Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

MORTAL VISION Mind Manipulation

Album · 2021 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Mind Manipulation" is the debut full-length studio album by Ukraine thrash metal act Mortal Vision. The album was released through Redefining Darkness Records in October 2021. Mortal Vision formed in 2019 and released the "Madness of Messiah" single in October 2019.

The two non-album tracks featured on the "Madness of Messiah" (2019) single show a band heavily influenced by late 80s/early 90s death/thrash Sepultura (and to a lesser degree 1987-89-era Sodom), and the material on "Mind Manipulation" continue that formula too. The riff style, the solo style, the drumming, and the lead vocals, which sound a lot like Max Cavalera, are all features of the band´s music that lead your thoughts toward the Brazilian band and the late 80s/early 90s era of their discography. So it´s difficult to talk about Mortal Vision without mentioning Sepultura, and "Mind Manipulation" is not an album you put on to listen to something new and innovative.

But while this is hardly unique music, Mortal Vision thankfully slay in the execution of their material. These guys are hard-edged, aggressive, and very well playing/singing, and the tracks are also well composed and effective death/thrash tunes, that you can both bang our head to and mosh around breaking furniture in your house to. Death/thrashy sonic violence performed with passion and conviction.

Featuring 8 tracks and a total playing time of 33:25, it´s a short, to-the-point type of release, and it´s not the most varied release out there. In fact it´s slightly one-dimensional and the songs don´t quite stick the first time you listen to the album. They sound a bit too much the same, but as mentioned above this is still high quality death/thrash metal performed by a well playing unit, and as the music is packed in a powerful, raw, and well sounding production too, this is a good quality debut release by Mortal Vision. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 304 - Rainbow Bridge

Album · 2022 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD has been quite erratic in releasing PIKEs in the last couple of years but it seems like 2022 is when the chicken lover is turning on the spigot once again to let the PIKEs flow! PIKE 304 - RAINBOW BRIDGE features four tracks and only reaches over the 27-minute mark. This one is the second release in 2022 and is the typical PIKE of being digitally downloadable and featuring BH playing all instruments.

The opening title track is a rather generic affair featuring one of those heavy rock riffing sessions and sounds like pretty much a gazillion other eggs that have already hatched. Some of BH’s PIKEs are heavy enough to qualify as metal but this one is a little bit more laid back and should be considered heavy alternative rock. The title track is a throwaway in my book. I’ve long grown weary of redundancy. 
“Toy Museum” is quite a different story however and is quite refreshingly new. Something about the combination of the atmosphere, the guitar tones, the unique style of riffing and steady beat that makes this one a real treat. It has some nice gurgling guitar effects which sort of replicate turntablism. It’s also the longest track at over 10 minutes. BH’s instrumentals are so hit and miss. This one is a hit.

“Water Molecule” is a funky hard rock number that sounds something like the Red Hot Chili Peppers may have conjured up in the 1990s only without the bass guitar antics of Flea. The guitar riffs though are more rooted to 1970s bluesy hard rock like Aerosmith, Robert Trower or UFO. It’s officially OK but nothing outstanding either. It’s a little feistier and fast tempoed than 70s hard rock and this track straddles on the line of being metal and hard rock.

“Invisible Trees” continues the bluesy hard rock riffing but a bit calmer than the previous track. Basically same pattern with guitar riffs, muffled bass and uninspired drumming. This one is probably the most authentically 70s sounding hard rock track. The problem with this is that the lack of vocals make this sound a bit empty. That’s the problem with many of these PIKEs actually. If there are trees somewhere i can’t see them!

Another mediocre PIKE here. Once again, nothing offensively bad or unlistenable but nothing that will blow your mind either. “Toy Museum” is the best track and the only one that offers something a bit different otherwise this sounds like one of those assembly line PIKEs that will be quickly forgotten at least by my ears. Oh well, i’m sure another PIKE will hatch soon. Until then, hasta la vista!

CARCASS Torn Arteries

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.34 | 17 ratings
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UMUR
"Torn Arteries" is the 7th full-length studio album by UK death metal act Carcass. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in September 2021, almost to the day 8 years after the release of the preceding album "Surgical Steel" from September 2013. Carcass have been quite busy in the intermediate years though, touring the world and trying to profit as much as possible on their long awaited comeback. In addition to touring, the band have also released the "Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel" EP in 2014 and the "Despicable" EP in 2020, so there have been some new material for the fans between the two album releases. "Despicable" (2020) ended up being released as a gap release because Carcass didn´t want to release "Torn Arteries" during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally planned for a summer 2020 release, and the band had already released the teaser single track "Under the Scalpel Blade" in December 2019 to promote the release of the album, but as things turned out, they opted to push the album release little over a year.

"Under the Scalpel Blade" is included on the tracklist of "Torn Arteries", but other than that track, which was both released as an individual single and as part of "Despicable" (2020) (and is an absolutely brilliant track), all other tracks are new original compositions. Stylistically the material are unmistakably the sound of Carcass and you´ll hear elements on the album which will remind you of "Surgical Steel" (2013), but also elements from the three albums released from 1991-1996 ("Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious (1991)", "Heartwork (1993)", and "Swansong (1996)"). Sharp, aggressive, and melodic death metal with both thrash metal and tradtional heavy metal leanings. The lead vocals are predominantly handled by vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker (in his usual raw and aggressive snarling vocal style), which has been the case since the early 90s, but guitarist Bill Steer actually contributes a few of his low growling vocals too a few times during the playing time, and it´s a treat to fans of the early albums.

"Torn Arteries" is probably the most varied Carcass album yet, and stylistically it´s arguably a little inconsistent. When you opt to put a death´n´roll influenced track like "Dance of IXTAB (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No.1 in B)" on the same album as a death metal/goregrind track like "Under the Scalpel Blade" (the 9:42 minutes long "Flesh Ripping Torment Limited" also stands out as a unique song on the album), some listeners are bound to find either the former or the latter most interesting and hoping to hear more of the same, but if we´ve learned anything from Carcass over the years, it´s that they write and release exactly what they feel like witing and releasing. They are not an act who you can count on releasing formulaic albums. So "Torn Arteries" is not necessarily an album which will hook you on first listen. It takes time and an effort to listen to the album and hear all the details and let the different stylistic features sink in. Overall all tracks of course still sound unmistakably like Carcass. The vocals are described above, and the same with the death/thrashy riffs, but the many well played guitar leads and harmonies also deserve a special mention. Steer has again produced many memorable and powerful lead guitar moments.

The album features a darker and more organic sounding production that the more clinical, sharp, and sterile sound production on "Surgical Steel" (2013), and that production choice suits the material on "Torn Arteries" well. Upon conclusion it was worth the wait as "Torn Arteries" is a high quality Carcass album. It´s familiar enough to please the fans, but still features enough development and small experiments with sound and form to keep Carcass relevant. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 303 - Castle of Franken Berry

Album · 2022 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD’s first PIKE of 2022 has taken some inspiration from the awful sugary monster breakfast cereal that has those sickening sweet artificial strawberry flavors mixed with those foodlike substances called marshmallows. CASTLE OF FRANKEN BERRY is the 303rd PIKE installment released on the 11th of January, 2022 and features the chicken lover pulling his usual shtick of playing all the instruments.

This one clocks in at just over 27 minutes and features only two tracks. The first is the near 19-minute “Enter The Sky Walker” which features a long drawn out bluesy hard rock approach. Sounding something like an instrumental early 80s AC/DC track with more 70s hard rock blues licks added in from time to time. This is one of those repetitive by the numbers type tracks with a time length that doesn’t justify the ideas presented. Sure an atmospheric breakdown here and there but overall a lengthy instrumental jam that provides decent background music but not very interesting particularly if you’re like me and have heard every album BH has created.

The title track is much shorter at 8 minutes and 19 seconds. This one is much heavier jumping into metal territory. Faster tempos and more crushing riffs start it out but then it sort of loses a bit of steam but offers a lot more variety in the first two minutes than the tedious opener does. This one showcases a lot more of BUCKETHEAD’s riffing prowess at high speeds. There’s a thrash metal quality to the riffing styles but doesn’t really go full on thrash with the drums and bass. Come to think of it this entire PIKE is missing some of the background atmospheric touches that many recent PIKEs have employed. This one is a lot more interesting than the first track but still a little too long for what it has to offer however if you really dig these chunky riffs than why not have an extended version?

After 2021’s final PIKE which was my favorite in a long time, this one is a bit of a let down. While the second track is quite enjoyable, the first one just feels a bit underwhelming for my tastes and considering it’s 2/3 of the PIKE, the entire PIKE experience is somewhat lessened for my listening enjoyability. Fortunately nothing about this PIKE reminds me of the artificially flavored crap breakfast cereal that has been poisoning children for decades! While BUCKETHEAD proves he can continue some great riffs on his first PIKE of 2022, unfortunately he also showcases his inconsistency in quality and lack of creativity. Good album. Nothing more.

STYGIAN DARK Gorelords of War

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Gorelords of War" is the debut full-length studio album by multi-national death metal act Stygian Dark. The album was released through Old Shadows Records in April 2021. Stygian Dark´s lineup features guitarist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Those Who Bring the Torture, Down Among the Dead Men...etc.) and lead vocalist Dave Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower, Down Among the Dead Men), bassist Alwin Roes (Abyss, Dead End), and drummer Jon Rudin (Those Who Bring the Torture, Dead Sun...etc.). So it´s definitely a seasoned crew, who have previously worked together in other constellations and projects.

Stylistically the material on "Gorelords of War" is early 90s influenced death metal, and both of Ingram´s 90s bands Benediction and Bolt Thrower should be counted among the influences on Stygian Dark. In fact the opening title track reeks a Bolt Thrower influence that´s so obvious that it´s almost too much. The quality of the songwriting is unfortunately not on the high level of the influences, and I´m afraid this is one of those Rogga related projects where he brought his B-game riffs. It´s solid old school death metal, but you´ll find very few riffs and song sections, that you´ll be able to remember when the album stops playing. Ingram does everything to alter that and bring some quality to the project, and he occassionally succeeds with some commanding growling vocals and memorable lyrics, but it´s simply not enough, when the instrumental part of the music is so mediocre...and it´s not only the riffs, the drumming is also sterile and too simplistic in nature to stir up any emotions in me but indifference.

"Gorelords of War" also features a sound production, which leaves something to be desired. It lacks the rawness and organic power that is so important for music of this nature. Again the word sterile is unfortunately the word I´d chose to describe the sound production. When all is said though, "Gorelords of War" isn´t a bad quality release, and I did partially enjoy it while it played, but considering the musical capacities involved in the making of this album, it´s hard not to be a little disappointed by the end result. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 302 - Cyborgs, Robots & More

Album · 2021 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Something about BUCKETHEAD’s infections with robots seems to bring out the best in his musical abilities and finally after quite some time, the chicken lover has finally hatched an egg that’s interesting (at least to my ears!) Emerging from the coop on the very final hours on the last day of 2021, PIKE 302 - CYBORGS ROBOTS & MORE unleashes my favorite sounds of the entire year! Woohoo!!!!

This PIKE slinks past the 29-minute mark and in that regard not too overly different than what has been the case for years. This one features four tracks with the longest being the opening “Cyborg” which hits the 13 1/2 minute mark and features a somewhat new sound to BUCKETHEADLAND. This one has taken the world of alternatives metal and added some interesting new chops to the mix including some new atmospheric backdrops. Just when i think BH has lost all his musical mojo he proves he is still able to unleash something new and actually relevant to the world of heavy rock / metal. This is also the most progressive music BH has released in 2021 with lots of time signature changes and an expanded compositional flow. The mix is pretty spectacular as well with lots of echoes, guitar tones and an infinite supply of creative prowess. Why in the world do i have to endure a sea of mediocrity to wait for these moments of glory? Signed - pissed fan :/

“Robot” follows suit with the same strange atmospheric mix of interesting guitar distortion, keyboard backings and drum, bass and guitar action. Finally BH isn’t afraid to offer some guitar antics that allow his true genius to emerge. The syncopation of the drums with the guitar parts, bass and atmospheric keys is off the chart here! This is part metal, part psychedelic rock and part freak show! OMG two tracks in a row that really rock my world at BUCKETHEADLAND? Pinch me i must be dreaming!

Just when i think the PIKE sure has to derail like they usually do lately, “& More” actually continues my interest! Whew :D While less bold and experimental than the previous offering, it still provides a satisfying guitar based groove that utilizes both power chords and heavy licks. It works and sets itself apart from what came before!

“Woodens Warm-ups” takes the choppy guitar palm-muted effects into different territory yet. Interesting melodies, synergy of guitar, bass, drums and atmospheric keys and an unpredictable journey into a fully fueled compositional approach that isn’t predictable! OMG, can this be true? While this is my least favorite track on this PIKE it’s by no means a throwaway track. It continues the flow of what sets this PIKE apart with satisfying results.

Wow! This PIKE is exactly the reason i stick around and keep listening. Yeah, i’m not thrilled that i have to endure seas of mediocrity to get to nice gems like this one but isn’t that really what life is all about? Sure it’s more annoying in terms of music but i signed up for the review every BH album so here i am. This one is by far my favorite of 2021. Very interesting in how BH mixed the different instruments and the compositions themselves are of high quality. While not a bonafide masterpiece by any means, this is certainly one i will return to in the future. Thanks for laying this golden egg, Buck Buck!

ENSLAVED Caravans to the Outer Worlds

EP · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is an EP release by Norwegian progressive black metal act Enslaved. The EP was released through Nuclear Blast in October 2021. It succeeds the release of the band´s 15th full-length studio album "Utgard" from October 2020, and features the same quintet lineup as the album. It´s not unusal for Enslaved to release EPs with additional non-album material. The two 2011 EPs "The Sleeping Gods" and "Thorn" are other examples of that.

"Caravans To The Outer Worlds" features 4 tracks and total playing time of 18:12. The opening title track is a progressive metal track, and it´s quite the catchy and memorable track, which could easily have been included on "Utgard" (2020). The track features everything you´d expect from a contemporary Enslaved song, like raspy/clean vocals, vintage keyboards/organ, 70s progressive/psychadelic rock influences, organic rhythmic playing, and of course a dose of atmospheric black metal. It´s one of the stronger and more remarkable tracks I´ve heard from them in a while. "Intermezzo I - Lönnlig Gudlig" follows and it´s a dark, brooding, and atmospheric instrumental.

"Ruun II - The Epitaph" is the third track of the EP. Although this one features clean vocals by keyboard player Håkon Vinje, it´s a continuation of the dark, gloomy, and almost psychadelic tinged style of the preceding track. It´s repetitive and hypnotic in nature, building an ominous atmosphere. The use of choirs and organic acoustic instruments deserve a mention here. "Intermezzo II - The Navigator" concludes the EP and sounds like Enslaved playing a Hawkwind song. Great driving psychadelic space rock. It´s no surprise that Enslaved pull it off with ease. At this point in their career it´s the most natural thing in the world to them.

Upon conclusion "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is a high quality EP release by Enslaved. It´s less polished and slightly more experimental in nature than the material on "Utgard" (2020), and that approach suits Enslaved well. They´ve always been best when they added a bit of organic grit to their releases, and "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is one such release. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MOONSPELL Hermitage

Album · 2021 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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lukretion
Blessed be the Top Albums of the Year lists! Preparing mine for The Metal Observer forced me to look back at a bunch of 2021 albums that I had overlooked at the time they were initially released. Among them there is Hermitage, Moonspell’s 12th full-length studio album (I am not counting Under Satanae that contains re-recordings of the band’s early material). In the 1990s, the Portuguese goth metallers were one of my favourite metal bands, but I somehow lost touch with their obscure art at some point during the late 2000s. Hermitage, however, gloriously reminded me why I was so in love with Moonspell during my teens: it is a superb album, dark and elegant, full of variety and class, that builds on the band’s classic sound but also ventures in new directions, subtly merging together gothic metal, extreme metal and modern progressive rock.

I have to confess that, when I gave Hermitage its first spin, it wasn’t instant love. The album sounded slick and classy, but also hazy, understated and difficult to grasp. None of the melodies or arrangements stood out. The album flowed away pleasantly, but I felt there weren’t enough moments that really grabbed my attention and pulled me in. Curiously, the same had happened to me with another Moonspell’s album, released exactly twenty years ago: 2001’s Darkness and Hope. I remember it took me many spins to fully appreciate that album, pretty much for the same reasons I initially struggled to connect with Hermitage: the melodies felt too subtle and elusive and the atmospheres too understated, to the point that the album seemingly lacked a strong character and identity. It was only after a half-dozen listens that Darkness and Hope finally opened up to me and I could fully appreciate its delicate and obscure beauty, for which I still consider it today one of the best albums by the Portuguese combo. Mindful of that experience, I decided to persevere and kept playing Hermitage until the album finally clicked with me. And, boy, I am so glad that I did.

Hermitage is an album that only a band as classy, talented and experienced as Moonspell could have written. “Mature” is probably the word I am looking for. The record oozes sophistication and aplomb as it takes the listener to a dazzling journey through different shades of dark rock anchored in the band’s classic gothic sound, but modernized with a multitude of different influences, from modern progressive/alternative rock, to psychedelia, to jazz and electronic music. All these influences are blended together with disarming simplicity, relying on minimalistic arrangements and a warm, stripped-down sound that exalts the essence of each song.

The album’s first five tracks are extraordinary, in this respect. They each explore a distinct sonic niche without failing to retain strong cohesiveness and consistency. “The Greater Good” flirts with the dark alt/prog metal of bands like Soen and Anathema, with muscular grooves and hypnotic guitar riffs, while retaining a strong gothic allure that explodes in the surprisingly heavy finale. “Common Prayers” shifts weight towards more traditional gothic rock atmospheres, while “All or Nothing” is a delicate slowburner that lulls its way through groovy drum patterns, bluesy guitar riffs and a gorgeously Floydian solo, conjuring up visions of smoky jazz clubs after midnight. Meanwhile, the almost punkish title-track brings to the fore the band’s black metal roots, and “Entitlement” harks back to the tasteful experiments with electronica that Moonspell also attempted previously in their discography (for instance, their 1998’s Sin/Pecado album).

The second half of the album is perhaps a tad less spectacular. It contains two slightly lacklustre instrumentals (though the cold piano arpeggio of “City Quitter” provides a spellbinding album finale) and a song, “Apophthegmata”, that builds on an interesting atmosphere but ultimately does not develop into much more. However, we are also treated with what is probably the best track of the LP, “The Hermit Saints”. Pretty much like the album opener, this song takes Moonspell’s classic gothic sound and reimagines it through the lens of modern alt/prog rock: Ricardo Amorim’s bouncy guitars frantically buzz their riffs over a tapestry of groovy basslines, majestic organs and shifting drum patterns (new drummer Hugo Ribeiro deserves a shout-out here for a stellar performance, perfectly balanced between muscularity and coloration), while Fernando Ribeiro switches back and forth between a deep, velvety croon and his abrasive semi-growls, creating an intoxicating final mix. The album also closes strongly with “Without Rule”, probably he Hermitage’s most surprising song, with its lysergic vibes that hark back to early Pink Floyd and 1970s psychedelia.

Hermitage is so rich and diverse, and yet at the same time so refined and restrained, that it takes time and patience to properly take in all of the album’s different shades and contours. A superficial listen may even confuse its subtlety and elegance for demureness or lack of character. Jaime Gomez Arellano’s sober and natural production adds to this false first impression, as the detailed production work only fully blossoms on repeated listens, as one learns to appreciate the exquisite balance in the mix between the different instruments and the overall sonic clarity.

As such, Hermitage is most definitely a grower, albeit one that thoroughly deserves your time investment. When the album finally opens up, it is deeply intoxicating with its obscure romantic atmosphere. The quality of Hermitage that I probably appreciate the most is how fresh, modern and exciting the record sounds while at the same time retaining Moonspell’s classic sonic identity. This stands in defiance to Fernando Ribeiro’s own words in promo interviews, where the singer questions whether the band’s time may be coming to an end. If anything, Hermitage shows that Moonspell are still a fresh and very relevant voice in today’s metal, nearly 25 years since they have moved their first steps in the scene. This is a massive achievement for the Portuguese band, and one that not many of their peers can claim to have fulfilled.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

LAST DAYS OF HUMANITY Horrific Compositions Of Decomposition

Album · 2021 · Goregrind
Cover art 4.41 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Goregrind – invented by Carcass, perfected by Regurgitate, and pushed to the absolute limit by Last Days of Humanity.

Everything Last Days of Humanity (LDOH) has ever produced has been extreme, pushing the boundaries between brutal uncompromising music and formless noise. This is what endears the band to it’s fans, and also deters potential new listeners. Just look at the band’s previous album covers. Gory pictures are the norm among goregrind bands, but LDOH’s album covers take the revulsion to new depths. Human bodies aren’t just mangled but are also decomposing, with images so visceral and disgusting you can almost smell the putrefaction and trigger your gag reflex. This music isn’t something which can just be explored casually.

And the music. It’s fast, distorted, guttural, and really fucking heavy, but often it dissolves into an indistinguishable blur. It’s a nasty, gut-punch kind of a blur, and quite satisfying in it’s own right, but it’s hard to tell where bass, guitar, vocals, and drums all start and end. There have always riffs lurking just beneath the surface, but like the Loch Ness monster, they have proved to be elusive up until now.

Right from the first few seconds, “Hematopoietic System Tissue and Lymphoid Fail” opens with an absolutely massive riff which wouldn’t sound out of place on Carcass’ first two albums, except that it’s crystal clear and monumentally heavy. It seems like for almost the first time in their career LDOH actually had a production budget.

However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Hans Smits’ vocals still sound like a clogged drain in a pathology lab. Clearer production aside, this is still the familiar trademark micro-blast songs, sometimes lasting only a few seconds but run together so it’s often hard to know where one song ends and the next begins. Let’s face it though, this isn’t the sort of music you listen to for individual songs. Other than with the opening track, the only other time this matters is with a suitably mangled cover of Fear of God’s “Running Through The Blood”. Sometimes music emerges from the crimson maelstrom. Otherwise, this album is glorious, gory cascades of shredded, decaying human tissue.

So… is LDOH breaking new ground? No. Is LDOH still pushing the limits? Yes. Is this a contradiction? Maybe. Is “Horrific Compositions of Decomposition” any good? Yes.

AT THE GATES The Nightmare Of Being

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.53 | 7 ratings
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lukretion
I am a late comer to the At the Gates appreciation club, having paid attention to the Swedish icons only since their 2018 album To Drink from the Night Itself. Therefore, when their new record, The Nightmare of Being, was released earlier this year, I finally decided to purchase the CD to properly check it out. The reason why the last two records caught my attention is probably also the reason why some oldtime supporters are giving the band a hard time in specialized webzines and review sites: slowly but surely, the Swedes have started weaving conspicuous progressive rock/metal into their sound, noticeably bastardizing the melodic death metal style they once contributed to create.

The Nightmare of Being brings together three different strands of musical influences. The core of the music is still melodic death metal, built on a foundation of fast guitar riffs that are both razor-sharp and exquisitely melodic, pounding and hypertight drumrolls (Adrian Erlandsson puts in a massive performance behind the drumkit), and Tomas Lindberg’s unhinged, high-pitched growls. While in a few songs At the Gates seem happy to not stray too far from the style that made them famous (most evidently in the initial three songs of the record), elsewhere they enrich the melodeath assault with hints of 1970s hard prog as well as dark wave and gothic rock, conjuring up a hybrid sonic world that it is hard not to find enthralling.

The prog rock influences hark back to the sound of the darkest end of the spectrum of 1970s bands, such as King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator. This is conveyed through the use of the mellotron and other eerie keyboard sounds, as well as sombre real strings and woodwinds arrangements (“Touched by the White Hands of Death”, “The Fall into Time”, “The Abstract Enthroned”). Meanwhile, “Garden of Cyrus” introduces a jazzy saxophone lead, which again brings to mind King Crimson (and particularly their Red album). It should be said that At the Gates are not the only nor the first extreme metal band to look back at the dark progressive rock of the 1970s for inspiration. Ihsahn, Enslaved, and Opeth are three prominent examples of bands that have followed the same path several years ahead of the Swedes. Moreover, these bands have definitely pushed the prog rock influences much more prominently into their sound compared to At the Gates, which instead use the 1970s heritage only to add hints of a new dimension to their artform rather than as a way to completely revolutionize it, like Opeth have done for instance. It is nevertheless fascinating to hear violins, flutes and clarinets weaving in and out of aggressive death metal riffs, especially in tracks like “The Fall into Time” where the band have truly challenged themselves to write music that stretches well beyond the classic melodeath canon. Elsewhere, At the Gates make a more vanilla use of the barrage of classical instrumentation they have at their disposal, essentially as an atmospheric prelude or interlude to their more conventional death metal style. Tracks like “Touched by the White Hands of Death” and “The Abstract Enthroned” are slightly underwhelming in this respect, and they do not strike me as neither very original nor particularly accomplished.

The other element that emerges through the 10 tracks of The Nightmare of Being is an evident penchant for dark wave and gothic rock. This is most apparent on the oppressive yet groovy “Cosmic Pessimism”, a track that builds on a bouncy clean guitar riff apparently inspired to krautrock and bands like Neu! and Tangerine Dream, for what is one of the standout moments of the whole album. Elsewhere, the gothic undertones surface through the use of clean guitar breaks and especially Tomas Lindberg’s half-spoken vocal croon, a style he uses quite often on this record, reminding me at times of Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne.

With all these disparate ingredients thrown into the mix, The Nightmare of Being makes for a varied and engaging listening experience. Not everything on the album is gold, and in fact there are more than a couple of episodes that feel a tad too run-of-the-mill and unremarkable (“The Paradox”, the title-track, “Touched by the White Hands of Death” “Eternal Winter of Reason”). However, when inspiration strikes them, At the Gates manage to give us some striking pieces of music, perfectly balanced between raw aggression and sophisticated melancholy. “Garden of Cyrus”, “The Fall into Time”, “Cult of Salvation” and “Cosmic Pessimism” are all little gems of modern melodic death metal that cleverly push the boundaries of the genre without straying too far from its core essence. The Nightmare of Being is a bit too patchy to be heralded as a contemporary masterpiece, but it nevertheless shows that there is still creative blood running in the icy veins of the Swedish combo, and it will certainly be interesting to see where they will decide to bring this creativity next.

IRON MAIDEN Senjutsu

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 25 ratings
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lukretion
I approached Iron Maiden’s seventeenth full-length album Senjutsu in the same way as I approach all new releases from glorious bands of the past: with a mixture of hopeful excitement and reluctant dread that the new album won’t be anywhere near the glory days of years past. In this sense, Senjutsu turned out to be a pleasant surprise, showing that, even though they are no longer the reckoning force of 40 years ago, Iron Maiden are still a relevant voice in today’s metal landscape. This conclusion is even more surprising if one considers that I have not been impressed by any of the recent releases by the band, including the oft venerated Book of Souls.

So what’s Senjutsu’s secret? In two words: strong songwriting. Yes, it’s that simple. Forty-one years on after they have started their recording career, Iron Maiden can still write memorable heavy metal tunes that are both fun and arousing. The songwriting formula hasn’t changed much over the years: a powerful combination of galloping bass grooves, twin guitar leads and riffs, tight drumming, blazing guitar solos and Bruce Dickinson’s soaring dramatic vocals that often double the main guitar melody. Fast songs alternate to epic, brooding mid-tempos (giving off strong X Factor vibes) and ballads, creating a varied tracklist that keeps things fresh and entertaining. Structurally, the songs are not too complex, despite the lengthy duration of some of them. There are extended solos and instrumental sections, and the lengthier songs feature multiple parts, but it is all very accessible and memorable, only tiptoeing on the line that crosses into progressive metal.

So far nothing new under the sun as far as any standard Iron Maiden album is concerned. The difference compared to the band’s most recent records is that Senjutsu contains a handful of truly inspired songs, with memorable instrumental sections and great vocal melodies. Most of these tracks can be found on Disc 2 of this 81+ minute long double album. “Darkest Hour” is a sublime ballad infused with pathos and drama thanks to Dickinson’s fantastic vocal performance. The emotional solo in the second half of the song is another unmissable moment of the track, and a true highlight of the whole record as well. “The Parchment” is probably the best song off Senjutsu It is a strongly progressive piece, with some daring tempo changes, a spectacular instrumental section, and a fabulous doomsday verse that sends chills down my spine every single time (strong Seventh Son of a Seventh Son vibes here!), showing that Maiden can still bite when they want to. Album closer “Hell on Earth” is another strong contender for best track of the album, twisting between delicate acoustic arpeggios and epic galloping guitar riffs. Disc 1 is slightly more average, but there are some glorious moments there too, like the title-track, a very catchy and easy-listening track that shows how consummate Maiden are as songwriters.

Senjutsu also introduces a couple of unexpected sonic twists, like the surprising bluesy guitars of “The Writing on the Wall” or the vaguely 1970s, Floydian intro of “Lost in a Lost World”. There is nothing that truly innovates or changes the musical direction the band have been following over the past 40 years, but it is nevertheless refreshing to see that Maiden have not lost the appetite for subtle sonic experiments, seventeen albums into their discography.

The rest of the material is slightly less impressive, with tracks like “Days of Future Past”, “”The Time Machine” and even the slow winding “Death of the Celts” coming across a somewhat too derivative and flat. This is probably the main gripe I have with the album: if instead of releasing a double disc of over 81 minutes, Maiden had applied a little more quality control and reduced the material to five or six songs for half the length of the LP, this could have been one of the strongest albums the band has released since the 1990s. Nevertheless, Senjutsu stands tall in the band’s recent discography and represents a true return to form for Iron Maiden.

EVERGREY Escape of the Phoenix

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 5 ratings
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lukretion
The Swedish masters of dark and melancholic progressive power metal have returned this year with their 12th full-length album in a discography that spans four decades. Driven by the charismatic voice of Tom S Englund, Evergrey developed their unique sound very early on in their discography, with 2001’s In Search of Truth representing a monumental career highlight that still shines bright today. From then on, the Swedish combo has continued to hone their sound, incorporating subtle electronic influences and modern metal vibes, without ever abandoning the signature elements that have defined their music so far: chugging guitars that churn out a myriad of groovy, down-tuned riffs; pounding drumwork that is rich with offbeat fills and flourishes; delicate keyboard and piano interjections creating dramatic contrasts with the guitars and rhythm section; and Englund’s unique voice – dark and gruffy but yet incredibly melodic and emotional.

Escape of the Phoenix does not stray too far from the usual formula the band have been following in the past few records. The songs are perhaps even slightly heavier than what Evergrey have used us to in recent years, with a couple of djenty interjections (“Where August Mourn”) and a good dose of dark metallic vibes that suggest Evergrey have been paying close attention to the latest sonic evolutions of moody progressive metal bands like Katatonia (“Forever Outsider”, “The Beholder”). There are also clear references to modern metal, with not too subtle electronic undertones and catchy vocal melodies that frequently veer towards poppy territories (“Where August Mourn”).

The combination of heavy and soft elements make the album feel varied and dynamic. This characteristic is further reinforced by the diversity of the tracklist, which alternates soft melancholic ballads (“In the Absence of Sun”; “You from You”), majestic mid-tempos (“Where August Mourn”; “Run”), faster pieces (“Eternal Nocturnal), and more complex, progressive epics (“The Beholder”, featuring a cameo by James LaBrie from Dream Theater). The musicians’ performances are strong throughout (with a handful of very tasteful guitar solos), and together with the simple, lean song structure ensure that the album flows away fairly easily despite its long duration of nearly one hour.

Despite these strengths, Escape of the Phoenix is not an album that adds much to Evergrey’s rich discography. There are a couple of songs that stand above average and might just make the cut for a “best of” album (“In the Absence of Sun”, “The Beholder”; “Leaden Saints”). The rest, however, feel very unadventurous and almost written on auto-pilot. There is nothing egregiously bad, but also nothing that will make you jump out of your chair and scream hallelujah. A handful of tracks (“A Dandelion Cipher”; “Eternal Nocturnal”; the title-track ) are slightly disappointing to me, in that they seem to feature a somewhat lazy songwriting, relying excessively on Englund’s voice to carry the song through with big dramatic melodies, while offering very little in the way of instrumental accompaniment (plenty of chugging background guitars, pounding drums and opulent string arrangements, but no exciting riffs or remarkable instrumental moment). But this is also how a lot of modern metal sound like (big on vocal melodies, small on pretty much everything else), so it may please fans that lean towards that particular genre.

To sum up, Escape of the Phoenix is a good, if fairly unremarkable, Evergrey album. If you are new to Evergrey, this is not the place to start as the band have written much stronger albums over their career (for instance, In Search of Truth or Recreation Day). If you are already familiar with the band’s sound, this album won’t change much the way you feel about it. There are some subtle new influences woven in into their sound, pushing the album in modern metal territory, but nothing that changes significantly Evergrey’s overall musical direction. It’s pretty much more of the same, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your inclination towards the special blend of dark, melancholic progressive power metal Evergrey have been churning out for nearly 25 years now.

FORMALDEHYDIST Pickled for Posterity

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Pickled for Posterity" is the debut full-length studio album by multi-national death metal/goregrind act Formaldehydist. The album was released through Metal Bastard Enterprises in September 2021. Formaldehydist features members from England, Sweden, and Denmark. The two most prolific members of the lineup are lead vocalist Dave Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower, Down Among the Dead Men...etc.) and guitarist/bassist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Ribspreader, Down Among the Dead Men...etc.). Ingram shares the lead vocal duties with Danish singer Mads Haarløv (Undergang, Iniquity...etc.) and British drummer Jon Rudin (Those Who Bring the Torture, Wombbath, Just Before Dawn...etc.) completes the quartet lineup.

Stylistically the material on "Pickled for Posterity" is old school death metal/goregrind, strongly influenced by late 80s/early 90s Carcass and other goregrind artists of that era (Impetigo, Nuclear Death...etc.). It´s obviously an album created with great love and respect for the genre, but also with a great portion of humour. The lyrics and parts of the music (is that a fart or two I hear?) are pretty funny (and of course suitably gory and vile) which songtitles like "Piss Soaked Lingerie (Another One Bites the Crust)" and "Six Six Six Pack (The Number of the Yeast)" perfectly showcase.

While the influences come from the late 80s/early 90s goregrind scene, "Pickled for Posterity" is actually more death metal than grindcore. There are blast beats on the album, but the music is predominantly mid-paced and brutal death metal (with the occassional hardcore leanings). Ingram has a distinct deep and intelligible growling vocal style, which is complimented here by the deep juicy growling vocal style of Haarløv. So no higher pitched snarling and aggressive vocals on this album (so much for the Carcass reference).

9 tracks and a total playing time of 24 minutes and the album is over before you know it, but while it´s playing it´s a greatly entertaining release for fans of the genre. It´s well produced, well performed, and well written, but it´s the band members love for the music and the fun they had making the album which shine through the most. I don´t expect a follow-up release from Formaldehydist (but of course be my guest, I´ll definitely give it a listen), but I can highly recommend a purchase of this one if you are a fan of the genre. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ENDARKEN The Plague of Truth

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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"The Plague of Truth" is the debut full-length studio album by Danish death metal act Endarken. The album was independently released in September 2021. Endarken formed in Copenhagen in 2017, and features members (or ex-members) of several other Danish metal acts like The Kandidate, Billy Boy in Poison, Sinphonia, and HateSphere. The album track single "Insomnia" was released in August 2021, but other than that "The Plague of Truth" is the first release by the band.

Stylistically the material on "The Plague of Truth" is melodic death metal with both snarling aggressive vocals and clean/shouted melodic vocals. The tracks are relatively easy to follow and all feature energetic drumming, melodic guitar riffs, and well played lead guitar parts. The musicianship is solid and although lacking some bite and power the sound production is also decent. The tracks don´t really stick much though, and although the songwriting isn´t of a bad quality, it is pretty standard for the genre, or maybe even a little below standard in some departments. The clean/shouted melodic vocals are for example a bit questionable in quality and execution. It´s not that lead vocalist Tim Nederveen can´t sing or hit the notes right, but he just doesn´t have a particularly interesting voice, and while his snarling vocals aren´t the most interesting either, they are far better than his cleans.

"The Plague of Truth" is upon conclusion a standard quality melodic death metal release, and you´ll be able to find thousands of artists in this style producing music of this quality. Decent but ultimately unremarkable and forgettable. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

UNLEASHED No sign Of Life

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"No sign Of Life" is the 14th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Unleashed. The album was released through Napalm Records in November 2021. It´s the successor to "The Hunt For White Christ" from 2018.

Stylistically you get exactly what you expect from an Unleashed album. Energetic and relatively simple structured old school death metal with predominantly Scandinavian mythology/viking/anti-christianity lyrical themes. The band are as well playing as ever and the material is catchy, effective, and powerful, but if I have to mention one change from the last couple of releases, it´s Johnny Hedlund´s vocal style, which has changed a little bit from his usual snarling aggresive growling towards a slightly more throaty shouting/semi-growling vocal style. It reminds me of how he sounded on some of the less interesting mid-90s releases by the band, and that´s not a positive in my book. It´s a highly subjective opinion though and despite of how I feel about the vocals, they are arguably both powerful and well performed, and I´m sure most listeners won´t have the slightest problem enjoying them.

As usual I have to give lead guitarist Fredrik Folkare a special mention for his contributions. Once again he proves how important he is for Unleashed adding texture, harmony, melody, and some incredibly well played guitar solos to the music, making what could otherwise have been just pretty simple death metal so much more. Just as an example try and listen to what he does on a track like "You Are the Warrior!". But it´s the same on all tracks. If you removed his playing from the album, it would not be nearly as interesting or varied a listening experience.

"No sign Of Life" features a raw, powerful, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well, and upon conclusion Unleashed have done it again...and have released another high quality death metal album. I won´t let my bias towards the vocal style affect my rating and therefore a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

COFFIN FUCK Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

Single · 2021 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Ho, ho, fuck...

Yep, it’s Christmas time, so the world’s most (only?) Christmassy death metal band Coffin Fuck have made their annual trip to the studio somewhere near their home base of Hopatcong, New Jersey. COVID played the Grinch in 2020, the first time in a decade a Coffin Fuck Christmas single didn’t eventuate, so the three lads in their silly sweaters are making up for lost time this year.

But something has changed.

Yes, it’s the usual three self-professed dorks mangling a Christmas song in a so-bad-it’s-good completely unproduced metal manner. Yes, the lyrics are mostly inappropriate and silly. And yes, the artwork to this year’s offering “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” looks to have been hand drawn using Microsoft Paint.

But therein lies a clue: there’s a rough hand-rendered version of the most famous image in black metal history. No, not Dead’s splattery “excuse the mess” farewell. No, no! Not Count Grishnakh posing with the over-sized butter knife. The OTHER most famous image from black metal. You know, Abbath and Demonaz in full battle dress and badger make-up ready to shovel snow with their guitars from the cover of “Battles in the North”.

Yep, Coffin Fuck have passed over to the dark side. This year’s Christmas single is... black metal!

And actually, it’s not half bad. Well OK, it is pretty bad, but that’s the point. It’s standard-ish black metal with fast, reedy sounding guitars, and blasts and snare drum flurries like you’d expect, but it’s the funny little foibles which make Coffin Fuck such fun. The tuneless vocal tuning at the start of the song. The clunky solo mid-song. The stupid lyrics – “You will get a detrimental feeling when you hear/heathens screaming, worship Santa” and “Have a Misanthropic day/Everyone glaring evilly/In the most trve nekro way”.

Yep, it’s dumb as fuck, but that’s why it’s fun. Merry Antichrist-mas!

ULVER Scary Muzak

Album · 2021 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
ULVER continues to be Norway’s greatest shapeshifters having released material that is as diverse as black metal, dark folk and progressive avant-garde post industrial metal to ambient electronic and even synthpop. Well here’s another one for the resume. Released on Halloween of 2021, ULVER has unleashed its first horror synth album that mixes progressive electronic and synthwave to celebrate the holiday cheer. Creepy and suspenseful and filled with dark ominous tones and timbres, SCARY MUZAK is definitely not where anybody could’ve predicted this band would go!

This album is more than just scary music for the Halloween holiday’s sake but is a reinterpretation of John Carpenter’s soundtrack music for the film. To be more accurate, SCARY MUZAK features five covers of classic soundtrack works of JC with the remaining seven tracks originals inspired by those pieces and put into the context of scary synthesizer sounds. Somewhat in the vein of Buckethead’s countdown to Halloween marathon in 2015 but sounding more like the scary soundtrack music of the Italian proggers Goblin except ULVER jettisons all rock aspects altogether.

ULVER has had a somewhat fluid lineup over its 30 years of history. This album features the quartet of Ole Alexander Halstensgård (electronics), Kristoffer Rygg (percussion), Tore Ylwizaker (synthesizer) and Stian Westerhus (guitar) although i can’t say i hear much guitar taking place so i guess that they are probably processed beyond recognition. The music while mostly electronically based on synthesizers flows a lot like a classical music score with tones and timbres gliding in and out of aural range along with drones, electronic drumbeats, oscillations, pitch slides and other cool electronic accoutrements.

The gist is a beefy bass groove, some strange upper range weirdness and a scary treble keyboard riff which is what sounds the most like the world of Goblin. The percussive drive is varied with some moments feeling tribal and others feeling a bit robotic. The tracks are fairly short and to the point with none exceeding the five minute mark. The album while not a soundtrack score per se certainly does evoke the sense of being one and it’s not unfathomable that these tracks would somehow be used in that manner.

While certainly amusing and well executed, the problem with this album is that it does not really convey the scariness of the Halloween holiday however even if the whole point was to emulate the Halloween film’s soundtrack, it all seems a bit pointless as the album sounds as if it exists in the world of the Italian film soundtrack powerhouse Goblin. In other words ULVER hasn’t found its own niche in crafting this sort of musical mosaic and therefore it sounds rather derivative of the Goblin universe with a particular feel of “Suspiria.” Not bad but not exactly what scratches my itch if i have the urge to check out this style of synthesized electronica. What’s next ULVER? Marching band renditions of classic ABBA songs? Why the hell not?!!!

BUCKETHEAD Pike 301 - The Chariot of Saturn

Album · 2021 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Hot on the heels of “Pike 300 - Quarry,” comes PIKE 301 - THE CHARIOT OF SATURN officially hatched on 18 December 2021. It still remains a mystery as to what happened to Pikes #s 285, 286, 289, 290 and 295 since they’re missing from the queue. WTF, BUCKETHEAD?

This one features one long track called THE CHARIOT OF SATURN which shape shifts through mellow clean guitar passages to mid-tempo rock. Not unlike umpteen similar sounding PIKEs this one pretty much sticks to the chicken lover playbook that now has been established without any significant deviation.

Overall this one track offering hovers around in an echoey guitar ambient mode. The basically melodic development is consistent and the track sort of oozes as it unfolds with even the rock aspects barely catching fire. There is a lot of attention paid to the production these days and while it’s not always essential on THE CHARIOT OF SATURN it really does make a difference.

This is a rather dreamy PIKE with the emphasis much more on the ambient atmospheric effects rather than the guitar playing. Luckily this isn’t one of those lullaby PIKEs though and there are enough dynamic shifts to keep the old attention span firing on all pistons.

Like most of these single track PIKEs this one features cyclical loops and repetitive motifs and doesn’t really need to be as long as it is however if you are listening to this as background music while surfing the web or some other activity it’s perfectly adequate. This one is better than recent PIKEs but nothing really new or outstanding either. Just another day at BUCKETHEADLAND.

BLOODKILL Throne of Control

Album · 2021 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Throne of Control" is the debut full-length studio album by Mumbai, India based thrash metal act Bloodkill. The album was independently released in January 2021. Bloodkill formed in 2016 and released the "3B" single in 2017 and the "Horrorscope" single in 2018. Both single tracks are included on "Throne of Control".

Stylistically the material on the album is Bay Area influenced thrash metal. It´s especially Death Angel who comes to mind and it´s audible that Bloodkill have listened a lot to the contemporary releases by the legendary San Franscisco act. So it would be a moderation of the truth to say that Bloodkill have produced an album of material which are particularly original in style. What they have produced is an intense and incredibly powerful thrash metal album loaded with sharp trashy riffs, very well played lead guitar work (courtesy of lead guitarist Shubham Khare), energetic and powerful drumming, and an aggressive and raw sounding lead vocalist in Anirudh Gollapudi. They occasionally add a slightly more melodic traditional heavy metal touch to their thrash metal, but it´s details, and nothing dominant.

Featuring only 8 tracks and a total playing time of 33:35, "Throne of Control" is on the short side considering that it´s a debut album from a band who has existed since 2016. You´d think they´d have more mateterial to show to the world, but it´s not really an issue considering the high quality of the material featured on the album. Quality over quantity any day...

"Throne of Control" feautres a raw, detailed, and well sounding production job, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion "Throne of Control" is a high quality thrash metal release, and fans of Bay Area thrash metal (and Death Angel in particular) are recommended to take notice here. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

DEEP PURPLE Turning To Crime

Album · 2021 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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I’ve never been one to embrace albums that are completely filled with cover tunes so when i start to check out an album that is nothing but remakes of classic songs i bring my biases along from the getgo however once in a while i’m quite surprised that something is actually better than i ever could have imagined. Such is the case with the latest release from DEEP PURPLE. It’s hard to believe that this band in name at least as been around since 1968. That’s 53 years of rocking and rolling and like The Rolling Stones seems to be immortal however we’re talking the Mark II lineup mostly since the only member to have been with the band since the beginning is drummer Ian Paice.

Back with the 22nd overall studio album, TURNING TO CRIME features 12 timeless classics reinterpreted by Ian Gillian (vocals), Steve Morse (guitars), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums) and Don AIrey (keyboards). Several guest musicians add the extra touches of tenor sax, horns, trumpet, fiddle and squeeze box. While it may seem inappropriate for a band of such stature to tackle such an album after years of original albums, it should be remembered that DEEP PURPLE started out as a cover band with more songs from others than self-penned. Before the Mark II breakthrough the band with original singles Rod Evans covered everyone from Joe South, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Ike & Tina Turner and even Neil Diamond.

While that was the thing in the 1960s, it was actually quite the surprise to find out that TURNING TO CRIME is a collection of covers here in the year 2021 but in a way this album is like a trip down memory lane and takes the listener back to the more innocent times when popular music was almost exclusively verses and choruses and you could just tap your feet to a good beat and catchy melodic hook. I have to say that DEEP PURPLE has been rather hit and miss ever since it launched its comeback with “Perfect Strangers” all the way back in 1984 and that would be mostly miss! Although Steve Morse has performed admirably as the tall order replacement of Ritchie Blackmore, the quality of DEEP PURPLE music has been rather weak with a few exceptions here and there.

TURNING TO CRIME is an oldies but goodies type of album taking you back to the years of good old fashioned rock and roll. Most of the tracks were mined from the 1960s ranging from the psychedelic rock of Love and the rock’n’soul of Ray Charles but the 50s is fair game with a track from Huey “Piano” Smith as well as the 70s with some Little Feat and Bob Seger. While at first glance i assumed this album was going to be awful but once i lowered my expectation enough i was immediately surprised that this album isn’t that bad at all! While the band’s songwriting has deteriorated over time, the musicians’ ability to perform has not. Ian Gillan sounds exactly the same as he did on “In Rock” or “Machine Head” and Steve Morse is still every bit as his Dixie Dregs days with some surprising guitar solos improvised. Add some dirty piano rolls courtesy of Airy and it becomes apparent that DEEP PURPLE successfully take the songs on board to the next level which arguably should be the purpose of cover tunes.

True that this album is hardly the next best thing since sliced bread but if a classic band wants to churn an album of nothing but cover songs for the fun of it, so be it. Yeah, there are some silly clunkers on here such as “The Battle Of New Orleans” but for the most part these guys add the classic DEEP PURPLE touch to the otherwise straight forward rock and soul classics from the past. Clearly not the band’s next best masterpiece but as i’ve already stated, hardly the throwaway dross that i was expecting. I could actually listen to this again and not hate it!

BUCKETHEAD Pike 300 - Quarry

Album · 2021 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
And here we are! Another lovely day at BUCKETHEADLAND and yet another PIKE dropped by the chicken lover named BUCKETHEAD. This one is somewhat of an achievement since PIKE 300 represents a milestone in this egg dropping from coop!

PIKE 300 - QUARRY comes just in time for Christmas but given that it’s digitally released only, don’t expect it wrapped and put under the tree. This is yet another all instrumental affair and features 5 tracks that simply are titled “Q1,” “Q2,” “Q3,” “Q4” and “Q5.” I have another Q and that would be “WTF?”

These PIKEs have started feeling like Groundhog Day quite some time ago as the PIKEs released in 2021 have generally been nothing more than recycled ideas that seem to roll off the PIKE assembly line like jars of peanut butter! This is another one of those alternative metal PIKEs that simply generates some grungy riffing, a few break downs and various shifts in direction.

“Q1” does the typical bluesy heavy rock guitar riffing dance and a little more on the metal side than recent PIKEs that were just hard rock. At 8 1/2 minutes it’s the longest track but the lengthy time length isn’t really justified. “Q2” pretty much sounds like hitting replay. Everything the same except a different melody. “Q3” just keeps the guitar riff party going. Same tempo, same guitar, bass and drum interplay. Really same same same!

And THEN guess what?!!!! You got it - “Q4” keeps it going!!! Surprise, surprise however at least on this one there are some quieter sections with some palm muted micro-riffs but basically another grungy alt metal guitar workout. And then just because you didn’t ask for it, “Q5” and another version of basically what sounds like five songs with minor variations!

OK, is it obvious i’ve grown tired of the ceaseless recycling of ideas that have been presented ad nauseam from the chicken lover? Well i find these newer PIKEs to be extremely booooooring! Are fans really continuing to buy these just because it’s BH? I wish i could recommend this for any reason but really it only offers five tracks doing the same alt metal shtick that have been featured on dozens of PIKEs at this point. Completists only (i’m not one.)

COLONEL PETROV'S GOOD JUDGEMENT Hypomaniac

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Named after the Soviet Air Defense Forces military dude who saved the world from nuclear war run amok in 1983 when he detected the US launch of missiles was due to a computer malfunction, this Cologne, Germany based band has made its own wise judgements but crafting a unique style of progressive sludge metal mixed with jazz and psychedelia. Having formed back in 2008, COLONEL PETROV’S GOOD JUDGMENT didn’t see the release of its debut “Moral Machine” until 2016 but quickly electrified the progressive metal community with its wild experimental barrage of heavy guitar riffs, assailing syncopation and percussive plentitude with not one but two drummers pummeling their kits erratically. Add some sultry sax squawking and it was clear from the getgo that the good COLONEL stood out in a flooded metal scene like a floating goat on a raft traversing a raging torrent.

The band returned in 2018 to unleash its sophomore unit “Among Servants” only with one less drummer but focused on knottier progressive workouts that incorporated the world of avant-prog with ambitious angularities and darkened all-instrumental soundscapes that offered djent-ish distortion with technical precision in the vein of Animals With Leaders, Liquid Tension Experiment and other similarly minded nerdy musical outfits. Hot off the press so to speak, COLONEL PETROV’S GOOD JUDGMENT saves the day with its third innovative release HYPOMANIAC which features eight crazy tracks that alchemize sludgy metal riffs with sensual saxophone squawks, post-rock cyclical looping and twisted moments of avant-prog splendor. Sensibly keeping the album a traditional vinyl’s length of fine experimental metal-based musical workouts, HYPOMANIAC just misses the 41-minute mark and in its run features a sonic realm that is part sludge metal on the stoner metal side of the equation with jazzy overtones and electronic supplemental effects.

This is one of those bands that allows the musicians to meander in their own trajectory yet weave all those approaches into a greater sum of the parts. The current lineup is Sebastian Müller on guitar, Leonard Huhn on sax and electronic effects, Reza Askari on bass and Rafael Calmam as the sole drummer. The music can be both aggressive and freakishly glacial simultaneously. Bantering bass grooves play with strange chilled contrapuntal saxophone motifs while the drumming exhibits an oft indirect punctuated contrapuntal effect. While the guitar generally drifts on lower register bass mode, occasionally it soars into freakishly psycho-jazz soloing most pronounced on “Violent Meditator” which is perfectly named as it embraces both a sense of psychedelic detachment as well as razor-sharp focus in terms of technical prowess, a balancing act that would seem impossible o achieve but effortless displayed by the good COLONEL’s posse of four musical characters.

COLONEL PETROV’S GOOD JUDGMENT still lurks in the metal underground with its unorthodox methodology of bridging the world of skronky avant-jazz with the atonal and angularness of progressive sludge metal. With no vocals to be heard, the good COLONEL relies on crafting moody atmospheres accompanied by proggy sludge metal attacks in mortal combat with sax attacks that freakishly take on tones and timbres beyond the instrument’s expected limitations. Overall this is a wild ride which is the whole point. To save the world from a nuclear attack requires balls of steel for quick clear-headed decision making and the good COLONEL demonstrates that masterful talent in full abundance. This would be considered difficult listening music by many for it excels in contrasting contrapuntal mindfuckery, however it will please the panheads who crave torturous soundscapes fortified with virtuosic workouts that span the range from heady psychedelic otherworldliness to calculated noisy avant-metal with jazzy dance partners. Excellent in every sense of the word.

SUFFOCATION Live in North America

Live album · 2021 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Live in North America" is a live album release by US death metal act Suffocation. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in November 2021 and features the full Suffocation live show recorded during the Death Chopping North American 2018 Tour at Middle East Down in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 22, 2018. It´s the band´s last performance with original lead vocalist Frank Mullen, who retired from recording and touring with Suffocation after the show.

The tracklist is exactly what you´d expect from a Suffocation show, featuring classics like "Thrones of Blood", "Pierced from Within", "Liege of Inveracity", "Catatonia", and of course "Infecting the Crypts". So it´s pretty much a legacy show, and you won´t find many tracks from the band´s post-2000 albums here. "Dismal Dream", "Surgery of Impalement", "Souls to Deny", and "As Grace Descends" are the exceptions here, but even a couple of those tracks have become mandatory on the band´s setlist in the last 20 years and should by now be considered classics in the band´s discography.

"Live in North America" opens with Mullen telling the audience that it´s his last show with Suffocation and how much he loves them followed by this: "Let´s fuckin´ do this thing...this is all about killing people, cause that´s what I like to do...this one is "Thrones of Blood"... Mullen was always a blue collar no bullshit type of vocalist and an icon in the death metal genre, and what better way to open his last show with Suffocation than this.

"Live in North America" is the second live album released by Suffocation, as they released "The Close of a Chapter" in 2006. It´s two very different sounding releases though. The tracklists are pretty similar but while "The Close of a Chapter" (2006) features a raw, unpolished, warts and all type of production, "Live in North America" is a professional, clear sounding, and overall accessible sounding live death metal album. I´ll go as far as to say that it would actually make a very good starting point for the uninitiated, as you not only get the "hits", but also a flawless and technically skilled performance from all involved, and to top it off a sound production which brings out the best in the material. Some may find the sound production a bit too sterile and not savage and brutal enough, but to my ears this is a perfect sounding production for Suffocation´s music and I´ve experienced a lot of nuances and details the original studio productions don´t reveal. If I have to make one complaint about the album it would be that there are fadeouts between some of the tracks, which takes away from the live experince. I´m not sure why they opted for that, but it is a minor issue as it disrupts the flow of the show.

Minor issue aside, "Live in North America" is still the perfect release to honor Mullen´s career and his vast contributions to the death metal genre. It´s a live release well worth your time and money and although it probably is a definitive goodbye to Mullen, one can always hope for a few guest appearences here and there. A 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

SWALLOW THE SUN Moonflowers

Album · 2021 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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lukretion
Melodic doommasters Swallow the Sun have just released their eight full-length album, Moonflowers, which came out on 19th November 2021 via Century Media. The new album follows what many consider to be the pinnacle of the Finnish band’s career so far, 2019’s When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light, a gorgeous, dark record suspended between doom/gothic metal, prog and post-rock and packed with tremendous emotional intensity due to the dramatic events that inspired its songwriting (the untimely death of Juha Raivio’s partner, Aleah Stanbridge). Written entirely by Raivio and recorded by the same line-up as the previous album (minus keyboard player Jaani Peuhu, who here only provides backing vocals), Moonflowers draws inspiration from the same sorrowful place as Swallow the Sun’s previous LP and it can be considered in many ways its lyrical and musical continuation. There are subtle differences in mood and style, though, which ensures Moonflowers tells its own tale of pain and sorrow and does not just replicate what had already been told by the previous album.

The 8 tracks of Moonflowers tell the intimate and unashamedly personal tale of Raivio’s pain and depression triggered by the loss of Aleah, symbolized by the album’s shocking cover art that Raivio painted with his own blood. The music perfectly captures this dark mood: it is slow, oppressive and full of dramatic contrasts. The songs swing continuously between minimalistic sections dominated by delicate guitar arpeggios and beautiful string arrangements, and violent accelerations with distorted guitars, devastating growls and blast beats. The music feels intentionally unadorned: drums and bass often play very simple patterns, sticking to the beat without too many embellishments. The keyboards are also used sparingly and even the guitar riffs are used in moderation, leaving arpeggios and simple, forlorn leads take the spotlight.

The other main ingredient of the album are the string arrangements played by the Trio N O X, a Finnish group of classical musicians playing violin, viola and cello. The symphonic flair provided by the strings is probably the most distinctive aspect of the album that draws a clear distinction relative to its predecessor. The strings greatly contribute to the dramatic atmosphere of the record and provide a stark contrast with the rest of the electrified instrumentation. With all these elements in place, the album offers a near perfect combination of all the elements that Swallow the Sun have been incorporating into their sound for years now, from the sludgy tempos of doom, to the ferocity of black/death metal, to the romantic atmosphere of gothic metal, to the mellowness of post-rock and the sophistication of progressive metal.

Despite the common lyrical and sonic themes, there is a great deal of variation across the 8 tracks of the album. The record opens and closes with what are the most intense and dramatic pieces of the whole LP. “Moonflowers Bloom in Darkness” is probably the best track here, opening with a sombre, disheartened waltz that suddenly explodes in a stunning blackened chorus where Mikko Kotamäki’s pained vocals paint an all too real image of the “fires of Misery” he sings about. Album closer “This House Has No Home” follows a similar inspiration and reconnects also lyrically with the opener. This is probably the bleakest and most forlorn piece of the record, to the point that it almost hurts to listen to it. “Woven into Sorrow” is another slow-burn piece that follows similar musical coordinates, accentuating the doom/death component of the music. Elsewhere Moonflowers softens its stance and lets the gothic undertones of the music come more to the fore. “Enemy” and “The Void” are the most accessible tracks on the album, with gorgeously catchy vocal lines and a sense of melancholy that brings to mind the best work of Katatonia. “All Hallow’s Grieve” is another beautiful and incredibly melodic gothic piece that represents the emotional peak of the record. The song also stands out for Cammie Gilbert’s (Oceans of Slumber) cameo, her soulful voice playing a perfect counterpoint to Kotamäki’s forlorn crooning. The guitars shine on this track too, from the stunning arpeggio that opens the song to the howling guitar solo that brings it to its climax.

Meanwhile, on “Keep Your Heart Safe from Me” and “The Fight of Your Life” the band experiment with more complex, long-form compositions, alternating acoustic sections with heavier parts (big Opeth vibes here) and playing with subtle atmospheres and mood shifts, rather than relying on melodic accessibility. I’ll be honest – these tracks do not grab me as much as the rest of the album, to the point that I feel the record drags a bit through their combined 14 minutes. This is probably the main weakness of Moonflowers: despite all its splendour, the album does falter in a couple of episodes and its songwriting is not as homogeneously stellar as that on When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light. Strong tracks like “Moonflowers Bloom in Darkness”, “Enemy”, and “All Hallow’s Grieve” are counterbalanced by more inaccessible episodes, like the two songs just mentioned, but even “This House Has No Home” and “Woven into Sorrow” feel bleak and forbidding in comparison.

This unevenness underscores even more what is probably the true essence of this record: Moonflowers is no easy listening material. It’s dark, dense and desperate music, to the point that Juha Raivio himself confessed to find it hard to listen back to these songs after having recorded them. His pain feels raw and real and, as an outside listener, it almost hurts to be its witness. There is a raging fury smoldering underneath the album’s 52 minutes that has all but replaced the sweet romanticism of the material contained on When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light. On that album, the loss of the loved one was tempered by the remembrance of her love, Aleah’s spirit still very much present in every note. That presence is now gone, extinguished, and Moonflowers sings of absence, rather than of loss. The difference is subtle, yet dramatic and crippling. It explains why the music can sometimes feel so difficult, unadorned and barren. Therein probably lie both the greatest virtue and flaw of the album: the thick gloom and rage that transpire from Moonflowers can be intoxicating, but also taxing and emotionally draining for the listener as much as for the man who wrote the music, and while I just couldn’t get enough of When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light, I can only take Moonflowers in small doses, separated in time.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

VOLBEAT Servant of the Mind

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
2021’s Servant Of The Mind is Danish Rock/Metal band Volbeat’s eight studio album, it was produced by Jacob Hansen (with Michael & Rob from the band) and follows up 2019’s Rewind, Replay, Rebound album.

I first got into the band after seeing them live on the cycle for Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie, and fell in love instantly, then devouring their back catalogue and becoming obsessed, listening to them more in one year than it takes me a decade to listen to most other bands, but when it finally came time for me to get in on the ground floor with a new release; 2019’s Rewind’ was a bit of a disappointment for me (especially at first, but to be fair it was a grower), as it initially felt like it was missing a lot of the charm, variety and quirkiness of their earlier work, and also was significantly less heavy or metallic than my favourite side of Volbeat’s many sided style. For me, Rewind’ leaned much too heavily on the band’s radio rock side. That’s always been a part of their sound – but not the whole sound, and to me Rewind’ just focused on it too deeply, too often.

Servant Of The Mind by contrast seems to be very conscious that the previous album was a bit too far away from their metal side, and is a pretty hard and deliberate course-correct towards heaviness. There is much more speed, power, groove, crunch, umph, tiny bits of Thrash-esque moments here and there, even one cheeky Death Metal riff hidden in there once.

Tracks like “Becoming,” feel built for fans who like the band’s heavier material (think “Slaytan”), while “The Devil Rages On,” “Step Into The Light” and “Say No More” more than make up for the previous album’s lighter touch. Heck, “The Sacred Stones” seems to be a deliberate tribute to Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell.” In addition to Metal though, they’ve also always had a bouncy punk tinge at times, and “The Passenger” covers that side of them as well.

While I may be banging on a bit too much about the metal; Volbeat have never been entirely all about heaviness – it is an important part of the puzzle, and it is nice to see it get enough focus again, but it is only part of the bigger picture. For those fans who like the bigger, catchier moments, the album does still have some nice radio rock moments, for example the single “Dagen Før” (featuring Alphabeat’s Stine Bramsen doing guest vocals) covers that kind of “Cape Of Our Heroes” or “Last Day Under The Sun” melodic vibe, and the choruses of even some of the heavier tracks lean into big American radio rock at times (its still there, its just blended better on this album).

Volbeat have also always had a fun side, and while I sort of make it sound like I didn’t like their previous album, it certainly had its great moments. This record takes some of those great moments and builds upon them. Single “Wait A Minute My Girl” has a jaunty saxophone solo, kind of like the fun “Die To Live” from the previous record, while “Step Into The Light” with its reverby twisted surf-rock guitar lead feels like a sequel to the previous album’s “Sorry Sack Of Bones.”

Now, while I have spent most of the review describing the album’s stylistic decisions, being heavy, or melodic, or bouncy or fun is pretty pointless if the album isn’t actually good. Luckily, the material is really strong. There are riffs that will stick in your head for days, choruses you’ll be dying to sing along to, memorable fills and a very clear production job. More than three quarters of the album I want to see live, I’m spoiled for choice over which songs I’d include in a best-of compilation or playlist.

While I wouldn’t make an argument that it is their all time best album, it is certainly in the top half of their discography, pleasantly surprising, and I would whole heartedly recommend it.

Ps. If you can, try and get the edition with the bonus tracks, the extra cover songs are brilliant!

OBSCURA A Valediction

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 5 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
With so many technical death metal artists in existence it’s becoming ever more difficult to stay relevant in a room where so many are vying to find a way through the door and usurp your spot but some bands like Germany’s OBSCURA only seem to find a new sense of relevancy with each and every album despite the room becoming more crowded by the second. Going on almost 20 years of existence, these techies led by the legendary guitarist / vocalist / composer Steffen Kummerer has suffered more than most at keeping together a band whose members don’t want to stick around. Acting as more of a tech death university OBSCURA has seen a huge number of cast members rotate through the doors given that only six albums have seen the light of day.

After 2018’s “Diluvium,” the rotating band members all bailed in unison leaving Kummerer to start from scratch and take on the challenge to remain relevant as one of tech death’s most celebrated units all the while training a new crew to keep the ship sailing. Well as luck would have it, former band members Christian Münzner (guitars) and Paul Thesseling (fretless bass) just happened to be free to rejoin the band which takes 3/4 of the lineup back to the classic days of “Cosmogenesis” and “Omnivium,” the now deemed classic era of OBSCURA’s many renditions. To fill in the shoes of powerhouse percussionist comes David Diepold who has been and still remains a vital member of the English band Cognizance.

Three years after “Diluvium,” OBSCURA is back with an axe or two to grind on the sixth installment of their metallic legendary status in the form of A VALEDICTION which in both Latin and English means an act of bidding farewell. Now i do hope that this doesn’t refer to the end of the band itself as few bands have so successfully conquered the nasty world of tech death so gracefully and sustained itself for so long. Having always been masters of sonic manipulation, freeform fusion and a knack for inserting a strong emotional connection to what should seemingly come off as nothing but frenzied noise, OBSCURA has entered the area of intermediacy where technical death metal complexities have aligned with the more melodic sensibilities of power metal, thrash metal and melo-death only without compromising any of the virtuosic attributes that make OBSCURA so ferociously appealing.

A VALEDICTION features eleven tracks and showcases a new direction that takes a side step from the progressive headiness of the past and takes on a somewhat more accessible approach of adding just enough melodic immediacy to the mix. The result is one that takes OBSCURA more into the world of Necrophagist, Gorod, Archspire and First Fragment which as signifies a plentitude of creative dynamic shifts. In the case of OBSCURA there has always been such diversity and A VALEDICTION is no exception to this rule. There are still remnants of the moody acoustic intros as heard on the opening track “Forsaken” as well as a nice balance between the slower passages and the thunderous raucousness of the blastbeat driven metallic fury however this time around the OBSCURA experience is less about progressive meanderings that take you on a wild and unforeseen journey and instead focus on the neoclassical leanings to un fold the song structures albeit with all the deathened brutality that has never ceased.

Given the virtuosic prowess of all the members featured on A VALEDICTION, the fertile crossroads of technical wizardry and melodic motifs somehow cross-pollinate into a perfect paradise of instrumental interplay. Without the more heady progressive drifting, OBSCURA takes on a more direct approach and in the process Kummerer’s vocal style sounds to me more like the melo-death angstiness of Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho as the music sort of has that power metal meets tech death approach in a similar albeit more complex way. Despite this slight detour into the world of more melodic extreme metal, the musical rampages on like any OBSCURA fan could hope for. Slinky fretless bass grooves working in tandem with dueling guitar majesty and percussive bombast and a guarantee that Diepold certainly qualifies as one of metal’s most promising newbies on the block.

It’s always a stomach turner when one hears a near and dear talent like OBSCURA has drifted to the melodic side of the death metal equation since it has been the alienating surreal effects of atonalities and other unconventional methodologies that have made OBSCURA stand out in the first place but despite such concerns, it is a relief that Kummerer has triumphed once again in reinventing his baby by steering it only subtly in various directions without losing the underlying attributes that make OBSCURA what has always been. Very few can master these tightrope acts between unbridled experiments, beastly brutality and melodic masterful connectability in their music but it has been demonstrated on A VALEDICTION that OBSCURA is by no means in any danger of going the way of the dodo. In fact it seems like they only get better as time goes on.

SUNLESS Ylem

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The Willowtip Records label has been killing it in recent years by becoming one of the major players for crazy technical, brutal and progressive death metal world with its biggest successes emerging from Ulcerate, Gorod, Gigan, Slugdge, Mithras and others including today’s band of focus SUNLESS. This Minnesota band has been around since 2014 but only released its debut “Urraca” in 2017. For its second coming, SUNLESS has returned to delivery another dosage of darkened days, jagged surreal soundscapes and dissonant brutal atonal extreme metal bombast in the vein of classic Gorguts.

SUNLESS was seriously smitten with Gorguts worship on album #1 and the newest release YLEM which refers to a form of matter that is hypothesized by proponents of the Big Bang theory which is thought to have existed before the formation of the chemical elements is a huge step out from that unfortunate situation. Gawd, you gotta love tech death metal. Just for the fact you can improve your vocabulary in the English language if for no other reason! Well with such a title and concept it’s no surprise that SUNLESS does indulge in the abstract musical equivalent of the formless YLEM concept however the Big Bang references seem to apply more to the head banging brutal avant-death metal grooves forged in the fiery pits by the power trio of bassist Mitch Schooler, guitarist / vocalist Lucas Scott and the newest drummer in the SUNLESS family Taylor Hamel who replaces longtime member Ben Iburg.

This is a no nonsense type of tech death and unlike other 2021 tech death powerhouse bands such as Ad Nauseam doesn’t fuck around with swirling synth intros or non-metal ambience but rather YLEM erupts into a ferocious fury, cutting to the chase and delivering the tech death goods right from the getgo. Supposedly the second part of a conceptual trilogy (wow, does anybody really care about themes with growled lyrics sounding more like uncontrolled body functions than poetic prose?), YLEM tackles existential quandaries and universal paradoxes. Even if you cannot assign linguistic value to the tortured dungeon growls, the track titles will give you a clue as to the heady, abstract nature of this exhibition in mental and noisemaking gymnastics.

While “Urraca” was indeed a competent album, for my tastes SUNLESS’ first release was a bit too Gorguts by the books. YLEM corrects that problem and while still clearly in the same camp as Gorguts, Ulcerate, Pyrrhon and Ad Nauseam, this time around the sky with no sun, SUNLESS seems to have found its own style of avant-groove that sorta evokes a more sludgy effect of the tech death world. The drums for example are more akin to the simplified punctuated time keepers of bands like Eyehategod for much of the time but make no doubt about it, technical jazzified percussive workouts are littered throughout this cacophonous uproar of eight tracks that swallow 39 minutes of your life force.

Sounding something like a stampede of angry horses, YLEM is a relentless barrage of sound that has more of a focus than “Urraca.” It’s all very subtle in how everything was tightened up but the compositions are more refined, the jagged guitar riffs are more centered which allows more violent upheavals with the added abstractness of progressive sprawling time signature attacks. Rare moments of down time such as on “Altramentous” (another fun word meaning similar to or as black as ink!) when a few slower dissonant guitar riffs are allowed to chill out. This is an ominous ride for sure like a vacation on a quantum horizon where the fabric of time and space are seemingly unstable and ready for complete annihilation. Ah, tech death, you either love it or run to the hills. For a 2021 release, SUNLESS has done an exemplary job of upping its game.

WHITE STONES Dancing into Oblivion

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.06 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Dancing into Oblivion" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Spanish, Barcelona based progressive death metal act White Stones. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in August 2021. It´s the successor to Kuarahy from 2020 and features the same core trio lineup of Martín Méndez (bass, guitars), Jordi Farré (drums), and Eloi Boucherie (vocals). João Sassetti (Nuckin' Futs), who has done live work with White Stones since 2019, guests on the album playing lead guitars (and might I add some really impressive lead work). Méndez is known as the long-standing bassist in Opeth (only Mikael Åkerfeldt has been with the band longer than Méndez), and his involvement in White Stones of course sprinkles a bit of stardust over the project, but White Stones is an act who can hold their own.

While it´s not wrong to label the material on "Dancing into Oblivion" progressive death metal, it´s actually predominantly because of the growling vocals, that such a label applies. The riffs can be heavy and brutal too and the drumming ditto, but the instrumental part of the music mostly takes its cues from other less brutal sources. I´m mainly reminded of 70s progressive rock, hard rock/heavy rock, and at times even jazz/fusion from that era, but put into a dark and heavy contemporary template. White Stones do a great job balancing the death metal brutality with mellow atmospheric moments (almost darkly psychadelic at times) and loads and loads of focus on rhythms, both in the way the riffs are constructed and played and in the way the drum patterns are composed and the drums are played. There´s such a great organic groove present throughout the album and it´s one of the cornerstones of the band´s music. The bass is placed high in the soundscape and the guitar isn´t distorted like you would usually expect on a death metal album. It´s placed lower in the mix and features a more organic tone, which again reminds me of 70s guitar sound productions.

It´s not music which is hard to follow although it´s certainly progressive, so the tracks don´t feature a million riffs, themes, and songwriting ideas (although this is hardly simple vers/chorus structured music). There are plenty of adventurous surprises along the way, but they are all incorporated seamlessly into the songs and the tracks are generally very well composed and quite accessible. The longest track on the album is "Iron Titans" which opens with a long atmospheric instrumental section. Only after 3 minutes does the death metal elements kick in and the song becomes heavier, then comes a fusion section, and the song ends on a more epic note with some effect distorted non-growling vocals. It´s just an example of the musical journey the listener is treated to on some of the tracks. It´s beyond me that Opeth has such a skilled and clever songwriter like Méndez in their ranks but haven´t ever included anything written by him in their music (as far as I´ve been able to research).

"Dancing into Oblivion" features a dark, powerful, and organic sound production, which suits the music perfectly and upon conclusion it´s a high quality sophomore album relase by White Stones, making it abundantly clear that they aren´t just a one album project. Let´s see what happens when Méndez becomes busy with Opeth again post the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, but I hope he´ll make time to record more White Stones albums in the future. There´s so much qualiy here, that it would be a crime to let it go to waste...I want more!!! A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

LVCIFYRE The Broken Seal

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Based in the UK, though originally from Poland, Lvcifyre have been plying their trade of blackened death metal since 2007, releasing their debut album The Calling Depths in 2012. Their second album released in 2014, Svn Eater showed great promise and likewise the Sacrament EP released in 2019 showing greater growth. With The Broken Seal however the band have come of age and released their strongest collection to date.

The music on The Broken Seal sounds massive while still being darkly atmospheric. Dissonance rules here. Those who like their death metal on the murky side with brooding atonal riffs should find plenty to get their teeth into. If you were to mix in equal portions Morbid Angel, Sulphur Aeon, Immolation and throw in a bit of Deathspell Omega and Ulcerate for good measure you would probably come up with something like this. The raw but powerful production suits the music perfectly contributing greatly to the success of this album. Easier said than done to present each instrument with clarity whilst still maintaining a sound that sounds like it comes from the depths of hell. The years of experience have paid off, the musicianship is top notch as is the songwriting, each track expertly balancing the elements of atmospherics, dynamics and most importantly great riffs. It’s not easy to pick favourites as each song plays its part and integral to the whole, which is how this album is best appreciated with the slower atmospheric sections laying the ground for the next barrage of compelling riffs.

Lvcifyre are technically a duo rather than a band with T Kaos handling all the instrumentation apart from the drums. He also is responsible for the very effective vocals, mainly a guttural growl and the occasional higher scream. Menthor’s drums are integral to the band’s sound and his contribution should not be underestimated as he follows all the twists and turns easily. His inventive and busy playing ranging from blasts to slower syncopated sections, constantly shifting in line with the busy and restless song structures.

If there's any justice in this world this should be the album to break Lvcifyre to the next level. Whilst there was nothing wrong with their earlier work, here the band have realised the promise shown on those releases and made an album that’s up there with the best death metal 2021 has to offer. As we near the end of the year The Broken Seal will feature highly on my album of the year list for sure.

MASTODON Hushed And Grim

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 13 ratings
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ssmarcus
It seemed like not so long ago that progressive metal fans were lamenting Mastodon’s pivot away from prog-inspired sludge metal and into a more commercially viable riff-happy direction. While 2018’s Emperor of Sand signaled a minor but welcomed course correction for the group, Mastodon’s latest effort, Hushed and Grim, is nothing short of a triumphant return to form, perhaps in even greater measure that any time before in the band’s legendary career.

I’ll admit that upon learning Hushed and Grim was a double record spanning almost 90 minutes, I assumed it was going to be yet another covid-lockdown-inspired slog; an under cooked serving by another artist bored and unsure of what to do with themselves with all their new-found time. Bucking this trend, Mastodon have managed to utilize the time to commit every ounce of creative and pent-up emotional energy they could muster to crafting what is an album that is every bit as heavy, psychedelic, technical, experimental, and proggy as anything else they have ever done in their career. While it might be tough to justify a 90-minute run time, it is truly remarkable just how every track has at least something about it to admire.

The record’s only real flaw is the muddy mix that tends to drown out the finer textures of the melodies and riffs. This gets particularly upsetting when comparing the mix to the crisp clean gloss of their previous effort. But putting that flaw aside, Hushed & Grim forces even casual Mastodon fans like myself to come to one inescapable conclusion: this band is simply incapable of making a bad album. And whether you fancy the progressive greatness Crack the Skye or the raw but subtly ambitious onslaught of Leviathan, I think you’ll find Hushed & Grim a worthy contribution to the Mastodon discography.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 299 - Thought Pond

Album · 2021 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Well hello, kiddies! Are you ready for another trip to BUCKETHEAD’s FunHouse in BUCKETHEADLAND? Tickets are selling fast so hurry up and get yours! For those of you who already have a special pass, please follow me! It’s time to board the PIKE 299 Express and today’s destination is to the THOUGHT POND. Oh yea, you know of what i speak. The place where contemplation results in heavy doses of instrumental alternative metal where the Lord Supreme Chicken Lover plays every last instrument! Buckle your seat belts and please keep you hands in the ride. Some of the chickens have turned a bit nasty lately and we certainly don’t want you to lose any limbs.

This PIKE experience will last approximately 28 minutes and transverse five distinct regions. The first stop will be “In The Vases” which showcases BUCK BUCK’s slide guitar juju. Oh it’s so bluesy and all before turning into a more standard alt metal type of tune that true fans will already be familiar with. To keep things from getting too overly weird, the following title track pretty much follows suit. Yeah, sometimes we have to keep things from getting TOO out there or we’ll have another incident where our patrons jump out of the car while it’s moving and end up as chicken fodder. This is horrible for the insurance policies.

And be careful, kiddies! Our next stop may appear to be the “Shit Reflection” but look more carefully as you will see it’s really the “Stilt Reflection!” Even stilts need to reflect sometime and never forget it. Another tasteful dose of amplified slide guitar with some tasty guitar riffs, bass and drums. Lately BH has really gotten into the classics. Recently he did an AC/DC styled instrumental PIKE and now has gotten this bluesy rock hair up his ass! Must be ticklin’ something up there! Hehe. Anyways, another decent track from he who escaped the coop so long ago. No stilt!

Now just because the next stop is a tune called “Times For Tears,” do not worry! You will not be pummeled with tear gas! We promise we fixed that problem a month ago! Also we won’t make you cry with a sappy done-before ballad that makes you want to pull your hair out, commit suicide or go bowling instead! No, kiddies, this is yet another heavy rocker with some riffy guitar workouts and a few breakdowns. I swear i must be having a breakdown. I could’ve sworn that yesterday the next stop was called “Vulcan Stroke” which made me think about Mr. Spock from Star Trek playing with himself all inappropriately but i see now it’s actually called “Vulcan Stoke” so either i need to get my mind out of the gutter or increase my meds. Anywayz, this track is sorta Led Zeppelin-y in a “Kashmir” sorta way but with those BH cluck plucks of the guitar strings. Nah, i take it back it’s just another riff based guitar dominant track. This one has some atmosphere however but not anything tooo overly different from previous PIKEs.

Well, ladies and gents, that concludes another adventure in BUCKETHEADLAND. We hope no limbs were lost and that sanity has been maintained! While this ride may not be the top attraction at this here theme park, it nevertheless was an honor to take you on this ride and we do hope you stick around for another PIKE is, well, just down the PIKE! Hehehehehe! That will conclude today’s services. Please do mind the gap upon exiting and see you on the next chicken’s wild adventure! Oh and don’t forget to stamp your merch tickets. Buy four KFC bucket head covers and get the fifth one totally free!

CYNIC Ascension Codes

Album · 2021 · Metal Related
Cover art 2.83 | 2 ratings
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lukretion
It’s impossible to start this review of Cynic’s fourth full-length album Ascension Codes without mentioning the sad twist of fate that in 2020 claimed the lives of both drummer Sean Reinert and bass-player Sean Malone in the space of less than 12 months. Although Reinert was no longer part of Cynic (he had left the band in 2015), his premature death due to heart failure hit hard the Cynic family, possibly contributing to Malone’s bout of depression that lead to his suicide. Faced with such terrible events, surviving band members Paul Masvidal (guitar/vocals) and Matt Lynch (who joined Cynic as drummer since 2017) were left with the painful task to assemble a new line-up and complete the music for an album that had been in gestation since 2014’s Kindly Bent to Free Us. Masvidal felt immediately that it was not possible to replace Malone and therefore asked pianist Dave Mackay to perform the bass lines of the album on bass synthesizer instead. The trio of musicians were further helped to put together the record by a small number of guest artists, including guitar wizard Plini (who guests on “The Winged Ones”), vocalist Max Phelps, and ambient artist DARK (guitar textures).

The end result is Ascension Codes, a 49-minute cosmic journey divided in 18 individual tracks that alternate between short ambient interludes and lengthier “proper” songs. Musically, the album sounds unmistakably 21st-century Cynic, merging together progressive rock, jazz/fusion, ambient music and a touch of alt/post rock. It follows closely in the footsteps of Cynic’s previous LP Kindly Bent to Free Us, accentuating even further the jazz/fusion/ambient influences and toning down the metal vibes instead. The music is spacey, mellow and atmospheric, engulfing the listener in a hazy sea of mesmerizing drum patterns, groovy bass lines, and layered swathes of dreamy guitars and keyboards. The guitar riffs are nervous and angular, yet strangely smooth and immersive. Lynch’s work behind the drumkit is simply astonishing, his performance a treasure-trove of clever, hyper-technical drum patterns that are nevertheless always played in the best interest of the song. Mackay’s dexterous keyboard playing is also a great addition to Cynic’s music, contributing smooth jazz vibes to the proceedings as well as excellent grooves on the bass synthesizer. Masvidal’s dreamy, high-pitched clean vocals fit perfectly with the mellow atmosphere of the songs, channeling a sort of futuristic Jon Anderson (Yes), both sonically and lyrically.

The album packs some excellent tracks, like the emotionally-charged “Mythical Serpents” where Masvidal’s delicate falsetto tugs the right heartstrings, almost pushing the song in Sigur Rós territory. “Aurora” is more urgent and direct, adding some subtly catchy alt-rock influences that make it one of the most memorable songs of the album. Meanwhile, “In a Multiverse where Atoms Sing” and album closer “Diamond Light Body” are pure prog heaven, reaching levels of hyperactivity and melodic sublimity that are reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s best work.

However, elsewhere the album loses a little bit steam, especially towards the middle where the long, ambient piece “DNA Activation Template” is rather monotonous and breaks unnecessarily the flow of the album. The short interludes between the main songs are also not fantastic in terms of flow. These ambient pieces do not work very well as intros or outros to the songs they bookend, but rather give the record a sense of “stop-and-go” that is incongruous with the immersive ebb and flow of the main compositions. Another complaint I have with the album is that it’s a tad too samey and homogeneous. It lives in its own very definite sonic space, made up of mellow and spacey atmospheres that are endearing, but also fail to leave a very strong first impression on the listener. Repeated listens are certainly necessarily here, but even then I sense a general struggle to ascend beyond the album’s self-imposed dreamy confines with something that is truly momentous and unforgettable.

With a better flow and a couple more arresting songs in the vein of “Mythical Serpents”, “Aurora” or “In a Multiverse where Atoms Sing”, Ascension Codes could have easily crept up on my top 10 of 2021 albums. While it probably won’t end up there, it is nevertheless a very pleasurable album to sit through and will no doubt please Cynic aficionados as well as fans of the mellower, Floyd-infused brands of progressive rock and metal.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole

Album · 2021 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA has been and remains one of those true freaks of nature swimming upstream and going against every orthodox trend in the world of music yet somehow manages to defy all odds and manages to catch the world’s attention with each new release. This Swedish band shocked the metal world with its 2006 debut “The Butcher’s Ballroom” that effortlessly juggled the disparate genres of extreme metal, swing jazz and opera into a jaw dropping masterpiece of avant-metal splendor. While the following “Sing Along Songs For The Damned & Delirious” may have been more of the same, the formula was so out of the box in its approach that two installments of this wacky crazed infusion of music madness was well in order.

With the band’s third album though the band began to chill out a bit and crafted more straight forward fusion-loaded possibilities with shorter tracks that focused on less chaotic juxtapositions of elements therefore it was a shock for the band to return with “Pacifticuffs” that focused on extremely complex and abstract progressive rock workouts, an album that worked quite well for yours truly. Well, DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA is back once again with SWAGGER & STROLL DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE and this time around, the DSO has decidedly reverted back to the immediacy of “Pandora’s Piñata” with more direct songs on the shorter side without the abstractness and complexities of its predecessor.

This is a lengthy album clocking in at 61 minutes and to be honest one of my least favorites of this creative band so far. Gone are the wacky diva wailing over swing jazz and metal bombast. Gone is the magic that once animated DSO so well. While DSO has not abandoned its love of every genre in the book, it has though abandoned the fusion aspects for the most part. Right from the getgo the rather weak “Sightseeing in the Apocalypse” which opens the album features none of the band’s classic genres. Instead it’s some sort of electro pop anthem that goes nowhere. The following “War Painted Valentine” is the track that should’ve started the album with heavy metal guitar riffing and mariachi band motifs and is probably one of the most recognizable and memorable of the entire album.

Starting with the third track “Celebramos Lo Inevitable,” the album seems to flail around like a headless chicken. This track is basically a Mexican mariachi track that adds a bit of metal guitar but it’s all so predictable and substandard to what the band has done in the past and quite weak. The album feels even lamer once followed by the electro swing “Speed Dating An Arsonist” which sounds like anything bands like Caravan Palace would crank out. Not bad by any means but hardly a DSO classic. It just gets worse with “Jig Of The Century” which is some sort of Queen inspired folk rock tune. The Queen inspiration mostly from the vocal harmonies. Songs like “The Sound of an Unconditional Surrender” almost sound like an admission of defeat for a once innovative band that has become content simply covering songs rather than crafting original fusion. This track is utterly forgettable.

“Malign Monologues” returns to swing and sounds like a real jazz band with a few metal leanings and a bit of tango but once again weak by DSO standards. The mess continues with more electro swing, symphonic ballads, more mariachi, cheesy metal and dark cabaret music. Ugh. Everything just sounds so half-assed and honestly this album resembles an archival release of unused tracks than a proper album. I’m a huge fan of this band and i have to say that this is definitely the biggest disappointment of the year. While no tracks are bad per se, none are memorable and everything is inferior to pretty much anything DSO has released in the past. This is a RABBIT HOLE that i will not be going down again and this album ranks as the worst this band has released to date. Thumbs down.

KAYO DOT Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike

Album · 2021 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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In the on again / off again world of KAYO DOT in regards to being an avant-garde metal band, Toby Driver has shifted gears once again away from the Gothic rock / electronica menageries of his post “Hubardo” period and once again jumped back into the heavier realms of music complete with death growls. While some may call KAYO DOT’s tenth studio album MOSS GREW ON THE SWORDS AND PLOWSHARES ALIKE a return to form, it would be more accurate to call this album an interesting album length compendium of everything Driver has conjured up in his past works and thrown onto the work table for the ultimate mix of all the previous styles in one listening experience.

One thing is for sure and that is that KAYO DOT remains in its own little world, utterly unclassifiable although the list of ingredients that include avant-garde metal, gothic rock, doom metal and progressive rock do give a hint of what to expect. With some rather bloated projects in the past with huge rosters of guest musicians, MOSS GREW is basically the Toby Driver show where he plays all the instruments with the only exception being guitar solos performed by Greg Massi. Jason Byron, the long term collaborator continues to provide the lyrics for Driver’s unique atmospheric knotty prog to latch onto.

Clocking in at close to an hour, MOSS GREW ON THE SWORDS AND PLOWSHARES ALIKE displays a triumphant return to those missed metal accoutrements that decorate Driver’s musical palette like no other. “The Knight Errant” unapologetically breaks down the door announcing that the series of non-metal albums has ceased and a new chapter of the KAYO DOT experience has begun. With dramatic synth stabs, howling atmospheric keyboard fuzz and off-kilter percussive outbursts, Driver re-introduces his growly metal vocal angst yet without the aqcompanienmt of heavy guitar distortion but rather jagged angular keyboard runs, jazzy drumming dopamine inducers and crazy roller coaster ride time signature changes and proggy workouts. Some heavier guitars do make their appearance but always play second fiddle to the untamed and oft unhinged synth madness.

It becomes quite clear with the second track “Brethren Of The Cross” that Driver did not completely abandon his avant-goth leanings of the previous albums but in fact has melded them with his prior avant-metal and Maudlin of the Well sensibilities. The juxtaposition of elements provides a turbulent stormy ride like chartering a sailboat over the Drake’s passage to Antarctica. This atmospheric jungle mixed with the more aggressive metal leanings is exactly what the doctor ordered and offerings the much needed contrast that has been missing on Driver’s non-metal offerings. The result is an abstract soundscape in the vein of MotW’s “Bath” and “Leaving Your Body Map” as well as the earliest KAYO DOT offerings all kept in the more accessible realms of Driver’s more recent jaunts into the easier on the ears soundscapes of Goth electronic mood enhancers.

The diversity factor has been turned up on MOSS GREW and that is what makes it such a welcome return to past glories! While recent albums sorta got stuck in a one-trick pony groove, this one really isn’t afraid to let each track drift to wherever feels right. “The Necklace” is a particular standout as erratic percussive drive accompanies a chilled out synth soaring sequence with Driver screaming from beneath the mix. Another standout is the closing 13-minute plus “Epipsychidion” which delivers what one could only deem as atmospheric death metal. Thick ambient cloud covers suffocate heavy drumming and growly vocals with weirder than weird meandering compositional fortitude that reminds as to why Toby Driver is considered one of the most inventive artists in today’s prog and metal realms.

MOSS GREW ON THE SWORDS AND PLOWSHARES ALIKE comes as an unexpected surprise as the previous album “Blasphemy” really made me think that Driver had peaked and was destined to no longer compose music that i can’t really resonate with. If anything this album reminds me that Driver is always on the lookout for something new to latch onto but also has his pulse on the whims of the fanbase and returned to a more familiar comfort zone in the nick of time for those on the fence. Overall, MOSS GREW is not only a dramatic and welcome return to his metal roots but really does capture the essence of everything Driver has tackled up to this point. It’s sort of a recap in musical form of all those “leaving your body map” musical projections. What really makes this one work is the abstract fuzziness of it all, as if it is the soundtrack to a dream. Just enough melodic progressions to latch onto yet one of the most surreal KAYO DOT experiences to behold in a very long time.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Glory for Salvation

Album · 2021 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Over the past decade Italian symphonic power metal band Rhapsody of Fire have had quite their share of big ups and downs, including two big shifts, each involving the loss of an important long time member, the first being guitarist/keyboardist Luca Turilli and the second being vocalist Fabio Lione, as well as the fact that some of their more recent releases weren’t exactly highly regarded. Setting all of that aside, though, the band managed to bounce back in a big way in 2019 with The Eighth Mountain, their first new full-length release featuring current vocalist Giacomo Voli. I would have been relieved if it had merely been a solid album, but instead, it represented both a recapturing of past glories, as well as the beginning of a new era, and was easily their best album in quite some time. After being blown away by that album, I was excited to see what the band would do next, and so I was quite hyped to hear their upcoming release, Glory for Salvation, and whether or not it would continue their creative resurgence. In short: Yes, it does, though I would say it’s a tad less consistent than the previous album, and it doesn’t seem to flow quite as smoothly. Still, it’s another excellent album, and one I’d rank within the top half of the band’s rather large discography.

Very little has changed in between albums, with the only lineup change being drummer Manuel Lutter being replaced by Paolo Marchesich, who does a great job and fits in nicely with the band. Otherwise, the overall sound, production quality, and performances are exactly what fans of the previous album would expect, which is to say: It feels like a mix of classic Rhapsody, while having enough of its ideas to stand out. Where I found the previous album felt like classic Rhapsody in all its glory, this album feels a bit more diverse, capturing different elements from throughout the band’s career, including hints of some of their darker, heavier material, some folk elements, and some more epic, mid-paced symphonic metal. It’s quite the varied album, with points where I feel the overall flow can be a tad awkward, as it tends to jump around from mood to mood quite quickly, which is rather surprising for a concept album. With that being said, the songwriting is excellent, with only one track I feel lags behind the rest, while everything else is fantastic, with a few particularly big highlights.

Performances are of course excellent across the board, with keyboardist Alex Staropoli once again taking lead in setting the tone and atmosphere for a lot of the tracks, while Giocomo Voli shines just as much as he did on The Eighth mountain, demonstrating equal amounts of power, emotion and smoothness in his vocals as needed. A couple of tracks, in particular, have some of his most aggressive vocals I’ve heard to date, falling right along the border between clean and harsh vocals, and he delivers these just as well as anything else. I admit to being worried at first when the band parted ways with Fabio Lione, but these past two albums have proven Voli to be a wonderful fit for the band, and he only seems to be getting better over time. I find the guitar work to generally not be all that noticeable, though it is very solid throughout, with some nice melodic work and solos, as well as one particular track with a very heavy main riff that sounds great. Keyboards, vocals, and symphonic arrangements generally carry the album, though, which shouldn’t be too big a surprise for Rhapsody fans.

The album gets off to a strong start with “Son of Vengeance”, a very epic mid-paced symphonic metal track, with some huge orchestral arrangements, nice melodic guitar work, and a nice mix of choral and lead vocals from Voli, who once again leaves a strong impression right from the start. The track has an excellent, very catchy chorus, and a nice melodic guitar solo in the second half. It never goes full speed, but moves at a nice pace, and is a very epic, fun opening track. Next is “The Kingdom of Ice”, a very classic Rhapsody-sounding track, with nice melodic guitar leads, more epic symphonic arrangements, and a significant increase in the tempo, moving along at a fast pace throughout, which should please many power metal fans. It has another strong, catchy chorus, excellent vocals, and instrumental work, and is a very high-energy track, making it one of the better offerings here.

Leading into the album, one track I was surprisingly disappointed with was the title track. Right from the beginning I find the tone of the keyboards just a bit off compared to normal, as they give off a bit of a hostile tone I wasn’t expecting, especially with the name “Glory for Salvation”, plus they just don’t sound as good as usual, and while the choral vocals are great, I find the song overall somehow doesn’t work for me. It does move at a fast pace, the verses are solid and the chorus has a strong buildup, but I find it doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and it leaves me underwhelmed, especially knowing it’s the title track. Within the context of the album, it still doesn’t impress me much and feels a bit disappointing coming off the strength of the previous tracks, as well as what comes immediately after.

That, of course, would be a brief instrumental interlude “Eternal Snow”, which has some nice folk melodies and gives a bit of background narration to help introduce the next proper song, and another single, “Terial the Hawk”. This one has a very warm tone to it, and while it’s fairly mid-paced, it’s still very fun, very upbeat, and has an amazing chorus. It’s one of the band’s most folk-infused tracks to date, with folk instruments leading the way, and the main melody is absolutely beautiful, while Voli shines as always, especially during the chorus, and the instrumental section goes even further on the folk side, to help cement it as easily my favorite track on the album, as well as a personal favorite Rhapsody song in general. The momentum continues with “Maid of the Secret Sand”, another classic Rhapsody-sounding track, moving at a fast and furious pace, with some epic neo-classical shredding, intense verses, and a very fun, melodic chorus, which is one of the best on the album. It’s another personal favorite and gets me hyped up going into the longest track of the album.

Here we have a bit of an oddity, as when I first saw the name “Abyss of Pain II” I didn’t quite recognize the name from any previous albums. After searching for a while, I found out why: It was a very brief intro track for The Eighth Mountain, which I likely blocked out of my mind because intro tracks generally aren’t the most memorable, no offense intended. While making a 10+ minute sequel to a 48-second intro may be a bizarre choice, the song itself is excellent, though it once again feels like a big style shift, moving away from two more upbeat tracks to a much darker, more epic track filled with some of the heaviest riffs and darkest atmosphere found on the entire album, while Voli provides some of those intense, almost harsh sounding vocals I described earlier, before giving way to his typical soaring vocals during the chorus. The track stays at a moderate tempo throughout but does have a few big moments, including a very memorable instrumental section in the middle, and several great vocal sections. I wouldn’t rank it among the band’s absolute best epics, but it’s an excellent track the whole way through, and never loses any momentum along the way, which is always important with a longer track.

Following that, we’re now into the final stretch of the album, which holds up very well. First is “Infinitae Gloriae”, another very fast-paced track, with yet another wonderful chorus and a strong vocal performance from Voli. Next are two singles, the first of which is “Magic Signs”, a very solid ballad with excellent vocal melodies, a strong chorus, and a great guitar solo in the middle, though overall I wouldn’t quite say it’s one of the band’s best ballads (I preferred both “Warrior Heart” and “The Wind, the Rain and the Moon” from the last album, personally). It does serve as a nice showcase for Voli’s voice, though, and is a very solid track. The other single is “I’ll be Your Hero”, which now has a very epic 65-second intro leading into it, which helps set the mood for what is one of the band’s most fun, upbeat, and triumphant sounding tracks to date. It has a bit of a lighter feel to it than usual, while still moving at a very fast tempo, and having probably the best chorus on the entire album. It’s most likely my second favorite track, behind Terial. I already loved it on the EP the band released earlier this year, and that instrumental intro section only enhances it further on the full album.

The album ends rather curiously. The actual closing track, “Chains of Destiny”, is a rather short, yet fun fast-paced symphonic power track, which delivers everything fans of the band would expect, along with more of those semi-harsh vocals from “Abyss of Pain II”. It’s an excellent track overall, though it almost feels a bit too short and too “normal” I’d say, to be a closing track for this kind of album. It is wonderful on its own, though, and does have an amazing chorus, but at least to me, it feels more like a track that should be in the middle of the album, instead of being a closer. Even more curious, is the band’s choice of bonus tracks: Italian and Spanish sung versions of “Magic Signs”. Voli sounds amazing on both versions, of course, but the album ends up feeling like it lacks a bit of a climax, at least compared to most Rhapsody albums.

Despite my issues with the title track and a few odd decisions here and there, I still greatly enjoy Glory for Salvation, and consider it as yet another excellent Rhapsody of Fire release, as well as one of their better albums to date. It’s a very diverse album, with many different sounds and many different moods, and it does an excellent job of showcasing Giocomo Voli’s vocals, as well as Alex Staropoli’s keys and symphonic arrangements. Songwriting is generally excellent, performances are excellent across the board, and there’s a good amount of variety to it, that fans of the band with different tastes should all find something to like here. A definite must-hear for longtime RoF fans, and an easy recommendation for any fans of symphonic metal or power metal who somehow haven’t heard the band’s music yet. While I slightly prefer The Eighth Mountain, this is yet another great album and continues with the forward momentum the band has had with their current lineup.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2021/11/13/rhapsody-of-fire-glory-for-salvation-review/

BURNING POINT Arsonist of the Soul

Album · 2021 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
I’ve known Finnish power metal band Burning point ever since their 2012 release, The Ignitor, an album I found to be highly enjoyable, though not quite top tier in the genre. Ever since I’ve enjoyed some of the band’s older work as well as their two new releases (the self-titled 2015 release and 2016’s The Blaze), and consistently found the band to generally be solid, but not quite elite. I heard a couple of singles for their eighth and latest full-length release, Arsonist of the Soul leading up to its release and found myself quite hyped to see what the band would deliver. Now that the album is here, I can say it’s my favorite by the band and brings them a step closer to being a top contender for power metal fans.

The band has gone through several changes since their last release, with original member Pete Ahonen and his fellow guitarist Pekka Kolivuori being the only remaining members, with the remaining positions all being filled in between releases. Despite the big lineup changes, the band’s sound remains fully intact, and fans can expect an album full of classic-sounding Euro power metal, along the lines of bands like Helloween and Stratovarius, with small nods to more modern bands such as Sabaton and Bloodbound on a couple of tracks.

For the most part, the band leans towards the more guitar-driven side of the genre, with duo guitarists Ahonen and Kolivuori leading the way through most tracks with some killer riffs and solos, as well as some nice melodic guitar work. Keyboards are a constant part of the music but are largely pushed to the background, serving more to enhance the music than to be a driving force, and while they sound nice throughout the album and never become a distraction, they also rarely stand out much, instead of letting the guitars dominate. The rhythm section is very solid, and the tracks offer a varying mix of tempos, sometimes alternating even within a track. Sound production is top-notch, and performances are strong across the board.

Songwriting is also excellent, and while leaning towards more of a pure power metal sound, compared to some of the band’s past albums which had equal amounts of heavy metal, this album still has a nice variety to the tracks, with some being on the thrashier side (“Out of Control” especially”), some being more melodic and keyboard-driven (“Persona Non Grata”, “Fire With Fire”,) and some are pure classic duo-guitar power metal, like opener “Blast in the Past” and “Hit the Night”. All songs are excellent, and there’s a nice mix of speedy tracks, and slower to mid-paced tracks, with the tracklist flowing nicely and moving at a good pace. Despite containing 12 tracks, I’d be hard-pressed to point towards any particular track as being filler, and enjoy each one every time I listen to the album, which is always a good sign.

The biggest change for the band is the new vocalist Luca Sturniolo. The band has previously had two different vocalists, the first of which was Ahonen himself, who had a very deep voice that fit the music quite well, before giving way to Nitte Valo in 2014, and she had a very unique voice that also fit the music nicely. Sturniolo is somewhere in between those two stylistically, having a wide range that can get pretty intense at times, while also being able to sing smoothly in his low to mid register. I find when he goes all out with his falsetto he can get a bit carried away, which leads to a few choruses falling a bit flat, but in general, he sounds great during verses, and when he sticks with his low to mid register he sounds very smooth, while still having a good amount of power to his voice. He especially sounds right at home on the power/thrash track “Out of Control”, where the aggressive riffs and energy of the music fit very well with his low to mid-range vocals. There’s a couple of moments where his voice can get a bit over the top for my liking (most notably on the choruses of “Rules the Universe” and closing track “Eternal Life”) and he sounds a bit awkward at times (the chorus of “Off the Radar” slightly brings down an otherwise awesome track), but overall he does a great job, and I think he has potential to be a perfect fit for the band if they stick with him for future albums.

I mentioned earlier that the songwriting is excellent across the board, so I won’t do a full song by song section like usual, but instead, highlight some particular favorites. Opener “Blast in the Past” is a fast and furious, high-energy opener that showcases the band’s overall sound, while allowing Sturniolo to stick to his strengths as a vocalist, making it a strong start to the album. Out of the faster tracks on the album, I’d say my favorites are “Persona Non Grata”, a very melodic track with a fantastic chorus and more prominent keys than usual, the previously mentioned power/thrash assault “Out of Control”, and the very classic sounding “Running in the Darkness”, which has perhaps my favorite chorus on the album, as well as a very epic guitar solo. It’s also a track where Sturniolo’s voice is at its absolute best, nailing the higher notes on the final run of the chorus perfectly, to help cement that tracks as a favorite.

On the slower side of things, the title track is a big highlight, alternating between some nice mid-paced melodic metal during the verses, and then going for a more classic Maiden-inspired sound during the chorus. It’s an epic track throughout, with strong performances, but the highlight is a sped-up section towards the end, which takes it to a different gear. Another instant favorite is “Calling”, a more restrained, but very catchy track, with another very memorable chorus, as well as an epic bridge with some very powerful vocals. Lastly is “Fire With Fire”, which moves along at a nice pace and is another track where the keys have more presence than usual, with the music overall having some Sabaton influence. It’s a very fun, catchy track with a great chorus, and the band pulls that sound off quite nicely.

Overall, Arsonist of the Soul is a very fun, high energy power metal album with consistently impressive songwriting and performances throughout, to help make it my favorite Burning Point album to date. New singer Luca Sturniolo shows great promise overall, and while I think he has some room to improve, he fits the band’s sound very nice, and I think in the future he could prove to be the perfect fit for the band. As is, this album is a very easy recommendation for any power metal fan looking for some mostly classic sounding Euro power metal, with a few modern touches here and there.

originally written for Myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2021/11/13/burning-point-arsonist-of-the-soul-review/

ABORTED Maniacult

Album · 2021 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Maniacult" is the 11th full-length studio album by Belgian death metal act Aborted. The album was released through Century Media Records in September 2021, almost 3 years to the day from the release of "Terrorvision (2018)". The two full-length albums are however bridged by the 2020 "La grande mascarade" EP. There´s been one lineup change since the release of "Terrorvision (2018)" as guitarist Mendel bij de Leijhas has left, and as the band have opted not to recruit a new second guitarist the quartet lineup who recorded "La grande mascarade" is intact on "Maniacult" with Ian Jekelis handling all guitars on the album.

"Maniacult" is a concept album release telling the story of horror author H.P. Lovecraft's fictional character Francis Wayland Thurston, who attempts to summon demons (the Lovecraftian types) to bring upon the end of the world. A classic H.P. Lovecraft theme. Thurston appeared in the 1928 Lovecraft short story "The Call of Cthulhu".

Stylistically the material on "Maniacult" is unmistakably the sound of Aborted. Brutal and technically well played death metal with Sven de Caluwé´s deep growling and high pitched aggressive snarling vocals in front. Aborted have always been an incredibly well playing act despite the multible lineup changes throughout the band´s history, but listening to "Maniacult" it quickly becomes apparent that it´s one of the band´s more sophisticated and memorable releases. de Caluwé´s vocals have always been one of the greatest assets of the band´s sound, but Aborted also excel in tempo changes and in different death- and thrash metal riffing- and drumming styles (including some ultra heavy breakdowns and even a few black metal oriented sections). The Carcass influence has always been strong in Aborted´s music, and that´s also true on "Maniacult". Just listen to the opening section of "Dementophobia", which sounds like something culled from "Heartwork (1993)".

The icing on the cake is the lead guitar work though...Jekelis deserves a special mention for his playing on "Maniacult" and for having such great impact on how memorable the tracks are. He brings a melodic touch to Aborted´s music, but still manages not to dillute the brutality and aggression of the music. It´s always a delicate balance to strike, bringing melodic elements to music this brutal, as fans of the genre often feel that melody dillutes the brutality of the music, but when it´s done right (like it´s done here), a melodic element can actually provide a brutal death metal release with something it seldom features...catchiness and memorability beyond its playing time. One other thing that needs to be mentioned about "Maniacult" is how darkly atmospheric it often is. Something which is only enhanced by the intro track "Verderf" and the eerie instrumental track "Verbolgen", which is a short breather track in the middle of the album.

"Maniacult" features a meaty, clear, and brutal sounding production job, which suits the material perfectly. Definitely one of the better productions on an Aborted album so far. Paired with the high level musicianship and the effectful and memorable songwriting, the sound production is just another piece in the puzzle to make "Maniacult" the high quality death metal release it is. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

MASTODON Hushed And Grim

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 13 ratings
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lukretion
US prog metal big shots Mastodon just released their eight LP, a nearly 90-minute double-album whammy titled Hushed and Grim. I have been following the band since their 2009 breakthrough Crack the Skye and I enjoyed all releases since then, so my anticipation for the new album, that had been described as darker and more progressive than anything before, was high. Alas, my expectations were quickly disappointed after I gave the new record a couple of spins. After sitting with it for over a week, I can confidently say that Hushed and Grim is a strong contender for my personal “biggest let-down of 2021”, perhaps only second to Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites. So what went wrong?

In an interview to UK magazine PROG, drummer Brann Dailor introduced the album by saying: “We could only get it down to 15 songs. We had multiple listens at my house and those 15 songs just felt like they needed to be together. To whittle it down to 55 minutes, our usual sweet spot, we would have had to get rid of six or seven songs and it wasn’t happening.”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the mother of all problems with this album. The band and renowned producer David Bottrill (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Tool) decided to take an “everything goes” and “more and more” approach to songwriting and album production, which on the surface may seem to push the “progressive” ambitions of Mastodon’ music, but it ultimately greatly harms its listenability.

The main problems of the album for me are direction and consistency. This album does not have either. Its 15 tracks move back and forth between dark alternative rock/metal, spacey progressive metal and remnants of the more sludgy and metallic sound from the band’s origins, without deciding which sonic identity to give to the music. Do not get me wrong, I love albums that incorporate a set of diverse influences into the sound. But this requires careful arrangements to balance the various ingredients into the music. Here the driving approach seems to have been to just let the different influences surface at different points of a song, or in different songs, without worrying too much about how these may flow into one another. The end result is a collection of songs that are yes diverse, but also feel somewhat schizophrenic and directionless, moving back and forth between the various styles without managing to settle on a sensible compromise or achieving a satisfying amalgam. In other words, the album stutters rather than flowing gracefully, and this makes for a rather uncomfortable and frustrating listening experience.

There’s plenty of examples of this across the 15 songs of the album. “Pain with an Anchor” is an interesting opener, introducing influences from modern dark rock/metal bands like Katatonia or A Perfect Circle, that I would not have expected to hear on a Mastodon album, but the following track “The Crux” immediately reverts expectations, harking back towards the heavier and spacey metallic sounds of Once More 'Round the Sun. The album seems to settle on this groove for a couple of tracks, before “The Beast” confusingly throws in some incongruous bluesy sections to bookend what is otherwise a fairly standard piece of atmospheric progressive metal. Meanwhile “Skeleton of Splendor” and the single “Teardrinker” return to the mellow alternative vibes of the opening track, before “Pushing the Tides” veers again towards a heavier sound. The second disc pretty much continues in this ambivalent vein, almost as if Mastodon were undecided between embracing the new alternative rock/metal sound and sticking with their more traditional heavy sound.

While flow is a characteristic that I find very important in a full-length album, I could have forgiven the album’s deficiency in this department if Hushed and Grim were consistently high quality across its 15 songs. Alas, it is not. The album is crammed with mediocre material that should have absolutely been filtered out. “The Crux”, “More than I Could Chew” (which, come to think about it, is a pretty accurate description of how I feel about this record), “The Beast”, “Pushing the Tides”, “Savage Lands”, “Eyes of Serpents” are all pretty subpar songs that really do not add much to Mastodon’s extant discography, sounding like a re-hashed version of their earlier material. The frustrating thing is that the filler material severely dilutes the impact that strong tracks like “Pain with an Anchor”, “Skeleton of Splendor”, “Teardrinker”, “Peace and Tranquillity” and “Gobblers of Dregs” could have made on the listener. All these songs are interesting, some even exciting, but it is excruciating to have to wade through almost an hour of average material to get to listen to the good bits of the album.

Mastodon are top notch musicians and the playing throughout Hushed and Grim casts no doubt on this, from Brann Dailor’s frenzied drumming to Brent Hinds’ and Bill Kelliher’s dazzling guitar playing, the album brims with excellent musicianship. Where Hushed and Grim falls considerably short, however, is in the songwriting and arrangement department. Ultimately, the combo of lack of direction and watered down tracklist was definitely a killjoy for me and I do not see myself returning to this record anytime soon. I nevertheless choose to believe that this is just a blip in Mastodon’s impressive discography and I remain hopeful and looking forward to the band’s next move.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

KORPIKLAANI Jylhä

Album · 2021 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I have had mixed feelings about Korpiklaani over the years, as while they have long been favourites of the mass media and are certainly the closest a lot of denim and leather wearing longhairs will ever get to folk, to me they can sometimes lose their core purpose. I felt their last album, 2018’s ‘Kulkija’ was the finest of theirs I had come across, while 2015’s ‘Noita’ had too much pirate metal contained within it. The idea of having a single figure on the album cover takes us back even further, to 2012’s ‘Manala’ and the five albums which precede it, yet here we have a band who have had their first real line-up change in some time with the departure of drummer Matson, who had been with the band since their formation in 2003. He has been replaced by Samuli Mikkonen who apparently had a major impact on the demos when they were first presented by Jonne Järvelä who along with guitarist Cane are now the only original members left.

The result for their eleventh studio release is an album which to my ears is incredibly inconsistent, in that when they are good and everything comes together then they are truly great and one can fully understand why they are such heroes of the folk metal movement. But there are other times when it feels somewhat as if they are going through the motions, and we get some of that pirate folk styling thrown back in which has nothing to do with their normal influences. In a way it is incredibly frustrating as I really want to enjoy this album, and the further I get into it the better it gets, but when I start again at the beginning, I remember why I was so annoyed the last time I played it. The arrangements are massively complex and complicated, with heavy guitars and dynamic drums (Samuli is a real standout on this album) being played against accordion and violin, with wonderfully strong and emotive vocals (of course I cannot understand a word), and there are times when it is sheer brilliance, and others when they are just treading water waiting for the next section.

I am sure there are many fans who will stand with Jonne Järvelä and say it is the best thing they have ever done, but while there are some definite highlights, for me this is a move in the wrong direction.

WHITE STONES Dancing into Oblivion

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.06 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
Dancing Into Oblivion is the second album from White Stones, a band perhaps best known for featuring Opeth bassist Martín Méndez. I was quite impressed with their debut album, Kuarahy, an enjoyable collection of groove infused progressive death metal. Dancing Into Oblivion comes hot on its heels being released just over a year later and features the same line up, the band being completed by drummer Jordi Farré and vocalist Eloi Boucherie.

Dancing Into Oblivion treads the same ground as Kuarahy though far less pleasing as a whole. Perhaps they should have taken a bit longer as even though it’s only thirty five minutes long, it failed to keep my interest for even that. The riffs sound less inspired and mainly pale imitations of their debut though any song here wouldn’t be out of place there. Six minutes of the short running time is wasted on three far from essential instrumentals which meander aimlessly starting with the ambient La Menace. The other two are minimal guitar pieces that are pleasant enough but take up space that could have been better used. New age Of Dark kicks the album off proper and is the best track on the album, the only song that can compete with the better moments of Kuarhy. Perhaps a little too similar though with a main riff that feels very familiar. Clean by death metal standards guitar work laid over fast rolling kick drums create a groove that they have already used a few times on the debut. Iron Titans at nearly nine minutes is where they do try to do something a bit different. In four parts, the first three minutes are instrumental and have a bit of an Opeth vibe in their quieter moments. When it shifts up a couple of gears we’re back in more familiar territory followed by a strong guitar solo from guest João Sassetti who also leads the song out underpinned by some inventive drumming from Farré. Unfortunately by this point we’ve had the best from this album with four tracks still to go with only Freedom In Captivity mildly piquing my interest.

I feel a bit short changed with this one as if you remove the three instrumentals you’re only left with around twenty five minutes of music and around half of that is average at best. I wouldn’t write them off yet though as their debut showed they’re very capable but I’ll pass on this one for now. Disappointing.

KHEMMIS Deceiver

Album · 2021 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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lukretion
Out on November 19th via Nuclear Blast, Deceiver is the fourth LP by US doomsters Khemmis. The Colorado band recorded the new album as a trio after the departure of bass player Daniel Beiers, who was with the band since the beginning. Guitarist Ben Hutcherson took on bass duties on the new record, while Phil Pendergast and Zach Coleman soldiered on behind the mic and the drumkit, respectively. It may be a coincidence, but the line-up change has brought on a subtle sonic evolution in Khemmis’ music, which has taken on a more distinctive progressive flair on the new record.

Deceiver sits in its very own sweet spot, halfway between doom, melodic death metal, and modern progressive metal. The guitar riffs range between the boisterous and the sluggish, depending on the song’s mood, injecting a ton of variety into the record. At times, the guitar melodies bring to mind the classic Scandinavian melodeath sound, like on the gorgeous album opener “Avernal Gate”, where the initial bars after the acoustic intro evoke the golden age of bands like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. Elsewhere, like on “Shroud of Lethe”, things take a slower turn as downtuned guitars churn out dark, labyrinthine riffs that verge on the death/doom. Coleman’s drumming is no less diverse and engaging, constantly indulging in rich fills and licks that add a propelling sense of urgency to the proceedings. On top of this complex instrumental tapestry the vocals provide a great mix between melodious cleans and menacing growls. Pendergast’s cleans are excellent. His dramatic tone and phrasing remind me a lot of Soen’s vocalist, Joel Ekelöf. Like Ekelöf, Pendergast flawlessly conveys feelings of both darkness and epicness, a perfect combo that never fails to strike a chord with metal audiences.

The comparison with the Swedish progressive metal group I made in the previous paragraph is actually quite fitting, not just for the similarities in the vocal department, but for the overall dark, yet very emotional and ultimately empowering mood that the new material transmits to the listener. There are also analogies in the approach to melodies, which are subtle and subdue, and never “in your face” or too obvious, and the overall slick, modern progressive metal sound that strikes the right balance between complexity and accessibility. This is also evident in the song structures, which are just one step away from the standard verse/chorus repetition, but contain just enough twists and turns to keep one on their toes, guessing what may come next.

All these qualities make Deceiver a very enjoyable album to listen to, flowing easily and almost flawlessly from song to song. The album, however, lacks more tracks like the opener “Avernal Gate”, which is textbook material of how to write an engaging, versatile song that delivers the right amount of build and release, with an amazing chorus. The other songs are based on the same ingredients but fail to reach that elusive climax where all the tension and darkness of the builds is released to a cathartic effect. Instead, these other songs build and build, moving from section to section, but never deliver the big emotional payload that one is expecting. It is somewhat frustrating, especially because lots of the builds are actually very good. These issues are particularly evident in the last section of the album, where “Obsidian Crown” and “The Astral Road” plod their way through, resulting by far the less convincing tracks of the record and closing the album somewhat unspectacularly.

Deceiver is nevertheless a good album, offering plenty of interesting moments and ideas. It’s also a big step forward in terms of sound for Khemmis, who have never sounded so slick and polished. Some may see this as a minus, but I find the new sound a perfect fit for the band’s sophisticated compositions. With a slightly more explosive songwriting, Khemmis may go very far. Now that they have the backing of a label like Nuclear Blast, I can only foresee a prosperous future for these guys.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

BUCKETHEAD Pike 298 - Robes of Citrine

Album · 2021 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Hello, kiddies! Are you ready for another wild adventure in BUCKETHEAD’s FunHouse located smack dab in the middle of BUCKETHEADLAND? Well, hold on to your seat felts, ladies and gents, because we are going for another ride on the PIKE machine! Oh yeah, this is the 298th installment in the PIKE universe in a perpetual musical time loop that never seems to end. Are we lucky or are we cursed? Like everything in the real world, the answer lies somewhere in between!

First of all you may be wondering what the friggy wiggy does the title of PIKE 298 - ROBES OF CITRINE mean? Well, CITRINE is a color most commonly used in the identification of quartz. O guess ROBES look good in this color? Did BH join a secret society? Oh the things i ponder~! Why the cover art shows a pre-school painting of deformed eggplant is beyond my ability to guess, but this is BUCKETHEADLAND where nothing is as it seems and only the unexpected should be expected! On to our main attraction.

This PIKE is somewhat short at only 26 minutes and 32 seconds. There are two parts to the title track but as you already can surmise, it’s one big friggin track in disguise. TITLE TRACK PART ONE is the longest. It starts out sounding like some sort of techno music! For those in the know, the kind you would hear at the Burning Man festival with lots of cool production sheet and a danceable beat however the track morphs into a slow burning atmospheric generator with cyclical guitar riffing that remains subdued with only occasional outbursts. Is the song justified for its over 16-minute length? Nah, not really. It’s ok and makes great background music as do many BH PIKEs but by no means the cream of the coop. This one is more about the ambience and atmospheric swirli-rama than BH guitar wankery. While i find many slower BH material boring, this one has enough subtle elements to warrant a DECENT tag.

TITLE TRACK PART TWO pretty much continues the chill pill feel of PART ONE although i was hoping for a scorching thrash metal amp exploder!!! BH has mellowed out this year and all those PIKEs of the past where multiple genres coincide happily don’t seem to apply in 2021. This is another mellow ambient sleepwalker sorta like the soundtrack for getting up in the middle of the night and taking a piss! You know, we really needed that, hehe. This one is not only shorter at just over ten minutes but also is more mellow. This one is more like the countless similar examples in the PIKE universe and although the swirling background ambience makes it more interesting than previous efforts, this is still fairly well documented in the PIKE universe. Remember that bathroom breaks are needed in BUCKETHEADLAND and this very well may be the proper time to let your excretions out!

Overall this is a pleasant PIKE. These chill pill PIKEs are my least favorite overall and i really can’t explain why some work and some don’t. This one does to some degree but there’s nothing here that will rock your friggin socks off either. This is just a well produced mellow PIKE that eschews metal, rock and even percussion for the sake of a nice ambient trip that incorporates guitars. Not nearly as cool as the Halloween countdown of 2015 but nevertheless not bad either. Probably not one i will return to anytime soon (if ever) but certainly not one that made me feel like i wasted 26 minutes and 32 seconds of my life.

Although this PIKE doesn’t exactly make me want to join the secret society of the PIKE masters, nevertheless may YOUR ROBES be CITRINE!!!

GO AHEAD AND DIE Go Ahead and Die

Album · 2021 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Go Ahead And Die" is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US/Brazilian metal act Go Ahead And Die. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in June 2021. Go Ahead And Die was formed in 2020 by vocalist/guitarist Max Cavalera, his son Igor Amadeus Cavalera (vocals, guitar, bass), and Zach Coleman (drums). While Cavalera junior has been active on the scene for some years with lesser known acts, it´s of course the presence of Cavalera senior which is the initial attraction for most listeners. His legendary status on the scene and involvement with artists like Sepultura, Nailbomb, Soulfly, The Cavalera Conspiracy...etc. can not be ignored in importance and impact on the world of heavy metal. Coleman is a seasoned musician too having played with (or are currently playing with) acts like Black Curse, Dominion, Khemmis, Dagon.

The style of the material featured on the 11 track, 43:47 minutes long album is a combination of thrash metal, crossover hardcore/thrash metal, and a few nods towards death metal/deathgrind. It´s pretty much raw to the bone aggression and furious organic playing all the way through the album. Raw aggressive riffs and energetic drumming, and the raw shouted vocals of father and son Cavalera (predominantly by the latter), that´s the sound of Go Ahead And Die. There´s no pretence here, and you´ll get what you hear and you´ll be leaving bludgeoned and bleeding. I´m sure the music on the album will translate well to a live environment as the recordings sound almost live at times. The sound production is suitably raw and distorted, which brings out the best in the material. If I have to compare the music to other contemporary artists it would be Power Trip and Enforced, who both also operate within a similar no bullshit crossover thrash/thrash metal territory.

The above description of the music may make it sound like "Go Ahead And Die" is a relatively one-dimensional affair, but that´s actually not the case. While it´s a relentlessly aggressive and raw sounding album, the band are clever enough to vary pace, riff style, and songwriting approach enough to ensure that the album never becomes a tedious listen. These guys have quite a few tricks up their sleeves. It´s all implemented in a tasteful way though, which means that authenticity and brutality is never lost.

Honestly I was slightly worried that "Go Ahead And Die" would be a standard quality product and that Max Cavalera would overshadow his son or that he may just be involved in the project to promote his son´s band, but both statements or fears if you will, turn out to be utter rubbish and completely unfounded, as Cavalera junior shines here and is obviously the driving force in the band, and the older Cavalera also contributes and pours from his wealth of experience. Coleman deserves a mention too for his powerful organic playing, which drives the music forward in an irresistable raw fashion. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 297 - Fork

Album · 2021 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.33 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Hello kiddies! It’s time for another adventure at BUCKETHEAD’s funhouse nestled deep inside BUCKETHEADLAND! Mr Chicken Lover may have gone cuckoo and has even lost track of all these PIKE #’s. Yep there is still no PIKE 289, no 290 and no 295 but here in November of 2021 we do have PIKE 297 - FORK. Yeah, you know the shiny utensil that you stuff yer big fat face with. It also makes a great self-defense weapon but you have to be extremely crafty not to FORK yourself! Hehe

Many of the PIKEs have sounded quite similar lately but PIKE 297 is like a forkin’ time machine back to the wild raucous world of 1970s hard rock! Oh yeah, this PIKE of just over 30 minutes sounds a lot like an instrumental version of a Bon Scott era AC/DC album. While that is a nice break from the typical alt metal that the Chicken Lover has dished out over the course of 2021, it unfortunately sounds like one of those archival demo albums. Let’s face it. One of the main ingredients of a killa 70s hard rock band was the lead singer and here there’s NONE!

There are nine tracks all titled FORK with the #’s 1-9 to distinguish them. Tracks are short and to the point with only one exceeding four minutes. This is very primitive hard rock sounding more like early Free, Bad Company, UFO, Nazareth and of course early AC/DC. Nothing here is sophisticated in the vein of Led Zeppelin, The Who or Deep Purple and is pretty generic actually. The tracks pretty much run together in a continuous stream but due to the fact there is no charismatic front man hogging the attention, the whole thing sounds fairly repetitive. Ten minutes in and i’m already bored.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some 70s hard rock. That was an excellent era of bluesy heavy rock music but this just seems to pointless. Instrumental rock at least needs some sort of lead instrument to add contrapuntal melodic developments. Listening to this is like listening to an incomplete album. This music is competent and sounds like it really could’ve existed in the 70s but doesn’t add anything creative to bring it into the modern world. Tracks like “Fork 5” are right out of the AC/DC playbook and almost sounds like “Have A Drink On Me.” After this i need a drink. Nah, this one i’m sure was fun to make but quite an uninteresting listening experience. Major yawn city here.

PARADOX Heresy II - End of a Legend

Album · 2021 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 3 ratings
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The Spotlight Kid
German Thrash Metal icons Paradox have returned with a sequel to their 1990 classic Heresy. Released through AFM Records, Heresy II End of a Legend, brings the story of the original concept album forward and reaffirms the band's intention to remain one of the best Thrash Metal bands in the game. Frontman, guitarist and driving force of the band Charly Steinhauer has assembled a killer line up to tackle this material in the hopes of living up to the classic first installment. Coming back into the band after a one album layoff is guitar wizard Christian Munzner and long time bass player Olly Keller, as well as, Paradox founding member, drummer Alex Blaha who hadn’t played with the band since Heresy. Also included for the task of completing the story concept was the original lyricist from Heresy, Peter Vogt.

Musically the band is in electrifying form. The songs are vibrant, heavy, melodic and exciting. Taking equal parts Thrash, Melodic Thrash, Technicality, Classic Heavy Metal and Power Metal and even elements of Doom and molding them into a completely coherent mix that works to perfection. Lyrically “Heresy II End of a Legend” continues the story of the crusade of the Catholic Church against the schismatic Cathars in the 13th century. “Heresy II End of a Legend” begins somewhat doomy with “Escape From The Burning” and as the song builds up they unleash the Thrash and absolutely nail it. There are even some touches of groove metal in “The Great Denial''. The song also has fantastic vocal melodies from Charly and of course Christian showing once again, as he does throughout the album, why he is one of the best guitarists in metal these days. Songs like “The Visitor'' and “A Man Of Sorrow'' among others highlight the band's anthemic power while never getting anywhere near the cheesiness of some power metal. The guitar solo’s throughout “Heresy II End of a Legend” are the epitome of excellence, which is the hallmark of Christian’s playing on all the albums he’s done. Vocally Charly delivers a perfect hybrid of Thrash delivery and Power Metal melodicism. It always feels that it could all derail at any moment but it never does and so that gives the music a great tension and danger that makes it so compelling. Alex Blaha is a pummeling force to be reckoned with and drives the whole album forward with dynamic ferocity, and Olly Keller’s melodic bass lines are classy and enrich the whole album. Also the band has managed to achieve a modern production sound while also capturing the old school thrash sound as well. An Impressive feat.

The mission of this album was to live up to Heresy and they have succeeded in not only reaching that level but surpassing it. “Heresy II End of a Legend” is overflowing with amazing, hard hitting riffs, epic and uplifting melodies, in your face Thrash pummeling onslaughts, doomy escapades and top tier guitar playing. Most importantly each song on this album is a beast and even though I’m personally more of a fan of shorter run times for albums, and even with the 1hour and 16 minute runtime, in this case, there is zero filler and only killer. “Heresy II End of a Legend” is a masterclass in Melodic - Power Thrash.

[Originally published on Sea of Tranquility]

FRACTAL UNIVERSE The Impassable Horizon

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.92 | 2 ratings
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The Spotlight Kid
One of the great pleasures of being a music fan is when you discover a young band at their beginnings and watch them grow. To see the gradual transformation from a very good, talented and interesting band to eventually become one of the most creatively potent and captivating bands you know. There is something very fulfilling about being on that journey as a fan of a band on this path. Luckily for me Fractal Universe is one of those bands. Their run of releases, starting with their first EP from 2015 “Boundaries Of Reality” and continuing along the upwards trajectory of improvement ultimately arriving at The Impassable Horizon, has been extremely impressive with each subsequent release pushing the boundaries even further with increasing success in creating masterful and unique albums. Fractal Universe is a French band and one of several groundbreaking acts to emerge from that growing extreme metal scene. Alongside fellow countrymen Gojira and Gorod, Fractal Universe is definitely at the tip of the spear when it comes to excellence in the genre.

Fractal Universe’s previous album Rhizomes Of Insanity saw the band achieve quite a large leap forward creatively, leaning further into their progressive and melodic tendencies while still possessing all their Technical Death power and precision. The lyrical content matched that ambitious approach, while being delivered with more melodic vocals including rich harmonies and layering. On The Impassable Horizon the band has continued in this direction and again pushed even further ahead with the complexity level ratcheted up another notch but in conjunction with the melodic and harmonic input and progression. Also lyrically they are once again tackling profound themes of death and how humans relate to it. Taking a very philosophical approach the band teamed up with Arthur Massot, who is a doctor of psychology, to explore these topics in greater depth. To quote the band "It partly draws inspiration from Heidegger's concept of 'being-towards-death'. In the philosopher's mind, the question is not 'What is there after death?' but rather 'What does it mean for us to be aware of our own finiteness, and how do we deal with it consciously and subconsciously?' 'The Impassable Horizon' is just that, it sums it all up in a few words."

The adventurous nature of the music on The Impassable Horizon can not be understated. From the very first track “Autopoiesis” with it’s dissonant and techy opening to it's sublime and uplifting, melodic vocal passages, laced with multiple layered harmonies. To the amazing “A Clockwork Expectation” which covers similar territory but with even more depth, power and beauty and even includes an Alan Holdsworth-like guitar solo. “Interfering Spherical Scenes” and “Symmetrical Masquerade” both bring in more subdued melancholic beauty while still retaining the power and aggression as well. “Falls Of The Earth” comes out hard and heavy but also continues the progressive push and contains some killer, catchy riffing and explosive lead work. “Withering Snowdrops” leaps out in full Tech Death mastery but also has the uplifting vocals that send everything into the stratosphere. Another great addition on this track and others is the saxophone solos. Played by frontman Vince Wilquin, they add another color to this already diverse and complex album. The aptly named “Black Sails Of Melancholia” is another example of great melodic saxophone lines mixed with a darker more melancholic approach than on their previous albums. The album continues exploring all of these textures and themes and more through “A Cosmological Arch” with its cool bass solo, “Epitaph” and the hypnotic “Godless Machinists”, finishing with an acoustic version of “Flashes of Potentialities” from their previous album. All of which continue at the lofty standard laid down by the previous tracks. I also want to make special mention of the stellar drumming from Clément Denys who tackles the intricacies and complexity of this album perfectly and sounds amazing.

The Impassable Horizon shows a young band at the peak of their powers. The compositions are exciting and dynamic, the playing from all the members is top tier and the production is excellent in capturing everything cleanly while retaining the aggression and power. The vocals on this album are a great leap forward and they were already great on their previous work. Fractal Universe have marked themselves out as one of the best bands in the technical and progressive death metal scene and this album is perfect. Every track is masterful and any fans of the extreme end of progressive metal should definitely seek out this amazing band and this masterpiece of an album.

ACCEPT Too Mean to Die

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 6 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It doesn’t really seem to matter who is in Accept, everyone knows what they need to do, and off we go with another album. Towards the end of 2018, bassist Peter Baltes announced his decision to leave the band he helped move professional in 1976, leaving guitarist Wolf Hoffmann as the only original still there. Although singer Mark Tornillo only joined in 2009, he now has the second longest tenure as everyone else is more recent, so although there is only one person who has been there for all the classics, Accept appear to be rejuvenated and with Andy Sneap at the desk have produced an album which shows them not slowing down at all, and possibly even heading off in new directions. It is interesting to see that they have also followed Helloween in that they now have three guitarists, but neither band has the complexity of arrangements beloved by the masters of the triple attack, and instead Accept use it to provide more crunch.

In the UK, Accept got widespread attention with their fifth album, ‘Balls To The Wall’, and while only Hoffmann is still there, there is no doubt that their sixteenth studio album is in direct lineage. If someone had asked me what the new Accept album was like before hearing it I would have said, crunching riffs, simple but effective solos, hard hitting Teutonic metal with hints of AC/DC, with rough and raw vocals over the top, and that is exactly what we have here. This album got to #2 in the German charts, and Top 10 in four other European countries to boot. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

If you like Accept, then here is another album showing them what they do very well indeed, but if you haven’t enjoyed their straightforward approach in the past then it is unlikely that this is for you.

DOLD VORDE ENS NAVN Mørkere

Album · 2021 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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lukretion
After more than 25 years of listening to heavy metal, I’ve come to realize that the quintessential characteristic that attracts me so strongly to our beloved music is the exquisite blend of power and melancholy that emerges from the notes of many classic records in this genre. Melancholy to speak to the predicament of our human condition and power to give us the glimmers of hope that keep us going. And although many albums build on these foundations, only a few truly manage to master the balance between these two contrasting states, inevitably finding their place in the top echelons of my musical collection. This long premise is to say that it has been a long time since a metal album has moved me and engrossed me so much as Mørkere (“Darker” in Norwegian), the debut LP of Norwegian black metallers Dold Vorde Ens Navn. What’s even more remarkable is that black metal is not exactly the brand of metal that I am very big on. Quite the contrary, only about 15%-20% of the records in my collection are black metal related (mostly avant-garde or symphonic black metal), the bulk of it is instead made up of various guises of progressive metal. And yet, Mørkere has a real chance to become my top album of 2021. Let me tell you why.

Truth be told, the progressive credentials of the Norwegians are not exactly nil. The band was put together by old friends Haavard Jørgensen (guitars) and Kai S. “Cerberus” Halvorsen (bass), who some may remember in the mid-90s line-ups of bands like Ulver, Satyricon and Dødheimsgard. Dold Vorde Ens Navn’s line-up is completed by drummer Øyvind Myrvoll (Nidingr, Dødheimsgard) and singer Yusaf “Vicotnik” Parvez, who is also a member of Dødheimsgard and who has sung on one of the hidden gems of avant-garde black metal, Ved Buens Ende’s Written in Waters. These credentials alone should demand immediate attention from fans of the second wave of Norwegian black metal, but Mørkere truly exceeds expectations and manages to captivate even those who, like me, are only marginally partial to the genre. Its eight songs are a perfect blend of 90s black metal, Viking epicness, cinematic atmospheres, sophisticated arrangements, and gorgeous melodies imbued of dark melancholy.

The music ebbs and flows between these various influences, running the full gamut from ferocious black metal assault to delicate passages with acoustic guitars and strings (viola, violin and cello). The songs mostly stay in a mid-tempo range, which is the ideal breeding ground for music that is both powerful and melancholic, but there are also occasional accelerations and passages with blast beats. The song structure is loose and fluid, without too obvious verse/chorus repetitions, although some of the melodies do return in the course of some songs. Each track has its own distinctive flavour, pushing to the fore one of the many influences that Dold Vorde Ens Navn weave into this album. Some songs, like “Det falt et lys i min mørke krok” and “Determinismens paradox”, venture in progressive territories, indulging in tourbillions of ever-changing guitar riffs and tempo shifts across their duration. Elsewhere, the band’s avant-garde heritage takes center stage, with classy orchestral flourishes (“Er det måneskinn”), sombre acoustic passages (“Det falt et lys i min mørke krok”), and histrionic clean vocals that bring to mind bands like Arcturus and mid-period Ulver. Meanwhile, “Ensomhetens rytter” sharpens Dold Vorde Ens Navn’s black metal credentials, offering the most ferocious instalment of the record, while the doomy “Syke hjerter” makes for a fittingly sombre album curtain call.

The music on Mørkere revolves around Haavard’s guitar riffs, which are HUGE. Massively inspired and ever-so-tasteful, the guitars are icy and razor-sharp as in the best black metal tradition, but also exquisitely melodic and poignant. There is a lot of variety in Haavard’s playing too. There are acoustic passages that bring to mind Ulver’s early catalogue, and majestic and epic leads that hark back to the Viking metal tradition (Enslaved). It’s not all looking backwards, though. The guitarwork is fresh and modern, as it brings in a distinctive post-rock / post-metal flair that made me repeatedly jot down “Sólstafir” in my notes. Honestly, I have not heard such a varied and inspired guitarwork on an extreme metal album in a very long time. Vicotnik’s vocals also deserve special mention. His performance is astonishing and extremely well-rounded. His cleans are theatrical and dramatic, as he modulates his tone and phrasing from song to song to always achieve maximal emotional impact. His growls are equally expressive and vary between grim black snarls and lower-range barks, offering plenty of goosebumps moments. The singing in Norwegian is very fitting too as it adds a touch of mystique to what is already a very emotive performance. The other two band members, Cerberus and Myrvoll, offer a more restrained but not less impressive performance that is essential to provide a solid backbone to the music.

There is so much variety, dynamics and subtlety in this album that the 46 minutes of Mørkere flow away in a heartbeat. There are truly no weak tracks, all songs being incredibly inspired and brilliant. “Det falt et lys i min mørke krok” is perhaps a tad disjointed as the transition between its acoustic beginning and the heavier second-half is slightly abrupt, while “Ensomhetens rytter” is somewhat too plain, making it possibly the least impressive track of the record. But these are truly minor grievances. The truth is that, when I put on Mørkere, I just can’t get enough of it and I can spend the entire day listening on repeat to the whole album.

This is because Mørkere is one of those rare records that work on multiple levels. It has immediate appeal, with its slabs of melancholic melodies and powerful aggression. At the same time, the songs are very diverse and the arrangements exquisitely multi-layered, inviting repeated listens as it takes time for all the different influences, moods and atmospheres of the album to properly sink in. With each new listen, new subtleties are discovered, as the melodies keep etching their way into our cerebral cortex, adding to the addictive nature of the album material. After only a few listens, I was hooked. My guess is that, if you like any of the bands mentioned in this review or 90s black metal in general, you will be too. Check out this album because it will be hard to find something that beats its intensity and emotional depth this year. Yes, it is THAT good.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT Paint the Sky with Blood

EP · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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Necrotica
A lot of great musicians left us over the past year, but Alexi Laiho’s death hit me harder than the others. Growing up as a classical pianist, Children of Bodom’s second record Hatebreeder was the album that showed me just how well music theory could be integrated into metal. Amidst the soaring guitar solos and harsh vocals, there lay a goldmine of tightly performed melodies and intricate riffs that almost seemed progressive at times. Laiho was at the heart of it all, of course, and was just as influenced by the classical greats such as Mozart and Beethoven as he was by neo-classical guitar heroes like Yngwie Malmsteen. But it’s also important to remember how hook-laden these songs were (and are); despite the complexity and craftsmanship, albums like Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper were anything but mere riff salad. Somehow the songs were just as catchy as they were technically impressive, and the gothic atmosphere definitely played into this as well. And while the band hit a rough patch of declining quality, 2013’s Halo of Blood and 2019’s Hexed gave me plenty of hope for their future. But alas, it wasn’t meant to last.

With that said, what we have here is the sole EP by Laiho’s newly formed band Bodom After Midnight, who understandably disbanded after his passing. Despite the change in band name, Paint the Sky With Blood is exactly what you would expect from a latter-day Children of Bodom offering. Power metal with harsh vocals, catchy but aggressive. The tracklist is very small, only featuring two originals and one Dissection cover; however, the material is still of a reasonably high quality throughout. The opening title track is a fun - if pretty standard - melo-death anthem with all the stuff you’d expect from a Laiho project: blazing solos, anthemic “FIGHT” chants, and a nice layer of synth action to cap things off. In fact, the slow bridge in the middle is quite reminiscent of the bridge in Follow the Reaper’s title track, which can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Meanwhile, “Payback’s a Bitch” is more in the thrashy vein of Children of Bodom’s middle-era albums, but with a healthy dose of melodicism that saves it from being just a boring chugfest. The guitar and keyboard solos absolutely tear it up, and sound absolutely wicked when performed over the rapid-fire drumming. Finally, we have the cover of Dissection’s “Where Dead Angels Lie”, which manages to be a worthy cover while retaining the classic “Bodom” style. The dark and frigid atmosphere works especially well, especially during the whispered parts in the middle section; the song as a whole doesn’t do away with the sinister edge of the original track, instead expanding upon it with a more touched-up production and dark echo-swathed clean guitars.

Paint the Sky With Blood provides an interesting look into what kind of music we could have gotten if Alexi Laiho had lived longer. There’s some really solid stuff here, even if we didn’t get a whole lot of material to listen to. Fans of Children of Bodom will feel right at home with these fun melodic death metal tunes, and the accessible songwriting might just draw in some new fans as well. If you have 15 minutes to spare and want to hear some solid metal tunes with some neo-classic elements and a melodic edge, you can’t really go wrong with this album.

R.I.P. Alexi Laiho - 1979-2020

PESTILENCE Exitivm

Album · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Exitivm" is the 9th full-length studio album by Dutch death metal act Pestilence. The album was released through Agonia Records in June 2021. It´s the successor to "Hadeon" from 2018 and it features an almost completely different lineup to the lineup who recorded the predecessor. The only remaining member, who also performed on "Hadeon (2018)" is lead vocalist/guitarist Patrick Mameli.

Stylistically the music is technical/progressive death metal and as such a continuation of the sound the band have had on the last couple of album. It´s a bit more direct and aggressive maybe, but other than that the listener is treated to the usual death/thrashy riffs (often dissonant), powerful driving drumming (maybe a bit too much use of the double bass drums), blistering jazz/fusion influenced guitar solos, atmospheric keyboards, and the snarling semi-growling vocals of lead vocalist/guitarist Patrick Mameli in front. There´s no mistaking that it´s Pestilence you´re listening to. Pestilence incorporate recognisable elements from both "Testimony of the Ancients (1991)" and "Spheres (1993)" (the band´s third and fourth full-length studio albums), but have wisely chosen to twist those elements and make them part of the 2021 sound of Pestilence to not become a retrospective clone of themselves.

The songwriting is relatively strong throughout "Exitivm", although some ideas and riff styles are maybe used a bit too much. The almost constant use of dissonance can also be distracting and sometimes I just wish they would play more "straight" power chords and notes and leave out some of the dissonance. "Exitivm" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which suits the music well, and upon conclusion "Exitivm" is a high quality release by Pestilence. As you may have guessed from the above, it´s not a perfect relase to my ears, but praise has to go out to Pestilence for continuing to have a distinct musical style. A few more memorable hooks would have made the album even stronger though. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

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