental section that slowly builds to a climax when the vocals return. These three tracks make up such an amazing display of this bands talent. “Silent Flight Parliament” is the longest track at over 15 minutes and continues to be packed full of head-spinning technical, progressive metal/rock. The album wraps up with “Goodbye to Everything Reprise”, a track with a very suitable slow closeout.

You’ll need to be one to handle the speedy, technical and aggressive side of the album before you can appreciate and enjoy what “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” has to offer. But if you can take that side of the band, then this album will continue to reward after several listens. Prepare yourself by listening to Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Haken, and maybe just a little uneXpect.

AUGURY Fragmentary Evidence

Album · 2009 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.37 | 15 ratings
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Augury’s “Fragmentary Evidence” is a very difficult album for me to review. I first picked it up some months ago when I had a bit of extra money for experimenting and Augury appeared on a list of suggested YouTube videos. I listened to a couple of snippets of their music and decided it was a challenge I was willing to take. But now, after several listens as well as individual song plays, I am still not sure what to make of it.

Augury come from Montreal, a hot place for extreme metal, and it’s no surprise to find similarities in their music with that of recent Gorguts. It’s easiest described as complex, technical, brutal, progressive death metal with melodic moments. There are spots where I find myself reminded of uneXpect, also from Montreal, but Augury are not nearly as eclectic in their music mélange. Perhaps another good band to compare Augury to would be Fallujah out of the U.S.

Augury’s music seems to be mainly based upon two simultaneous approaches: the total brutal assault of rhythm guitar and double bass drumming and the more technical and often melodic complement of lead guitar melodies and solos along with some adventurous bass work and percussion. In fact, it was how the bass guitar often stamped its presence in the music that convinced me to try the album in the first place.

The brutal part of the music would run dry pretty soon were it not for the more progressive/technical side. Sometimes I feel it’s like driving down a gravel road at high speed with a steady pummeling, rumble. At another moment, I likened it to listening to music played either live or from a stereo system that is powered by a gasoline generator. You can hear the melody in the music but the steady chugging cough of the generator rumbles on at high speed. The duality of the more technical part alongside the brutal part sometimes makes the music difficult to figure out and may seem like two songs playing at once. The opening of “Skyless” really could seem like two songs playing together, and when an extreme music fan friend of mine heard this song he said it was “stress music” because he feels stress listening to it.

But Augury offer something more interesting throughout the album. There are short surprise bits that show their progressive side such as the opening of “Jupiter Ignite” or the Animals as Leaders-type of playing at the beginning of “Oversee the Rebirth”. If you are familiar with uneXpect, then you might notice the similarity to that band when the female guest vocals come in on “Brimstone Landscapes” or perhaps the beginning of “Simian Cattle” with the pulled bass notes. It is for these occasional pit stops that I keep coming back to the album to try to better understand it.

As for the vocals, you’ll find three basic types: the throat-shredding screamer, the deep, incomprehensible death roar, and a hardcore punk style of vocals that sound like a pirate trying to sing a melody. Especially in “Sovereigns Unknown” there is a vocal melody that is sung very much like a pirate’s ode to the high seas. For my taste, these vocals are the weakest part of the album. At times they’re okay but mostly I get turned off by them. There is also the one guest female vocal part I mentioned above and as well a few whispered lines.

I’d say the most difficult thing about this album is picking out any favourites. No songs give me that excited rush or prickle under the skin. This is not music for feeling good or busting out of your stress bubble. This is complex and at times confusing. It’s almost like that experimental jazz that sounds like random toots, squeaks and honks except that this is more like seemingly unrelated machinegun blasts, exploding buildings, and pirate chanties. Once again though, I do enjoy the challenge of listening to this album and as I have no favourite tracks it’s easy enough to play the whole album through and just go along with the atmosphere.

KATAKLYSM Waiting for the End to Come

Album · 2013 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 5 ratings
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A friend of mine is fond of a music application with which you select an artist and a song by that artist gets played, and then after that other songs by musically related artists will play. By example, he entered Amon Amarth and then began skipping through song after song, just to show me which bands the application was pulling up. One band that caught my attention was Kataklysm. A week later, I recalled seeing something in a Japanese metal magazine about extreme metal bands from Montreal and I decided to do a search for such bands. Of course, Kataklysm was one of the top bands to crop up in the search, and I recognized the name from my friend’s app. Two weeks later and without preview (or pre-listen), “Waiting for the End to Come” was in my hands.

The album arrived along with several others as part of my delving into the death metal sub-genre, which I had previously experienced only through Opeth and Gorguts. As I listened to all my new acquisitions and then repeated the exercise, I found “Waiting for the End to Come” was catching my ears. “Like Animals” and “The Promise” had some excellent heavy riffs, “Under Lawless Skies” and “The Darkest Days of Slumber” sounded surprisingly melodic in spite of the roaring, guttural vocals, and several other songs had aspects that drew my attention. Within a week I ordered a second Kataklysm album!

Two other albums I brought home in the first batch were Amon Amarth’s “Twilight of the Thunder God” and Bolt Thrower’s “Those Once Loyal”. In comparison, I felt Kataklysm’s album was the most engaging. Admittedly, there is a kind of generic feeling to the songs of the album when considered together; there is little variety if any in the style of the music. Songs tend to be brutal and angry (“If I Was God… I’d Burn It All”, “Kill the Elite”, “Empire of Dirt”) and often include melodic parts. There are two vocal styles present: the aforementioned death growl and one of those throat-shredding screams. Kataklysm originally made themselves known for their “Northern hyper-blast” drumming style, but I think somewhere along the way when they went from death metal to melodic death metal, that drumming style became reserved as a technique for certain parts in certain songs. (Indeed, I hear more blast beats on my second purchase, the slightly older “Prevail”).

I actually read a few reviews of this album on another metal site and the remarks were interesting. Many people said that in recent years, Kataklysm’s albums had become repetitive. Their once fresh melodic death metal sound was not coming up with anything new. However, a least a couple of reviews stated that this album, while not bringing anything new to the table, was at least a revived and reinvented take on the band’s style, and all reviews gave this album favourable ratings. So this strikes me as a good entry album into the band. Out of curiosity, I listened a little to a couple of their older songs and the style is quite different, being closer to fellow Montrealers, Cryptopsy.

I don’t think it will be imperative to get a bunch of recent Kataklysm albums but this album has encouraged me to check out more of the band’s catalogue. A melodic death metal album worth checking out.

DEATH Symbolic

Album · 1995 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 144 ratings
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Death’s “Symbolic” album first caught my attention when it appeared in the Top 5 Metal Albums of MMA, showing up smartly in the column of album artwork that usually includes “Master of Puppets”, “Rust in Peace”, “Rainbow Rising”, and “Reign in Blood”. The fifth album recently has been “Keeper of the Keys Pt. 2” but “Symbolic” has been there in the past, and as I have recently taken an interest in death metal, I decided this must be one of the first albums to acquire.

Death is considered one of the most important bands in the development of the genre. I have watched two YouTube channel videos where Death’s debut “Scream Bloody Gore” and Possessed’s “Seven Churches” have been discussed as first death metal albums. Over its career, Death released only seven albums before founding member Chuck Schuldiner passed away, but I’ve heard it said that there is not a bad album among them. So I had very high expectations when I received this.

The album was not to my expectations, however. First, the guitar tone was higher than I had anticipated. Also, the playing style was not technical and fast like Gorguts but more like technical thrash metal. By technical here I don’t mean highly complex and difficult riffs but rather thrash metal that covers several different riffs in a song, changing riffs and tempo abruptly, and includes slow, heavy riffs as well as speedy chugging. For the first two or three listens, I was frequently reminded of Sacrifice or even Slayer, as if those bands had created music with an added dimension. This is of course not to say that I don’t like the music. The guitar sound, the riffs, and the playing, along with many of the lead breaks, all sound really awesome to my ears. It’s just that I had been listening to Opeth, Gorguts, Kataklysm, Bolt Thrower, and Cryptopsy leading up to hearing this album.

Another surprise was Chuck’s voice. Once again, I had been expecting the death growl, that low and guttural roaring and bellowing. Chuck, however, has more of that thrash metal, back-of-the-throat, shouting/singing style. That too sounds great though. So again, no disappointment there either.

One other thing that I had been expecting was a progressive element. A fellow metal fan had told me that when he heard dream Theater’s “Images and Words” for the first time, he had just recently also heard an album by Death, and he was of the opinion that Death’s album was really progressive, so to him Dream Theater sounded more like a glam metal band with some flourishes. That set me up to expect some pretty impressive progressive metal but once more what I heard was not what I had anticipated. Again, I felt this was more like technical thrash metal than progressive metal. Adding more riffs to a song or changing tempo frequently is not uncommon in thrash. It’s one thing I loved about Slayer’s song “Hell Awaits”, songs from Sacrifice’s “Soldiers of Misfortune” or some older Metallica albums like “Master of Puppets” and even “Ride the Lightning”. Megadeth also went for that more technical thrash style. I wouldn’t exactly call it progressive metal though it does exhibit a higher level of creativity than just thrashing through track after track.

Now, despite the fact that much of the album did not meet my expectations, I do really like the album and I am considering picking up two more Death albums in the coming months. It’s not inconceivable that I would end up with the whole collection at some point. The only point for me where this album is not five stars is that I cannot pick out any favourite tracks. Of course each song is distinct from the others and some songs have become familiar enough to me now that I get a little happy rush when they start playing. But overall, there aren’t any really stand out tracks for me. The every song is worthy of 4 or 4.5 stars, in my opinion. I don’t hear any solid 5-star track or any of those totally killer tracks that must be in the higher almost unattainable plane of the 6-star song.

Death’s “Symbolic” is a very solid, consistent, and excellent album. For my preference, it’s not a Top Ten masterpiece, but it’s certainly an album worthy of any metal collection.

BURZUM Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

Album · 1994 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 52 ratings
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I find this is a difficult album to rate. Burzum's third studio album is often considered a masterpiece of Norwegian black metal and sometimes of heavy metal all together. It was inspired by a view outside into the darkness of a Norwegian night and creator Varg Vikernes recorded the four tracks for this album before the second album was released.

My interest in the album came as I sampled Burzum tracks on YouTube and decided that I really liked the artwork. The dirt, single-lane road curving through a forest with an apparently recently deceased man on the side and crows flapping about really struck my thoughts. I had seen such roads in paintings before which my Danish parents had in my childhood home and the blackbird frequently figured in children's stories and rhymes I had heard as a child. But who was this poor deceased man and how long had he just remained at the roadside with no one coming to find him?

Playing the first track, it was the lead riff that comes in at 2:50 along with the drums that sold me on the album. It immediately took me back to my high school days listening to Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Bathory, and even Venom. The production is lo-fi but not so poor as I had imagined it could be. This is yet another case of getting wrapped up in the atmosphere of the album and forgetting the lack of crispness. The repeated three chords on keyboards are rather hypnotic and as the music is repeated for long sections before changing, it's easy to feel under the spell, which is as Vikernes had intended. He claims in the CD notes that he feels music is a kind of spell to cast over people and make them think what you want. Well, I do find it easy to listen to the whole 14 minutes plus of this opening track.

One thing of course is the crazy vocals. This is like listening to the ravings of a poor soul who has been in solitary confinement for too long. It's back-of-the-throat hollering. And yet, I don't actually mind.

I find the next two tracks inspire mixed feelings. "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is much less interesting musically than "Det Som En Gang Var", though the third track "Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen"recaptures some of the appeal of the first track with a good riff and more variation in the music.

The album takes a dive for me at the last track "Tomhet", a 14-minute track that sounds much like an instrumental composed and mostly played on an 8-bit keyboard. The simple repetitive music that would be trance-inducing were it not for that very dated sound fails to capture my interest throughout most of the 14 minutes. I can appreciate what Vikernes was attempting here but I can skip this one if I'm not in the mood. I mean it's 14 minutes long! And it's not even prog!

A classic it may be, I'm not jumping off the walls for this one but it is good enough. I may or may not choose to get another Burzum album. Kjetil Manheim of Mayhem said in a documentary that he felt Burzum's first album was shit and I can see how it could be considered that way, that Burzum's music is not so great. It might be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. But I personally give a strong rating to the first track and good points for the third. Perhaps only a must-have if you are into the Norwegian black metal scene.

AMON AMARTH Twilight of the Thunder God

Album · 2008 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 33 ratings
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About a year ago or so, a friend showed me some Amon Amarth videos. Man, were they cool. Really big productions like small movies. I was to learn that one video was actually scenes from a movie starring lead vocalist, Johan Hegg. I finally got around to bringing an album home, this first purchase being recommended by my friend who assured me that this was a great album.

What first struck me about the music was how melodic it often was. It was sometimes like a faster version of Iron Maiden but included riffs like Judas Priest and Accept. Labeled melodic death metal, I personally feel that the music here is more traditional metal with the Cookie Monster-style of deeply growled vocals. Tracks like “Free Will Sacrifice” and “No Fear for the Setting Sun” remind me of Judas Priest and “Live for the Kill” makes me think of Accept.

Another observation is the regular use of very strong battle-song melodies. “Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags” and “Live for the Kill” may conjure up images of Vikings standing in their ship and swinging pumped fists as they sing these songs.

This feels like an album done by a very experienced band who are comfortable where they are. They have reached their comfort zone and are producing a string of above avergae albums. Looking as the ratings on MMA, I see other albums are rated higher and this one. Some songs are really good and the main riff for “Guardians of Asgaard” is an awesome one to easily be hooked on.

Probably not their most groundbreaking album, but “Twilight of the Thunder God” is still a solid piece of work in my opinion.

CRYPTOPSY Blasphemy Made Flesh

Album · 1994 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 19 ratings
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“Blasphemy Made Flesh” is the debut album by Montreal technical death metal band, Cryptopsy. There are three versions: the original 1994 Hammerheart release, a 1997 re-release by Displeased Records, and a 2001 re-release by Century Media, which features a different cover.

This is my first experience with Cryptopsy and I was interested in the band because I had discovered that Montreal had a hot death metal scene going and I decided to check out some groups. After my usual cursory listen on YouTube, I decided to get this album first because of the frequent cropping up of the bass guitar, which reminded me of Quebec metal legends, Voivod.

The sound on my CD copy, the original Hammerheart release, is pretty poor when going from any much better-produced album. First, I have to knock the volume up three clicks, and the sound quality difference between a well-produced, more recent death metal album and this one is enormous. However, like many albums, “Blasphemy” doesn’t sound so bad once you get into the album atmosphere. Like many extreme metal bands of the day, recording quality was frequently pretty poor.

Cryptopsy’s sound is heavy, brutal, and pummeling. The guitars are really low, so much so that the bass guitar notes really pop out at times, especially when the bass gets a brief solo break (solo here meaning playing alone for a bar and not lead). What I appreciate is that the band can employ both very high speed playing and slow down for some very heavy, crushing riffs. I have also noted that Cryptopsy know how to play slow and heavy and keep the drums in tempo. Many bands I have heard recently will play medium tempo music but have the bass drums and snare going full tilt. It sounds great usually but sometimes seems unnecessary. On this album slower playing often means a slower beat. Conversely, sometimes the drums strike at a fairly slow tempo while the guitars are going nuts. These changes in speed, though, are good for appreciating the some of the riffs and guitar work.

Vocalist, Lord Worm (Dan Greening), delivers really deep, guttural barking and some mega-screams that are as frightening as a storm banshee trying to enter your room on a blustery night to wake the dead. At first I was a bit put off his vocal style because I seriously could not pick out anything he belch-roared. I looked at the lyrics for a track like “Open Face Surgery” which reads:

“I’ve learned to control my thoughts / Ever since I recognized the first eavesdropper / Those who listen in on my thoughts / My logic, my sanity”

But what I can pick out at best sounds like: “Wudaboit, biddatboit, budahboit, biidah! Weahbuot, biddahbuot, buadbuit, biidadut!” There are times when I think I can almost decipher the gruff utterances and follow along with the lyrics, but then the vocalizations stop when I’ve only reached the third line of a four-line verse. Song after song, I really have not one iota of a clue what words comprise the lyrics of these tracks. Reading the lyrics and listening to the songs I feel like the lyrics are the translations of an angry Neanderthal’s ranting. But I actually don’t mind. Listening to the whole album straight through it all becomes part of the sonic experience. A funny thing, even the spoken lines in one track aren’t easy to pick out. “Serial Messiah”, by its opening church organ notes and a meekly speaking youth uttering, “Get off me you bastard”, would seem to be about Catholic priests who prey upon young boys. But we hear hurried footsteps, a door open, and the youth’s attempt at defiance, and then this is followed by a deep voice saying what sounds like “I need gas for the lawn!” Or maybe it’s “I need ask for the Lord”. I am totally unsure. But again, I consider the vocals part of the entertainment factor so I’m okay with them.

The only real complaint I have is that the snare drum is mixed quite loud compared to the much lower-toned guitars and so sometimes it seems the dominant sound in the mix is the high-speed snare drum playing which leaves the guitars just deep rumbles barely discernable above the percussion and demonic barking.

I’m curious about some of the band’s more recent albums. This first offering has its strengths, mostly in the actual music played, but the production needs improvement. Not a total winner but good enough to merit further investigation into this band.

DEEP PURPLE InFinite

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.44 | 4 ratings
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So what do you do when one of your all time favourite bands announces that they've got a new album coming out? You get yourself on the preorder list and order the version with the bonus EP, that's what! Deep Purple have remained a favourite band of mine ever since I got into them around the time I was 13 and the MkII reunion was just about to make the news.

The band has had a varied history and changed style a lot since their debut of July 1968. After the reunion album, "Perfect Strangers", Deep Purple struggled with "House of Blue Light", the sacking of Ian Gillan, the Purple Rainbow album "Slaves and Masters" (4/5 DP, 3/5 Rainbow), the re-acquisition of Gillan and the final departure of Ritchie Blackmore. Releases after the phenomenal "Perfect Strangers" were spotty. Then came Steve Morse into the line up and with new blood came a new sound. This is the sound that Deep Purple have kept up more or less since then, even through the retirement of the late great Jon Lord and recruitment of Don Airey, whose Deep Purple family record includes playing in Whitesnake and Rainbow and playing with Nicky Simper in a band called Quartermass II, which also included Mick Underwood on drums (Mick played with Gillan in Gillan and with Gillan and Glover in Episode Six).

A happy band and a fairly stable lineup has still produced some less than marvelous albums, though in my opinion "Bananas" and "Rapture of the Deep" could have been better without the spotty production. For a while it seemed that there would be no more Deep Purple albums with at least one band member stating that albums were dying out and the cost of making them would never be recouped in sales. But then came the remarkable "Now What?!" - remarkable because producer Bob Ezrin got the band to forget about the charts and just make a great album. That 2013 release touched back to 1995's "Purpendicular" while also tapping into some MkI sounds and solos. Deep Purple were almost prog again!

Sooooo, now four years later, the band has released a new heavy and what of it? Well, the boys are back with Bob Ezrin and back in the same studio in Nashville. The first thing you'll notice is that the classic DP sound is intact: heavy rock guitar, swirling and rumbling organ, a solid rhythm section and, of course, Ian Gillan's vocals and wit. The band sound confident and also they sound like they are having a blast. Ian Paice said in an interview that they really have fun making music, and as if to corroborate Paice's sentiments, Roger Glover said in a separate interview that they had so much fun making "Now What?!" that they wanted to make another album. And there's even the possibility that the future may bring yet another album!

The songs are a mix of politically charged messages like "Time for Bedlam" and "Birds of Prey" and a host of rockers with humorous inspirations and lyrics. Gillan delivers the best vocal opening ever on "Hip Boots" with the line, "You can bury up to my knees in shit!", which is all the more effective after the sombre ending to "Time for Bedlam". "One Night in Vegas" is the recounting of a story of a guy who drank too much in Vegas and woke up the next day with a wife. The kicker is that they are still married thirty years later! "Johnny's Band" is a condensed version of the history of all those old classic bands who got a hit song, became famous, went downhill, broke up, and then regrouped decades later to play their old classics. Glover emphasizes that this is not a Purple story. "On Top of the World" has raconteur lyricist Gillan telling an old story about a wild time on the roof of a building in Kuala Lumpur and the anticlimactic conclusion the next day. The final lyrics are spoken and end with, "I made my excuses and left through the door / Stepped into space off the 20th floor / And that's... why I don't like heights no more." We also find that the lyrics have become more profane. After the first three songs, we've heard "shit", "piss", "ass" and "f%#&ing". Gillan says that he used to be an angry young man, but now he's f%#&ing furious. No shit!

I gotta say that after the first listen, I liked the album; after the second I liked it more; and after the third, I just wanted to listen to it again! But I also listened to "Now What?!" once more and there are two things I noticed. The first is that the previous album had longer instrumental passages and came across as more progressive, if showing off your solo and instrumental music writing talent makes you progressive. Both Steve Morse and Don Airey really brought back that early DP atmosphere. "InFinite's" songs are generally shorter with less emphasis on instrumental sections. The other thing that occurred to me was that Steve Morse is not so strongly in the mix, nor does he deliver as much guitar wizardry as he has on past albums. While Don Airey stands out with his flooding organ sweeps, Steve has almost left his trademark shredding at the studio door and instead delivers some less-than-outstanding lead guitar. His solos fit in well with the music, so he's done well there. But there is little this time that affirms his diverse skill on the guitar.

Nevertheless, this is a short and fun, rock out album. It's heavy at times, it's a party at times, and there's always a spot or two that requires you to think a little. This is not going to make Deep Purple chart toppers or even be an album for the history books. But for an old band I think they have delivered a very decent package.

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