Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

BLOOD INCANTATION Hidden History of the Human Race

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Album cover that could have been ripped off a 1970s sci-fi paperback? Check. Themes pulled from the likes of Erich Von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods" schtick? Check. Song titles, lengths, and even compositional structures which could be prog rock numbers from a lesser-known band of the 1970s? Check.

But don't be fooled - Blood Incantation's Hidden History of the Human Race isn't some sort of attempt at straight-ahead retro-prog. Instead, it takes the song structures of classic prog and applies to them the sonic toolkit of technical death metal, yielding a short but sweet 36 minutes of mashup mayhem which sets Blood Incantation as a band to watch.

WHITE WARD Love Exchange Failure

Album · 2019 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
White Ward's Love Exchange Failure has an album cover which looks like it might belong to, say, one of M83's ambient-synthpop releases, perhaps from around the same era as Before the Dawn Heals Us. As with the likes of other groups in the corner of atmospheric black metal called "blackgaze", appearances can be deceiving: this remains an album with a strong black metal presence.

It's not, by any means, purist black metal - rather, it's a broader sort of blackgaze-postrock-dark jazz soundscapearama, a musical mashup in which the sounds and techniques of black metal are merely part of the sonic toolkit that White Ward bring to the table - an essential enough part of the toolkit that those interested in the experimental reaches of the genre would likely be interested, but there are other important tools here too (the aforementioned postrock and jazz influences), to an extent that if you greatly prefer your black metal albums to be black metal all the way through without a break the quieter interludes may bug you. (That said, of course, atmospheric black metal in general isn't averse to including such elements on an album, so really that's a caveat which applies to the entire subgenre.)

BÜTCHER 666 Goats Carry My Chariot

Album · 2020 · Speed Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
Until a few weeks ago I’d never even heard of Butcher. After hearing a couple of advance tracks off 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, their second album, I immediately went in search of their first, Bestial Fukkin Warmachine and was so impressed I ordered the pair of them straight away.

Butcher come from Belgium, a country I don’t have too many metal albums from with only Bathsheba, Saille, Aborted and Enthroned coming to mind. Butcher doesn’t sound like any of them. What we have here is a very retro 80’s sounding blend of speed and thrash metal with a bit of black metal borrowed from Darkthrone thrown in here and there. This stuff is manic from the histrionic often high pitched vocals of R Hellshrieker to the music which is very busy and fast most of the times. Guitarist KK Ripper unleashes an impressive barrage of riffs, licks and solos, the kind that drew me into this kind of extreme metal back in the 80’s.The rhythm section of bassist AH Wrathchylde and drummer LV Speedhammer tie it all down, though their playing is equally busy and at times this frantic melee sounds on the verge of all falling apart, which is not a criticism and is a measure of their skill in holding it all together. It all adds to the retro vibe aided by an analogue (I presume, it certainly sounds it) production. You can imagine this is how the band sound on stage as it has very live feel without loads of overdubs in the guitar department.

I liked the first album very much, which I’d played a few times before getting this, but on 666 Goats Carry My Chariot they have raised the bar with an even stronger collection of songs. I don’t suppose you’ll hear much new music like this this year so lap it up, you won’t regret it.

SHAKRA Mad World

Album · 2020 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Time Signature
They still rock...

Shakra's latest album "Mad World" marks their 25th anniversary and, if anything, this album show that they still rock.

Roaming the transition region between hard rock and traditional heavy metal, Shakra offers up solid rockers, rich in melody, groove, power, and catchiness. It may be old-man rock, but it's tasty old-man rock with crispy guitar riffs, powerful drumming and rocking guitar solos that hit the spot. Overall, the music on the album is uplifting and full of energy and extremely enjoyable. Just check out the catchy title track 'Mad World', the high energy opener 'Fireline', or groovy 'When He Comes Around'.

The production is crisp, and neither the musicianship nor the production has any flaws. I can imagine that some people might find Mark Fox' slightly raspy vocals a bit annoying, but I really can't imagine any other singing style being a better fit for the music on this album (also, his voice reminds me of my dad's rock 'n' roll singing voice, because - yes - my old man is a rock singer, how cool is that?). Of course, that means that Mark Fox scores a couple of extra points from me.

To be honest, I was on the fence about giving this album 4 stars, but, heck, I enjoy listenening to it so much that I think that 3.5 is just too cheap! Listening to this album equals a mighty good time.

ANVIL Legal At Last

Album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Time Signature
Metal house...

Canadian metal legends Anvil have another album for you in the form of the weed-celebrating "Legal at Last".

Musically, we are dealing with old school heavy metal falling somewhere between Motörhead and Black Sabbath, with tracks like 'Legal at Last' and 'Chemtrails' being reminiscent of the former and 'Plastic in Paradise' and 'Said and Done' leaning towards the latter. Shying away from any type of sophistication, Anvil's main contribution on this album to the universe of rock lies in simple, but not simplistic (because there are a couple of tempo shifts and things like that), hard rocking metal songs revolving around solid and dynamic drumming coupled with balls-out rocking riffs. Oh, and there's a bass too.

This is not an album where Anvil reinvent themselves, and some might criticize their lyrics for being banal, but these old boys have something to say, and so - let them say it. Personally, I don't really care about weed and things like that, but if that's important to Anvil, let them write songs about it. In terms of the music on the release, the album is pretty good, I think: booming metal by boomers, I guess.

In sum, there's not much new under the sun on this album, but if you enjoy old school rock 'n' rolling heavy metak, you're bound to have a good time listening to Anvil's "Legal at Last".

BROTHERS OF METAL Emblas Saga

Album · 2020 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Time Signature
Healthy viking cheese...

Tapping into the mythology of their Scandinavian heritage, Swedish Brothers of Metal recently released their second full-length in the form of "Emblas Saga". The album is a tour de force of epic folk-power metal.

The opening track is more of a spoken word introduction, setting the scene for the rest of the album. Fans of Manowar's 'The Warrior's Prayer' will probably like this introduction, because it has a similar atmosphere to it. It's too cheesy for my taste, and when I first heard this track, I expected the album to be your typical Euro-trash cheesy power metal.

Thankfully, my expectations were subverted, because there is almost nothing wrong with the music on this album.

It is larger than life, to be sure, and has that European power metal feel to it. However, Brothers of Metal never o overboard and manage to strike an almost perfect balance between the powerful metal sensibility of older power metal (think Running Wild and Helloween) and the over-the-top approach of contemporary European power metal. Personally, I particularly like how Brothers of Metal inject old school traditional metal into their style. I mean 'Chain Breaker' might as well have been a Judas Priest song, and 'Powersnake' vaguely reminds me of Maiden's 'Blood Brothers'.

There is an underlying folk metal feel to this album, but rather than throwing everything and a million kitchen sinks in here, Brothers of Metal mostly distil their folksy side to essential melodies, many of which - while super catchy - also inherit the melancholy of traditional Scandinavian folk music. There are occasional bursts of folk instrumentation that are both in a dynamic contrast to and a relation of coherence with the power metal side of the album.

It's not the case that the album is totally cheese-free. You can't have European power metal without some cheese. I mean that's like ordering a double cheese burger without cheese. There's plenty of cheese, but it's good cheese with healthy fats and all that. Many of the song openings take on a slightly-over-the-top epic and folky nature but it's not ridiculously indulgent. If you want an example of good cheese, just listen to 'Theft of the Hammer' which is the musical version of a quality burger with a grass-fed beef paddy, double cheedar, extra goat's cheese, and lots of relish. It has several vocal layers, a sympbonic feel, and is overly epic, but it works. For another quality cheeseburger, check out the closing track 'To the Skies and Beyond' which is in may ways the perfect conclusion to this album. Most of the songs on this album feature epic elements, but it never goes awry.

One thing that doesn't work for me is the gruff viking-style semi-spoken vocal style that one of the male vocalists utilize; in fact, I would be perfectly satisfied if Ylva Eriksson took care of all the lead singing. But that's just me. I can see how the male vocals do fit into a viken-esque style of metal. In terms of musicianship, there's nothing wrong with the album. There are some pretty amazing guitar solos to enjoy, and plenty of kick-ass metal riffage. Ylva Eriksson has a voice that suits this style of music perfectly, and delivers some outright beatiful singing in the opening of the title track. The production is crisp, professional and epic.

I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed listening to this album, given that I normally find folk metal, viking metal, and contemporary European power metal in general to be a tad silly. Maybe it's the songwriting displayed on this album, or maybe it's the musicianship. Could be the catchy choruses and compelling vocal melodies. Perhaps the production. Or maybe Brothers of Metal simply appeal to my own Scandinavian heritage in a way that connects with my inner viking. Who know? I just know that I like this album... which I totally didn't expect.

I tip my viking helmet to you, Brothers of Metal. Well played, brothers and sisters, well played.

PSYCHOTIC WALTZ The God-Shaped Void

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
While the Brits may have created both progressive rock and heavy metal with King Crimson and Black Sabbath taking rock into two distinct yet completely different directions an amazing 50 years ago, it was the USA where the idea to link these two styles together really took off with bands like Watchtower and Fates Warning taking the complex compositional approaches of KC and dressing them up in the energetic and distorted dressing of the heavier aspects of metal music. Amongst the first wave of the progressive metal scene that rocked the 80s USA in the underground circuit was San Diego’s Aslan turned PSYCHOTIC WALTZ which began in 1986 and took the nerdy side of metal off guard with its lauded debut “A Social Grace.”

While the US spawned the first examples of prog metal, it was unfortunately not these bands’ homeland where they found interest in their innovative styles so bands like PSYCHOTIC WALTZ were virtually ignored at home while making the most waves in the part of the world where both prog and metal began in the first place. Yup, you guessed it, Europe! The band made a name for itself touring overseas which cemented their position as one of the most innovative prog metal bands of the era and went on to release four albums: “A Social Grace” (1990), “Into The Everflow” (1992), “Mosquito” (1994), “Bleeding” (1996). While productive and passionately engaged, the band called it quits after lackluster sales and the final straw came when the band was sued by an actress who claimed her appearance in the making of the video for “Faded” caused her to suffer partial blindness due to the lighting involved.

With the ever growing interest in more progressive music however, PSYCHOTIC WALTZ have gone down as prog gods with their forward thinking albums that sounded like no other. While not exactly reaping the fruits of their hard work during the initial run, this bands’ albums have become quite popular ever since and eventually reunited in 2010 with its original lineup of Dan Rock (guitars/keyboards), Brian McAlpin (guitars/keyboards), Ward Evans (bass), Norm Leggio (drums), and Devon Graves (vocals/flute/keyboard), originally known to fans as Buddy Lackey. With no new album the band started to tour opening for Nevermore and Symphony X on The Power Of Metal tour. While a new album was planned, nobody expected these guys to take 10 whole years to make it happen but finally on 14 February 2020 here it is!

Sounding as if they were picking up where “Bleeding” left off, PSYCHOTIC WALTZ returns with THE GOD-SHAPED VOID which took seven years to create and actually a miracle that it got created in the first place considering that Buddy Lackey currently lives in Austria and the rest of the band have full-time jobs and families to contend with. Not counting the archival odds and sods 1999 release “Dark Millennium,” THE GOD-SHAPED VOID is the fifth installment in the band’s canon. Needless to say, this cast of five who are well in their 50s now are not the same band that they were 30 years ago when the debut album was released, however the band jettisoned the Watchtower inspired technical thrash metal riffs before they even broke up for the first time. What GOD-SHAPED VOID delivers is a much darker atmospheric slice of psychedelia tinged progressive metal without the emphasis on rampaging tech wankery.

We were treated to a sampling with the first official video “Devils And Angels” which pretty much was a preview for the entire album’s worth of material presented. In this way, GOD-SHAPED VOID has the most in common with the band’s last 90s album “Bleeding” so in that regard this one literally picks up where that one left off and although it’s a much less aggressive album than their 90s run, still sounds like the next logical step that could’ve easily been inserted into the turn of the millennium timeline so i would guess that much of the material has been gestating in the heads of the musicians even if they hadn’t received the recording process until much later.

While THE GOD-SHAPED VOID will not dazzle you with the flashiness of “A Social Grace” or “Into The Everflow,” neither has it gone Leprous on us and abandoned metal altogether. While the tech riffs have been tamed into heavier power chord rampages that are more akin to alternative metal, for the most part this band is still on top of its game only with the focus on the sound textures, atmospheric ambience and lyrical deliveries where Devon Graves hasn’t lost any of his vocal fluidity or powerful range. Likewise both guitarists Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin deliver some excellent guitar work on tracks like “Back To Black” which cranks out power stomps as well as soloing. While the chaotic dissonance of the past has been traded in for a more accessible melancholic style that is less frenetic and simmering on progressive light, the tracks are amazingly consistent as the melodies are solid, the hooks are instantly piercing and the production both captures the intricate sounds of the band’s heyday but offers a crisp clean modern dimension that allows the nuanced atmospheric components to shine.

It’s always a gamble to revive a classic band after so many years have gone by but it’s obvious on THE GOD-SHAPED VOID that PSYCHOTIC WALTZ still carries the torch that keeps the passion for their music alive and although the band has matured a bit, this one carries a lot more emotional delivery than the more technically infused early albums. With so many newer metal bands sounding lost in the sea of generic wannabeism or spiraling out into experimental inaccessibilities, it’s exciting to find a classic band like PSYCHOTIC WALTZ time traveling into the present to show the whippersnappers how old school metal can be so exciting when done right and everything comes together quite spectacularly on this beautiful comeback album. What makes this album work so well is that PSYCHOTIC WALTZ never did the same album twice and i for one am happy that they didn’t just retread their past glories and evolve the music into the new world while adapting it from the last album they left behind. If you loved the early albums, Crimson Glory, early Queensryche or other prog metal bands that focused on the melodic side of thing above all else then THE GOD-SHAPED VOID will not disappoint one bit!

DELAIN Apocalypse & Chill

Album · 2020 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
In a recent review, I commented on the importance of naming an album, and how some bands tend to be more creative with their album titles, while others tend to play it fairly safe. I’ve seen plenty of interesting album titles in recent years, as well as plenty of forgettable ones, but one that instantly raised my eyebrows upon seeing it is Apocalypse & Chill. Yep, that is indeed the title of Dutch symphonic metal band Delain’s sixth full-length release, and it sure is a strange one. Oddly enough, though, upon listening to the album, the name actually starts to make more sense, as it both gives an idea of what to expect from the lyrical concepts, as well as accurately describing the music pretty well.

I’ve long seen Delain as a band that consistently releases some very good albums, and I’d definitely consider them one of the more important symphonic metal bands in the world at this point, but I find their albums never quite reach the levels of some of my favorites in the genre. This continues with Apocalypse & Chill, though I do think it’s one of their most consistent releases to date, as well as by far their most interesting and unique.

Stylistically, Delain has always struck a nice balance between heaviness, light symphonic elements and beautiful vocals from Charlotte Wessels. Apocalypse & Chill takes all of these elements to the extreme, with almost every track alternating between some of their most aggressive guitar work to date, as well as having some of their catchiest, most melodic choruses and vocal sections, and while the symphonic elements still aren’t as grand as the likes of Nightwish or Epica, there are some pretty big arrangements on some tracks. For the majority of the album, the band alternates nicely between some pretty modern sounding, at times brutal guitar work, and some very nice keyboards, which are at times very flashy and modern, while at other times they’re more relaxing and atmospheric. While all musicians do a great job, it’s clear keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and vocalist Charlotte Wessels are the main focus of the album, with both delivering their absolute best performances to date. As usual, the production is fantastic, with all instruments sounding clear and powerful, and whenever orchestration is used, it’s mixed in perfectly with everything else.

While Delain has always had great musicianship and excellent vocals, I find their songwriting is generally solid, but not quite top tier. This continues somewhat with Apocalypse & Chill, though I do think this album is possibly their most consistent release yet, as while there’s only one track I’d consider a masterpiece, there are no weak tracks, and every song is great in its own way. The album opens with “One Second”, which is either the second or third single released depending on how you view things (I’ll explain in more detail later.) Either way, it’s a nice, fairly simple track, where the guitar work is heavy, but in a fairly subtle, understated way, with some very flashy keys being the main focus of the music, while Wessels is accompanied on vocals by guitarist Timo Somers, who delivers some very powerful slightly animated vocals during the chorus, where he excels. It’s a solid track on its own, and it gets the album off to a nice start.

Next is “We Had Everything”, a rather fun and upbeat track, which has some very nice, trance infused keys, which again drive the music, though the guitar work is a bit more prominent here, and it does get pretty heavy in between vocal sections. Wessels shines on this track, singing very lightly during the verses, utilizing her higher register, and then delivering some very soft and smooth vocals during the fun and catchy chorus. The instrumental work is nice throughout the track, with the guitar solo in the second half, in particular, being very melodic and epic at the same time. Things slow down slightly with “Chemical Redemption”, a track that again alternates nicely between some crushing riffs and rather light keys, with the verses, in particular, using the keys more for atmosphere and extra flavor, while the chorus is nice but a bit understated compared to most other tracks on the album. The highlight of the track is a very melodic, very beautiful guitar solo, which leads into some pretty epic orchestral arrangements.

The second (or first) single from the album is “Burning Bridges”, and to me, this stands as by far the best on the album, as it utilizes on aspects of the band’s sound perfectly, and I’d say it’s one of the band’s absolute best songs to date. It opens with more brutal guitar work, accompanied by some epic symphonic arrangements, which carry on throughout the track. The verses move by at a quick pace, with some rather light guitar work, powerful lead vocals, and more epic orchestral backing, and then the chorus comes and is absolutely fantastic and extremely epic, with some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from Wessels. The real highlight, though, comes in after the second run through the chorus, where some very intense and powerful harsh vocals are used, for the first and only time on the album, and that’s followed by an epic instrumental section, where the orchestral elements are really pushed to the front. While I do think the track hints at elements that could have been used more throughout the album, I also think that only having them on this track helps it to stand out a lot more, and ultimately, it ends up feeling like the one track where everything just comes together perfectly.

After that stunner of a track, “Vengeance” is a bit more typical, though still pretty fun. It moves along a solid pace, with some rather light and melodic guitar work, as well as more symphonic arrangements. The catch to this track is that vocal duties are split between Wessels and Beast in Black vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, who sounds as wild and energetic as always. The two work together well, which makes for a fun chorus, and while track overall isn’t spectacular, it is a lot of fun. Another standout is “To Live is to Die”, which utilizes some very futuristic sounding, industrial style keys, which serve as the main driving force, though the guitar work is also fairly heavy at points. It’s a pretty dark and atmospheric track, with Wessels again delivering some very powerful and emotional vocals. One track which really demonstrates the concept of the album well is “Let’s Dance”, with some rather grim lyrics being overlapped with repeated proclamations of “it’s a beautiful day”. While it does make for an interesting effect and is an interesting idea, I do find the repetition to be a bit much, and so the verses are rather irritating to sit through. The chorus is quite fun and catchy, though, the very heavy guitar work is quite good, so the track still ends up being solid, overall, if not one of my favorites.

More heavy guitar work follows on “Creatures”, which comes pretty close to sounding like later Evergrey during its intro, though it does soften up a bit during the verses, with some very dark sounding keys, and the track overall has a rather bleak feel to it, which is somewhat countered by beautiful vocals, and an excellent chorus. It’s yet another track where the whole “Apocalypse & Chill” idea fits in quite well. The one ballad of the album is “Ghost House Heart”, either the third or fourth single. It’s another very atmospheric track, which makes nice use of some soft piano work, and more orchestral arrangements. It’s a very nice track, with some great moments, but it never fully takes off, instead simply remaining a solid track throughout. The first track released from the album is “Masters of Destiny”. However, whether or not it’s actually the first single is debatable, as it was originally released as a single for the early 2019 EP Hunter’s Moon. Either way, it’s easily the most epic track on the album, with the orchestrations and choral vocals being pushed to the max, while the guitar work is fairly subtle and not the main focus. Instead, it serves as an excellent vocal showcase for Wessels, who delivers some of her most powerful vocals to date, especially during the spectacular chorus.

The last heavier track on the album is “Legions of the Lost”, another excellent track, which alternates nicely between heavy guitars, soft verses, a very melodic and beautiful chorus, and it mixes in some very nice keys and orchestral elements, at times. The last vocal track is “The Greatest Escape”, a softer track, which almost feels like a ballad during the verses, where Wessels is accompanied only by some light keys, though it does become slightly heavier and more upbeat during the chorus, which is quite beautiful. Closing out the album is a full-length instrumental track, “Combustion”, which is, in fact, the longest track on the album. It’s a very beautiful track, once again moving from some soft sections with some very nice keys and piano, as well as having some very heavy guitars, especially in the middle. It has plenty of memorable moments, and it certainly closes the album out quite effectively.

Despite the rather strange name, Apocalypse & Chill is another great album from Delain, which showcases all aspects of the band very well, alternating between some very heavy, modern guitar work, to some rather flashy, upbeat keys, some epic orchestrations, some very catchy choruses and vocal melodies, and some very beautiful sections. Fans of the band are sure to be pleased with the album, while any symphonic metal fans looking for a fun album with some great vocals would also be highly recommended to give this album a listen, as Delain has proven themselves to once again be a consistently great band.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2020/02/08/delain-apocalypse-chill-review/

ULVER Drone Activity

Live album · 2019 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Ulver's musical interests bounce around all over the place - we're talking about a group whose discography ranges from the rawest of raw black metal to dark folk music to synthpop, after all - so it's nice of them to give this release an apt title to tip us off to what to expect.

Though a live album, Drone Activity consists of all-original material. Don't think "drone" in the sense of, say, Ulver buddies Sunn O))) - instead, think "drone" in the sense of some of the mid-1970s work of progressive electronic masters like Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze. Heck, the album is even structured like Tangerine Dream's Zeit, with its four electronic ambient pieces occupying a timespan which would, were this to get a vinyl release, have each track taking up a side of a double album.

Don't think this is a full-on pastiche of Tangerine Dream, however; the aesthetic of Ulver's vampiric cyberpunk works of yesteryear is thick on the ground here, the band simply using a Tangerine Dream-esque format as a springboard for improvisation in their own distinctive style. The end result is another compelling release from a band who are never less than interesting.

THY CATAFALQUE Naiv

Album · 2020 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
THY CATALFALQUE is a project that’s been around for quite a while now having formed all the way back in 1998 as a symphonic black metal band and then getting more experimental as time carried on by incorporating more external influences such as electronica and homegrown Hungarian folk music from founder Tamás Kátai’s home nation before relocating to Scotland. The band which has essentially been Kátai and his sidekick guitarist Juhász János then released several albums as a duo up until 2011’s “Rengeteg” when Kátai went it alone with only selected guest musicians for each album thereafter. The rotating cast of guests has made each THY CATALFALQUE album sound quite unique so it’s never predictable as to which elements of music will dominate any particular album.

Early on in 2020, avant-garde metal band THY CATAFALQUE releases its ninth album NAIV. After the interesting changes of the doom metal drenched “Meta” and the overly abundant use of electronica and lack of metal on “Geometria,” NAIV returns with a nice mixture of all the disparate elements that makes THY CATAFALQUE so utterly unique even within the vastly populated universe of modern metal. While long ago drifting away from any sort of black metal orthodoxies, this act has nonetheless never strayed too far from its roots by keeping a finger or two on the pulse of the primordial pools from whence it sprang forth. NAIV doesn’t necessarily jettison the abundance of electronic effects and noises as heard on the previous album but rather returns some of the metal dominant bombast however any fan of this unique band should know by now, track by track, THY CATAFALQUE delivers the unpredictability of a schizophrenic seance.

Once again eschewing genre labels, NAIV like previous albums creates a unique fusion of the Hungarian folk melodies with black metal riffs, electronic atmosphere and also includes some surprising jazzy touches that remind me of bands like Norway’s Shining. Kátai handles the expected vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards and other exotic instruments such as the citera and darbuka while a huge cast of characters joins him for this musical treat. In addition to the excepted bass and drums there are also two guest vocalists with the feminine charm of Martina Veronika Horváth (ex-Niburta, SallyAnne, Nulah) finding its way throughout most of the album. There are many classical instruments such as the cello, viola, violin and even classical guitar as well as many ethnic sounds from a quena flute, out and other Eastern European instruments. On the jazz side of things there are occasional outbursts of saxophone and even a trombone.

Starting out with black metal buzzsaw guitar effects, “A bolyongás ideje” launches NAIV straight into the realms of the metal universe unlike the rather tame predecessor “Geometria” which seemed to lounge in the chill electronica section of the music store for far too long. Despite the heavy bombast of the guitar riffs, the sensual female vocals and folk melodies craft a pacifying folk metal vibe with occasional outbursts of proggy keyboard runs that are straight out of the 70s symphonic prog playbook. While sounding a bit like an 80s AC/DC riff at the beginning, “Tsitsushka” actually takes on a cool atmospheric cloud cover while the guitars clammer away more akin to a caffeinated surf rock band than black metal but it gets even more estranged from the opener with the inclusion of a horn section. “Embersólyom” calms things down quite a bit with dark ambient sounds shrouding a mysterious flute emerging and then breaking into an electro-folk-rock groove which takes on a tango type of rhythmic drive.

“Számtalan színek” continues the ethnic flavors only sounds more like it’s rooted in Balkan gypsy folk only with blistering black metal guitar accompaniments that when dropped out sounds more like a movie soundtrack. In many ways this style of black folk metal reminds me of Greece’s Rotting Christ on some of the newer albums. The violin and viola presence on this one really sets it apart from the other tracks. “A valóság kazamatái” begins with a jittery computer generated sounding keyboard intro before bursting into hefty black metal bombast but it’s accompanied by the folk melodies emerging from the keyboards. When the guitar parts are dropped the folk instruments stand out and the percussive drive begins to sound more like a bigbeat techno album. The layered effects are perfectly mixed and the sounds that come and go add the proper contrast at the exact perfect times.

“Kék madár (Négy kép)” takes the ethnic influences to the most extremes as this one sound like a gypsy wedding somewhere deep in Bosnia but then picks up with a bizarrely contrasting flute run that sounds more like 70s Focus than Jethro Tull along with electronica drumming styles and with no metal guitar sounds to be heard sounds like the project went Opeth on us and abandoned the metal altogether, at least temporarily. Actually they abandoned the rock altogether on this one as the track starts to sound like a heartbeat with flute. Luckily “Napút” brings back the metal heft but trades off with a more techno sound. It then gives the mic to Martina who add the ethnic touches. Nice beefy guitar sounds but at this stage of the game it’s obvious that the metal guitars play a subordinate role to the ethnic and electronic sounds. However just as i say that “Vető” comes along and delivers the heaviest guitar sounds of all with thrashy palm muted beefcakes pounding away while Martina sings her little heart out. It’s a nice contrast between the hyper-masculine and sensual feminine. Beauty and beast of a different name.

“Szélvész” ends the album on a more folk than metal note but the guitar heft does deliver. It’s obvious at this stage of THY CATAFALQUE’s lengthy career that the metal isn’t the most important element of its sound and that it’s all about juxtaposing disparate genres with the Hungarian folk elements being the most prominent. The magic of NAIV is in the production values and how well all these melodies are crafted into nice smorgasbord of sounds. While not substantially different than previous albums, this one seems to have catchier hooks, greater contrast between bombast and sensual touches and is just more satisfying than the lopsided feed of “Geometria” as all the elements unfold in an organic manner and nothing seems forced. Overall THY CATAFALQUE creates the perfect recipe where the gritty metal aspects sit well next to the timeless folk melodies and futuristic electronic and ambient sounds. Although this isn’t primarily a metal album, the last track adds some of the only raspy black metal vocals to be heard. This is a solid album from beginning to end if you dig this sorta thing.

NOCTURNUS AD Paradox

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
NOCTURNUS has always been the odd band out in the old school death metal world. Founded in the prolific Tampa scene era where early pioneers Deicide, Obituary and Death were breaking free from the thrash metal cocoon, this band led by Mike Browning formed after his stint with the early years of another Tampa legend, Morbid Angel. Right from the getgo Browning had a different vision for his new baby which meant jumping off the bandwagon of bloody and gory awe and heading to space for more sci-fi inspired themes. Along with this thematic shift so too did the musical direction. In 1988 the band added the unheard of instrument of keyboards to its death metal orotundity and by 1990 had created a unique specimen in the death metal universe with “The Key” which crafted a thematic journey of a cyborg traveling back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ terminator style! The album is a classic and a personal favorite as well.

The band squeaked out a second album, “Thresholds” before friction broke the band up however despite Browning founding NOCTURNUS, he hadn’t trademarked the brand name so his sneaky colleagues did so behind his back, kicked him out and continued on. They released one more album titled “Ethereal Tomb” in 2000 before the backlash forced them into retirement. The whole NOCTURNUS project had pretty much been assassinated just like poor JC in “The Key.” It’s fair to say that nobody ever expected a return to the early days when old school death metal was rampaging across the Floridian peninsula like Hurricane Andrew on a very bad day. Come 2013 and Earache Records decided to re-release “Thresholds” for the first time and when all was said and done Browning’s following band After Death began to play under the name NOCTURNUS on a Mexican tour as well as for Deathfest 2014 where they played “The Key” in its entirety. To avoid legal actions the band name was quickly changed to NOCTURNUS AD and that’s where this album comes in.

PARADOX pretty much picks up where “The Key” left off and makes good on all those squandered opportunities of what should have been only at the same timeline as the original. With all the evolutions in death metal over the past 30 years, it’s amazing that Browning could put together a worthy successor to the classic that has only gained more avid followers as time elapses. The band went as far as to record the album in full retro regalia down to the production. This truly sounds like it was recorded as the followup to the 1990 classic and even the theme is a continuation of the cyborg terminator run amok in a post-apocalyptic era. Even the AD part of the new moniker signifies a sequel to cover art’s instant wink and nod to the past glories. However despite insinuating “The Key Part 2,” this is really the band After Death under a new banner of allegiance. This band consists not only of Mike Browning on vocals and drum abuse duties but finds the twin guitar attack from Belial Koblak from bands like Acheron, Dethroned and Godless along with Demian Heftel from Brutality, Astaroth and Contorted. The bass duties are carried out by ex-Obituary member Daniel Tucker with keyboardist Josh Holdren adding all those spooky synth sounds and trippy intros.

Attempting a retro rehash of a classic like “The Key” is risky business for sure but given the unfair nature of being kicked out of your own band, it seems fans may be a tad sympathetic and willing to give this a chance at least it was the case for me. What i wasn’t expecting though is how well done and down right fun this album is. True that it shamelessly transports back to the 90s and recreates a near blueprint of “The Key” in every possible way but let’s keep a couple things in mind here. This IS an album about time travel and all so why the fuck not, however none of this would amount to a rat’s mangy ass if the album wasn’t really, really good and that it is. In a world where technical death metal has become as complex as some of the most demanding classical scores throughout history, it is refreshing to hear an album that simply cranks out the old school charm without crafting works so nebulous that it requires a few listens just to sink in.

PARADOX as good as it is does not match up to the original “The Key” but is much better than i ever could have hoped. With a tight cast of musical maestros who are more than competent on their respective instruments, the powerful bombast of the twin guitars, bass, drums and subtlety of the swirling synth lines conspire to create one of the most satisfying comeback albums of recent years. All the ingredients for a find retro death metal album are here in great abundance. The composiitons are all crafted to perfection and the riffs are memorable and best of all the variations are clever and laid out in such a way so that the album never becomes monotonous. While newer death metal albums are tending to go into more psychedelic arenas, NOCTURNUS AD returns to the brutal bombast of the no nonsense era with the extra keyboard elements adding all those cosmic touches that make this a spectacular release with pummeling energetic deliveries and a compelling example of picking up the pieces decades after everything fell apart. Will this band strike again? Hard to say if the band will leave this time and another name change is in order but in the meantime we got at least one album out of the NOCTURNUS AD brand name.

SMOULDER Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring

Album · 2019 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
There's a thick field of traditional doom metal bands singing about retro-fantasy subjects with women on lead vocals these days, but I guess fair's fair: back in the early days of metal hard rock was a bit of a boy's club, and if redressing the balance sounds this good sign me up.

Packed with lyrical references to classic fantasy - from Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, and C.L. Moore to Dragonlance - the album has something of a variable mixing job (the vocals can get lost a little, which is a shame), but nonetheless takes the listener on a journey into the barbaric border region between traditional doom metal and classic heavy metal. (I detect a certain amount of classic-period Manilla Road influence which is especially welcome.)

BLOOD INCANTATION Hidden History of the Human Race

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
BLOOD INCANTATION has really made a name for itself in the last few years with its unique blend of psychedelic metal inspired by the legendary underground act Timeghoul mixed with the more rabid venomous bombast of classic early 90s Morbid Angel. While this Denver band hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel when it comes to the world of death metal, they have managed to forge several disparate strains of extreme metal into the same playing field and in the process have managed to stand out in the seemingly endless supply of bands that are vying for recognition. Formed all the way back in 2011, the band released a few demos and the EP “Interdimensional Extinction” in 2013 but didn’t unleash the first full-length release upon the metal world until 2016 with “Starspawn” which displayed a fully seasoned band that mastered the art of the challenges of tech death metal without the ceaseless rapid fire assaults that turn many off. In other words they mastered the art of varied soundscapes.

“Starspawn” put the band on the map for its innovative mix of death metal and progressive rock with psychedelic elements and after that the band went even further with its sophomore release HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE which displays the 70s art of Bruce Pennington as cover art and incorporates many sci-fi and alternative history theories as a basis for its subject matter. This thematic approach goes hand in hand with the increased use of Timeghoul inspired psychedelia and in the process has increased awareness of a new strain of what is being called psychedelic death metal which merges the orotundity of the instrumental bombast and death vocal growls with more atmospheric eeriness that has been much more popular in the world of black metal. Due to the lengthy slower passages, it not surprising that the death metal cedes to a more doomy dirge-like pace.

While death metal is clearly the star of the show here, BLOOD INCANTATION led by guitarist / vocalist Paul Riedl has exponentially increased the influences from progressive rock as well and as a result this album of 36 minutes and 20 seconds only consists of four tracks with the showcase crown jewel “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” swallowing up half the playing time with classic prog twists and turns fortified with the metal attributes the band has already established for itself. Touted as one of the best new metal bands of contemporary extreme metal, HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE certainly has its appeal. It’s well paced with no nonsense tech death metal passages that will please the most jaded extreme metall-o-phile along with lengthy drifting passages that explore surreal and psychedelic textures with atmospheric eeriness that evoke astral terror. However there are a few things that bug me about this album as well so let me tell you about them!

“Slave Species Of The Gods” is a feisty and appropriate opener as it not only delivers the crushing metal riffs and blastbeat frenzies expected of metal’s most dangerous offspring but establishes the band as one that doesn’t compromise its core principles for the sake of expanding its tentacles into non-metal arenas. The subject matter evokes the mysteries of the hidden history that reminds me of the possibilities presented by such alt history researchers as Zecharia Sitchin which really make you wonder if humanity has been controlled all along by unseen alien forces that have the ability to shape shift and travel between dimensions. While establishing the band as a pyroclastic explosion of death metal energy, this is also the least varied track but manages to throw in a few classic Morbid Angel guitar squeals and yes this band does owe a lot to Morbid Angel in the heavier aspects of its sound.

“The Giza Power Plant” follows suit as another bombastic blood curdling example of tech death metal only the riffs are more jagged and angular while Riedl’s vocals are more tortured and set back in the mix. The track is more varied in that it not only pummels with an exhaustive array of tech death riffs but throws in some classic old school death metal parts as well. All is well until about the 2 minute mark a stylistic shift suddenly occurs and the death metal turns into a psychedelic menagerie of Egyptian styled folk music that sounds lifted right out of the Nile playbook. Given the theme and folk segment, it just seems way too derivative for its own good. The music is more melodic than the average Nile romp through along with the ancient Pharaohs and it does offer some interesting variations but considering Nile is a contemporary band this seems a little rip-offy for my tastes.

This brings me to my next complaint about this album. “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)” serves more as a psychedelic intermission between the first two tracks and the lengthy progressive closer. This one begins with dark ambient sounds bubbling up from the abyss and slowly percolates with synth swirls and a percussive groove that slowly builds up momentum. Joined in by guitar and bass, it sounds like a great idea but after hearing this it kept nagging me that i’ve heard this riff before. After a few spins it came to me that the melodic guitar riff is the same as the intro of “Red Barchetta” from Rush’s classic “Moving Pictures” which once realized gives you insight into how much the great Rush inspired BLOOD INCANTATION as well. Now mind you, this track is very cool and very well done especially how it builds and builds until it climaxes in a death metal orgasmic flow of angst and then drifts off into psychedelia but i honestly can’t get past that the riff was so blatantly lifted.

The true gem of this album is the grand finale “Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul)” which kind of amasses everything that came before, mixes it together in different proportions and then adds a bunch of new ideas that deliver a cosmic death metal delivery that lasts for over 18 minutes. Chock full of both finger breaking metal wankery and long existential drifts into surreality, this track embodies the very essence of what one would consider progressive death metal, that being a creative lengthy sprawl of death metal magic that is teased out into lengthy massive chunks of real estate. Basically this track is a multi-segmented one that meanders and trades off between surreal passages and more bombastic metal rampage. There’s even a small tribute to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” around the seven minute mark where those oscillating electronic noises gurgle up from behind the scenes before the metal mania resumes. This is a phenomenally brilliant track and is worth the price of admission alone.

Despite my gripes (which are significant) about this album and how BLOOD INCANTATION chose to use some too obvious references in its compositions, i cannot help but admire how well the album is stitched together otherwise. HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE basically carries the torch of the possibilities that could have been attained by the legendary Timeghoul if only they had stuck around beyond two mere demos. While very few probably ever heard those legendary sounds tucked away in the 90s underground, BLOOD INCANTATION has done a huge service in not only bringing Timeghoul to the metal world’s attention but has also taken the baton and run away with the stylistic approach never realized. In that regard BLOOD INCANTATION has crafted a brilliant display of psychedelic and progressive death metal unlike anything else. If only it weren’t for those too close for comfort experiences with Rush and Nile and i’d rate this even higher. One thing is for sure, BLOOD INCANTATION is an act to keep your eyes on. The next album will be eagerly awaited with high expectations.

BONDED Rest In Violence

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
After spending years in Sodom guitarist Bernemann and drummer Markus Freiwald found their services were no longer required by mainman Tom Angelripper. So what are you going to do? Form a band to kick Sodom’s ass of course. Bonded certainly give it a good go and with Rest In Violence they have released an album that to my ears betters recent Sodom releases and even reaches the heights of their best stuff at times.

To say they have bettered recent Sodom releases is high praise indeed as Sodom continues to release excellent thrash metal to this day. Bernemann, Friewald and their new mates, vocalist Ingo Bajonczak, bassist Marc Hauschild and second guitarist Chris Tsitsis have stuck with playing thrash but while there’s plenty of material here that’s belts along at breakneck pace there also slower more groove orientated stuff. The album is stuffed with great songs with strong hooks and an impressive collection of memorable riffs and perfectly demonstrated on the first 3 songs – all killer, the title track featuring none other than Overkill vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth who puts in an expected fine performance. Though having a much lower register Bajonczak is no slouch himself with his powerful and gritty delivery. Je Suis Charlie slows things down somewhat but with its infectious riffing and melody is another winner. In fact these guys barely put a foot wrong. The plodding No Cure For Life doesn’t match the heights of previous tracks but its slow groove still hits the mark down to its strong riff. It’s the more up tempo stuff though where this band really slays and thankfully it’s not in short supply. These guys play well, great guitar work including the solos and a kick ass rhythm section and the sound is tight aided by a crystal clear but powerful production which nails you to the wall.

I’m loving this album, the first 2020 release I’ve bought. There’s a great future for Bonded if they can keep the quality quotient up as shown on Rest In Violence. They have set the benchmark for thrash metal bands this year to beat.

NILE Vile Nilotic Rites

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.47 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
In the years between the release of 2015’s ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ and 2019’s ‘Vile Nilotic Rites’ there has been some changes in the Nile camp, with the departure of Dallas Toler-Wade after some 20 years of being in the band. The band are again back as a quartet, with Sanders and Kollias being joined by Brad Parris (bass, vocals) and Brian Kingsland (guitars, vocals), but most importantly is what has happened to the music. Nile have looked back towards their roots in many ways, yet are also pushing forward with an album which is many ways is one of the most varied they have ever released. There is a brightness within it, a light which is shining, which allows them to move away from the lower register without ever losing any of the heaviness.

There are times when both guitars and bass are tracking note for note at incredible speed, with the bass being played so high up on the neck that it sounds almost like another guitar which allows space to be filled by the drumming of Kollias who has apparently got a second wind as this release probably contains his best performance yet. Apparently the band changed the way they undertook pre-production this time so when George was tracking his drums he had a much better idea of the finished sound. We even have orchestral passages which allow the band to have improved contrast so they can really come back firing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Nile album I haven’t really enjoyed, but this is taking things to a whole new level. The use of brass during “Seven Horns of War” is simply inspired, yet when the band really kick in the song becomes something down, dirty, disgusting and most definitely Nile.

It is still technical death metal, but in many ways they are pushing the boundaries and taking the genre into new directions. Lyrically Sanders is still pushing the boat with references to Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Levantine history, and who else would have a song about zombie ants? Sanders and Kollias are firmly at the helm, and with the new guys firmly on board and bedded in on the live circuit, they have created what may just be the best album of their career. It is certainly their most diverse, without losing any of the power and brutality for which they are renowned. Simply essential.

NOCTURNUS AD Paradox

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Once upon a time there was Nocturnus, who put out a couple of really solid technical death metal albums in the form of The Key and Thresholds before original founder Mike Browning and the rest of the group. Then there was After Death, Mike's next group, which took its name from a song from The Key and allowed Mike to keep his hand in the game.

Now there's Nocturnus AD, After Death having evolved into the full-fledged Nocturnus successor group they'd always had the potential to be. With Nocturnus themselves having been broken up for over a decade, it seems reasonable enough to assume that if Browning's former comrades there had intended to do anything with the name, they'd have done it by now. As it is, the field is clear for Browning to reconfigure After Death to deliver his own vision for where Nocturnus might have gone under his own direction.

If the band name weren't enough of the clue, the cover art should give away what the angle is here: yes, this might not be called "The Key Part 2: Death Metal Boogaloo", but thematically and stylistically speaking it's pretty much following on the footsteps of the Nocturnus debut album. (Yes, the time-travelling killer robot is back, and this time it's hanging out with Cthulhu.)

It's another technical death metal tour de force from Browning, who once again acts as both drummer and lead vocalist. If his drumming is a little prominent in the mix, that's all to the good, because his drums sound absolutely superb without taking anything away from the rest of the band. Despite having added blast beats to his bag of tricks, he's largely working in a style close to that of The Key, and if you really enjoyed that album and want more of the same I'd say that this hits that mark closer than any of the subsequent Nocturnus or After Death releases ever did.

DESTRUCTION Born To Perish

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
As soon as I put on the latest album from Destruction I wondered what on earth had happened, as the band were totally different from what I had heard on ‘Under Attack’. The drums are much more in your face, the guitars are heavier and the band has far more venom and power. I was convinced there had to be a new drummer and producer on board, and was somewhat surprised on checking the press release to see that not only is there a new drummer in Randy Black (Duskmachine, Level 10, ex-Deception, ex-Annihilator, ex-Primal Fear, ex-Rebellion, ex-W.A.S.P. (live)) but an additional guitarist in Damir Eskić (ex-Gonoreas, Gomorra). Anyone who has survived playing with the Canadian madman Jeff Waters has to know his stuff, and he definitely proves this here as the man is a monster. Having a drummer who can really drive a band from the back is worth their weight in gold as he not only provides the platform required but also pushes the guitarists into delivering something even more special – anyone who has seen the video of Testament performing “Rise Up” knows just what a difference it makes having Gene Hoglan in the band.

While this is not in a massively essential thrash album, it is a big step change from the last one in just about every area, from songs through performance and into production, with far more depth and power to the overall sound. The band have operated as a trio since the beginning of the century, so this line-up change is a major one for them, and allows Mike Sifringer to trade licks and ideas with another person for the first time in nearly 20 years, and this has provided the guys with new emphasis and energy. They have been one of the top Teutonic thrash bands for many years, and released their debut ‘Infernal Overkill’ all the way back in 1985 (as a trio, with both Mike and bassist/singer Schmier), and here they show that there is still plenty of life in them yet. It will be interesting indeed to see what the next album is like once the quartet have been out on the road a while and really bedded down. As it is, it is a welcome return to form.

NINGEN ISU Ningen Isu Meisakusen 30 Shuunen Kinen Best Ban

Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
voila_la_scorie
Ningen Issue's rise to international fame... Well, okay, they're not exactly that famous. But considering that until a few years ago, they were barely known outside of their native Japan and now they have videos on YouTube scoring views in the hundreds of thousands and even one over 3 million, their future has suddenly become rather bright.

But as I was saying, their rise in popularity first really began in increase after an appearance at Ozz Fest in 2013 and then increased further after having been invited back in 2015. Since then, heavy music fans around the world (England, the U.S., Russia, Germany, Korea, and more) have been taking notice, and after last year's 21st album, "Shin Seinen" was released with the video for its 8:30 single, "Heartless Scat", reaction video U-tubers have been helping to spread the word a lot.

That leads us to this compilation album, "Ningen Isu Seisaku 30 Shunen Kinen Best Ban", which translates as, "Ningen Isu Famous Works 30th Anniversary Best Edition", or something close to that. There are three important things to know about this compilation, which I'll lay out below.

First of all, the songs. This comp includes tracks from 15 of the band's 21 studio albums. That's six whole albums unrepresented and four of them I would include in my top ten picks for best albums. However, the album also includes the "Jinmensou" version that was recorded as a B-side for 1991's single release of "Yashagaike" (noticeably absent from this compilation), one of the four bonus tracks of new material from the 25th Anniversary comp, and three brand new tracks, two of which, "Inochi Urimasu (Life for Sale)" and "Ai no Nirvana (Love Nirvana)" have official videos on YouTube. So even though we may lament the absence of some tracks from some unrepresented albums, we get a little consolation.

Next, the music. Ningen Isu has always remained a heavy band though they went through a period of trying out folk rock, stoner rock, hard rock, and a few other styles that are more hard than heavy. This compilation generally sticks to the heavy sound of the band, just with a few small exceptions. Basically, if you enjoy the heavy, progressive British rock of the early seventies, the metal of the NWoBHM, frequent touches of thrash metal or even a hint of nineties hard and heavy rock, then you'll likely enjoy the music presented on this album. I think the track selection was made intentionally with their international audience in mind. Not everyone can afford to buy Japanese imports and so it's a good bet that most fans of the band haven't heard the majority of the band's catalogue. Therefore, someone decided that a compilation that emphasizes the band's heavier side would be best.

Finally, I was surprised to find such a thick booklet of liner notes inside. As it was, all of the songs on this 2-CD package have their lyrics printed inside in Japanese and in English. So now it's possible to learn at least what the songs are about. Suzuki's Hell-themed songs are sometimes rather gory while the Wajima-penned songs often have some connection with Buddhism. As well, we can now learn an English title for the songs instead of trying to remember the Japanese one. At the end of the booklet is a discography that also translates all of the album titles. While I prefer personally to get the know the Japanese titles, I think it's a great idea to have official translations to make it easier for non-speakers to talk about albums and songs.

Whether you're a fan of the band and have a bunch of albums or you are a newbie and not very sure which albums to get first, this 30th anniversary 2CD compilation is a solid collection of heavy rock and heavy metal.

MAYHEM Daemon

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Daemon feels like something of a back to basics album for Mayhem - rather than trying the sort of production experiments or thematic weirdness which characterised albums like Grand Declaration of War, Ordo ad Chao, and Esoteric Warfare, they produce some straight-ahead no-nonsense black metal. You could sort of see this as the third of a triptych of Mayhem's "pure" black metal studio albums, along with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Chimera.

Of those three, I don't think it quite reaches the consistently high quality of Chimera, and it certainly isn't as groundbreaking as De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, but it's a fun outing which proves that Mayhem are still no slouches, even if they risk going through the motions at this point.

SABATON The Great War

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.73 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
The Swedes are back, doing what they do very well indeed, providing bombastic power metal with lyrics pertaining to their favourite subject, war. This time around we have two versions to choose from, namely a standard release and the “History Edition”. The difference between the two is the former has just the music, while the latter has some spoken explanation between each piece so that the listener has some of the background. I was somewhat surprised to see they had done this, as I would have thought the History Edition was the way to go, but I guess there are some who just want the music, and others who will have to buy both so in terms of sheer commerciality it makes good sense.

The narrator is Bethan Dixon Bate, and she provides just the right amount of gravitas to the role, not adding any excitement as there is no need – as soon as she finishes peaking the war machine which is Sabaton are there to take over. This is another band who always produce a huge sound, with singer Joakim Brodén both at the head of the band and also at the helm as he is tasked with ensuring the sound is just right. I note with interest that one of the supporting singers is Floor Jansen, I bet she had a blast. Multi-tracked backing vocals makes one think that at times they have a huge choir supporting them, and they would need to be big indeed to cope with the over the top (boys we go!) approach. But even though it is a huge sound there is always a tremendous sense of melody, and music which really grooves along. This is metal with purpose, not a direct assault to the sense but rather one that ensures the listeners keep turning up the volume so the neighbours can also join in the fun.

The guitars are quite intricate, while the rhythm section keeps it nailed to the floor, and all one can do is smile even though the subject is no laughing matter whatsoever. Sabaton have long set out their stall, as they play a certain type of metal with a certain type of lyric, but there is no-one in this particular field who can live with them. Sabaton continue to deliver the goods some 20 years on, and long may it continue.

ENTOMBED A.D. Bowels Of Earth

Album · 2019 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Bowels Of Earth" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Entombed A.D.. The album was released through Century Media Records in August 2019. It´s the successor to "Dead Dawn" from 2016 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as second guitarist Guilherme Miranda has been added to the lineup, making Entombed A.D. a five-piece on "Bowels Of Earth".

Stylistically the material on "Bowels Of Earth" is a continuation of the old school Swedish death metal style of the two predecessors. It´s slightly darker and features less death´n´roll elements (although they are still there. An example is the guitar solo section on "Elimination"), but it´s nuances and ultimately "Bowels Of Earth" sounds unmistakably like Entombed A.D.. The regular version of the album features 9 originals and a cover of "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" by country musician Hank Williams, while the limited edition of the album features an additional cover track in "Back at the Funny Farm" by Motörhead.

The musicianship is strong and lead vocalist L-G Petrov still delivers a distinct sounding growling attack, although his vocal style has changed a bit over the years. He is slightly more monotone these days, but his vocals are still decent. The material on the album are generally well written and mostly fairly memorable, but some tracks a bit unremarkable. Highlights to my ears are the album opener "Torment Remains", the title track, "Fit for a King", and "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive". The latter is actually the most standout track on the album, and that´s of course a bit worrying, when a cover track is the most interesting song on an album, but the other tracks are of a good quality too.

"Bowels Of Earth" features a raw and powerful sound production, so it´s a quality release on most parameters. The songwriting could have been a little more memorable and there are some moments on the album which are maybe a bit dull or at least sounds much like something we´ve heard before (and better) from the band. Mostly though "Bowels Of Earth" is another good quality death metal release by Entombed A.D. and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

BROTHERS OF METAL Emblas Saga

Album · 2020 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
Whenever a band makes a truly impressive debut, it’s very exciting, and yet it can also raise the stakes for any future releases the band makes, as fans hope for them to build on their successes and potentially come up with something even better. The single best debut I’ve heard in recent years was Prophecy of Ragnarok from Swedish power metal band Brothers of Metal, who self-released the album in April 2017, before being signed to AFM, who gave the album a much deserved worldwide release in November 2018. The release was as perfect as a debut can be, with the band presenting a fully fleshed out collection of songs, stylistically falling somewhere in between the epic power metal of Sabaton, and the “true metal” attitude of Manowar, tying it all together with Viking themed lyrics and imagery. I was simultaneously blown away, yet also curious to know if it would even be possible for the band to match such a strong debut, let alone top it. With their much-anticipated sophomore release, Emblas Saga, set for release this coming January, and after giving it several listens, I now have the answer I was looking for: I’ll go into full detail below, but the short of it is, YES, the band has done it!

Like its predecessor, Emblas Saga has a very distinct feel to it, with a base sound that falls somewhat in line with epic power metal bands like Sabaton and Powerwolf, but with a greater emphasis on symphonic arrangements, some folk elements, and a much more ambitious vocal setup. Musically, there’s a wide variety of tracks, just as on the debut, with a good mix of slow, powerful heavy metal, some more mid-paced melodic metal, some very speedy power metal, some more folk-infused tracks, and a couple of ballads. The one thing this album has that wasn’t found on the debut is a slightly longer, near-epic length title track, which is far more complex and ambitious than anything the band had previously attempted, and I’ll describe it further below, but needless to say, it delivers! While everything sounds perfect musically, with the guitars being suitably intense and melodic when needed, the folk melodies being beautiful, the symphonic arrangements being epic, and the production sounding powerful and crystal clear, the strongest aspects of the release are still the vocals and overall songwriting.

As before, the band has three vocalists, with Mats Nilsson largely being relegated to some incredibly epic backing vocals, as well as some of the best narration I’ve ever heard on a metal album, while Ylva Eriksson and Joakim Lindback Ericksson share lead vocal duties. Both leads are as impressive as ever before, with Joakim sounding wilder and more intense than ever, sometimes coming pretty close to death growls, while still sounding smooth, and Ylva’s deep, powerful yet also very smooth and accessible vocals are every bit as strong as on the debut. If anything, the latter is given more room to work with on this album, as Joakim is used more for harmonies a lot of the time (which are every bit as awesome as before), while Ylva tends to take the lead throughout most of the tracks, where she gets to shine, as she’s allowed to experiment a bit with different vocal styles, at times, including some far more aggressive vocals than anything we heard from her on the debut. Just like before, both vocalists are amazing on their own, but sound at their absolute best when paired together, and as talented as they are, credit must also be given to the material they’re working with, as some of the vocal melodies on this album are absolutely out of this world good, and quite a few tracks already left me stunned after just the first listen.

I’ve already hinted at it enough, so I’ll just get to the point and say: The songs on Emblas Saga are all perfect, as the album manages to have both some of the most diverse songwriting I’ve heard on a recent power metal album, as well as some of the most consistently catchy, melodic, epic and most memorable overall.

There’s a little something for everyone here, but more than that, there’s almost certainly something you may not think you’ll want until you hear it and then wish other bands could do something like it. The album opens with an epic intro track, titled “Brood of the Trickster”, which has some great cinematic orchestral arrangements, to go along with some awesome narration, which introduces the overarching concept of the album. I generally dislike narration on albums, but it’s handled perfectly here, only appearing on the intro and then briefly during a few later tracks, and it’s very dramatic and epic, while also being very well performed.

Following that epic intro, the first full song is “Powersnake”, a slow, hard-hitting track, which starts with some epic symphonic arrangements, heavy riffs, and epic chanting vocals, before settling into a nice rhythm for the opening verses, with pounding drums and awesome vocals by both leads. The track has some wonderful melodies, with the chorus being equal parts catchy and very melodic, and then in the second half, there’s a beautiful softer, folk-infused section, followed by awesome choral vocals and an amazing guitar solo. The track didn’t blow me away at first, but over time it’s become a favorite, and it gets the album off to an amazing start. Next is “Hel”, a fairly heavy, guitar-driven track with some insanely epic chanting early on, before speeding up for the opening verse. The track alternates between heavy, fast-paced verses, and a slow, beautiful chorus, with wonderful vocal harmonies, and while it’s another track that took a few listens to grab me, once it did, it sure never let go.

Being honest, the first song that blew me away on my initial listen was “Chain Breaker”, another speedy, hard-hitting track, which has a very classic metal feel to it. Joakim takes the lead with some wild, intense vocals during the verses, and then the chorus is frantic, heavy and by far the wildest moment the band has produced so far, with even Ylva coming close to screaming, and it very much has a classic heavy metal feel to it, awesomely. At the same time, the band manages to fit in some very nice melodic passages, both instrumentally and vocally, to help contrast the more intense moments, and so it ends up being an insanely addictive track. While that track is awesome enough, the real magic begins with “Kaunaz Dagaz”, one of the most wonderfully melodic and beautiful power metal tracks I’ve ever heard, while still being intense and fast-paced. It opens with a wonderful soft section, complete with some very beautiful vocals from Ylva, before speeding up and then giving way to some wonderful melodic guitar work, which falls close to the folk territory, except played entirely on guitar, and both the tone and melodies performed here are incredible. The track continues to pick up momentum with some epic harmonies during the verses, and then the chorus is absolutely beautiful, catchy, epic and just plain amazing in every possible way, all while being upbeat and fairly fast-paced, and the guitar solo in the second half is technically solid and quite nice sounding, while the sped-up final run through the chorus is pure gold. Overall, it’s an incredible track, and it certainly sounds unlike pretty much anything I’ve heard from a power metal band before. It’s hard to put into words what sounds different about it, but there’s just a little something to it that feels somewhat familiar, yet unfamiliar at the same time, and I love it.

Back to the more common, but still awesome territory, “Theft of the Hammer” is a rather comical tale, with hilarious lyrics, while the track moves along at a nice pace, not overly fast but still quite upbeat. Joakim takes lead again during the verses and delivers some intense, yet rather comedic vocals, which fit the track perfectly, while the chorus has more excellent harmonies, and is very catchy and extremely fun, while the second half has an excellent harmonized vocal section, and more epic narration. Overall, it’s a very fun track. Next is the first ballad, “Weaver of Fate”, which is largely driven by some wonderful acoustic guitar work and some nice, epic symphonic arrangements. It’s the quieter of the two ballads and has Ylva singing at her softest and most beautiful, which of course works perfectly, as she delivers a powerful, emotional performance, especially during the amazing chorus, while the guitar work gets pretty epic in the second half. While it’s only my second favorite of the two ballads on this album, it’s still an amazing track, for sure, and it’s just a testament to how good the second ballad is than any knock against this one. The first single from the album is “Njord”, a slow, but heavy and intense track, with some nice folk melodies, epic symphonic arrangements, stomping riffs, and a wonderful chorus, with excellent vocal melodies. The two leads both do a wonderful job throughout, and it’s a fun, epic and very catchy track.

The biggest surprise on the album is the title track, which begins with some wonderful chanting vocals from Ylva, which give way to some epic narration. The song is fairly slow-paced but does a great job of alternating between heavy parts, with some great riffs, and some melodic sections with wonderful melodies. The verses have alternating lead vocals, with both vocalists doing a terrific job, and they perform in a way that feels more like a musical, leaning heavily into the storytelling, while the chorus is epic, melodic, and extremely catchy, as usual. The track has some complex arrangements and takes some surprising turns in the second half, with plenty of memorable moments, including an extremely epic final run through the chorus, and while the band attempts a lot here, they manage to pull everything off perfectly, so it’s up being both their most ambitious track to date, as well as one of their absolute best. Moving towards the end, “Brothers Unite” is a rather laid back, though still upbeat track, with some very epic drum work, as well as more amazing symphonic arrangements, and some very triumphant sounding melodies.

It’s a very fun, catchy and wonderfully melodic track, with some of the best-harmonized vocals on the entire album, as Joakim gets quite intense at points, while the choral vocals towards the end are stunning, and t’s a wonderful track, overall. The second ballad on the album, as well as the second single, is “One”, and this is a much more epic, cinematic ballad compared to the earlier ballad, starting with some epic vocals from Joakim during the verses, which give way to possibly the single best chorus I’ve heard this year, and the band goes all out with some incredible vocal melodies and uplifting lyrics, for one of the most emotional, powerful, epic, and just overall beautiful choruses I’ve ever heard on a ballad. It’s an unbelievably epic track from start to finish, with everything from the symphonic arrangements to the vocals, to the lyrics, to the dramatic narration and the guitar solo in the second half all being incredible. In another review, I mentioned “Where the Wild Wolves Have Gone” by Powerwolf being possibly my favorite metal ballad in recent years, and this track is right up there with that, as it’s an absolute masterpiece.

Moving back to the speedy territory, “Ride of the Valkyries” (which has nothing to do with Richard Wagner) is a heavy, intense track with some of the best guitar work on the album, both from the riffs and excellent melodic solo work in the second half. It charges along at a frantic pace and has more intense vocals and epic melodies, as well as one of the most fun, catchy choruses on the album. It’s one of the most energetic tracks, for sure, and is another instant favorite. Closing out the album is “To the Skies and Beyond”, another mid-paced, but very upbeat track, with triumphant lyrics and melodies, as well as more epic symphonic arrangements and beautiful folk melodies. Early on, there are some beautiful softer passages, and the verses are very light and melodic, while the chorus has some vocal melodies that are just so damn emotional, epic and beautiful, they feel too good to be of this world. The track gets more upbeat and epic as it goes on, with the end sequence, in particular, being stunning, with Ylva giving an incredible vocal performance, while Joakim continues to provide some outstanding harmonies.

I know this review has been repetitive in praising the vocal harmonies, melodies and overall epic feel and awesomeness of this album, but that is because words fail to do the music justice, at this point, and I’m pretty much at a loss on what to say, except that this album and band are just absolutely incredible! Brothers of Metal immediately left their mark on the genre back in 2017 with their debut, and Emblas Saga builds on that release, presenting another diverse collection of songs, which further explores everything that made the band’s debut so special while going even further and at times showing new sides to the band. Fans of the debut, as well as fans of Sabaton or Powerwolf, are highly recommended to give this a listen, and anyone looking for the next big thing in power metal should pay attention, as I don’t see how any other new or upcoming bands can match this! Brothers of Metal have already proven themselves more than worthy of entering Valhalla, but hopefully, Odin allows them to stay on Earth for a while longer yet, so they can give us mere mortals more wonderful music to enjoy!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/12/14/brothers-of-metal-emblas-saga-review/

AGNOSTIC FRONT Get Loud!

Album · 2019 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Any fan of Agnostic Front will look at the front cover of ‘Get Loud!’ and immediately recognise the characters from their 1986 classic ‘Cause For Alarm’, and have an idea of what they are going to find inside. But when a band has been at the forefront of a musical movement for nearly 40 years, with a line-up which has been incredibly consistent in recent times, then everyone should already know what to expect. The godfathers of hardcore are back doing what they do best, mixing hardcore aggression with thrash to create a metallic mosh of sweat and energy. There are 14 songs on the album, which is only 31 minutes long, with only one breaking the three minute barrier yet there is no need for length when it is as powerful as this. Roger Miret has been at the helm since 1982 and he has lost none of his aggression as he has matured, just become more focused.

Miret says, “Something real. I think that’s the secret to our longevity. People see us, and they see something that’s real and genuine, and they want to be a part of that. Who wants to be a part of something that’s fake? If you feel a connection to something and it feels real, you wanna know about it and be a part of it.” This is real, this is hardcore, and to understand what the scene is all about then you need Agnostic Front who show no signs of slowing down yet and are still producing incredibly solid albums indeed.

MIND KEY Mk III - Aliens in Wonderland

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Mind Key were formed in Napoli some twenty years ago by in 1999 by Dario De Cicco (keyboards) and Emanuele Colella (guitars) who wanted to create a band that brought together Dream Theater, Symphony X, Evergrey, and Pain of Salvation with short direct hard rock numbers. They release their debut in 2004, played gigs with the likes of Dream Theater, Vision Divine, and Pendragon, before releasing their second album “Pulse for a Graveheart” in 2009. This saw them with a new singer, Aurelio Fierro, and they again toured with the likes of Edguy, Vanden Plas, Europe, and Hammerfall, but the band then went on an extended break.

Now they are back, bolstered by a new rhythm section of bassist Lucio Grilli (ex-Soul Secret) and drummer Mirko De Maio (The Flower Kings, Hangarvain), and one has to wonder why they have been away for so long as this is high octane from the start and never lets up. I can certainly see where the guys get their inspiration from, but I am a little surprised not to find classic Stratovarius in the list as well as that style is all over this. Prog Metal, melodic metal, call it what you will, this is class from start to finish. Aurelio Fierro has a great voice, with an edge which gives it additional breadth and quality, combined with a great range. Add that to a rhythm section who are never going to just sit back and play gently but instead are driving and adding to the melody, and a keyboard player and guitarist who are locked together swapping leads and one is transported.

Thankfully the production is up to the task, and the result is an album that fans of bands such as Alcatrazz will also enjoy, with Colella proving he can shred like Malmsteen when the need arises. For fans of great rock music, let’s hope we don’t have to wait nearly as long for the next one.

INSOMNIUM Heart Like A Grave

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
How do you follow an album like Winter’s Gate? Insomnium’s masterpiece in my opinion – one continuous forty minute long piece of music, unless you bought the vinyl version then of course it was split in two. Unless you’re a prog band, not with an album of the same format.

Heart Like A Grave see’s the band returning to the shorter song structure of previous albums though some of them are quite long, Pale Morning Star almost hitting nine minutes for example. The sound is unmistakably Insomnium though they’ve gone and done an Iron Maiden and brought in a third guitarist, Jani Liimatainen. He hasn’t made any noticeable difference to their studio sound but I can imagine how live he could be a benefit for the layered guitar sounds, something he has already been doing for some time I believe. Heart Like A Grave delivers exactly what you’d expect from Insomnium. First rate melodic death metal with powerful melodic riffs overlaid by lead runs and interspersed with acoustic lulls and atmospheric sections. The vocals are largely growled of course courtesy of bassist Niilo Sevänen as usual but clean vocals are occasionally brought in which work well and should be used more often. Insomnium have always released strong albums so while Heart Like a Grave is up against some pretty stiff competition they’ve done well to equal and sometimes better their past work here. The band is obviously very comfortable in their style and sound and it shows through a strong sympathetic production. Best of all they maintain the quality level for the whole album.

Once again Insomnium have produced a winner. This is not going to turn heads the way Winter’s Gate did but musically it’s just as good and any fan of the band will not be disappointed. In fact those who felt the single piece of music format of the last album didn’t work will probably prefer the return to individual songs.

SACRED REICH Awakening

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Awakening" is the 5th full-length studio album by US, Arizona based thrash metal act Sacred Reich. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in August 2019. It´s been 23 years since the release of "Heal" from 1996 and there´s one lineup change compared to the lineup who recorded the predecessor as guitarist Jason Rainey has been replaced by Joey Radziwill. However there have been other significant lineup changes and band status changes in the 23 years between "Heal (1996)" and "Awakening". Drummer Dave McClain left in 1997 to join Machine Head and had a 20 year successful stint with that band, before rejoining Sacred Reich in 2018. While he was gone original drummer Greg Hall returned and filled his shoes. Sacred Reich also had a period of inactivity from 2000-2006. They reunited in 2006 and have played sporadic shows since then, but finally they decided it was also time for a new release.

Considering they´ve had 23 years to write new material (although they weren´t active in all those years), it´s a bit surprising that "Awakening" only features 8 tracks and a total playing time of 31:23. Back in their heyday of the late 80s/early 90s, where it was normal to release an album each or maybe every second year, they were also notoriously known for their slow writing pace. Four albums released from their inception in 1985 to their original disbandment in 2000 pretty much tells that story.

But it´s always about quality over quantity in my book and fortunately Sacred Reich fully deliver on that parameter. Sacred Reich went through some different phases in their original run from aggressive Slayer influenced thrash metal on their 1987 debut album "Ignorance", to a more melodic and varied type of thrash metal on "The American Way (1990)", to the more heavy metal and groove metal influenced "Independent (1993)" and "Heal (1996)", so it´s not easy to know what to expect 23 years down the line.

As it turns out Sacred Reich sounds unmistakably like Sacred Reich on "Awakening". They are as well playing as ever and lead vocalist/bassist Phil Rind sounds pretty great too. His voice has changed a bit over the years and has become a little more hoarse, but he can still hit some high notes when needed. Stylistically "Awakening" is quite the diverse release, featuring both aggressive fast-paced thrash metal tracks (in glimpses the Slayer influence from their debut album has returned), mid-paced heavy tracks (many of them greatly influenced by Black Sabbath), and also quite a bit of melody (the best example of that is the chorus to "Death Valley"). A track like "Killing Machine" (which to my ears is a bit of a gem) also bears a strong traditional heavy metal influence.

So while Sacred Reich are still mostly refered to as a thrash metal act, there is much more to them than that (always has been). In the past they weren´t always successful with their genre experiments, but they hit the nail pretty perfect on "Awakening", which is a strong release throughout. The sound production is raw, organic, and powerful, the musicianship is strong (damn McClain is a great drummer), and the songwriting intriguing and clever. The album requires an open mind and a taste for other music styles than thrash metal, because this is definitely not a 100% thrash metal release, but to those who enjoy high quality heavy music, "Awakening" is a recommendable release. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

OPETH In Cauda Venenum

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
progshine
I respect Opeth very much! And I still believe they are one of the most important/innovative bands of the last 30 years. As the world sank with regrets over the group's changes since Heritage, I was curious to know where the band was going. It turns out that the band... keeps going! After the great Pale Communion Opeth released a very weak album with Sorceress and I really didn't have much hope for the next album, but here they are with In Cauda Venenum!

First of all I need to get out of my head two little things that I noticed right away that are little easter eggs in the album (maybe there are more): The title of the album was obviouslyce mezzo-stolen from Italian Jacula's In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum. The album's opening track, Livets Tr'dg'rd, is a clear 'tribute' to the Swedish group 'lgarnas Tr'dg'rd. Being Mikael 'kerfeldt an avid 70s Prog collector this is no surprise. This makes me a little unquiet, I still don't know why.

In Cauda Venenum is a record that should please fans of the band's new phase. Despite the completely unnecessary introduction (an instrumental introduction only makes sense if it is linked to the concept of the album, it is not the case here, at all) the album brings variety, weight and also a little freshness to the band's sound. The fact that the album was composed in Swedish is extremely pleasant to my ears (yes, there is an English version, but Mikael himself in an interview said that for him the official album is in Swedish). There are several times when the weight takes over the songs, but there are parts with strings and many vintage keyboards.

The production of the record did not please me completely, the sound seems too compressed, there is the attempt, it seems, that everything has to sound vintage, but obviously recorded in digitail system. The drums suffer the most, a shame as Martin Axenrot did a fantastic job. But at the same time the insertion of voices and dialogues in Swedish throughout the album comes in quite well done.

Now, speaking about how long it is... 67 minutes! Needlessly long, at least 20 minutes longer than it should and this weighs on the end result: hearing fatigue.

Nevertheless, in the end, the Swedes delivered an exquisite work that requires some auditions to enjoy the album (I needed 4 and counting) and can easily reach the ears of the band's Prog period fans.

HUMAN FORTRESS Reign of Gold

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
For the first time in a while, it seems safe to say German power metal band Human Fortress have fully settled down, and stabilized their lineup. To say the band had some struggles following their acclaimed second album, Defenders of the Crown, would be a massive understatement, as that led to a massive lineup change, followed by the widely reviled Eternal Empire. Following that, the band was on hiatus for a while, before returning with the excellent comeback album, Raided Empire, with a largely changed lineup. They then released Thieves of the Night three years later, which followed suit, and now three more years later, the band is set to release their sixth full-length album, Reign of Gold, which marks the first time the band has ever gone three straight albums with the same lineup. With all that said, I was expecting great things from the album, and for the most part, it delivers.

Fans of past albums from the band should have a good idea of what to expect, as Reign of Gold very much falls in line with the previous two releases, especially, while at times showing traces of some of the more experimental work on their first two albums. Musically, this is at times some very hard-hitting power metal, while at other times being remarkably restrained, with the tempos varying greatly from track to track. Songwriting is great, for the most part, with a few tracks being especially amazing, while a couple of others fall a bit short. For the most part, it’s largely a guitar-driven album, with duo guitarists Torsten Wolf and Volker Trost providing some excellent riffs, solos, and melodic guitar work, while Dirk Liehm’s keys are largely in the background, setting the mood and adding to the atmosphere for most tracks. Performances are strong across the board, with Gus Monsanto sounding as powerful, yet smooth as always, and while a couple of tracks have some weak choruses, he still does the best he can with them, and shines through on many other tracks, sounding suitably intense at points, while also using his awesome, soaring power metal vocals at other points. My one complaint about the overall sound is that the production seems a bit weaker and less polished compared to what I’m used to hearing from the band. It doesn’t sound bad, but guitars don’t quite have the same crunch as normal, and drums are barely audible, at times.

The most important part of any album is, of course, the songwriting, and for the most part, Reign of Gold delivers in that area. Following a nice, brief intro track, “Thunder” kicks things off in fine form, with an epic tease at the chorus, followed by a fairly mid-paced opening verse, with nice drum beats and powerful vocals. The song moves along at a nice pace and has one of the strongest choruses on the album, as well as some of Monsanto’s most powerful vocals, and it sets the bar very high for the rest of the album, while the melodic guitar solo in the second half is brief but quite nice. Next is the title track, which moves at a faster pace during the verses, with more intense drumming, nice rhythm guitar work and some nice keys leading the way. The chorus is when things pick up, though, as what sounds like a second vocalist takes the lead, with some very wild and intense vocals, to go along with some outstanding lyrics and vocal melodies, which help make it easily the best chorus on the entire album. The solo in the middle is very melodic, somewhat classic heavy metal style, and is much more extended than the one on the opening track. Overall, it’s one of the best tracks on the album.

Next is one of the more experiment tracks, “Lucifer’s Waltz”, a darker, slower-paced and more atmospheric track. Aside from a heavy main riff, this track is quite restrained, instead opting for a more laid back, atmospheric approach, with a strong focus on keys and symphonic elements to set the tone. The verses are nice, with a foreboding feel to them, but the choruses fall quite flat and just don’t have to do anything to grab attention, as one would expect. Overall, it’s not one of my favorites, but it’s an interesting track, for sure, and I can see some people loving it. Next is “Bullet of Betrayal”, another slower paced track, though this one has a more upbeat feel to it, with some rather uplifting folk melodies. Verses are slow but fun, and the instrumental work is great throughout, but again, the chorus falls a bit flat, as the vocal melodies just aren’t very strong, and it’s the one time on the whole album where Monsanto sounds a bit forced. He more than makes up for that on “Shining Light”, though, a beautiful piano ballad with nice use of symphonic elements. The verses are fairly calm and do a great job of setting the tone, while the chorus is also fairly restrained the first time through, but becomes more epic later on, and Monsanto’s performance is equal parts emotional, powerful and just phenomenal all around, while the lyrics and melodies are also fantastic, so it just ends up being an amazing ballad, overall.

Pushing towards the end, another personal favorite is “Surrender”, the heaviest track on the album. It starts with some slow, brutal verses with crushing riffs and intense vocals, before speeding up for an all-out power metal assault during the chorus, with some of Monsanto’s most intense and powerful vocals I’ve ever heard, and the instrumental section in the second half is extremely epic. Next is “The Blacksmith”, which is a bit of a frustrating track. The verses have a slight hard rock edge to them, and the track alternates nicely between speedy and mid-paced passages, while the vocal melodies are strong throughout. However, I find many albums I’ve reviewed lately have had that one track or two where the keyboards bother me, and that’s the case for this track, as the keyboards during the chorus are very distracting, sound awful when mixed in with everything else, and just completely ruin an otherwise great track.

Thankfully, it’s all uphill from there, with all three remaining tracks being fantastic. First up is “Martial Valor”, a slightly folk-influenced heavy metal track, with some pretty heavy riffs during the verses. The track moves along at a slow pace and has some rather intense verses, to go along with an excellent, very melodic chorus, with some fantastic vocal melodies, and it’s one of the catchiest songs on the album, while the folk melodies throughout are quite wonderful. The first single for the album is “Legion of the Damned”, a speedy, hard-hitting symphonic power metal track, which moves along at a frantic pace throughout, with Monsanto showing both his soaring vocals and some more intense, near screaming vocals in equal measure, with everything sounding great, especially during the outstanding chorus. Closing out the album is “Victory”, a mid-paced track with a slight folk feel to it, especially during the chorus. There’s some wonderful melodies throughout the track, as well as some nice riffs, and the chorus is particularly awesome, and one of the catchiest on the album. It’s an excellent track, overall, and a great way to end the album.

Human Fortress has been going strong for these past six years, with their previous two albums being some of their best work ever, and while Reign of Gold hits a couple of speed bumps along the way, it largely follows suit, with an excellent mix of power metal, heavy metal and some symphonic and folk elements sprinkled throughout. Longtime fans of the band should be pleased, while anyone else looking for some great, slightly hard-edged power metal, with a diverse collection of tracks, is also highly recommended to give this a listen. With their lineup seemingly stabilized, at this point, one can only hope the band keeps delivering more and greater albums in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/11/30/human-fortress-reign-of-gold-review/

MAGIC KINGDOM MetAlmighty

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
For the last 20+ years, Belgium guitarist Dushan Petrossi has been a very productive, very reliable musician/songwriter, releasing several excellent, somewhat under the radar, power metal albums between his two main projects, Iron Mask and Magic Kingdom. While the second Iron Mask release, Hordes of the Brave, remains his most highly regarded work to date, nothing he’s released (aside from perhaps the ill-fated Magic Kingdom debut, The Arrival) has been anything less than solid, while most of it has been excellent, and so I always look forward to hearing new music from him. In recent years, he’s been alternating between his two main bands, with the excellent Magic Kingdom album Savage Requiem in 2015, and then the very strong Iron Mask release Diabolica in 2016, and so it’s no surprise to see him back three years later with the fifth full-length Magic Kingdom release, MetAlmighty. While I’ve enjoyed all albums I’ve heard from both bands, MetAlmighty is easily my favorite in recent years, and may have even surpassed Hordes of the Brave to become my all-time favorite!

For fans of either band, this album won’t be much of a surprise, as while Petrossi’s style has evolved a lot over the years, he’s settled down quite a bit on his most recent releases, with each of them striking a nice balance between the many different aspects of his music, and MetAlmighty is no exception. In fact, it may just be his most varied, dynamic release to date, with everything from classic, in your face power metal, to some of his heaviest material to date, to some fun, folk-infused heavy metal, to some epic symphonic power metal, traces of his classic neo-classical power metal sound, some nice melodic metal, and even a very nice ballad. There’s a little something for everyone on this album, and while there’s nothing overly new or original, everything is executed wonderfully, with no less than an excellent song on the entire album. The only criticism I could make against the album is that the production is weaker than I’ve come to expect, with the overall mix feeling a bit muddy. The guitars and vocals still sound excellent, but drums lack a bit of impact, and the overall sound isn’t quite as powerful as I’d like, though it’s still decent. While all musicians do a great job, Petrossi is the star of the show, as always, and his guitar work is as outstanding as ever. He does a bit of everything, from some of his hardest sounding riffs to date, to some classic neo-classical shredding (though it’s limited to quick bursts, for the most part), to some classic heavy metal style galloping riffs, to some excellent solos, as well as some of his softest, most melodic guitar work ever. There’s a lot of variety to the album, and he does a fantastic job with everything he attempts. While the album is very guitar-driven, there are some keyboards here and there, and they’re used nicely as well, and some tracks have some epic symphonic arrangements, as usual.

One thing which has always been true of either Magic Kingdom or Iron Mask is the constant change in vocalists, and so it’s no surprise that MetAlmighty once again has a different voice behind the mic. This time around, Obsession/ex-Loudness vocalist Michael Vescera has lent his voice to the album, and he does an excellent job, as usual. He’s been around for close to four decades, now, singing in many different bands, and so it’s no surprise he sounds comfortable on this album and has given easily my favorite vocal performance on any Dushan Petrossi release to date. He has a deep, powerful voice, and while he has been known to get a bit animated and over the top at times, he’s fairly restrained here, mostly singing very smoothly, and carrying the many epic choruses flawlessly. His voice is naturally very powerful, and so even without going over the top, he’s capable of delivering an intense, fiery performance, and for someone who’s been around as long as he has, he still sounds very energetic, and his voice is still holding up as well as ever.

As amazing an album as MetAlmighty is, it’s somewhat surprising that Petrossi decided to put the absolute best track, right at the beginning. Indeed, opener “Unleash the Dragon” is stunning, from its epic opening orchestral section to its extended instrumental intro that lasts just over three minutes, and then hitting a peak with its glorious chorus and awesome solo section in the second half. This track is perfect from start to finish, with some epic symphonic arrangements, energetic verses with some pummeling rhythm guitars and great vocals, and of course Vescera excels with some epic, soaring vocals during the chorus, and then Petrossi slays during the late instrumental sequence. Everything about the song is just incredible.

While nothing else can top that opening, the remaining tracks don’t leave much behind, either. Next is lead single “Wizards and Witches”, a fairly upbeat, mid-paced power metal track, which falls on the more melodic side of Petrossi’s music. It still has some nice riffs, and fun verses, but the chorus, in particular, is very melodic, very catchy, and the track is quite restrained compared to many of his other tracks, while still being tons of fun, especially the chorus. Slowing things down further is “In the Den of the Mountain Trolls”, an epic folk-infused heavy metal track, which has some very nice folk melodies throughout, and almost feels closer to tavern music than metal for most of its duration, though has a nice rhythm to it, as well as some fun verses, a very catchy chorus, and an excellent solo section, where the tempo briefly picks up, with epic results. I initially wasn’t too sure about the track, but it has grown on me a lot over several listens and is certainly one of the more unique tracks on the album.

Back to speedier power metal territory, second single “Fear My Fury” is a more classic feeling track, moving at a fast and furious pace throughout, with harder riffs than any of the previous tracks, as well as some very energetic verses, a very intense, epic chorus, and an awesome instrumental section with some nods to classical music, as longtime fans would expect. For the next while, the album alternates nicely between fast and slower tracks, with “Rise from the Ashes Demon” slowing things down again. The main melody has a nice Middle Eastern vibe to it, while the guitar work alternates between slow, heavy chugs during the verses and some nice melodic classic heavy metal style sections during the chorus. It’s a fairly laid backtrack, but again has a nice rhythm to it, and the chorus is very nice. Speeding things up again, the title track is one of the most straight-forward power metal tracks here, with some nice, melodic rhythm guitars, speedy tempos throughout, and a very fun, fast-paced chorus, as well as some excellent solo work in the second half. Unsurprisingly, the next track, “So Fragile”, is a return to softer, more subdued territory, and it’s one of the most laid back tracks here, falling closer to melodic metal than anything else. It has some nice symphonic arrangements, and some beautiful melodic lead guitar work, as well as an especially melodic, epic and very smoothly sung chorus, which stands as one of the best on the album. It’s a very nice track, overall.

While the second half isn’t quite as strong as the first half, overall, there are two big standouts to be found, the first of which is “Temple of No Gods”, another very classic sounding track, with a nice mix between slow-paced, intense verses with nice symphonic arrangements, a very fast, catchy and melodic chorus, and an excellent neo-classical influenced solo section. The lone ballad of the album is “Just a Good Man”, a very beautiful, heavily symphonic track, with epic arrangements, strong vocals, and some very beautiful guitar work throughout, especially in the second half, while Vescara gives a very smooth, emotional and powerful vocal performance.

The second big standout in the second half is “Dark Night, Dark Thoughts”, the most neo-classical influenced track on the album, where just the lead guitar work alone should bring back fond memories of some of Petrossi’s classic works, while the song overall has a frantic pace, with intense verses, a very catchy, melodic chorus, and some of his absolute best guitar work. It’s definitely an instant classic, and one I’m sure longtime fans of his are sure to love. Closing out the album is “King Without a Crown”, which alternates nicely between some slow, melodic verses and a speedy, epic chorus, with some excellent symphonic arrangements used throughout. While it’s not as intense as the previous track, it’s still very fun and enjoyable, overall, and it closes the album out nicely.

Dushan Petrossi never disappoints, and while Magic Kingdom seemed to have been pushed to the background for a while, that seems to have changed, with Savage Requiem being a nice comeback album, and now MetAlmighty is perhaps his absolute best album to date! It’s certainly one that should please his fans, as it has a bit of everything, with some excellent classic power metal, traces of his signature neo-classical guitar flourishes, some epic symphonic arrangements, some more melodic moments and bursts of heavy metal. It’s one of his most varied releases to date and has some of the best, most consistent songwriting to date. Any power metal fan is highly recommended to give this album a release, as enough is going on that anyone interested in the genre should at least find something to like, and everything is executed near perfectly. I always enjoy Petrossi’s music, and if anything, this may be my absolute favorite album he’s ever released, and so I hope he can keep the magic going for many more years to come!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/11/21/magic-kingdom-metalmighty-review/

HORRIFIC DEMISE Excruciating Extermination

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Guitarist/vocalist Matt Bishop first started coming up with ideas for this band as long ago as 2005, but it only really started gaining traction when he teamed up with guitarist Tony Tipton (Necrotic Disgorgement, Regurgitation) in 2013. Gradually the current line-up came together with drummer Kyle Christman (Gorgasm, Sarcophagy) and bassist Phil Good (Necrotic Disgorgement, Created To Kill etc.) finally being joined by Anthony Voight (Gorgasm, Sarcophagy). This is their debut release, and of course, the only way to start a death metal album is by having an acoustic interlude with mandolins and guitars giving away to something far more brutal. It’s not new, it adds nothing, and I don’t really see the point to be honest.

But from there on it is heads down and lose the dandruff, with a sound which is very heavy and dense indeed. As well as the traditional death metal growls, Bishop also adds his own which is in more of a black metal style and the two combine well. One thing to note is that this is a band who from the outset are prepared to do things quite differently, so during “Born From Brutality” there are times when the guitars take a back seat and let the bass come up front, which is not what I would expect from a death metal band. The twin guitars are joined as one, while Christman also isn’t afraid to take different approaches, so we can get gentle cymbal tapping as opposed to crashes, complete bars where he is concentrating just on bass sounds and very little snare.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that this doesn’t seem like a debut given that all those involved have been in other bands, sometimes with each other, and overall this is a very interesting release indeed. There are times when the production is just too muddy and bass heavy, but hopefully this album will gain them the notice they deserve as this is certainly worthy of investigation.

GALLOWS POLE This Is Rock

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
It’s my own fault. When I was offered this album I remembered the name and checked my records, and yes I had reviewed the band some years previously so grabbed it. What I didn’t check was what I had said about their 2013 release ‘And Time Stood Still’, which is a shame as I finished the review with “The best part of this album is the artwork – don’t play it, just look at it”. Now, it must be said that this album is way better than that, without ever getting into the realms of being indispensable. This is melodic hard rock, often with both male and female vocals, which at times is hook-laden and makes me smile. The one major issue is that it is just so pedestrian, and often very one-sided in its approach. There is little in the way of energy, and songs often seem to run out of ideas as opposed to finishing with a bang.

It is hard to recommend this, but it is a very good example of this style of music, and if this is your thing then you will probably get a lot out of it, but I would personally listen to something which has passion, power and variety.

VALE OF PNATH Accursed

EP · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Accursed" is an EP release by US, Colorado based death metal act Vale of Pnath. The EP was released through Willowtip Records in May 2019. Vale of Pnath formed in 2006, released an EP in 2008, their debut full-length studio album "The Prodigal Empire" in 2011, and their sophomore studio album "II" in 2016. Since then there haven´t been any new releases, but there have also been quite a few lineup changes since "II (2016)", which is a possible explaination for the three years between "II (2016)" and "Accursed". Drummer Eric W. Brown is only credited here as a session player, guitarist Eloy Montes has been replaced by Harrison Patuto and bassist Alan Parades has been replaced by Andy Torres. The only permanent members remaining from the lineup who recorded "II (2016)" are guitarist Vance Valenzuela and lead vocalist Reece Deeter.

"Accursed" marks a bit of a musical shift for Vale of Pnath, who on their previous releases were a technical/progressive death metal act in the vein (and quality) of artists like Obscura, Beyond Creation, and Augury. Stylistically "Accursed" is still technical/progressive death metal, but it´s often an artist like The Black Dahlia Murder I´m reminded of instead of the above mentioned artists. The vocal style is now predominantly higher pitched screaming and only occasionally growling, and the music is very melodic and often features neo-classical touches (which isn´t something new in the musical universe of Vale of Pnath though).

Vale of Pnath are very skilled musicians and the speed and dexterity of the playing is impressive. Lighting fast riffs/leads and high level technical drumming. Vale of Pnath were always successful creating dark sci-fi atmospheres and that continues on "Accursed", which features a dark and raw sound, which suits the material well. The songwriting is generally very intriguing. Just the first couple of minutes of "The Darkest Gate" (which is the first regular track on the EP after the short atmospheric opener "Shadow and Agony") features multible musical changes and changes in pace, and Vale of Pnath are obviously skilled composers, who understand how to structure musical elements and ideas to the greatest effect.

When all the positives are said (and there are many positives to mention), "Accursed" isn´t the most original sounding release. Vale of Pnath may be skilled composers and a technically very well playing act, but they lack that last songwriting uniqueness to set them fully apart from other artists in a similar vein. "Accursed" is still a high quality release though and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

FORMICARIUS Rending The Veil Of Flesh

Album · 2020 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
This is the second album from Formicarius, who have brought in of Kevin Paradis of Benighted to provide drum duties this time around. He isn’t the only guest either as Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ) and Nicholas Miller (Aklash) are involved on “Early Will I Seek Thee”. Both bassist Hægtesse and guitarist Lord Saunders provide different types of vocals, while there are also some female backing vocals here and there which provide some clarity through the symphonic black metal onslaught which I suspect are provided by keyboard player Morath. The final member of the band is lead guitarist Nazarkardeh, who can often be found leading the death metal act De Profundis.

There are times when this album is very good indeed, showcasing all that one would expect from this style of music, but for me it just isn’t consistent enough to make it a great piece of work. There is a reason why notes are seldom held for very long from singers in this style of music, and there are too many instances when there is just too much quavering and going off key. But the use of a twin vocal attack of black and death must be applauded as it’s not something which is heard very often. I would like the keyboards to be more aggressive and slightly more forward in the mix, but that would have to be at degradation of the guitars which are very good indeed with strong interlinks and riffs. It easy to see why Paradis is in such demand these days as he really takes control here and provides an incredible foundation for the rest of the band to work with.

If they can keep him in the band and continue to drive forward then the next album could see them taking the genre to a whole new level.

AXE Final Offering

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
I can’t have been the only person to be rather surprised to hear there was a new Axe album available, given that the only releases in the last 19 years have been an anthology and a live DVD. But yes, singer/guitarist Bobby Barth has pulled together another band under that moniker and here we have the first new music since ‘The Crown’. Given that most of the years since that release in 2000 Barth has been involved with the other band for which he is most regarded, Blackfoot, it isn’t surprising that there is only one other survivor from the last Axe album, namely co-singer and keyboard player Bob Harris. This is the seventh album to have the Axe name but given that Barth is now 67 and four of the albums were released before 1984 the title of this could well be accurate if history is anything to go by.

Talking of history, one wonders what would have happened with the band if Barth and guitarist Michael Osborne hadn’t been involved in a car accident in the summer of 1984 which saw Barth badly injured and his friend pass away. Axe were finished that day in many ways, yet they had started with major promise in that the whole band were all veterans of many years playing clubs and cover music, with four lead singers, and all writers. They signed a deal before they ever played a gig, and like any young metalheads at the time I certainly knew of them back then. But what was this album going to sound like? Was it going to be heads down and meet you at the end? Look at the cover, a double-headed battle axe which is transformed into a guitar, but that certainly doesn’t describe what is inside.

I understand why the album was released under the name Axe, as it certainly made people like me sit up and take notice who remembered them, but I only hope the name and imagery doesn’t put others off who may not have heard of them before as this is polished and gorgeous from the start to the very last note. This is an album which could have been released by Axe at the height of their powers, and it is as if the last 35 years just haven’t happened as they mix and move through different styles of melodic hard rock. There is restraint, and the voices as well as the approach have matured, and the songs are all the better for it. In some ways it reminded me somewhat of the latest Black Oak Arkansas, more in approach than sound, as old rockers show the rest of the world they still have a great deal to offer and there is no doubt we are all richer for having this made available. Eleven songs on the CD but Escape Music have also released this on vinyl and for that there is one extra. If you had ever wondered what had happened with Axe then wonder no more, as with this release they are very much back centre stage and anyone who enjoys melodic well-crafted hard rock will find much on here to enjoy.

BLOOD INCANTATION Hidden History of the Human Race

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
Back in 2016 I was mightily impressed with the debut album from a little known death metal band from the USA called Blood Incantation. On starting this review I decided to start by referring back to my review of said album, Starspawn. While I could have sworn I’d done a review, apparently not, I’d only rated it – 4 stars by the way. Anyway here we are three years down the road and Blood Incantation are back with another dose of cosmic death metal and they’ve just got even better.

Hidden History Of The Human Race is only four tracks long clocking in at a meagre 36 minutes but thankfully every track earns it’s place here. Slave Species Of The Gods opens up and it sounds immense. With its crushing dissonant riffs and organic production fans of Immolation and Morbid Angel should love it. Likewise The Giza Power Plant which follows though adding some light and shade and getting a bit more trippy over its seven minutes. Compared to their debut the sound here is tighter and not quite as dense – less chaotic. That’s not to say I prefer it that way but HHOTHR shows considerable growth with a more progressive approach. Inner Paths (To Outer Space) was the first track I heard from the album and initially I was a bit concerned. It has a slow build starting with a clean sounding cosmic trippy section and took it’s time before anything resembling death metal kicked in. Hearing it in the context of the album though it works and I like it.

Not surprisingly the highlight of the album is the eighteen minute Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul) which takes up side 2 of my vinyl copy. It’s a mind blowing death metal trip with some of their heaviest riffs but even including a Pink Floyd-ish lull before kicking back in with full force again. The rhythms twist and turn, constantly shifting mirroring the riffs, never staying in the same place too long and it feels like only half its length. It’s a stunning piece of work and perhaps the finest piece of death metal I’ve heard all year.

Just when I was more or less sorted in my mind on my favourite albums of the year along comes another contender. HHOTHR is a staggering achievement and I can’t wait to see where this band goes next. The future of death metal is in safe hands.

WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA Syntheosis

Album · 2019 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Syntheosis" is the debut full-length studio album by Finnish doom metal act Waste of Space Orchestra. The album was released through Svart Records in April 2019. Waste of Space Orchestra is a collaboration project between the members of Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising and was originally formed with the goal of a one-off performance at the Roadburn Festival 2018. The performance was so successful though, that the band were offered the opportunity to record and release "Syntheosis"...

...and listening to "Syntheosis" it doesn´t take long to understand why that is. Already from the opening notes of "Void Monolith" (well it opens with some mellow noises, but about 1 minutes into the song) it becomes apparent that Waste of Space Orchestra are a pretty special unit. Droning doomy paces (and occasionally more energetic tempos), heavy riffs and beats, organic and pretty busy drumming, psychadelic dark nightmarish atmospheres, and various types of vocals (black metal shrieks, death metal growling, sludge/hardcore shouting, and even some female clean vocals) are some of the features of the album. Keyboards and effects often help build epic moments of dark bliss, and this is a very adventurous but also stylistically consistent release with a great tracklist flow.

Personally I find the repetitive almost hypnotic krautrock influenced first minutes of the 10:36 minutes long "Journey to the Center of Mass" to drag a little, but it´s more a matter of subjective taste than it´s a matter of quality, and the closing epic climax to that song is very impressive. The remaining part of the album is a bit up and down as far as intriguing structures and effectful songwriting go. Both the ritualistic, repetitive, and slow building "Infinite Gate Opening" and the ambient "The Universal Eye" drag for far too long, and are both uneventful and a little hard to get through. The closing 13:02 minutes long title track is thankfully a bit more interesting and an effecful closing of the album.

The musicianship is strong on all posts and "Syntheosis" features a powerful, detailed, and organic sounding production job, which suits the material perfectly. "Syntheosis" is a dynamic release which is sometimes a wild and energetic ride but often a more slow building and atmospheric journey and the contrasts work well on the album (although some tracks are a bit too repetitive and drag for too long). The opening trio of tracks are absolutely amazing to my ears, but I don´t think the band are able to deliver the same high quality throughout the album and therefore my rating is a bit lower than I thought it would be, when I started listening to the album. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

NILE Vile Nilotic Rites

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.47 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
Still reeling from the high of seeing NILE play an energetic and exhilarating live show at the Oakland Metro Operahouse in lovely Oakland, CA supporting the band’s ninth studio album VILE NILOTIC RITES, i’ve still got my Egyptology hat on coupled with the death metal technicalities riffing through my head and the new album crankin’ in my earbuds on automatic replay. It’s been four long years since “What Should Not Be Unearthed” displayed the technical death metal wizardry of Karl Sanders’ baby and since then there has been a changing of the guard leaving only half of the band that played on the previous album. Dallas Toler-Wade departed in 2015 and left a void for both guitarist and bassist. Instead of recruiting another multi-instrumentalist to cover both, Sanders has replaced him with bassist / vocalist Brad Parris along with guitarist / vocalist Brian Kingsland. Both Sanders and long time drummer George Kollias remain firmly in control of their craft and although half the lineup is new to the game, the classic NILE sound of yore not explored since 2005’s “Annihilation of the Wicked” has returned like Coptic vestiges of long lost pharaohs.

After that 2005 mega-mastery of technical death metal wrapped up in ancient historical themes and imagery, NILE seemed to ditch the unique aspects of the Egyptian folk instrumentation that made the band stand out from the legion of death metal bands active in the 21st century and instead opted to engage in a relentless brutal delivery of technical guitar riffs and the usual suspects of labyrinthine song structures delivered at the speed of light. Virtuosic dissonant rampages of sound were the rule of the roost and even though NILE delivered the satisfaction of extremely professional sounding stampedes of sonic wizardry, i have been missing those slower introspective flirtations with the ancient sounds of traditional Egyptian music that sound as if they emerged right out of a Conan The Barbarian soundtrack. Well, my days of waiting are over as VILE NILOTIC RITES simultaneously takes NILE into a new musical paradigm that delivers an expanded palette of metal antics but also reaches back to the days when the Egyptian flavors were as prevalent as the sandy tan hues of the great pyramids of Giza.

Firstly i was surprised to find that Sanders, Parris and Kingsland pretty much share the vocals on this album, a surprise because they all sound so very much alike and i would never have noticed had i not seen the live performances. Stylistically NILE deliver the expected goods of caustic technically infused death metal guitar riffs along with the deepened growls that take serpentine paths into the mysteries of the hieroglyphic laden ancient past while bedazzling us with 21st century brutal bombast along with a nod here and there to Sanders’ early Morbid Angel connection with the sizzling squeal of a guitar solo. However despite the wrath of the NILE sound smacking me in the face at full force, there is more variation this time around. Not only does drummer George Kollias engage in a wider range of percussive pummelation but spends as much time taking a simpler route than delivering the madman in hyper speed approach the entire run. The music not only engages in the usual freneticism of the quickened death metal but also reverts back to some fo the death doom elements that launched the NILE sound in the first place.

Best of all are tracks like “Seven Horns Of War” that begin with the soundtrack quality epic sounds that gave birth to the unique musical scales and alternative tunings that give NILE its own distinct and instantly recognizable sound and while this track uses these effects as an intro and for closure, the lengthier intermission “Thus Sayeth The Parasites Of The Mind” implements a longer more intricate display of Saharan orchestration that sets the proper mood for mummies in the catacombs. The beauty of VILE NILOTIC RITES is how the brutal bombast of the tech death riffing alternates so perfectly with the slower slinking classical orchestrations and unlike previous albums that kept the two segregated, this one allows the two to stand side by side. On the metal side, NILE engages in more streamlined riffing attacks that sometimes offers some thrashy variations and often repeated riffs along with the chaotic meandering flow of dissonant distortion.

This is the sound i’ve been hoping NILE would revisit and here it is without sacrificing the art of moving forward while looking back. This album perfectly represents what NILE does best and that would be simply cranking out those exotic death metal riffs fortified by the esoteric sounding Saharan musical styles along with the sun scorched atmospheres of a ruling dynasty from so long ago. The epic mythological feel of earlier albums is completely restored and to great effect. While i’ve pretty much loved every NILE album since the debut, it’s this blend of styles that works best for my ears and VILE NILOTIC RITES delivers in the proper proportions and leaves me wanting more. This album reminds me of while NILE is near the top of my list for 21st century metal bands and easily maintains its own status quo while cranking out another batch of outstanding top notch quality tech death metal tracks. While it’s true NILE doesn’t stray too far away from the apple tree which gave it life, that is not such a bad thing when the wellspring is so plentiful and the sound is so original that i don’t get tired of it. A casual listen may sound like a mere retread but after several spins of this amazingly beautiful slice of tech death heaven, i’m enchanted by the subtle differences from the band’s past as well as the much needed revival of the softer elements that evoke the proper sonic spirits. The live performances i experienced were just icing on the cake.

MEMORIAM Requiem for Mankind

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Memoriam were originally formed by singer Karl Willetts (Bolt Thrower) to fill the void left by the death of his bandmate, drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns, and the new project was formed with old mates drummer Andrew Whales, guitarist Scott Fairfax and bassist Frank Healy. All four have been around the extreme scene for some years, and now here they are back with their third album in as many years.They have also used the same cover artist for all, so there is a consistent image coming through visually, as well as musically. As for the music, this is old school early Nineties melodic death metal, incredibly solid with some atmospheric interludes which slip more into black metal territory.

It is solid, as one would expect from musicians who have all been doing this for many years, who have played with each other in different acts, but I am having an issue with giving this the same rave reviews I have seen elsewhere. It does really feel at times as if they are going through the motions and following a melodic death metal playbook. They slow it down, they speed it up, they go quiet, they go loud, there are instrumental sections and others where Karl is very much in control, but there is no real feeling of passion, no emotion or openness. It is a wall of sound, and there are times when I found I had been listening to the album but actually hadn’t heard any of it so had to go back again. While it is playing it is fairly interesting, but as to whether it is something I would deliberately take down off the shelf to play is another matter altogether. Solid, but little more than that.

YGODEH Bunker 132

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
I’ve been in contact with Piton for about 5 or 6 years now, reviewing both Ygodeh and Sectlinefor, and one thing I have always really enjoyed about his work is his refusal to accept what has happened in the past and to keep reinventing what is going on. Back with their fifth album, Piton (synths, guitars) and vocalist Andre S Cura have reinvented the band and the image. Cura is now Reverend Jeyzus, a mad self-proclaimed prophet of YGODEH turing every live performance into a sermon, while Piton is a sociopathic surgeon who performs live on a home-build guitar made from an old vacuum cleaner and some tent poles found at the side of the road somewhere in Tottenham. They have been joined in their Mad Max post-apocalyptic world by bassist Dan King who goes under the guise of The Kaptain, a former submarine brothel owner who after a mutiny was left drifting around the Atlantic in a rubber dingy with only a bottle of Captain Morgan as company. Having lost his mind, he believes himself to be Captain Morgan and the band bus to be a pirate ship. The line-up is completed with the addition of drummer Morten Fausboll who in real life is of course Melissa Rable, a gender confused, bionic pleasure machine that was found discharged by the side of the road. After recharged, showing incredible, pre-programmed rhythmic capabilities, she was put behind the drums. Got that?

Musically it is very much business as usual, or at least whatever usual business is in the twisted world of these guys. Piton was originally in straight death metal band, and he has taken those influences and combined them with synth and rap to create something which is dark and very, very twisted. Andre is also still as demented as he has been since he started working with Piton in 2012, with gruff death vocals giving way to Eminem-style rap, while musically they try and give voice to the image they have created. In many ways the photos one can find on their wonderful website, is a visual representation of what one can hear through the speakers in that it is a jumble of so many things that just shouldn’t sit together, ever. This is music which is progressive in its truest sense as it pushes through and makes a big mess of everything it touches. There are times when it comes across as the weirdest underground pop you’ve ever heard, at others it is crunching and dirty, often all at once and there is a feeling of real passion, power and an incredible sense of being.

I am convinced that 99 people out of 100 will think this is awful, but that 1% will find something here which is both majestic and inspiring, taking the work of bands like Art Zoyd and twisting it into something special and different indeed.

AVATARIUM The Fire I Long For

Album · 2019 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Founded by Leif Edling of Candlemass renown, Avatarium burst onto the doom metal scene in 2013 with their EP Moonhorse and self-titled debut album. Heavy as hell, lyrically poetic, and above all else just damn good, the debut album cemented the band's reputation and proved that they weren't just riding on the name dropping of member's previous work. Second album, 2015's The Girl With the Raven Mask, brought some changes to the band's sound. It wasn't as heavy, though still clearly rooted in doom metal, but more psychedelic influenced. That was exactly what made it so good though: Avatarium did not feel the need to immediately re-hash what worked so well the first time around.

Then Leif Edling left the band. And their sound changed to be much less doom metal based and more firmly rooted in (heavy) psychedelic rock and progressive rock. Yet this was actually quite the paradox, because Edling had still written the majority of third album from 2017, Hurricanes and Halos, even though he didn't play one note on it. So it was obvious that the change in direction away from doom metal hadn't been the result of line-up shifts. Now, Hurricanes and Halos is still pretty fine album, but for this reviewer's money it doesn't get as many revisits as the first two Avatarium records. Which is why I'm happy to say that with fourth full-length The Fire I Long For, Avatarium is back on track. Doom metal is in again.

This could be seen as a double edged sword of course. The first three Avatarium albums, while the general lack of doom metal may have proved a disappointment to many on the last one, had the great benefit that Avatarium had effectively reinvented themselves every time around, but not so much that they alienated fans completely. And while The Fire I Long For brings another change, it's much more of a change back opposed to changing into something new. The album quite comfortably sits alongside The Girl With the Raven Mask in terms of style. Which means that it's pretty psychedelic, with plenty of doom metal riffs, but none that are as crushingly heavy as those found on the debut. As is usual for an Avatarium record, there is also some softer material. Avatarium is one of those rare metal bands that is actually very good at doing softer material though (they are members of a very exclusive club where they keep company with prestigious metal acts like Blind Guardian and err, I can't actually think of another one, that's how exclusive the club is!), so that shouldn't put newcomers off, while returnees will know what to expect.

While we've established that for the first time that a new Avatarium record may not feel as fresh in context of their catalogue, The Fire I Long For does have two things going for it that make it a step up from Hurricanes and Halos. Firstly it's doom metal again as I've pointed out and while Avatarium proved a quite competent heavy psych act on Hurricanes and Halos, they're an exceptional doom metal act. This is the genre they started off in and it's the genre that they shine in. Doom metal, especially the psychedelic influenced kind as Avatarium play, seems to be tailor-made for a singer like Avatarium's Jennie-Ann Smith as well.

That isn't the second reason by the way. The actual second reason is that the song-writing is that much more memorable this time around. There sadly just aren't many details that I can recall about Hurricanes and Halos after some time away from it, except for the excellent opening track Into the Fire / Into the Storm. This isn't true of the first two albums, where hooks flood back without requiring a revisit, no doubt because there's only so long I can go before those albums pull me back. And as for The Fire I Long For, there are already several tracks that have infected me, not least the title track, Voices, and Rubicon. While it is still early days yet, I can't foresee a future where it doesn't go into rotation at least as much as the first two records.

A return to form all round and to be cliché, this was the album I longed for after the last one. Regarding which I have not meant to be disrespectful to in this review despite some comments that even when positive no doubt read as barbed. I quite like Hurricanes and Halos. It's one of those albums I enjoy when I do play it, but I rarely crave it. On the other hand I just love Avatarium, The Girl With the Raven Mask and now The Fire I Long For as well. It's a doom metal highlight for 2019.

VADER Thy Messenger

EP · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
This five-track EP originally wasn’t supposed to be coming out like this, but as the band explains, “We recorded those five songs in January , when we supposed to record full length album. However, we changed some plans and dates, which delayed the album until December 2019. Since we already had several songs ready, we decided to travel to Hertz Studio again and record an independent release. We added a re-make of the title track from ‘Litany’, which was recorded 20 years ago. The other song is our version of “Steeler” from legendary Judas Priest’s ‘British Steel’ record and is our huge respect for their heritage in metal scene.”

Five songs, just a tad over thirteen minutes in length, by a band who honestly sound as if they are having fun in the studio, especially on “Steeler”. I hadn’t realised just how close to Priest they can sound if they wish, as in many ways this is quite a bit more basic than one would normally expect from them, but they push through it in a very powerful way indeed. Some three years since ‘The Empire’, and still with the same line-up, it is best to treat this EP as an 'amuse bouche’ for the ears. There is only one thing wrong with it, and that it is just too short! It is fun, it is metallic, it is a band totally at home with their identity and what they wish to deliver. In many ways this release sees Vader far more in the thrash space than death but keeping the death mentality while speeding through the songs. The confidence in this is palpable, and is essential for anyone who wants to play their music very loudly indeed.

TYRMFAR Renewal Through Purification

Album · 2019 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
This is the second full-length release from Swiss metal act Trymfar, following on from 2017’s ‘Human Abomination’. Since then they have replaced their singer Alex with Robin (they only use first names, and real ones as opposed to something weird), but as I haven’t heard the debut I’m not sure what, if any, impact that has on their overall sound. I’ve seen Trymfar indicated in a few places as melodic black metal, but to my ears they are more like blackened death, as they contain quite large elements of both. For the most part it is an interesting mix, although I do wonder if this is self-produced as there are times when they continue a riff for just a few bars too long, so I found my interest waning here and there. But when the band are really firing, they become something really interesting indeed, as they manage to evoke the atmosphere of a black metal act with some of the power of a death metal band.

The sound can be a little muddied at time, but there is a spark within this release which makes me keep returning to it. Apparently they have been making quite a name for themselves on the festival circuit, and there is a lot of power within this release which certainly makes me think that might be the place to best see what this band is really about. Interesting and enjoyable as opposed to indispensable, but probably worth checking out.

DEATH ANGEL Humanicide

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Humanicide" is the 9th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Death Angel. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in May 2019. It´s the successor to "The Evil Divide" from 2016 and features the same lineup as it´s predecessor. Rob Cavestany (guitars), Mark Osegueda (vocals), Ted Aguilar (guitars), Damien Sisson (bass), Will Carroll (drums).

Jason Suecof has again been chosen to produce, and in many ways "Humanicide" is a completely natural successor to "The Evil Divide (2016)". There hasn´t been much progression of musical style and Death Angel sounds unmistakably like themselves. The material are well written and very well performed thrash/heavy metal with the strong voice and delivery of Mark Osegueda in front (he is the type of thrash metal vocalist who can sing both raw and more melodic vocals). Some tracks are intense and aggressive thrashers, while other are more melodic and draws influence from traditional heavy metal and speed metal. The album is packed with powerful riffs and rhythms, and there are also several blistering guitar solos featured on the album.

The album is reasonably varied and the tracks are predominantly memorable and effectful, but to my ears it´s the musicianship which steals the light here. Death Angel are incredibly well playing and Osegueda is such a strong and versatile singer, who brings a little bit of originality to the band´s sound. The instrumental part of the music is not quite as original, but still well written and catchy. The sound production is powerful and detailed, and suits the material well, and upon conclusion "Humanicide" is yet another high quality thrash/heavy metal release by Death Angel and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

MAYHEM Daemon

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
There are few metal bands which force me to jump my self-imposed lead time when I am sent a new album and push it to the top of the queue, but I was there when Mayhem played New Zealand the first time in their history, and they ripped the country a new one. It is more than five years since their last studio album, ‘Esoteric Warfare’, and it is indeed strange to think that this is only their sixth album. But given their debut ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ is one of the most important black metal albums of all time they always have a lot to live up to. The line-up these days is Necrobutcher (bass), Hellhammer (drums), Attila (vocals), Teloch (guitars) and Ghul (guitars), and while only Hellhammer was the only full member at the time of the debut, both Necrobutcher and Attila were involved and all five of these guys were on the last album together so they have been touring and playing for quite some time.

It shows on this, as this is unrepentant black metal with no frills, atmospheric weirdness or ambient trickery. Here are five guys intent on painting the walls with your blood and offering a sacrifice to Satan. This album reeks of evil, it is full of minor chords and dischords, deliberately unsettling and pushing the genre to show who the real masters are these days. When Mayhem are in this sort of mood there really is no-one who can live with them. They have always been challenging what is acceptable since the days of Dead and Euronymous, while the actions of Varg Vikernes also did much to put an air of mystery around the band (I highly recommend ‘Lords of Chaos’ as the definitive account of those days of the early BM scene, the stave church burnings and murders). Musically Necrobutcher, Hellhammer and Attila have refused to rest on their reputation and have continued to push themselves and their music, and ‘Daemon’ is yet another example of that. While it isn’t a follow-up to the last album, neither is it a sequel to that debut, which must have been a danger/option given they have been playing all of it live in concert over the last few years. It is Mayhem doing what they have always done, gone into a studio and coming out with gentle melodious ditties. Or not.

Mayhem are back guys and girls, with walls of sounds, riffing guitars, a rhythm section underpinning everything, and a pervasive nastiness which infects everything it touches. I love it.

MUNICIPAL WASTE The Last Rager

EP · 2019 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
It’s been a couple of years since the ‘Slime and Punishment’ album, and after a few split releases the Virginia metalheads are back with four new songs. They just manage to break the ten-minute barrier, but this is more than enough to show that while they have been away, they haven’t mellowed out at all, and are still as violent, thrash and punk as they have ever been. This isn’t a band that one can ever imagine producing a delicate ballad, and instead know what their fans want and are going to deliver just that time and again. It is hard to believe their debut EP came out as long ago as 2001, but Municipal Waste are going to keep pumping out material like this as if they were new kids on the block. It may not be pretty, it may not be gentle, but it sure is a lot of fun.

POSSESSED Revelations of Oblivion

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.68 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Wow, hands up all those who never thought there would be a new album by Possessed? There are many arguments as to whether they recorded the first ever Death Metal album with 1985’s ‘Seven Churches’, but there is no doubt it was hugely influential, but their last album was ‘Beyond The Gates’ in 1987. Just a few years after that and vocalist Jeff Becerra was left paralyzed from the waist down after a shooting incident, and even though guitarist Mike Torrao tried to get a version of the band working again in the Nineties it didn’t last long. But now the band are back – true it is with only one original member, but that is Becerra! He has built a new band with songwritiing partner Daniel Gonzalez on guitar (Nailshitter, Gruesome) plus Claudeous Creamer on guitars (Dragonlord, Serpent, Girth), Robert Cardenas on bass guitar (Coffin Texts, Masters of Metal, Agent Steel, Malice, Engrave), and Emilio Marquez (Brainstorm, Sadistic Intent, Engrave, Brujeria) on drums.

The result is an album of a band reborn. How Becerra can sing like this from a wheelchair is beyond me as he must be using an incredible amount of upper body strength and determination to produce vocals as powerful as he has ever been. I can’t think of another metal band of any style where the singer is constrained to a chair – just go to their site (https://possessedofficial.com/) and check out some of the videos, I have no idea how he manages it. While one is bound to react to a singer in a wheelchair, it is quickly forgotten (I can’t imagine there are many Def Leppard reviews these days which mention that they have a one-armed drummer) as this is all about the music.

This is death metal which (whisper it) also manages to sound quite commercial. Becerra’s vocals are rough and raw, but unlike quite a few within the genre it is easy to understand the lyrics, while the rhythm section pin it down and let Gonzalez and Creamer destroy the riffs. They are joined at the hip, intertwining their lines or supporting each other, allowing the music to build, crash and create hell., I can’t remember I enjoyed a death metal album quite so much as there is a light within it which makes it a joy to listen to. Possessed are back where they belong, at the forefront of exciting metal music.

THE MEADS OF ASPHODEL Running Out Of Time Doing Nothing

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 2.75 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
The Meads of Asphodel was a project conceived by singer Metatron in 1998, and over the years they have been through some different line-ups but they he is currently joined by J.D Tait (guitars, vocals, keyboards, bass) and André Kjelbergvik Thung (drums). They also include multiple guest musicians of whom the most well-known is Hawkwind’s Alan Davey who plays bass on four numbers. Musically it is all over the place, mostly in a good way, mixing genres in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. The result is an album which I honestly can’t imagine anyone saying they really enjoy every song, I know I don’t. I have real issues with “I Stood Tiptoe, Reaching Up For Heaven”. They obviously thought it was a great idea to play news clips of discussions on ISIS, terrorism, people being killed, Jimmy Saville, all with a laugh track over the top. From there they move into a dance track which just doesn’t interest me whatsoever.

The band are one of the very few I have seen who have a mission statement on their website, which reads “Experimental extreme metal band The Meads of Asphodel believe in all peoples right to live in peace, free from the shackles of inflicted dogma & servitude”. One has to agree with that statement, and there are undoubtedly some interesting songs on this album for fans of Hawkwind, Robert Calvert and the idiosyncrasies of GWAR, but the humour and approach is not something I can come to terms with.

ENTOMBED A.D. Bowels Of Earth

Album · 2019 · Death 'n' Roll
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
It can’t be easy being Entombed A.D. Seemingly destined to always be in the shadow of the band that spawned them, Entombed of course, who were responsible for ground-breaking death metal albums like Left Hand Path and Clandestine. A band who along with others like Dismember established the Stockholm sound and influenced god knows how many imitators with that buzzsaw guitar sound. Entombed A.D. nevertheless have much to offer themselves.

Bowels Of Earth is the bands third release and I’d say it’s the best of the three. You’re not going to find any great leaps in terms of style here but if you have a penchant for straight forward no nonsense death ‘n’ roll then this could be for you. Buzzsaw guitar sound intact the band romps through ten tracks with little variation but plenty of strong riffs and hooks. The album starts off strong with first three tracks – Torment remains, Elimination and Hell Is My Home hitting all the right spots with the later perhaps the pick of the bunch. The rest though is not lacking in quality songs with the band playing with plenty of enthusiasm with only the occasional slight dip in quality but it’s barely noticeable when they do with most of the songs only being around the three minute mark. An unexpected cover of the Hank Williams song I’ll Never Get out Of This World Alive works surprisingly well with Entombed A.D. making it their own. Whilst most of the material runs along at a fair pace they throw in a few slower tempos for parts of some of the songs for variation, though final song To Eternal Night really slows things down and at 5:43 is the longest track here. It’s also a bit of a weak ending to an otherwise great album, dragging somewhat and outstaying it’s welcome.

While I’ve heard a lot of better death metal this year Bowels Of Earth is still a welcome addition and one I’ll be playing pretty regularly over the coming months. Well worth checking out if you’ve ever liked this band and its parent outfit.

VOLBEAT Rewind, Replay Rebound

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Rewind, Replay Rebound" is the 7th full-length studio album by Danish heavy rock/metal act Volbeat. The album was released through Universal/Vertigo Records in August 2019 just little over three years after the release of "Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie" from June 2016. Three years spend touring and gaining more and more fans and commercial success. "Rewind, Replay Rebound" is the first Volbeat album to feature bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. Anders Kjølholm left Volbeat before the recording sessions for "Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie (2016)", but Larsen was not in place for the recording of that album (he joined in May 2016), and the bass was therefore recorded by lead guitarist Rob Caggiano.

Stylistically the material on "Rewind, Replay Rebound" continue the hard rock/heavy metal style of "Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie (2016)". A polished and melodic hard rock/heavy metal style with great mainstream appeal. The tracks feature regular vers/chorus structures and typically great anthemic sing along choruses. The influences from 50s rock´n´roll (Elvis, Johnny Cash) are still strong as well as heavy nods toward 90s-Metallica. Volbeat have had a unique sound (built with tried and true musical elements) from day one and with lead vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen´s distinct sounding voice in front that is not gonna change anytime soon.

Volbeat have become a little more melodic, polished, and mainstream oriented over the years, and that tendency is continued on "Rewind, Replay Rebound", which at times is more melodic hard rock than heavy metal. Occasionally a really heavy riff appears, but the polished sound production even makes the most heavy sections easily digestable for a mainstream hard rock audience.

Upon conclusion "Rewind, Replay Rebound" is pretty much another Volbeat album by the numbers. You won´t find many surprises here. There are melodic tracks, 50s rock´n´roll influenced uptempo tracks, a couple of more soft/mellow type tracks, and a couple of harder edged heavy tracks featured on the album, so the band are as diverse as always, yet sounding unmistakably like Volbeat all the way through the album. The two first singles off the album "Last Day Under the Sun" (which features a semi-funky guitar riff, reminding me slightly of the guitar riff on Michael Jackson´s "Black or White") and "Leviathan" are both among the highlights of the album, and to my ears especially the latter ranks among the band´s strongest compositions. It´s great to hear they are still capable of producing standout tracks this far into their career.

The remaining tracks on the album are a bit up and down in quality. Some are strong compositions which are instantly catchy and memorable, while others are a little less remarkable. Featuring 14 tracks and a total playing time of 56:45 minutes, the album is a bit too long for its own good, and had the band chosen to trim the fat and release "Rewind, Replay Rebound" leaving out a couple of the least remarkable tracks, the album would overall have been a stronger release. It´s still a quality release through and through though, featuring a couple of standout tracks and several good quality tracks and therefore a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ESOTERIC A Pyrrhic Existence

Album · 2019 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
ESOTERIC is hardly the most prolific artist lurking about in the ever expanding world of metal music with albums roughly appearing every 4 or 5 years since 1994’s “Epistemological Despondency” and currently consists of band members Gordon Bicknell (Guitar, Synths), Mark Bodossian (Bass, Synths), Greg Chandler (Guitar, Vocals), Joe Fletcher (Drums) and Jim Nolan (Guitar). The band plods along through the decades crafting new releases as glacially as its unique brand of funeral doom metal oozes about with apocalyptic dirges slinking around like a sluggish serpent writhing in a frozen stupor.

The Birmingham, England based band returns with only its 7th massive album in the 27 years of its existence but with the exception of “Metamorphogenesis” and “Subconscious Dissolution Into The Continuum,” every other ESOTERIC album has yielded two complete discs of material which essentially adds an extra five albums tagged onto the official count. After a lengthy eight years since “Paragon Of Dissonance,” ESOTERIC returns with A PYRRHIC EXISTENCE which once again delivers another massive expanse of deathly funeral doom metal as yet another double album that believe it or not contains a mere six tracks.

Clocking in at over 98 minutes, yep, that’s over an hour and a half of A PYRRHIC EXISTENCE, every track is over 15 minutes long except “Antim Yatra” which is just shy of 5. Refusing to show any compromise in the psychedelic surreal metal that sounds like no other, ESOTERIC chose to open this new release with the lengthiest track “Descent” which at just shy of the 28 minute mark is longer than most EPs and an immediate warning for those who lack the patience of a meditative guru seeking enlightenment to pack up their bags and leave town. This is not a speed metal album after all. This is doom metal slowed down to a near cryogenic halt where tempos ooze by at a snail’s pace and ferocious atmospheric suffocation smothers every protruding guitar riff echoing in and out of existence.

Musically speaking, “Paragon Of Dissonance” tackled a slightly new detour for ESOTERIC which tweaked the playing style a bit, switched up the atmospheres in a somewhat familiar but slightly off congruency while delivering the expected soul-crushing funeral doom metal goods complete with the tortured growly vocals emerging from he depths of hell. On A PYRRHIC EXISTENCE the band seems to return back to the style delivered on albums such as “The Maniacal Vale” and while ESOTERIC has returned to a somewhat familiar overall sound, PYRRHIC is anything but a repeat of the past although a perfunctory spin of the uninitiated may not yield obvious differences.

ESOTERIC is a band that you have to adapt your entire being to in order to absorb its magnanimous delivery of incessant swirls of gnarled guitar chords, unstable atmospheric smokescreens and occasional rampages through an excitable bout of death doom outbursts. A careful listen will reveal that the album, while existing exclusively in the ESOTERIC zone, is actually quite diverse although it does take it’s sweet time in changing things up. This is what i call slow metabolism metal which makes those rare “hulk smash” faster tempos such as those in “Rotting In Dereliction” stand out even more. While it’s really easy just to sit back and meditate to any given ESOTERIC album, an active listen reveals a plethora of soundscapes interacting in a multitude of ways albeit like a taffy pulling context in the deep freeze.

Overall the compositions on A PYRRHIC EXISTENCE are outstanding with an excellent interplay of guitar parts in conjunct with the roaring synth driven atmospheres. The desperation of Greg Chandler’s vocals has never been more effective and the constantly evolving composiitons zigzag around like a drunken sloth finding its way out of a cornfield maze. While ESOTERIC had mastered the art of crafting massive sprawls of apocalyptic soundscapes from the very beginning, PYRRHIC only reinforces that the band is in no danger of losing its touch. Listening to an ESOTERIC album may be the musical equivalent of driving through the never-ending deserts of Nevada with one mountain range ceding into the next valley of sagebrush filled land but it’s this very spareness that allows the subtle elements to become ever more cherished. To sum it up, this is a triumphant return to funeral doom glory.

Member Zone

Username:
Password:
Stay signed in

Metal Subgenres

Artists Alpha-index

MMA TOP 5 Metal ALBUMS

Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
Master of Puppets Thrash Metal
METALLICA
Buy this album from our partners
Moving Pictures Hard Rock
RUSH
Buy this album from our partners
Rust in Peace Thrash Metal
MEGADETH
Buy this album from our partners
Powerslave NWoBHM
IRON MAIDEN
Buy this album from our partners
Are You Experienced? Proto-Metal
JIMI HENDRIX
Buy this album from our partners

New Metal Artists

New Metal Releases

Sisyphus Gothic Metal
THE MEDEA PROJECT
Buy this album from MMA partners
Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari Metal Related
TOUNDRA
Buy this album from MMA partners
Pyre Sludge Metal
PATRONESS
Buy this album from MMA partners
Anti-Utopia Deathcore
DOOMNATION
Buy this album from MMA partners
Dola Drone Metal
DOLA
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Metal Online Videos

More videos

New MMA Metal Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions

More...

Latest Metal News

members-submitted

More in the forums

Social Media

Follow us

Buy Metal Music Online