Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

KRALLICE Inorganic Rites

Album · 2024 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
When it comes to insane batshit crazy avant-metal both Colin Marston and Mick Barr have cranked out some of the most unusual sounds that could still be tangibly connected to the metal universe. While their main gig KRALLICE seems to have become their stabilizing tour de force where they can exercise their experimental touches within some sort of traditional framework, this duo along with Lev Weinstein and Nick McMaster have also found a seemingly infinite number of directions to take this fearless intrepid band that lies in the murky bardo world between progressive, black and death metal. While the band took some time off in the 2010s so the members could engage in other projects, the 2020s have proven to be unusually prolific with the band releasing two albums in each year of 2022 and 2023.

Either the first or only album to emerge in 2024 is INORGANIC RITES, the 15th in the long and ever-changing canon of one of extreme metal’s most outrageously original acts of the 21st century. Following in the footsteps of last years disso-death fueled “Mass Cathexis 2 - The Kinetic Infinite” and the progressive space ambient fueled metal of “Porous Resonance Abyss” i wasn’t really sure what to expect but it seems that KRALLICE has opted for another dip into the world of progressively infused extreme metal with a heavy dose of progressive electronic and space ambient sounds to bring two distinct worlds together in a lethal dose of atmospheric metallic furor. With 10 tracks at over 66 minutes playing time, this is a lengthy beast that delivers all the expected trade marks of KRALLICE, namely knotty time signature rich progressive labyrinths of swirling sounds that erupt into black metal chaos as well as the deathened black metal vocal style that projects all the angst and gloomy despair you could hope for.

This time around though there is a LOT more focus on the synthesized parts with lengthy chunks of time dedicated to non-metal electronic space journeys that evoke classic Klaus Schulze and other Berlin School pioneers. While the band has always flaunted an atmospheric presence, on INORGANIC RITES they’ve taken it to the next level with entire tracks such as the 10 minute “Universe Ancestral Talisman” embarking on an astral plane journey complete unshackled from the lambast of blastbeats, tremolo guitar aggression and black metal dissonance. Fortified with trippy space ambient intros and intricately designed synthesized compositions that seem to overlap the metal constructs, INORGANIC RITES much of the time sounds like two separate albums played simultaneously only tailor made to overlap like a custom made sports jacket that fits in all those right places.

A strange and mondo bizarro album like pretty much any KRALLICE release has to offer, INORGANIC RITES takes the band’s progressive metal tendencies into overdrive and then fortifies it all with an almost orchestrated electronic layering effect. The results are electrifying and raising the bar in the limits of atmospheric accompaniments as often they are set so high as to become the dominant force. While the earlier tracks such as the early released “Flatlines Encircled Residue” seem to over-rely on the atmospheric touches as the primary focus, later tracks like “Fatestorm Sancturary” seem to get it right and allow the guitar, bass and percussive heft to rise to the top of the mix. The labyrinthine compositional structures are a bit hard to follow but they do unfold in a logical manner as they take the complexities of classic progressive rock and adapt them to the excesses of obnoxious extreme metal.

While this is considered black metal by some, there are moments where the band sounds more like Gorguts than anything in the black metal world but the vocal styles change it up offering even more diverse elements. While i could totally see the increased emphasis on the symphonic sounding space ambience as being annoying to some, in the crowded world of extreme metal it’s actually rather refreshing to hear something so dynamically different and not to worry extreme metalheads, KRALLICE loses none of its extreme metal intensity with all those brutal riffing sessions, moments of guitar squealing run amok and of course the bantering bass and drum furor. Fifteen albums later and KRALLICE seems like it’s just warming up and INORGANIC RITES shows the band still firing on all pistons.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION V

Album · 2024 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
V is the fifth full-length studio album by Black Country Communion, the band featuring “the voice of rock” Glen Hughes on bass and vocals, blues superstar Joe Bonamassa on guitar, ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Derick Sherinian and rounded off by Jason Bonham on the drums.

All of the band’s albums have an identifiable signature sound, and this one is no different. Its been seven years since their fourth album, but this album picks up right where they left off. The band do deliver the same kind of shamelessly Led Zep/Deep Purple flavoured hard rock with soulful moments and bluesy touches, but with big, thick, modern sounding production. If you like any of their other records, I can’t really imagine any reason why you wouldn’t lap this one up either.

Highlights include the first three tracks; the energetic opener “Enlighten,” the blatant Trampled-Underfoot evoking single “Stay Free” and perhaps the best song on the whole record, “Red Sun.”

Although, even though I mention highlights, its not like there are any low moments. The album is really solid and consistent, with no dips in quality and no skippable tracks. It may not be the most diverse album, with no real ragers, no ballads (there is a slower song but not quite a ballad), no intros, no epic long tracks, no instrumentals, no changes in musical direction, no experiments – just ten tracks of the band giving you exactly what you want. Some people may find that a bit boring sounding, but when its done this well it is just what the doctor ordered to be honest.

EXHORDER Defectum Omnium

Album · 2024 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Defectum Omnium" is the fourth full-length studio album by US thrash/groove metal act Exhorder. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in March 2024. It´s the successor to "Mourn The Southern Skies" from September 2019. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as guitarists Vinnie LaBella and Marzi Montazeri have left. To replace them lead vocalist Kyle Thomas has picked up the guitar in addition to singing, and Pat O'Brien (Cannibal Corpse, Nevermore) has joined as the second guitarist. The split with especially founding member LaBella didn´t go down without some mud-slinging in the press, with LaBella saying that the current incarnation of Exhorder shouldn´t release music under the monicker without him in the lineup, as he was the main composer of the band´s music.

Thomas stepped up to the plate after LaBella left though, and he and his new bandmates (two of which also performed on "Mourn The Southern Skies" and have been with Exhorder since 2017) have managed to compose an album which sounds like Exhorder. Maybe the fact that none of the three predecing album releases featured a similar sound helps, because although you expect Exhorder to produce a heavy and groove laden thrash metal release, they never got to a point in their career of having settled on a sound. You could always hear that it was Exhorder playing but if you compare even the first two albums, which were released only a few years apart, they are very different in style.

Stylistically Exhorder still deliver a groove laden thrash metal style, but with both stoner, hardcore punk, and alternative metal influences. So they´ve spread their wings pretty wide on this one. Thomas has always been a powerful and skilled singer and his vocals are again strong and raw on "Defectum Omnium". The riffs are well written and the whole band deliver a sharp, heavy, and groove laden attack. Another feature which deserves a mention is the many well played guitar solos. Although slightly sterile the sound production is still of a good quality, and I especially enjoy the guitar tone and the vocal production. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

HAIL SPIRIT NOIR Fossil Gardens

Album · 2024 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
HAIL SPIRIT NOIR is a band that never fails to surprise you where it’s going next. These Greek avant-gardeners have consistently thrown curve balls with each and every release beginning with their psychedelically infused black metal debut “Pneuma” back in 2012. It’s only been a mere 12 years since the band made its splash on the world of experimental metal and has since released a total of six albums now that the latest FOSSIL GARDENS has emerged in the summer of 2024. Somehow i totally missed the 2021 “Mannequins” but upon exploration it seems to be one of those bonus albums for true fans that actually care about how a metal band can construct a non-metal electronic album. Personally i find these albums to be hit and miss but occasional can offer some insight into the band’s overall thought process..

A divisive band to say the least HAIL SPIRIT NOIR is either one of those bands that clicks with you or on the contrary totally rubs you the wrong way. As with most intrepid musical explorers that break all the rules and introduce strange chimeras to an established genre that many have settled on a comfort zone within, this band fearlessly steers its craft into strange musical worlds that have hitherto never been aurally integrated into the egregore of the greater black metal fanbase. Nevertheless HAIL SPIRIT NOIR sallies forth into the great unknown and delivers another slice of progressive black metal with a heavy emphasis on symphonic touches. While “Eden In Reverse” eccentrically and eclectically delved into the farthest reaches of space rock infused progressive rock that skimped a bit on the metal, FOSSIL GARDENS makes a retrograde into its roots.

On FOSSIL GARDENS the team has once again reinstated the black metal aspects and given the fans what drew them to its unusual style in the first place albeit encased in a psychedelic haze within a proggy framework. Sounding more like the weirdest experiments of Dodheimsgard than Darkthrone, the black metal returns but in a sort of musical truce kinda way. The album surprisingly starts of with clean vocals and spacey synthesizer ambience which suggests HAIL SPIRIT NOIR has totally gone Ulver on us and abandoned all notions of being a metal band but after a sensual baritone tribute to classic Dead Can Dance, HAIL SPIRIT NOIR unleashes its pent up black metal sensibilities and offers a blastbeat driven and tremolo guitar rampage complete with raspy vocal rage however the atmosphere remains thick and frigid and rather dominant but nevertheless, black metal HAIL SPIRIT NOIR has arisen like a phoenix form the ashes.

The rest of the album follows suit however the black metal isn’t as angsty as the typical second waver. This album finds the metal more in chord stomping mode for much of the time along with those jangly dissonant strumming sessions joining in for contrast’s sake. Guitar sweeps place this squarely into the melodic black metal camp with the eerie ambient backdrops never renouncing their presence for a second. Raspy tirades trade off with haunting clean vocal excursions into surreal spacey soundscapes that keeps the band firmly in the black space metal camp. This is progressive metal after all with the black metal a mere ingredient in the larger picture, a bane to black metal purists while avant-garde experimentalists will rejoice at the band’s audacity to meander through labyrinthine passages that include as much dreamy ambient pop motifs as it does adrenaline outbursts of black metal fury.

For many this one will elude them as it is by no means a conventional album. While slightly less abstract and freakishly alienating as “Eden In Reverse,” FOSSIL GARDENS nevertheless is no return to the black’n’roll bouncy grooves of “Oi Magoi” or “Mayhem In Blue” but rather delivers a veritable dip into progressive rock territory that just happens to incorporate black metal as the evil step-sister that keeps it from falling into complete ambient space rock terrain. As far removed though as FOSSIL GARDENS is from classic “normal” black metal, the contrasts make this a dynamic listening experience much like the world of Ihsahn, Enslaved or other formerly black metal dominated acts that now have successfully hybridized their caustic angst with a more pacifying structured layout that offers a true musical majesty behind all the weirdness. While i prefer the previous “Eden In Reverse,” i have to say that FOSSIL GARDENS doesn’t disappoint at all and rubs me in the right way which makes my tail wag in delight. In other words, NOT what i was expecting but in a good way!

DARKESTRAH Nomad

Album · 2024 · Pagan Black Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Formed in 1999 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and then relocating to Leipzig, Germany, DARKESTRAH has delivered a unique strain of folk-infused black metal that stood out from the very beginning given its unorthodox infusion of Central Asian influences taking the world of Pagan black metal into completely new territory. The band led by drummer Asbath has undergone a ridiculous amount of lineup changes in its quarter century existence yet continues to sally forth like Gengis Khan conquering half of the Eurasian continent. The current year 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut release “Sary Oy” which launched DARKESTRAH onto the world’s stage of inventive black metal bravely reinventing itself in the 21st century from its second wave parent stock and in this calendar year we find the band returning after eight years with its seventh release NOMAD. The band did drop the EP “Chong-Aryk” in 2021.

The band featured the same lineup as 2016’s “Turan” only with newbie Charuk (vocals, percussion) delivers the expected mix of pagan infused black metal with frosty atmospheric backdrops, rasping vocals from beneath the din and the band’s knack for infusing traditional Kyrgyz folk sounds into the fabric of the metallic furor. DARKESTRAH has always delivered lengthy trotting tracks that emulate the procession of transversing the vast mountainous terrain and steppes of Central Asia and in that regard little has changed on NOMAD which continues the expected endless trajectory of lightning fast guitar riffing, blastbeats and moments of clean guitar contrast. The album features seven new tracks with four of them eight minutes or more. Atmospheric intros fueled with Kyrgyz folk melodies strummed on traditional instruments set the mood before the black metal bombast sets in. Throat singing technique yield to demonic black metal extremities. Yep, the DARKESTRAH formula is alive and well after all this time.

“Journey Through The Blue Nothingness” opens the album with the expected non-metal folk sequence before “Kök-Oy” begins the atmospheric black metal journey. After eight years the band is noticeably less vibrant than on past releases with the metal aspects set a bit back below the atmospheric melancholy. Likewise newbie percussionist and vocalist Charuk doesn’t seem as dynamic as former vocalists Merkith and Oldhan. Also noticeably missing are all those interesting contrasts within the tracks with most of them plodding along for their extended periods of time which makes me wonder if DARKESTRAH has finally run out of steam after two decades on the scene. The compositions are noticeably less complex in construct with simple guitar stomps punctuating a frigid atmospheric presence. Likewise the tracks don’t differ from each other as much as i would’ve expected with the title track sounding a bit too close to its predecessor. Dynamics, tempos and contrasts seem to evaporated like a life-giving water source during a drought.

This is a trend i find many long timers picking up lately. Deemphasizing the black metal intensity and setting it behind the atmospheric backdrop which now almost seems like the forefront, a sound that cheapens the overall effect and diminishes the value of the atmospheric contributions in the first place by showcasing how simplistic they are and why they are SUPPOSED to be set back in the mix. Overall DARKESTRAH has delivered a decent new slice of its classic pagan black metal with folk flavors but everything that made the band stand out all these years as been tamped down to a mere trickle and in the end this album comes off as a bit generic and lackluster. Sure the folk elements are weaved into the fabric of the music and the procession of black metal military march processions carry on but any element of surprise is sorely missing. Really the thing that bugs me most about this newest DARKESTRAH release is how the metal has been set back in the mix. It just doesn’t work for me. Add to that a rather by the books delivery of compositions and i’m not feeling the magic that this band once dished out in abundance. Despite that quibble, NOMAD is not a bad release at all even if not to my liking.

DEICIDE Banished By Sin

Album · 2024 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is strange to realise that Deicide will soon be celebrating their 40th anniversary, being formed back in 1987, with bassist vocalist/Glen Benton and drummer Steve Asheim still around. There have been a few changes in guitarists over the years, but Kevin Quirion has been there on and off since 2007 although there is now a new boy in Taylor Nordberg for what is only their second album since 2013’s ‘In The Minds of Evil’. I am having troubles working out if Deicide have decidedly mellowed since I started listening to them in the early Nineties, or if I just appreciate death metal that much more than I did when I was younger, but this album feels far more mainstream and polished than what I expect from the band. Some of the material feels quite commercial, and if there was a different singer then I am sure the music would be viewed in a quite different light. Mind you, it is hard to think of anyone but Glen at the front of this band, tying his bass in with the pummelling Asheim while still producing the guttural growls we are all so used to.

Part of me thinks Deicide are somewhat going through the same old styles, knowing the fans will enjoy it so they do not have to put too much thought into it (like apparently using AI to generate the cover image which is way too clean), while the rest of me thinks Deicide have found their groove and are continuing to go down the path they helped create all those years ago. It may not be as raw and vital as it once was, but Benton and Asheim are in their fifties now, and most people do change somewhat as they get older, but even though this has a commercial angle and is far smoother than one might expect, it is still incredible heavy and wonderfully brutal. Hopefully the next album won’t take as long as this one, and they can bed Taylor in on the road so they come back even heavier.

RAINER LANDFERMANN Mehr Licht

EP · 2023 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Mehr Licht" is an EP release by German artist Rainer Landfermann. The EP was independently released in June 2023. It´s the follow-up release to Landfermann´s debut full-length studio album "Mein Wort in deiner Dunkelheit" from June 2019. As there have been no new releases from Pavor (Landfermann´s technical/progressive death metal act) since 2003, it´s not that project he has spend the last four years working on, but there´s of course been the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed down a lot of artists. My impression of Landfermann is however more that he only releases something when he truly feels for it.

Stylistically the two tracks on the EP pretty much continue the avant-garde black/death metal sound of the preceding album release. So it´s still German language lyrics performed by a psychotic sounding and tortured screaming vocalist, and some very unconventional songwriting, which includes eerie keyboards (but also more uplifting parts, although this is pretty much a shrouded in darkness and pain type of release), fusion influenced bass playing, black/death metal brutality, and an overall high level of technical playing. This is neither better nor worse than the material featured on "Mein Wort in deiner Dunkelheit", but if you enjoyed the album I can highly recommend investigating this EP too. It´s just as weird and eclectic. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ULCERATE Cutting the Throat of God

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
New Zealand’s ULCERATE was one of a few intrepid explorative death metal bands to follow in the footsteps of early pioneering disso-death acts such as Immolation and Gorguts and after forming in the year 2000 spawned its own ugly flavoring of unhinged technical death metal run amok replete with all the atonality and discordant excess a human aural system can absorb. The band has delivered a string of consistently high quality albums in its near quarter century existence and in recent years has risen to the top tiers of tech disso-death royalty. After abandoning the incessant brutal bombast of its 2007 debut “Of Fracture And Failure,” the band has taken a more nuanced approach by spicing up the death metal savagery with more expansive atmospheric elegance and also by dipping into other metal realms ranging from sludge metal to darkened elements borrowed from the black metal universe.

After a four year lull since the critically acclaimed “Stare Into Death And Be Still,” ULCERATE is back to inflict the most harrowing gastrointestinal damage with its latest release CUTTING THE THROAT OF GOD. While the title may be pandering to the black metal crowds, i ask myself if an omnipotent creator of the universe exists in a physical form and therefore would God have a throat? Existential quandaries aside, ULCERATE steadily but surely over its seven album run has incrementally refined its unique brand of aggressive disso-death into an art form all its own. This seventh album in the ULCERATE canon takes a deeper dip into the world of atmospheric sludge metal with a wider breadth of stylistic approaches that were hampered by the incessant brutality on previous works that hammered it all out with authoritative ease.

Existing as a stable power trio since the band’s 2009 release “Everything Is Fire,” ULCERATE has become a well-oiled machine where these three musicians have fused into one frightening force and on CUTTING THE THROAT OF GOD showcase the newly established attribute of restraint as heard on the opening nonchalant slow burner approach of “To Flow Through Ashen Hearts” which focuses less on speed and turns up the burner for atmospheric constructs from simmer to fully fueled. By delivering slowed down tempos, the band keeps things firmly planted in the ferocity of the death metal camp by offering exotic guitar riffs delivered by Michael Hoggard, the dissonant bass counterpoints of Paul Kelland and the bantering drumming gymnastics of Jamie Saint Merat. Kelland’s guttural growls have changed little and he ferociously enunciates every sacrilegious syllabic utterance with all the brash bravado that ULCERATE has infused into its technical cauldron of steaming hot disso-death from the beginning.

The album features seven brand spanking new tracks that discordantly reverberate with heavy distortion for nearly 58 minutes of suffocating darkness and despair. While the band’s trajectory has been incrementally slow-paced in its evolution, CUTTING THE THROAT OF GOD is noticeably different than its predecessor in that it feels less rampaging even from the 2020 release “Stare Into Death And Be Still.” The mix is distinguishable as well with more distinct tones and timbres oozing out of the delirious din that advances in tenacious tumult only with a more controlled impulse to leap into frenetic displays of brutal savagery. In fact this is probably the least barbaric sounding of the entire ULCERATE discography although despite the somewhat cooling off effect in terms of unbridled speed and incessant pummelation of the senses, CUTTING THE THROAT OF GOD by no means sounds like a wimpy rendition of a once great band. No way.

This latest discharge of dissonant din is merely shifting around the dynamics a bit and focusing a bit more on atmospheric diversions from the one-trick pony penchants of a larger swath of technical death metal bands out there. Speed freaks worry not for moments of letting the rabid pit bull off the leash do occur. While many are acclaiming this release as the best of the lot, personally i favor the heavier adrenalized speedfests of the past. With no disparaging criticism in the least against this new flavor of ULCERATE’s established sound, it would appear to me that the sudden interest in propelling ULCERATE to the top of the disso-death camp is more a result of the greater metal world finding a nice comfort zone in the more extreme expressions of death metal. To my insatiable ears though this one sounds a bit tame by weeding out the many of the progressive tendencies and ear-splitting bombast of the past in favor of a more streamlined post-metal continuity. While not my ultimate ULCERATE experience, there’s no denying that these guys have mastered the art of this gnarled nasty niche of extreme metal and even with these changes makes CUTTING THE THROAT OF GOD an excellent relevant smattering of modern disso-death.

VANDEN PLAS The Empyrean Equation of the Long Lost Things

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Germany’s VANDEN PLAS was one of the pioneering progressive metal bands forming as far back as 1984 and joining the ranks of Dream Theater, Psychotic Waltz, Mekong Delta and a bunch of others in the 1990s by delivering some of the most cutting edge metal meets prog the decade had to offer. The band has weathered the storms for well over four decades now and even produced four rock operas. VANDEN PLAS’ prog metal creds are undeniable and yet somehow this band has remained just outside of my grasp. Although i’ve heard of them for years and even checked out an album or two, there was just something about them i found off-putting. Well, sometimes it’s unwise to sample the proper nectar before one is ready to glean the benefits and i figured it’s time to once again dip into the musical world of VANDEN PLAS since the band is obviously in no hurry to set up a retirement plan.

Although the band debuted in 1994 with its first release “Colour Temple,” the band has never been in a rush to pump out as much product as possible. The latest album THE EMPYREAN EQUATION OF THE LONG LOST THINGS is the band’s 12th album and it’s absolutely amazing that this band has pretty much kept the same lineup since its 1994 debut. The exception to this long lasting stability was broken when keyboardist Günter Werno departed in 2023 and for the first time VANDEN PLAS had to scout out some new talent to fill his shoes. The band found a suitable replacement with Italian born Alessandro Del Vecchio who has been well seasoned in a number of bands including Alex Beyrodt’s Voodoo Circle, Sunstorm and Silent Force. Given his prog rock / power metal / hard rock creds, a perfect candidate for VANDEN PLAS’ classic prog metal sound that seems to remain firmly planted in the 1990s.

While the world of progressive metal has evolved exponentially since the 90s and branched out into every possible direction conceivable, VANDEN PLAS has retained its ties to the early heavy metal and power metal roots that spawned the more progressive metal variations that emerged in the 1990s. The band features the same style of guitar riffing and accompanying solos, melancholic atmospheres, frenetic keyboard runs, high pitched vocals and the typical melodic and rhythmic drive that made the earliest variations of prog metal so endearing. Not much has changed in the VANDEN PLAS camp as the same formulaic approach as always has been implemented. THE EMPYREAN EQUATION OF THE LONG LOST THINGS features six tracks and adds up to the 55 minute plus mark. The tracks are mostly on the longer side with every track clocking in at over six minutes and the lengthiest grand finale “March Of The Saints” approaching the 16-minute mark.

The album starts off with the title track and showcases beautiful piano rolls and the classic build of tension that merges into the prog metal thunder the band is famous for. Andy Kuntz still delivers clean and confident vocal workouts and the band is by all means a well-oiled machine at this point in their career and newbie Del Vecchio seems to fit in like he’s been a member of the band since the beginning. The tracks are all well-crafted and deliver veritable slices of that old school prog metal stylistic approach that will remind you of classic Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Symphony X, Threshold, Pagan’s Mind, Shadow Gallery and a gazillion others. In that regard little has changed in the VANDEN PLAS sound and the band carries on as if the modern world doesn’t exist. For some that may be a nice comfort zone and for others it conveys a band that remains staunchly committed to a certain stylistic approach that refuses to branch out into new turf. Whatever the case, VANDEN PLAS’ latest offering delivers a veritable slice of classic prog metal but doesn’t really do much more. Even the 16-minute closing “March Of The Saints” doesn’t deviate from the overall established sound of the band in any way.

Upon listening to THE EMPYREAN EQUATION OF THE LONG LOST THINGS i’m reminded why VANDEN PLAS never really clicked with me. Sure they are a more than a competent band that delivers all the prog metal goods in fine form but the band lacks imagination and a creative spirit that animates the music to a higher level. This album is very anachronistic and may serve as a form of comfort food for those who have been alienated by the world of prog metal seeping into the caustic arenas of dissonant death metal, black metal and extremist hybrids and for that it is perfectly suitable however i just find this band to be a bit too generic for my liking. There is not a single bad track on this album and the performances are impeccable with every keyboard run, every guitar riff and every drum roll teased out to perfection but there is a very clinical feel to the album as if VANDEN PLAS engineers its music through a microscope rather than allowing an organic process to inspire and evolve its style. It’s sure to be a fan pleaser for those who expect a band to remain consistent but after three decades i would expect the band to have at least evolved a smidge. Decent album but comes off as prog metal by the numbers.

SIX FEET UNDER (FL) Killing for Revenge

Album · 2024 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Killing for Revenge" is the eighteenth full-length studio album by US death metal act Six Feet Under. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in May 2024. It´s the successor to "Nightmares of the Decomposed" from 2020 and features the exact same quintet lineup who recorded the predecessor. With the 2017 addition of former Cannibal Corpse/Deicide guitarist Jack Owen, band leader (and former Cannibal Corpse vocalist) Chris Barnes found a new composer for his project. Barnes have had several other composers contributing to the songwriting over the years (just in the last 10 years the following have been composing music for Six Feet Under: Steve Swanson, Ola Englund, Phil Hall, Jeff Hughell, and of course Owen), but Barnes of course knew what he was getting when Owen joined, because of their shared past in Cannibal Corpse. Owen on the other hand needed a new project where he could be given the freedom to compose, because that was the main reason he left Deicide in 2016 after having been a member of that band since 2004.

As if the Cannibal Corpse connection wasn´t strong enough, Vincent Locke (Cannibal Corpse artwork artist) has also joined the project creating the artwork for "Killing for Revenge". Stylistically this doesn´t sound much like Barnes former band though. It´s a much more primal form of death metal with the occasional old school thrash metal oriented part thrown in. The tracks range from heavy stomping death metal to faster-paced more aggressive death metal. All very old school in style and execution. The heavy grooves of the past are only very rarely a part of the music. Barnes vocals are deep and brutal, but also predominantly unintelligible which makes them a bit one-dimensional. Although Barnes vocals on "Nightmares of the Decomposed" were generally pretty weak, at least you could make out the words.

"Killing for Revenge" features a good quality sound production and upon conclusion it´s a decent quality release from Six Feet Under, but I wouln´t count it among their better releases. I have great respect for Owen´s merits but to my ears his songwriting isn´t the most interesting. It´s all very straight forward with no surprises and a bit more variation (and not just shifts between mid-paced and fast-paced) would have been appreciated. But at least it´s a step up in quality from "Nightmares of the Decomposed". A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

VOLA Paper Wolf

Single · 2023 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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"Paper Wolf" is a one-track digital single use by Danish rock/metal act Vola. The single was released through Mascot Records in August 2023. It´s the follow-up release to Vola´s third full-length studio album "Witness" (May 2021). It´s possibly the first single from a forthcoming fourth full-length studio album, or it could be a standalone single, similar to when they released the "Glasswork" single all the way back in 2010, which was also a track exclusive to that single release. Since at this point the fourth full-length studio album hasn´t been released yet, your guess is as good as mine.

Stylistically "Paper Wolf" pretty much continues the slick, polished, and melancholic rock/metal style of the material found on "Witness". So if you´re familiar with "Witness", you won´t be surprised by what you hear when listening to "Paper Wolf". Asger Mygind´s strong and paatos filled vocals dominate the track, and atmospheric keyboards and electronic effects are complimented by mellow/loud dynamic rock and metal sections. It´s not a particularly heavy track, but Vola still produce some relatively heavy riffs and rhythms when that is called for.

"Paper Wolf" is a well produced track (produced by Mygind and mixed and mastered by Jacob Hansen) and a nice little breather before Vola opt to record and release their fourth full-length studio album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ORGANIC BRAIN DISORDER Gruesome Acts of a Deranged Mind

Album · 2023 · Goregrind
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Gruesome Acts of a Deranged Mind" is the debut full-length studio album by UK goregrind act Organic Brain Disorder. The album was released through Bizarre Leprous Production in October 2023 and reissued by Acid Redux Productions in April 2024. Organic Brain Disorder is a one-man project with Brazilian born, but UK based Corvo handling all instruments, drum programming, and vocals. Organic Brain Disorder released a demo (titled "Demo 2023") in August 2023, but other than that, this is the first release by Organic Brain Disorder.

Stylistically you get a filthy, fast-paced, yet sharp and clear sounding goregrind style on this eleven tracks, 16:01 minutes long album. The vocals are low-in-the-mix distorted growling, which have that nasty juicy quality to them, which many goregrind bands favor. There´s a strong harcore/punk influence heard, and sometimes I´m reminded of early Napalm Death. At least when it comes to the instrumental part of the music. The drums are programmed, and Corvo has done a decent job with the programming. The sound production is powerful too, and "Gruesome Acts of a Deranged Mind" is overall a well produced release.

Upon conclusion you won´t hear anything on "Gruesome Acts of a Deranged Mind" which you haven´t heard before. So innovation and uniqeness are not features found here. But if you enjoy the goregrind style you could definitely spend you money worse than on this album. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

DEICIDE Banished By Sin

Album · 2024 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 4 ratings
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"Banished By Sin" is the thirteenth full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Deicide. The album was released through Reigning Phoenix Music in April 2024. It´s the successor to "Overtures of Blasphemy" from September 2018. There´s been one lineup change since the predecessor as guitarist Mark English has been replaced by Taylor Nordberg. The latter is a relatively prolific name in death metal circles having performed with artists like Massacre, Ribspreader, and Wombbath (among others...). "Banished By Sin" was released to some controversy regarding the AI generated cover artwork, which many fans heavily critiziced.

Stylistically there are very few surprises on "Banished By Sin" if you´re familiar with Deicide´s output since "Till Death Do Us Part" (2008). Lead vocalist/bassist Glen Benton maybe sings more of his high pitched demonic vocals and thereby complimenting his raw throaty growling vocals which ultimately makes the vocal part of the album relatively diverse, but other than that this is Deicide as we expect them to sound these days...anti-christian/blasphemous lyrics and all. Although they can still whip up a storm of blast beats and fast-paced riffs, "Banished By Sin" is predominantly a heavy and mid-paced affair. Everything is delivered with great energy and skill though, so Deicide are definitely still a force to be reckoned with (scene veterans or not). The lead guitar work is blistering and powerful, and Steve Asheim as always delivers a sharp and brutal drum assault.

"Banished By Sin" features a clear, heavy, and powerful sounding production job, but to my ears it´s almost too polished for Deicide´s music style. A bit more grit would have suited the material better. Upon conclusion "Banished By Sin" is a good quality death metal release from Deicide, but it´s not an album which rival their classic 90s releases, which isn´t surprising since nothing they´ve released since the mid-90s have been able to do that, but that doesn´t mean it´s not a release worth investigating and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MARTY FRIEDMAN Drama

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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As one of rock and metal’s most distinct guitarists on the scene since the 1980s, MARTY FRIEDMAN has remained one of the most creative musicians beginning with his days with Cacophony, crafting neoclassical classics like “Dragon’s Kiss” and of course bringing Megadeth to the highest ranks of the world of metal music. Despite his contributions to the world of shredding and guitar virtuosity, FRIEDMAN has also displayed a firm command of exquisite compositional creation with emotive albums such as “Scenes” and “Introduction.” After relocating to Japan, FRIEDMAN has also delivered many albums worth of J-pop inspired metal and has proven that his relentless pursuit of new avenues of exploring where the guitar playing can go is virtually limitless.

Now well into his 60s and nearly four decades after his work with Jason Becker in Cacophony, FRIEDMAN is still going strong and returns in 2024 with his latest solo extravaganza, DRAMA which finds him back in the role of guitar god after seemingly exhausting his love of Japanese themed music set to the world of metal music. DRAMA is a near hour’s run of FRIEDMAN doing what he does best and that is namely delivering sharp melodic hooks in the form of some of the most phenomenal guitar playing moves in the known universe. Like most of his solo offerings, DRAMA is a mostly instrumental affair but also finds a couple tracks, “Dead Of Winter” and “2 Rebeldes” with vocal contributions.

Also joined by drummer American Gregg Bissonette of David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai fame, DRAMA also finds some classical music support from cellist Hiyori Okuda and violinist Miho Chigyo. as well as offering emotive orchestrations with Japanese pianist / keyboardist Mika Maruki adding beautiful textures to his melodic tunes. Long abandoning the one-dimensionality of pure shredding, DRAMA offers a collection of mostly mid-tempo tracks that implement some of the now familiar exotic scales FRIEDMAN is famous for and while shredding seems to be MARTY’s laser preferred mode of guitar expression these days, he still has the ability to crank out some amazingly virtuosic moves however always in the context of the melodic composition at hand.

In many ways DRAMA sounds like a collage effect of some of FRIEDMAN’s 90s work with a mix of alternative metal riffing, slower clean guitar playing on various musical scales that are melodic and in the case of this album an emphasis on emotive atmospheres and subordinate instrumentation. Personally i prefer the instrumental tracks as the vocal ones don’t work for me (i assume FRIEDMAN is the singer) however many of the melodies and styles seem a bit recycled and there is even a reprise of the track “Triumph” in an updated form that first appeared on the 1992 “Scenes” album. Overall this album is a bit too much of what’s been done before for my tastes. I haven’t really been blown away by anything FRIEDMAN has done since the 2002 album “Music For Speeding” but it’s a well played and well performed album. A little too mellow overall and i wish there were more upbeat metal moments. It’s a good album but not one i would call essential in the FRIEDMAN canon. Great to hear him still doing his thing though!

MY DYING BRIDE A Mortal Binding

Album · 2024 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 6 ratings
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"A Mortal Binding" is the fifteenth full-length studio album by UK doom/death metal act My Dying Bride. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in April 2024. It´s the successor to "The Ghost of Orion" from March 2020. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as guitarist Neil Blanchett has joined as the band´s second guitarist (he actually already joined in 2019 but didn´t perform on "The Ghost of Orion"), and drummer Jeff Singer has left and has been replaced by a returning Dan Mullins, who previously played with My Dying Bride in the 2007-2012 period.

It´s been quite a few years and albums since My Dying Bride released anything which surprised the fans of the band (the last time was with the release of "Evinta" in 2011), but My Dying Bride actually used to be (pre-2000) a pretty experimental death/doom metal act in terms of developing their music greatly between releases (the first five studio albums are quite different in sound and style), while still staying on the path of their trademark death/doom metal style. After 2000 they´ve released many high quality releases, but also a few less inspired ones. The latter are still quality releases, which could easily be other death/doom metal artists masterpieces, but when you set the standard as high as My Dying Bride have done throughout their great career, the fans also have very high expectations each time a new My Dying Bride album hits the streets.

"A Mortal Binding" is not one of the most unique nor is it one of the most adventurous My Dying Bride releases, and as a listener you get pretty much what you expect. So all the ingredients of a My Dying Bride album are in place. Lead vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe switching between death metal growling and darkly poetic goth tinged clean vocals, heavy doomy riffs and rhythms, atmosphere enhancing keyboards, and melancholic leads delivered by both guitars and violin. What "A Mortal Binding" does different than the last couple of releases is the focus on rhythm. My Dying Bride were always a relatively rhythmic death/doom metal act, but the return of Mullins has definitely pushed My Dying Bride in a more rhythm focused direction. So it´s not all just long droning power chords and slow minimalistic drumming.

The sound production is more raw, less polished, and more immediate than the last couple of releases, and at this point it´s a relief to hear that My Dying Bride still have a bit of grit in them. Opening track "Her Dominion" is the best example of that, as it´s a pretty heavy death metal track solely featuring growling vocals. Although other tracks on the album also feature death metal growling, "Her Dominion" is however a bit of the odd one out track on "A Mortal Binding", and I´d say the remaining tracks are more in line with what you´d expect from post-2000 My Dying Bride material. Highlights include "Thornwyck Hymn" and the 11:22 minutes long "The Apocalyptist", but as always My Dying Bride are impressive in terms consistency, and there´s nothing on this album, which isn´t quality material. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

NOCTURNUS AD Unicursal

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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"Unicursal" is the second full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Nocturnus AD. The album was released through Profound Lore Records in May 2024. It´s the successor to "Paradox" from May 2019, so it´s been five years betweeen the two album releases. There haven´t been any lineup changes, so the lineup who recorded "Paradox" is intact on "Unicursal".

Although the current incarnation of the band formed in 2013, drummer/lead vocalist Mike Browning has a long history in US death metal, being the original drummer and vocalist in Morbid Angel. After leaving Morbid Angel Browning formed Nocturnus and performed on their two classic albums "The Key" (1990) and "Thresholds" (1992) before being fired from the band he co-founded. He shortly formed Nocturnus AD in 1990 but changed the band name to After Death. In the period 2000-2013 After Death released quite a few demos (all material from the demos can be found on the 2007 compilation album "Retronomicon"), but in 2013 Browning opted to change the name back to Nocturnus AD. He always felt that Nocturnus was his creation and he wanted to carry on the legacy of the band, but since he had lost the rights to the name, he added the AD to avoid legal action from his previous bandmates who still owned the name. When playing live Nocturnus AD also play Nocturnus songs, so in effect (since Nocturnus haven´t been active since 2002), this is the closest you get to the real deal.

"Unicursal" is a concept album continuing the sci-fi story of Dr. Magus which was initiated on "The Key" and continued on "Paradox" (a sci-fi story mixing anti-christian themes, with futuristic sci-fi themes, and fantasy mystical themes). Stylistically the material on "Unicursal" naturally continue the sci-fi themed old school death metal featuring prominent use of keyboards, which the band also played on "Paradox". Browning is a raw shouting/semi-growling type vocals, and while his vocals aren´t the most powerful death metal vocals I´ve encountered and his staccato delivery can get a bit one-dimensional and tedious, he has a personal style which is more than you can say about a lot of other death metal vocalists.

While the core of the compositions is more or less thrash oriented old school death metal the dominant use of keyboards and the blistering lead guitar work are some of the features which set Nocturnus AD apart from other death metal acts with the same base elements. The music on "Unicursal" isn´t terribly different from what Nocturnus put out in the early 90s, but I guess that´s the whole point. The novelty of having a permanent keyboard player in a death metal band wore off a long time ago, but that doesn´t mean the addition of keyboards to Nocturnus AD´s death metal music isn´t effective and atmosphere enhancing, because it certainly is. To my ears the keyboards have at times maybe become a bit too dominant and provide the music with an epic symphonic feeling, that´s a bit generic if you compare them to how the keyboards where used on the original Nocturnus albums, where they either provided an eerie effect or even worked as a lead instrument.

"Unicursal" is a well produced release, sounding clear and powerful, and featuring a lot of details. Producer Jarrett Pritchard has done a great job here. So upon conclusion "Unicursal" is another good quality death metal release from Nocturnus AS, cementing their return to the scene and showing the world that they still have lots to give. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PESTILENCE Levels of Perception

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 1.75 | 2 ratings
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"Levels of Perception" is the tenth full-length studio album by Dutch death metal act Pestilence. The album was released through Agonia Records in April 2024. It features twelve re-recordings of tracks which have appeared on some of the band´s earlier releases. Not all preceding albums are represented (there are no re-recordings of tracks from "Malleus Maleficarum" (1988) or from "Spheres" (1994)), but all other Pestilence studio albums are represented with at least one track each...

...and the tracklist is up for debate. It seems a bit odd to me, why Pestilence would chose to re-record no less than four tracks from their last album "Exitivm". Re-recordings are usually done to show how a current version of a group plays older classic material, but it seems Pestilence had another vision with "Levels of Perception". "Consuming Impulse" (1989) and "Testimony of the Ancients" (1991) are represented by two tracks each (I guess they didn´t dare leave out "Out of the Body") but that´s the only pre-reformation material featured on "Levels of Perception". It´s not that Pestilence more current material isn´t decent, but it just seems a bit strange to re-record material from 2021 on a 2024 release.

When that is said, there are unfortunately much, much worse things to say about "Levels of Perception" which is through and through a horrible release. I can´t call it anything else than an abomination and a terrible misstep in the discography of Pestilence. The material is what it is, but the performances and some of the new arrangements are tame and uninspired. Honestly it almost made me cry listening to the re-recordings of "Twisted Truth" and "Out of the Body", which are two of my absolute favorite Pestilence tracks, both of which are butchered here (Patrick Mameli how could you?).

But the performances and the weak vocals from Mameli aren´t even the worst here...it´s the production values. The drums were recorded live at one studio in 2021 and everything else was overdubbed at other studios during the next couple of years. Many artists have made live recordings of drums in the studio and have gotten great results from it, but that can´t be said about the drums on "Levels of Perception", which sound like they were recorded at a rehearsal space (and not at a studio like they are) using an old fashioned four-track tape recorder. This is demo quality sound production values. And it´s not just the drums. The guitars feature an odd high end tone which is grating on the ears, Mameli´s voice is distorted and you can´t always make out the words he sings (which usually isn´t an issue on Pestilence albums), and the bass is completely disconnected from the rest of the instruments in the mix...and bass player Joost van der Graaf often sounds like he is playing another song than the rest of the members of the band.

A pretty harsh critique, which I´m not happy to deliver since Pestilence have long been some of my heroes, but I have to call it like I see it. Honesty and full disclosure. Pestilence have some work to do, to drag themselves back from this disaster. Their next album better be the best album they have released since reforming in 2008 or they may find themselves a fan or two short. You don´t come back from something like this without some careful consideration and reflection in terms of what went wrong, and what should we never do again...a 1.5 star (30%) rating is warranted. I´m tempted to give an even lower rating, but I´m trying to be fair and at least give Pestilence some sort of credit for existing, but there really isn´t much to give them credit for after listening to this album.

TÝR Battle Ballads

Album · 2024 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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With little competition, TÝR could rightfully be considered the metal kings of the Faroe Islands especially due to the fact no other act has even come close to world wide recognition as this band has when it hit the world of folk-tinged progressive metal in the late 1990s and continues to dominate with its utterly unique stylistic approach that easily sets it apart from all others. After making its debut in 2002 with “How Far To Asgard” and finding an even greater fanbase with the following “Eric The Red,” TÝR has continued to release one album after another of intricately designed progressive metal that narrates the world of Norse mythology, Paganism and Faroese folklore, often exclusively in the Faroese language.

Still going strong after a quarter of a century, TÝR returns in 2024 with its ninth album BATTLE BALLADS which sees the light of day five long years after “Hel.” Continuing their adopted use of power metal which found its way into “By The Light Of The Northern Star” and has only maintained a stronger foothold ever since, BATTLE BALLADS delivers an unmistakable TÝR album with all the expected ventures into Viking folklore, Norse mythology and triumphant battle tales of yore delivered in an energetic, epic and anthemic musical majesty. While TÝR has always consistently delivered a highly original stylistic approach not even close to sounding like any other band, the band’s quality control has been more questionable with some albums failing to warrant much whoopty-doo while other albums holding no punches in blowing you away at every turn.

While BATTLE BALLADS may not prove to be one of the band’s top dog’s in terms of their overacting legacy, this album of 10 tracks at around the 42 minute mark is actually quite the pleasant surprise in that it delivers the most important aspect of all and that is one of maintaining your interest throughout the album’s run with high quality composiitons that offer enough variation without sacrificing all those idiosyncrasies that make TÝR so utterly brilliant. While it’s hard to tell really, guitarist Hans Hammer has replaced Attila Vörös from the previous album and perhaps this small change was just enough of a chemistry tweak to give the band a new lease on life but whatever the case the band sounds like its firing on all pistons this time around. Although no keyboards are credited, there is a clear synthesized presence in the backing atmospheres as well as the occasional symphonic touches.

Unlike some other TÝR albums, BATTLE BALLADS delivers a consistent flow of high quality tracks from beginning to end with excellent compositions that maintained all the quirky time signature deviations that makes the band stand out as well as cranking out a power metal bombast that showcases an exuberant use of twin guitar attacks all dressed up in traditional Faroese folk music flavors. Even lead vocalist Here Joensen sounds like he’s on the top of his game. The band is simply on fire from the first moments of “Hammered” to the last moments of “Causa Latronum Normannorum” consistently delivering that tightrope walk between high octane power metal and more reserved melodic folk metal. The harmonies are top notch and the flow of the album is flawless. Now it is true that TÝR does not deliver anything outside of its established perimeters but then again if a band is so amazingly accomplished at what it does so well and no other band has swooped in to steal its thunder then i for one am quite content with a rather safe album that is done brilliantly than the band desperately trying to grasp straws to become experimental.

There’s no telling when a band will burn out in the 21st century. Some bands formed in the 80s are still going strong while others that emerged only a decade ago have found their wellspring run dry. Whatever the case, the Faroese Viking metal gods seem to have longevity just as the Old Norse ways have themselves consistently found new ways of making themselves known in a world that has changed exponentially and unrecognizably beyond the world of the Vikings. My my tastes, BATTLE BALLADS is a triumphant success for staying on track in a world where it is so easy to get distracted and tempted into other arenas of musical exploration. Luckily this band has maintained the purity of its essence and continues to build on a metal tradition of its own making. Perhaps its the long time between albums that allows the band members to craft its compositions at its own pace or perhaps just the rejuvenating North Sea air but whatever the case TÝR appears to be a force in the greater metal universe that is here to stay for quite some time.

IRON MONKEY Spleen & Goad

Album · 2024 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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The filthy as fuck sludge metal band from the ugly underbelly of the 90s that nobody in a million years thought would’ve arisen from the ashes due to the unfortunate passing of lead singer John Paul Morrow who passed away in 2002 leaving IRON MONKEY’s two 90s cult classics to stand on their own two feet but hey in the world of metal music one should expect the unexpected and even sacred cows sometimes find new a new form of life in an altered yet somewhat familiar form. While simmering in the sludgy underground, this 90s sludge metal band that followed in the footsteps of the Louisiana scene that found Acid Bath, Eyehategod and Grief forging a new ugly style of metal that chipped off strands of DNA from the world of stoner metal and doom metal and crafted a new ugly Frankenstein brother.

While not the first to engage in the rageful vitriol and distortion-fueled din that classic sludge metal rammed down your ear canals with impunity, IRON MONKEY was certainly one of the pinnacles of the hate fueled reverb-soaked sludgery that possibly caused Morrow’s death from choking on his own hate-filled vocal chords while screaming up a storm. Despite written off and left for dead, the MONKEY escaped captivity from whatever experimental lab facility locked them away and returned to the scene in 2017 with its comeback album “9-13” which found guitarist James David Luke Rushby (now simplified to simply Jim) accompanied by original guitarist Dean Paul James Berry (now truncated to Dean) who swapped out guitars for bass. With no viable replacement of the once great vocalist to be found, Jim simply stepped in and honed his own hateful bile spewing from his vocal chamber and called it good. With the addition of drummer Brigga, the MONKEY was back for the attack like Cesar planning an overthrow of humanity on The Planet of the Apes.

Following in the footsteps of the band’s 2017 comeback, SPLEEN & GOAD proves the resurrection was no one-off and although drummer Brigga has been replaced by Ze Big, this album that emerges seven years later very much sounds like “9-13” as IRON MONKEY left behind all those doom metal glacial moments of sustained feedback and oozing out effect of distortion of pain and focused more on the hardcore punk aspects that were in the band’s plans all along before the great implosion that left the MONKEY broken down and disbanded before a third album could ever emerge. Gone are all those smoke-filled stoner rock moments and also gone are the looming doomy passages that slink and slither like a serpent in the Garden of Eden. The new IRON MONKEY has the need for speed and that is exactly what it delivers with an adrenalized procession of downtuned sludge metal riffing sessions that offer a bit of boogie rock flamboyance to its simian swagger.

A modern day album with a retro throwback approach, SPLEEN & GOAD hosts nine tracks at 53 1/2 minutes and an incessant rampage through its battlefield stampede more focused on the quickened galloping pace of groove metal than the sludge on simmer of the past. The results vary as any veritable IRON MONKEY fan cherishes those classic moments that find the guitar sustain tweaking and freaking all over the place one of the band’s primary charms, lead vocalist Morrow’s unfathomable vocal rage excepted. The new IRON MONKEY in many ways sounds more like Amoebix or the 80s crust punk bands than it does its former self but then again the new IRON MONKEY is only half of the equation and any expectations of past endeavors should be firmly quashed. The new balls to the wall approach of IRON MONKEY 2.0 now finds as many albums under its belt as its original run but there’s little doubt this new rendition will ever eclipse the legendary status the original lineup has earned as one of 90s metal’s best kept secrets for so many decades.

The opening “Misanthropizer” pretty much sets the stage of quickened hardcore riffing frenzies with Rushby’s best Morrow imitation that comes close but delivers no cigar but then again taken on its own the new IRON MONKEY does not disappoint in its mostly Sabbath-free, stoner-free agenda either as the highly adrenalized agenda certainly offers a compelling filthy raw mix of primeval sludgery laced with the more rambunctious leanings of 90s alternative metal. The band retains an obnoxiousness that is guaranteed to piss off all but the true sludge fans out there and has lost none of the frenetic misanthropy as the album charges on like the band never left its sludge metal paradise and despite the mostly punk-fueled procession, occasional deviations do occur such as the rare Sabbath sounding track “The Gurges” charges forth and breaks up the monotony with angry stomps that would find Morrow’s harrowing approval. While i do wish the album was a bit more diverse in its approach, i cannot deny than i’m a sucker for this unbridled raging filth of a musical style and therefore soak it in like a sponge. Overall the classic IRON MONKEY is in no danger of being dethroned by the new but for anyone saying these guys never should’ve reunited misses the point of reviving classic sludge metal in a genre that seems to have gotten too progressive and experimental for its own good at times.

VLTIMAS Epic

Album · 2024 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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"Epic" is the second full-length studio album by multi-national death metal act Vltimas. The album was released through Season of Mist in March 2024. It´s the successor to "Something Wicked Marches In" from March 2019, so it´s been almost to the day five years since the release of the predecessor. Vltimas was formed in 2015 by three veterans of the death/black metal scene in lead vocalist David Vincent (Morbid Angel, Terrorizer), drummer Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy), and guitarist Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir). On this album they´ve added bassist Ype TVS to the ranks.

Stylistically the material on "Epic" continues the blackened death metal style of "Something Wicked Marches In", but with a few twists and development of sound. Vincent is as distinct sounding and intelligible as ever with his growling vocals, but adds a few more layers to his vocal arsenal on "Epic". His semi-operatic vocals are utilized more often here (take a listen to the title track or "Mephisto Manifesto" for proof of that) and his growling vocals are varied with some aggressive raw shouting vocals too, so although Vincent already was one of the most unique sounding and versatile death metal vocalists before "Epic" was recorded, he has pushed the boundaries even further here. It may scare away a few hardcore death metal fans, but to those who crave diversity this is a welcome addition to the band´s sound.

Eriksen is the main composer of the material on "Epic" as was also the case on "Something Wicked Marches In" and he has again created a varied and intriguing blackened death metal sound. Everything from chaotic sounding blackened death metal, to mid-paced heavy epic death metal tracks, to melodic inclined lead guitar moments, and also a good understanding of rhythm dynamics. Flo Mounier of course doesn´t need an introduction and we all know that the man can play anything, but his performance here is relatively restrained, which serves the purpose of the drumming fitting the compositions. In other words he is a team player here, and saves his most technical drumming wizardry for Cryptopsy.

"Epic" features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production, which suits the sophistication of the material well. This type of death metal would not have benefitted from a murky and gritty sounding production job. So upon conclusion "Epic" is a death metal release for those who enjoy their death metal with a touch of sophistication and variation, and who aren´t afraid to hear a death metal vocalist experiment with his voice and vocal style. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

MY DYING BRIDE A Mortal Binding

Album · 2024 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 6 ratings
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For a BRIDE that has been DYING since 1990, she sure has more lives in her than a cat which supposedly has 9. In fact the English band MY DYING BRIDE led by the distinct vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe and guitarist Andrew Craighan formed over three decades ago is still showcasing an immortality beyond the longevity of most bands from the same era. Still alive and kickin’ in 2024 MY DYING BRIDE has released the 14th album of its never-ending procession of gloomy Goth-tinged doom metal with death metal decorations with A MORTAL BINDING which after a turbulent first two decades of lineup changes finds a bit of stability in the form of the same cast of members that were featured on 2020’s “The Ghost of Orion” with the sole exception of Dan Mullins rejoining and replacing percussionist / drummer Jeff Singer.

Another chapter in the MY DYING BRIDE book but pretty much the same thematic developments as this band that was once wildly experimental between albums has long ago found the perfect comfort zone that seems to keep the fans coming back for more thus showcasing the desire to pacify the buying public rather than risk the golden goose by releasing some fusion of polka-based Gothic doom dance pop or anything of the sort. Au contraire. At this stage one can ostensibly predict without much chance of error exactly what any particular edition of the MY DYING BRIDE canon will sound like and in the case of A MORTAL BINDING, you guessed it! Another slice of oozing doom metal accompanied by Stainthorpe’s plaintive Gothic vocal style set to the oozing dread of doom metal with the melancholic atmospheric backing to guarantee another soundtrack of dread and damnation only with the occasional outbursts into death metal.

Augmented by the band’s now classic violin backing, A MORTAL BINDING for the most part follows the playbook cemented into place so long ago which means that one can only judge the quality of any particular MY DYING BRIDE release by the strength of the songwriting alone as the performances are always top notch and despite doom metal bands springing up from all four corners of the planet since this band’s inception in 1990, MY DYING BRIDE still sounds as utterly unique as it has since day one. As far as consistency is concerned, this band certainly has it with one strong album after another, a few bonafide masterpieces and a few bellyflops in the pool that got drained over night. While A MORTAL BINDING does not reach the lofty pinnacle heights of the band’s earliest death-doom works or the lugubrious perfection of albums like “The Dreadful Hours” or “Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light,” neither does it sink to the dreadful lead-lined depths of throwaway albums like “Evinta” or the lackluster mediocrity of many of the 2010 releases.

In fact as a true fan of this band having heard every album and EP, i’d have to say that the band sounds somewhat rejuvenated here with tracks that take a somewhat different approach than the automatic pilot get the job only but not much more albums since “A Line Of Deathless Kings.” Sure this is undeniably a MY DYING BRIDE release through and through but the chunky guitar riffing offers a bit more of an energetic upgrade on many tracks including the opening “Her Dominion” and the lengthiest track on board, the 11 minute and 22 second “The Apocalyptist” which evoke the band’s return to some of the death-doom sounds that brought them into the world’s scene in the first place. The album features all those slow-burners of course with the weeping violin lamenting the tales of woe and despair but the diversity not he album gives A MORTAL BINDING a nice spicy return to the classic style of the band that once had a fiery passion to keep the BRIDE from falling into the grave.

As such MY DYING BRIDE always walks that fine line between exhilaration and ennui as the tight wire balancing feat is something that requires the ultimate finesse to maintain the attention span of an ever-increasing A.D.D. listening public and while the last few albums seemed to simmer on cruise control, A MORTAL BINDING hits me in all the right ways and gives me faith that the band still has a second wind that will propel it into a new era of prosperity however it is true that there will come a time when the band will have to rebrand itself as MY IMMORTAL BRIDE because whoever this mysterious maiden is, she seems to have a life support system and has discovered the fountain of youth while so many have crashed, burned and become buried. While A MORTAL BINDING certainly won’t be declared the band’s triumphant comeback of the century, it more than offers enough magic mojo by my discerning ears to grasp onto. As i stated it all boils down to the songwriting with this band and on this album the band seems to have put it all together in the right way for my liking. Better than i was expecting to say the least.

MORTA SKULD Creation Undone

Album · 2024 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.43 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Creation Undone" is the seventh full-length studio album by US, Wisconsin based death metal act Morta Skuld. The album was released through Peaceville Records in February 2024. It´s the successor to "Suffer for Nothing" from 2020 and features the same quartet lineup as the predecessor. Morta Skuld are one of the early American death metal acts and released their first demos in 1990. They disbanded in 1998 after releasing four full-length studio albums but reunited in 2012 and "Creation Undone" is their third full-length studio album release after their reformation.

Stylistically the material on "Creation Undone" pretty much continues the heavy and predominantly mid-paced death metal style of "Suffer for Nothing". The album features faster parts too and even a few blasting parts, but it´s generally a heavy mid-paced release. Lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Gregor sings using both a thoaty raw semi-growling vocal style but also a deeper more brutal death metal growling style. The latter less than the former.

The sound production is massive, heavy, and detailed. It´s a professional sounding production job, which suits the material well. Morta Skuld always struggled to find their own identity and neither their 90s releases nor their comeback releases have given the listener any indications that Morta Skuld would produce something which would stand out on the death metal scene. What they do on "Creation Undone" is professional, solid, and enjoyable enough while it plays, but it´s not an album which screams to me that I need to play it again. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

ABORTED Vault Of Horrors

Album · 2024 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
The Belgian death metal act are back with their twelfth album, and they have taken a somewhat unusual approach to this one in that singer Sven de Caluwé, who has been at the helm since the band’s formation in 1995, has brought in some mates to perform with him on each track so we get brutal duets with the likes of Alex Erian (Despised Icon) to Johnny Ciardullo (Carcosa/ Angelmaker), Ben Duerr (Shadow Of Intent), Francesco Paoli (Fleshgod Apocalypse) and others. Ken Bedene (drums), Ian Jekelis (guitars), Daniel Máni Konráðsson (guitars), and Stefano Franceschini (bass) have combined with Sven to create an album which is brutal in its style, intensity and delivery and then added to this with the addition of the singers.

It is a very clean sounding album, and in some way I think this would have been improved by some muddiness as in many ways there is too much separation and it comes across as quite clinical in places as opposed to a group of guys creating a maelstrom of blood and carnage in the studio. If there had been more of a focus on feel and less on getting it sounding quite so perfect, then the end result would have been more natural and less contrived. Blastbeats, grindcore influences and hardcore vocals among the death growls make this an interesting release which fans of the genre will enjoy even if it is not quite essential.

CHILDREN OF BODOM A Chapter Called Children Of Bodom: The Final Show in Helsinki Ice Hall 2019

Live album · 2023 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
On 15th December 2019, Children Of Bodom, which at the time consisted of Alexi Laiho (lead guitar, lead vocals), Jaska Raatikainen (drums), Henkka Seppälä (bass), Janne Wirman (keyboard), and Daniel Freyberg (rhythm guitar), held their last concert in Helsinki named, 'A Chapter Called Children of Bodom', before dissolving the band. In 2020, Laiho and Freyberg carried on as Bodom After Midnight, but Laiho was dead before the year was out. Obviously, this album has quite some importance given it is a recording of the last ever performance of one of Finland’s greatest ever metal acts, containing one of metal’s new breed of frontmen and shredders, but putting all the emotion to one side is this as good as one wants it to be?

The short answer is “Yes”, as that night the band were on fire. While no-one realised quite how ill Laiho was, this was planned to be the last ever show for the melodic death metallers and they were determined to go out on a high. I first came across the band at the time of their fourth album ‘Hate Crew Deathroll’ after I saw the video for “Needled 24/7” and loved their hugely complex approach with intense note density and complicated melodies which combined shredding with powerful keyboard lines which were far more than just background, since when I followed their releases with interest, and while I enjoyed their other live releases, this takes it to a whole new level. the band were determined to put on a show to remember, reaching all their way to their debut album from 1997 to ensure they provided fans with a great setlist. “Needled 24/7” will probably always be my favourite CoB number, and here it is gets blasted with the whole band putting their heads down to smash it with incredible intensity, yet also with the lightness and interplay one expects.

Children of Bodom cannot exist without Laiho, so there will never be a reunion, but fans will relish in this wonderful performance being captured for all, and I am sure it will also attract new aficionados who will seek out the back catalogue. Here we have a band captured at the height of their live powers and is a fitting tribute and reminder of just what a great guitarist and frontman Alex Laiho was.

ABORTED Vault Of Horrors

Album · 2024 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Vault of Horrors" is the twelfth full-length studio album by Belgian death metal act Aborted. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in March 2024. It´s the successor to "Maniacult" from September 2021. The two full-length studio albums are bridged by the non-album single "Infinite Terror" from October 2022.

Stylistically the core sound of the material on "Vault of Horrors" is no surprise if you´re familiar with the previous technically well played and brutal death metal releases from Aborted, but when that is said it´s still a slightly different sounding release, because Aborted have invited various guests to perform vocals on each track on the album along with lead vocalist Sven de Caluwé. So some of the these tracks almost work like extreme metal duets. Alex Erian from Despised Icon for example lends his aggressive hardcore snarling/screaming to "Death Cult", which along with de Caluwé´s brutal growling and aggressive snarling makes for a nicely varied vocal part of the song.

When the novelty of the tracks featuring different guest vocalists is over, "Vault of Horrors" however pretty much turns out to be Aborted by the numbers. Sharp and brutal riffs and rhythms, blistering lead guitar work, and variation between fast-paced blasting and mid-paced heavy grooves. It´s all clean, a bit sterile, and if you enjoy this type of massive professional sounding production, a very well sounding album. It´s become a bit predictable what Aborted releases these days (guest vocalists or not), and a bit more grit, sleaze, and organic playing and production values, would be a welcome change on the next release. Still a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

TOADLIQUOR Back In The Hole

Album · 2024 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Sheavy
Aaannnnddd the winner of most unexpected 2024 album release goes to Toadliquor. 31 years after they dropped one of the most vile, angry, and unique Sludge/Doom metal albums, the legends return with their sophomore release Back In The Hole. So what has changed in the world of Toadliquor’s sound? Not all that much. Vocalist Rex doesn’t quite hit the high, almost ear piercing, throat ripping shriek of old. It’s more of a raspy yell or scream, not quite as powerful, but still communicates Toadliquor’s angst and nihilism. The songs are also (relatively speaking) tighter, and more concise. Less prone to droning off and dropping into feedback, but don’t worry, Toadliquor have lost none of their angry, brutal, misanthropic, crushing heaviness. Every song is precipitous, monolithic Doom leaning Sludge Metal.

However, there is something new in the Toadliquor arsenal, giving this album an experimental bent at times. This being a scattering of various electronic, psychedelic, or almost Post Metal interludes or inflections across most songs. On Recained, Toadliquor delve into a trippy, psychedelic midsection, filled with synth drones and electric pulses, ponderous reverbed drumming, squealing and muted saxophone, and some drowned out vocals. The namesake song and album closer, Back In The Hole, opens with some somber, drifting and depressive Post Rock guitar and synth, before slowly transitioning into the Sludge/Doom pounding and riffing, while the almost melodic guitar parts soar above.

This is an excellent return to the spotlight for Toadliquor.

200 STAB WOUNDS Masters Of Morbidity

Single · 2023 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Masters Of Morbidity" is a single release by US, Ohio based death metal act 200 Stab Wounds. The single was released through Metal Blade Records in April 2023. It succeeds the release of the band´s debut full-length studio album "Slave To The Scalpel" from November 2021. This is a two-track version of the single. A single track version of the single (featuring only the title track) was already released in November 2022.

This two-track version of the single features the title track and "Fatal Reality". Both are new original compositions which didn´t appear on the "Slave To The Scalpel" album. Stylistically 200 Stab Wounds play a heavy and predominantly mid-paced old school groove based type of death metal and that hasn´t changed since the debut album. Both single tracks are good quality US death metal and especially the title track is a quality song.

200 Stab Wounds are a well playing band and the single features good quality production values, so upon conclusion this is a good quality stop-gap release before 200 Stab Wounds deliver their sophomore full-length studio album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

IHSAHN Ihsahn

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
As one of the pioneers of symphonic black metal with his innovative band Emperor, IHSAHN together with his buddy Samoth left the 90s as one of the most influential and popular black metal bands of the entire decade. While Emperor would stop making albums in 2001, IHSAHN focused on his side project Peccatum briefly but ultimately reemerged as a solo artist in 2006 with a shift to a more progressive avant-garde metal sound that still retained the core elements of black metal. It all began with “The Adversary” and some 18 years later IHSAHN is still cranking out quality experimental metal with his latest self-titled eighth album once again capturing the attention of the world of extreme metal.

Deviating significantly from 2018’s “Àmr” which saw IHSAHN approaching a more commercial sound at times, this eponymously titled release looks back to the Emperor years and rekindles the spirit of symphonic black metal only this time he replaces the synthesized embellishments with a fuller orchestral sound courtesy of advancements in sampling technologies. While orchestrated metal albums are hardly anything new, IHSAHN delivers a anew approach that eschews a mere symphonic backing and rather features two independent musical scores laid upon each other resulting in not only a more dynamic symphonic metal approach but also by spawning a secondary release that features the orchestral side of the equation exclusively.

Almost sounding like Emperor is playing over a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack of some sort, IHSAHN crafts his usual mix of nerdy progressive metal replete with all the avant-garde elements that makes him exist in a world of his own along with the black metal raspy vocals, thundering guitar riffs and percussion to match. The album that features 11 tracks at nearly 49 minutes is reminiscent of some of Dimmu Borgir’s later releases that offer an equal playing field for the orchestral musical score that oft soars above the black metal mania. And while the album sounds like IHSAHN has been accompanied by an entire philharmonic orchestra at times, the guest musicians only add up to three additional percussionists and a violinist leaving IHSAHN the chore of handling vocals, guitar, bass and orchestral sampling.

IHSAHN is actually quite a diverse album (would you expect anything else?) with varying tracks that features clean vocal led prog metal as on “The Promethean Spark” to full out raging black metal on such tracks as “A Taste Of The Ambrosia” but scattered throughout are tidbits of pure classical orchestration as heard on the opening “Cervus Venator” and the middle intermission “Anima Extraneae.” Tempos vary, dynamics vary and stylistic approach may but the gist of this is a mix of crunchy black metal in tandem with classical orchestrations. Tracks like “Blood Trails To Love” feature a mix of the clean vocal prog metal with the raspy more extreme black. While hinting at Emperor’s past glories, the metal on this release isn’t nearly as full throttle as such magnus opuses as “In The Nightshade Eclipse.”

Overall IHSAHN is a decent album but it’s a bit uneven with no clear stylistic approach really dominating. While that can become a good thing if the sum of the parts add up to something more profound, this album seems a bit scattered which at times reveals both the metal aspects and the orchestral ones seem to cancel each other out a bit. The novelty of orchestral metal has long worn off and the execution of this seems less than satisfying. The addition of dreadfully long moments such as the album’s 9-minute version of a ballad - “At The Heart Of All Things Broken” is actually really cheesy and i seriously would love to cut that entire track from the playing list.

The album seems to lose steam too much with half-assed percussion and metal that doesn’t get up to full force. The orchestral parts just seem to dance around and don’t really offer a very memorable experience either in a meaningful way. All in all it’s a decent album but hardly one of IHSAHN’s best. All the rave reviews about this bely it’s downsides. I was somewhat impressed on the first listen but more attentive listening sessions reveal serious flaws that i can’t shake. The patchiness of the album ruins its flow but as on all IHSAHN albums there are more than enough moments of triumphant victory. As a true fan i couldn’t imagine not owning this but it certainly won’t rank as a top contender for favorite IHSAHN releases.

SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of The Last Human Being

Album · 2024 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
Emerging from a long hiatus, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum make a triumphant comeback. With an orchestra backing them, absolutely pristine production, and themes as dark and foreboding as any they offered up on their original run of three albums, this is a purified and intensified take on their distinctive musical approach, a terrifying metal-in-opposition meditation on human extinction and other weighty topics which runs the full emotional gamut from ethereal beauty to apocalyptic terror.

Not only do the band sound like they've not missed a beat - and in fact, they never did with many of the members having continued to work with each other in Free Salamander Exhibit, perhaps nodded to in the opening track here. Moreover, they began working on much of this material in 2010-2011 (and SQPR, a This Heat cover, hails from as far back as 2004) and have been gently working on it ever since, meaning this album has been brewed, distilled, and refined over the span of a decade. The end result might be the best expression they've ever offered of their creative vision, a keystone which ties their body of work together and which in retrospect it feels like their earlier albums were building towards all along. With many of the band members equally adept at rock and classical instruments, and Nils Frykdahl giving Mike Patton a run for his money in terms of vocal acrobatics, the Museum deploys its full bag of tricks here expertly, everything used purposefully and thoughtfully to best effect.

For a group which started out resembling an avant-prog take on Mr. Bungle, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum have only forged ahead into yet stanger territory; here they make Mr. Bungle's most alienating moments seem outright smooth and approachable by comparison, but never become dryly technical, maintaining an impressive command of atmosphere and emotion for the whole 66 minute running time.

MEZZROW Summon Thy Demons

Album · 2023 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Summon Thy Demons" is the second full-length studio album by Swedish thrash metal act Mezzrow. The album was released through Fireflash Records in April 2023. Mezzrow formed in 1985 under the Necromancy monicker but changed their name to the current one in 1988. They recorded two demos under the Mezzrow monicker before being signed for the release of their debut full-length studio album "Then Came the Killing", which was released by Active Records in 1990. "Then Came the Killing" ended up being Mezzrow´s sole album release in their original run, as they disbanded after recording a 1991 demo. They shortly reunited in 2005 which resulted in the release of the "...Then Came the Video" compilation video release, but it wasn´t until 2021 that Mezzrow opted for a more serious reformation. Only two members remain from the lineup who recorded "Then Came the Killing" but 33 years down the line that´s perfectly understandable. The members who remain from the debut album are lead vocalist Uffe Pettersson and bassist/backing vocalist Conny Welén. New in the lineup are Jon Skäre (drums), Magnus Söderman (lead guitars), and Ronnie Björnström (guitars).

To my ears "Then Came the Killing" was close to being a Testament worship release, and while "Summon Thy Demons" is arguably a more mature, meaty, and heavy release, featuring influences from other more melodic thrash metal artists like Forbidden and Heathen too, Testament is still a big influence on Mezzrow´s sound. So it is in the field of the more melodic (yet still aggressive and edgy) Bay Area thrash metal sound that Mezzrow deliver their sharp thrashy riffs and rhythms.

"Summon Thy Demons" features a heavy, powerful, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well and fans of latter day Forbidden and Heathen releases shouldn´t be disappointed at neither the songwriting style, the high level musicianship, or the sound production values of the album. There are many similarities to what artists like those produce these days. So upon conclusion "Summon Thy Demons" is a welcome comeback release from Mezzrow and fans of the genre should find lots to appreciate here, although it´s doutbful they´ll find anything here they haven´t heard before...but that´s not really the point with this type of release now is it? A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

JUDAS PRIEST Invincible Shield

Album · 2024 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 12 ratings
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Warthur
A swirling keyboard line introduces Panic Attack, the first song on Judas Priest's latest album, Invincible Shield - sounding nothing like any of the prior dabbling in synthesisers and more like they've been dipping a toe into the synthwave scene. No, it's not a radical shift in direction - just an atmospheric intro which gives way to metal fury once the song kicks into high gear, offering the most electrifying opening track on a Priest album since Painkiller.

And it never, ever lets up after that! After the excellent Firepower found Priest playing in a very direct, go-for-the-throat style which went back to basics, this one sees them elaborating the song structures a bit in a manner reminiscent of their 1970s material whilst still keeping the sound fresh, offering a sound with blends the fury and pace of Painkiller, the pristine production of their mid-1980s material, and the edge of transgression and defiance they've been offering up since the 1970s, encapsulating the best of all of their classic eras whilst still finding novel and exciting songs to play in this style.

A particular tip of the hat is needed for Glenn Tipton, who despite his Parkinson's still manages to contribute to the album, helping out with songwriting as he always has and putting in a few guitar solos here and there. Andy Sneap of Sabbat fame, who's served as Tipton's stand-in for the band's live shows ever since he stepped back from in-person performance, is credited with additional guitar, as well as fully taking on the producer's role (having co-produced Firepower), and he does a fine job of all these tasks, engineering the album to perfection as well as giving Glenn that essential backup. Given how key he's become to the band's activities these days, we should surely start thinking of Andy as Judas Priest's unofficial sixth member; he'd deserve it based on his contributions to this album alone, but combine that with his sterling work on Firepower and the grand job he does live filling in for Glenn he's surely become as crucial as any of the tenured band members.

Think of any other band who've been going as long as Priest, putting a new album out some 50 years after their debut; nine times out of ten, that new album's going to be a bit of a nostalgia exercise, a process of going through the motions which will appeal to ultra-fans but doesn't really offer much over their more compelling work they put out in their prime. Now look at Priest: it's easy enough to say that Invincible Shield beats the living daylights out of Rocka Rolla, that's a notably weak debut which more or less all of their albums bar for Demolition or Jugulator beat comfortably.

But for Invincible Shield to measure up credibly next to the likes of Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class, or Painkiller? That's astonishing - and yet I really think it does. Judas Priest are an inspiration to all the rest of us: if these lads can keep the flame burning after half a century, if Glenn Tipton can keep contributing as he does here despite his Parkinson's, then that's a challenge to all of us to face whatever challenges life throws at us with equal determination. Perhaps that conviction and self-belief - and confidence that their listeners can discover that same fire within them - which is Priest's true Invincible Shield.

DEFILED The Highest Level

Album · 2023 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"The Highest Level" is the seventh full-length studio album by Japanese, Tokyo based death metal act Defiled. The album was released through Season of Mist in April 2023. It´s the successor to "Infinite Regress" from January 2020 and it features the exact same quartet lineup who recorded the predeceding album. Defiled are by now one of the most prolific and dare I say legendary death metal acts from Japan, and they´ve pushed the boundaries of the genre more than once.

Stylistically the material on "The Highest Level" is technical and quite brutal death metal. Suffocation is not the worst reference, but Defiled have always had...and still have their own take on the genre. They play an interesting combination of almost hardcore punked and simple death metal and quite brutal and technical death metal, occasionally spiced up with some Voivod influenced dissonance. One of their greatest strengths is the pairing of the savage, raw, and primitive, and the more sophisticated and complex technical parts of the compositions. I struggle to remember any other death metal artists who sound like Defiled...and then again "The Highest Level" is actually their most "regular" sounding release yet, and I was initially a little disappointed that they sounded this normal. But when you dig a little deeper, "The Highest Level" still features quite a few unconventional and challenging moments, so Defiled haven´t completely forgotten what makes them stand out.

After releasing a few albums which have featured what I would deem near experimental sound production values, Defiled have now opted for a more (again) normal/standard for the genre type sound production. To some ears that´s probably a relief and an opportunity to give Defiled a chance again, if your ears weren´t able to appreciate the production oddness of the last couple of releases, but to my ears it´s a bit of a shame, as all the weirdness in regards to both the actual music, the performances, and the odd sounding production jobs of the last couple of albums, were the elements which made Defiled stand out on the death metal scene. So while "The Highest Level" is arguably another high quality death metal release from Defiled, it´s unfortunately their least interesting release in years...please bring back the weirdness. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

BLOOD CEREMONY The Old Ways Remain

Album · 2023 · Heavy Psych
Cover art 4.92 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
The Old Ways Remain! And it's good to know that, because for a while there it looked like Blood Ceremony had fallen off of the radar; after consistently putting out an album every 2-3 years, the long quiet from this doom-tinged heavy psych group was beginning to feel ominous. No need to worry: Alia O'Brien, Sean Kennedy, and the reliable rhythm section of Gadke and Carrillo are back. If Blood Ceremony have dialled back the quantity of releases lately, at least they are making sure the quality is top notch, with this occult rock tour de force as usual combining a solid heavy psych underpinning with O'Brien's distinctive presence on vocals, flute, and organ, delivering a defiant folk horror manifesto. Unless you are one of those for whom Blood Ceremony lost their charm when they dialled back the doom metal side of their sound in order to amp up the psych, there's plenty to love here for anyone who's already familiar, and if you're not it's a perfect statement of what thry are all about.

CADAVER The Age of the Offended

Album · 2023 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"The Age Of The Offended" is the fifth full-length studio album by Norwegian death metal act Cadaver (the sixth if you count the 2001 Cadaver Inc album as part of the band´s discography). The album was released through Nuclear Blast in July 2023. It´s the successor to "Edder & Bile" from November 2020, which was a comeback album for Cadaver after a 16 year long recording break. Band founder Neddo (guitars, bass, vocals) enlisted prolific drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, Aborted, Scarve, Soilwork...etc.) and created a duo lineup and it´s the same duo lineup who has recorded "The Age Of The Offended".

After a short intro ("Sycophants Swing") the first "regular" track "Postapocalyptic Grinding" may have you believe that "The Age Of The Offended" is just a continuation of "Edder & Bile" as it´s similar in style to the sharp, aggressive, and fast-paced death metal of the preceding album, but the further you get into the album, you´ll come to realise that Cadaver have done what they always do...create a unique album which somehow still ends up sounding unmistakably like them. It´s actually mostly the production values which are somewhat similar between the two albums and of course the core style, but Cadaver make sure to challenge both themselves and their audience several times during the album´s playing time. So prepare to have a few curve balls thrown your way.

While it´s contempoary Carcass which I´m predominantly reminded of Cadaver are still a different kind of beast and they successfully add both hardcore punk, traces of industrial metal, thrash metal, and traditional heavy metal elements to their death metal sound. Sometimes Neddo sings in a blackened snarling vocal style and sometimes he uses a more rough and hoarse vocal style.

Upon conclusion "The Age Of The Offended" is another high quality release from Cadaver, and I´m extremely content that "Edder & Bile" wasn´t just a one-off comeback album. Hopefully Cadaver have even further album releases in them. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SADUS The Shadow Inside

Album · 2023 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 3 ratings
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"The Shadow Inside" is the sixth full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Sadus. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in November 2023. It´s the successor to "Out for Blood" from 2006 and there´s been a significant lineup change since the predecessor as bassist and founding member Steve DiGiorgio opted not to reunite with drummer Jon Allen and lead vocalist/guitarist Darren Travis for the recording of "The Shadow Inside", and as a consequence the latter has recorded the bass parts on the album.

Sadus were a pretty prolific act on the brutal and technical thrash metal scene of the late 80s/early 90s but since they released "Elements of Anger" in 1997 only two studio albums (including this one) have come out of their camp and it´s hard not to think of them as a hobby project these days. Even DiGiorgio who always fought hard for the survival of the band has now jumped ship (probably as a consequence of his commitments to his day job in Testament). Hobby projects don´t have to be sloppy projects though, and although Sadus haven´t exactly toured the world lately or made much of a fuzz about themselves, they still have a legacy and a fanbase who are excited that a new album has arrived.

Stylistically this is the core aggressive thrash metal sound of Sadus, but there are a few changes which need to be mentioned. First of all it´s of course noticeable that DiGiorgio isn´t performing on "The Shadow Inside". His unique and dominant bass playing has always been a key element of Sadus sound, and it´s a bit odd to hear a Sadus album without it. Travis has opted for a more normal way of playing bass and while there´s nothing wrong with the bass parts, they aren´t as unique as before or add anything special to the soundscape. Another feature which is different from earlier releases is the drum tone. Allen always had a natural organic tone but on "The Shadow Inside" the drum tone is more cold and sterile sounding.

When you adjust to those changes the material on "The Shadow Inside" is still unmistakably the sound of Sadus, with sharp, aggressive, heavy thrash metal riffs and rhythms, occasionally faster-paced parts, and Travis sandpaper raw snarling vocals in front. The frenetic high-speed playing of the first couple of releases were already lessened on the mid-90s albums, so it´s not surprising that the pace on "The Shadow Inside" is predominantly mid-tempo and heavy, but Sadus still pack a punch and deliver some crushingly heavy tunes.

There´s no revolution of sound or style on "The Shadow Inside", and of course most listeners will miss DiGiorgio´s busy fretless bass playing, but when all is said and done this is still a good quality release and it´s great to know that Sadus still exist. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

CATTLE DECAPITATION Terrasite

Album · 2023 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 9 ratings
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"Terrasite" is the ninth full-length studio album by US, San Diego, California based death metal/deathgrind act Cattle Decapitation. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in May 2023. It´s the successor to "Death Atlas" from November 2019 and the quintet lineup who recorded the predecessor is still intact. "Terrasite" is dedicated to former Cattle Decapiation drummer Gabriel Serbian (also of The Locust among other acts) who died from a fentanyl overdose in April 2022.

Stylistically the material on "Terrasite" is a continuation of the technical death metal/deathgrind of the previous couple of releases. Cattle Decapitation have added some black metal elements to their sound (some of the tremolo riffs and blasting parts), but other than that, they sound unmistakably like they´ve done since "Monolith Of Inhumanity" (2012) or at the very least since "The Anthropocene Extinction" (2015). So this is still frenetic, energetic, brutal, and sharp sounding deathgrind featuring loads of tempo changes, riff and rhythm styles, experimental songwriting ideas, and of course the versatile voice and varied vocal delivery of Travis Ryan in front. He screams, snarls, growls, and performs his gnarly clean vocals when that is called for (this time around he even sings "real" clean vocals on the closing track "Just Another Body"), and nothing sounds like it doesn´t fit or as if it has been forced to fit a song. No clean vocal parts are for example added for mainstream appeal. They are there because they fit the song, and only if they fit the song. Something a lot of more formulaic contemporary artists could learn from.

The lyrical themes are still all sunshine and flowers, describing end of the world scenarios (particularly the end of human life), extreme misanthropy (the lyric line: "There's so many of us that need to die, Like a swarm of flies, there's too many of us" from "Scourge of the Offspring", describes it pretty well), and the need for environmental change. Cattle Decapitation were always a politically charged act and Ryan successfully treads the line between giving up/delivering black hole despair and fiercely fighting for the changes he thinks are necessary for both human and animal life to survive and exist in harmony.

As every Cattle Decapitation album before it, "Terrasite" is not an easy listening experience. Although the sound production values are clear, powerful, and detailed, and you can easily hear every instrument and vocal part in the mix, the tracks are generally pretty complex and requires some spins to sink in. When they do it´s incredible how many details and interesting songwriting ideas Cattle Decapitation are able to cram into their songs, and as a result there is a longivity to their music, which extents beyond just listening to the album a few times. As far as development of their sound I hear several new elements, but most prominently on the 10:15 minutes long album closer "Just Another Body", which is partially a pretty slow and almost doomy track, featuring dominant use of keyboards, which provide the track with an occasional symphonic edge. The clean vocal part on the track is also something new for Cattle Decapitation and shows that Ryan is not done surprising the fans. Thankfully he is still able to keep things authentic and he doesn´t deliver anything too anthemic and mainstream oriented... so fear not clean vocal haters, this is still very extreme metal.

Upon conclusion "Terrasite" is another triumphant death metal/deathgrind release by Cattle Decapitation, which stays true to the style of music they introduced on "Monolith Of Inhumanity" (2012), but follows the natural development of said style from "The Anthropocene Extinction" (2015) to "Death Atlas" (2019) to now this more diverse and varied take on that style. These guys are at the forefront of the contemporary extreme metal music scene and they deserve every bit of hype and recognition they´ve received over the years. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

JUDAS PRIEST Invincible Shield

Album · 2024 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 12 ratings
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The living heavy metal legends known as JUDAS PRIEST very well may be the longest running metal band in existence having formed in 1970 and never taking a leave of absence for all 54 years and has been unleashing one classic metal album after another. True that a few members such as K.K. Downing have gone by the wayside over the years and lead singer Rob Halford took a brief respite after “Painkiller” but ultimately upon his return in 2005 with “Angel of Retribution,” JUDAS PRIEST has been back and stronger than ever despite a few failed forays into experimental albums such as “Nostradamus” which weren’t exactly crowd pleasers but did offer an intriguing insight into the band’s more explorative nature.


It goes without saying that JUDAS PRIEST fans are headbangers and if these guys want to dabble in psychedelic prog indie rock with polka and Tuvan throat singing then they’d sure as hell better indulge those fantasies under a different band name. Luckily the band got the memo that they lost their true calling and with 2018’s “Firepower” the mighty PRIEST returned to what it does best and that is crank out anthemic arena quality heavy metal, the sound that put the entire metal world on the map in the first place. Well the metal royalty has returned six years after “Firepower” with a brand spankin’ new slab of molten metal ready to deliver the classic JUDAS PRIET goods.

INVINCIBLE SHIELD is the 19th studio album coming out exactly 50 years after its debut “Rock Rolla” hit the scene in 1974! Now THAT’S longevity and what’s even more amazing is that these guys sound more on fire than they did on that debut album that emerged a half century ago! Yes, it’s true! These guys sound exactly as they did in the 80s with razor-sharp dueling guitar attacks, a thundering bass and drum attack and of course the imitable metal god vocal prowess of none other than Rob Halford whose decades of shrieking and tearing it up at the mic has not taken a toll on his distinct singing style. Following very much in the footsteps of “FIrepower,” INVINCIBLE SHIELD does what most classic 80s albums offered and that includes: delivery exactly what the fans expect only change things up just enough to keep the album from sounding like the leftover tracks of the previous album.

It’s hard to believe that after all this time when metal has expanded into countless subgenres ranging from death metal and black metal to bizarre freaky hybrids such as trance metal and the J-pop induced Kawaii metal that JUDAS PRIEST would still be relevant in 2024 but the band has always offered such quality musical performances and in tandem with Iron Maiden is the old guard keeping the thundering heavy metal of yore going strong so many decades after its initial ascent to the throne of heavy music and while INVINCIBLE SHIELD hardly reinvents the wheel or offers a new direction for the band, what it does demonstrate is that JUDAS PRIEST is and still remains the master of this feisty in-yer-face classic heavy metal sound that even the younger generations seem to love when done as authentically and brilliantly as this classic slice of metal history in modern times.

Eschewing any excess experimentation and focusing on the heavy metal thunder of their legendary status, PRIEST is back with a aural assault of 11 tracks and an extra 3 bonus tracks on deluxe editions. Generating a frothing frenzy with the early release of the single “Panic Attack,” JP generated a visceral response that offered both a sense of disbelief that a bunch of guys in their 60s and 70s can still be cranking out such energetic metal as well as a sense of nostalgia for all the longterm fans who have been with them since the old days. Well INVINCIBLE SHIELD will not disappoint any classic PRIEST fans as the album gives the rabid headbangers exactly what they were hoping for in unadulterated classic PRIEST form. And like its predecessor “Firepower,” there may be no surprises lurking here but the consistency of the tracks will assuage the restless souls of diehard classic PRIEST fans.

Overall another great album in classic 80s heavy metal style from the masters of molten metal and living legends JUDAS PRIEST. Every member is firing on all pistons. The twin guitar attacks are up to snuff with all those addictive guitar sweeps and incessant groove pounding as well as the stellar bass and percussive rhythm section. The tracks are all instantly hook-laden and the classic variations of intros, outros, songwriting and contrast between segments reigns supreme. On top of that Rob Halford has lost none of his brash bravado and can still sing like a muthafucker hitting all the high notes and sounding like he’s at the top of his game, something that many singers cannot retain in their 70s.

If nothing else JUDAS PRIEST symbolizes the longevity of the heavy metal music paradigm because after all when the band was attacked in the 1980s by the religious zealots as inspiring suicide and Satanic worship, the consensus was that metal music was just a fad for the immature adolescents and that it would soon fade to oblivion. However after countless witch hunts and accusations of every possible path to the devil himself, JUDAS PRIEST has sallied forth throughout the decades without flinching. And to top it off it seems that the band are in no danger of slowing down any time soon. Could these guys become the very first centurial metal band? Only time will tell! So wrong the naysayers have been and so strong JUDAS PRIEST has become in keeping the flame alive of the old metal ways! All hail the PRIEST!

MADDER MORTEM Old Eyes, New Heart

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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From the early years as Mystery Tribe to the many incarnations of MADDER MORTEM, this Oslo based band led by the indefatigable siblings Agnete Kirkevaag (vocals) and BP M. Kirkevaag (guitar) have been going strong now for well over three decades first starting out as a doom metal band but finding its true calling as a unique mix of proressive, gothic and alternative metals. After a few years of turbulent events such as the death of the Kirkevaag’s father, the band has finally returned in 2024 with its eighth album OLD EYES, NEW HEART which welcomes newbie guitarist Anders Langberg who replaces Richard Wirkstrand who played on the last two albums.

Such tragedies always unleash a wellspring of emotional upheaval and it’s a tried and true catharsis for musicians to channel all those unresolved unsettlements into the vehicle of their musical output and indeed MADDER MORTEM has done just that with a collection of 10 new tracks that slightly exceed the 48 minute mark. Continuing the angsty mix of the alt-goth prog metal style that the band has made their own, OLD EYES, NEW HEART channels the visions of the past into the modernity of the now. While the traditional MADDER MORTEM sounds are prevalent through the album especially on the opening “Coming From The Dark,” the tracks offer a much more diverse serving of musical deliveries ranging from the most caustic and abrasive guitar intros on the extra frigid “Cold Hard Rain” to the more serene placidity of “On Guard.”

The tracks excel in the art of contrast with each pulling the rug out for expectations and offering varying tempos, elements of syncopation, vocal phrasing, riffing diversity and the emphasis on either the prog, alt or goth dominance. What keeps the album fairly uniform in its overall vibe is the combo effect of Agnete’s skillful vocal style as well as the grungy guitar angst in the heavier tracks. Perhaps the most overtly lyrical in reaction to the events of the past year are reflected in the slower tracks “Here And Now” and Long Road” which are almost ballads in relationship to the rest of the album with slow contemplative parts that allow Agnete to display her tender aspects in full vulnerability.

Overall another decent album from MADDER MORTEM that continues its idiosyncratic stylistic approaches only expanding its tentacles into even further realms that touch many disparate arenas. A period of great personal change and growth the band reflects this in a very strong album that forges ahead despite all the adversity. Once again the star of the show is the inimitable Agnete Kirkevaag who has one of the most unique female presences in all of metal and continues to lead her goth tinged prog alt metal into ever expanding worlds hitherto unconsidered. A triumphant return from one of Norway’s most unique sounding prog metallers who forge ahead well into their third decade of existence and still defying exact pigeonholing of its style. While the ballad is a strange track to end the album on, the album for the most part is fairly dynamic and changes things up quite a bit.

ARGHOSLENT Resuscitation of the Revanchists

Album · 2023 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Resuscitation of the Revanchists" is the fourth full-length studio album by US, Virginia based death metal act Arghoslent. The album was released through Weltenfeind in September 2023. It´s the successor to "Hornets of the Pogrom" from March 2008, so it´s been 15 years since the last album release from Arghoslent. Other than a 2009 split release with Martial Barrage and the 2020 "Unconquered Soldier" compilation album little has been heard from Arghoslent in all those years. There have been a couple of lineup changes since the last album (although they actually already happened in 2009 before the recording of the 2009 split) as lead vocalist The Genocider has been replaced by Ulfhedinn (who is also the drummer in Grand Belial's Key), and drummer Matt Sylvester has been replaced by Aktion T4.

Arghoslent will probably forever remain one of the most controversial and infamous death metal artists out there as a consequence of lyrics dealing with topics like white supremacy/racism, endorsement of the transatlantic slave trade, and other merry subjects, but as always (when I review Arghoslent´s releases) I´ll let the reader decide what to think of that and concentrate on reviewing the actual music.

Stylistically Arghoslent still play an old school melodic death metal style, which features a lot of elements from traditional heavy metal in addition to the basis death metal elements. They have a pretty distinct sound and style and they are not easily tagged or compared to other death metal acts. It´s not that they are jaw-dropping original or anything like that, but they still manage to combine the elements of their sound to end up with something which is relatively unique.

While "Resuscitation of the Revanchists" is a good quality release overall, it does feel though as if Arghoslent have lost some of the momentum and unrelenting energy since their 2008/2009 heyday releases. The bite, the rawness, and highly energetic playing style are now a bit less powerful and less sharp. So this is a welcome comeback, but it´s not the triumphant comeback one could have hoped for. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

LASTER Andermans mijne

Album · 2023 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Right from the getgo the strange Dutch band LASTER was pulled in many musical directions but managed to settle between the disparate genres of depressive black metal and the world of post-punk to create a musical tug-of-war of dominating forces. These mystery men who dress like serial killers from silent film horror flicks emerged from Utrecht in the Netherlands in 2012 and have incrementally taken their bizarre take on the world of kvlt black metal into strange new worlds much in the vein of some of the most unconventional Norwegian acts that went a similar route such as Dodheimsgard and Arcturus.

While shrieking the sounds of pain on the debut “De Verste Verte Is Her” in true depressive black metal form, even at this early stage LASTER found it impossible to crank out an album’s worth of similarly themed music and added an almost unrecognizable post-punk track to the end as if this bipolar band was channeling the spirits of some unseen forces that are vying for control of the creative process. Whatever the case these guys have always been weird and rather than developing an inferiority complex have opted wisely to simply embrace it and let the chips fall where they may. Well the chips have fallen and landed in a most bizarre place, that being on the band’s fourth album ANDERMANS MIJNE (“Another Man’s Face”).

While bearing some resemblance to traditional black metal, album #4 has basically thrown out all the rules and completely disregarding any kind of genre relationship and instead has decided to craft a cauldron of undetectable elements simmered down into a witch’s brew so hypnotizing that anyone attempting a classification process of what exactly LASTER is concocting on its Island of Dr Moreau will fall flat on their face and declare utter defeat. While theatrics has always been a part of the band’s legendary underground charm, the antics have long extended beyond the unusually unique appearance and now incorporated into every aspect of the music and its idiosyncratic mix. Post-punk constructs fortified by black metal tones and guitar swells may be the largest inhabitants of ANDERMANS MIJNE but the album features no raspy shrieks, guttural growls or any metal vocalizations whatsoever this time around.

Finding some kind of truce between all those black metal and post-punk separations, the band retains the jangled guitar tones of black metal but somehow develops somewhat danceable albeit angular groovy rhythms. Decked out with prog and jazz with moments where both shine, the band also rocks the psychedelic trippiness unlike anything they’ve attempted in the past. Verging most on the doorsteps of black metal turned avant-garde outsiders Dodheimsgard, LASTER has embraced the art of hairpin turns and unexpected and every possibility of the element of surprise is what seems to dominate on ANDERMANS MIJNE. Obviously this is some kind of liberation movement moment for the band where they break free from any perceived shackles that tied them to any sort of musical pigeonholing. Free from the confines of genre gravity, the band floats precariously aloof but sheer determination keeps the party energetic and at least focused enough to not wander to far into the prodigious universe of non-metal related musical camps too much and too far astray.

Ultimately ANDERMANS MIJNE is like one of those old-school rickety roller coasters at a classic theme park that is so jittery that you’re too busy holding on to dear life to pay attention to the amazing scenery passing by. The album takes too many liberties and deviations from the norm to be fully comprehended on a single spin. Are they the new Blood Ceremony? The new Faith No More? The new Killing Joke? Dodheimsgard? Well all of the above and none of the above and then some. This is the new LASTER and while they may be moving faster i don’t really think that this is a disaster. While they don’t truly master and do raise the blaster they don’t really shoot the target like a forecaster. Perhaps a quizmaster in a house made of plaster but the circus has come and they are the ringmaster. Weirdo art rock / metal is in the house.

CALIGULA'S HORSE Charcoal Grace

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.60 | 6 ratings
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Galloping gallantly over the vast plains of the metal universe, Australia’s CALIGULA’S HORSE has nurtured the qualities of a fine thoroughbred in the prog world where the murky bardo area of progressive metal and progressive rock merge into brackish waters. These Aussies have been in the top tiers of the prog metal world for well over a decade now releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums with radiant rise to the upper echelons of prog metal royalty with the combo effect of 2015’s “Bloom” in tandem with 2017’s “In Contact.” The band evoked a larger than life prog metal congeries of tricks and trinkets that has allowed the band to stand out amongst the legions of progger metalheads vying for a piece of the action but these crafty chaps from Brisbane have always been a step or two ahead of the competition.

Changes are what the 2020s are all about the CALIGULA’S HORSE has certainly not eschewed its own series of challenges. In the last four years since “Rise Radiant” was released the band has officially seen guitarist Adrian Goleby exit from the team and now officially a quartet with Sam Vallen handling all guitar duties on the band’s sixth studio album CHARCOAL GRACE which still rock all those Steely Dan influenced add2 chords like no other. CHARCOAL GRACE gracefully offers nine tracks at 62 minutes of playing time and although the famous twin guitar attacks have now been completely abandoned for a more streamlined approach, the album continues the plethora of polyrhythms, the clusters of complexity and the same overall atmospheric ambience meets djent-ish chugging sessions all dressed up with Jim Grey’s fragile vocal intricacies.

Taking on a more Riverside meets Leprous demeanor, CALIGULA’S HORSE has traded the dueling axe action for a more keyboard saturated series of drifting cloud covered atmospheres that find heftier contrasting bouts of prog metal reinforcement. While tamped down a few notches from top peak prowess mode, CHARCOAL GRACE delivers a rather predictable procession of prancing prog rockers like a well-trained steeplechaser navigating a predictable course of action. The band plays it safe and sticks to the playbook for the most part with the expected prog by numbers approach that many a modern prog metal band has fallen victim to and an approach that aims to drift subtly into a more “commercial” acceptance by taming the rough around the edges aspects while amping up the melodic contrapuntal resonance of the complimentary layers of instrumentation.

“The World Breathes With Me” offers CALIGULA’S HORSE fans an instant comfort zone game plan with lush atmospheric developments before erupting into the chugga-chug marathon of djent-fueled guitar plucks and corresponding bass and drum obsequiousness. Add an obligatory four part concept suite of the title tracks and you can’t go wrong but the problem is that at this point in the 21st century, this style of prog metal sounds completely out of fashion and in many ways bands such as CALIGULA’S HORSE have become a fossilized self-induced retro scene of their own idiosyncratic making. Is it bad to continue to make music that doesn’t “progress” like the term “progressive” implies? Well, that’s the million dollar question of course and left to the individual to decide for him / herself but for yours truly there comes a time where it sounds like a band is beginning to regress and there, my musical friends, is the pasture CALIGULA’S HORSE seems to have retired to after a fruitful run on the racetrack.

It’s always difficult for me to be too harsh on bands that have found a comfort zone and a fanbase and have a difficult time balancing the progression part with the cash in to make a living in an increasingly more expense planet to reside upon but at this point this type of prog metal just sounds generic to me and therefore no matter how well played and how perfectly executed in every way, what really matters at the end of the day is how do the tracks speak to me and after sitting through CHARCOAL GRACE and imbibing the sonic frequencies that bathe my very soul, i am left feeling indifferent and unmoved by the dramatic series of sounds that are supposed to evoke some sort of reaction. To be honest, the airy fairy sounding bands in the prog metal world never have appealed to me as much as the more adventurous thrill seekers but every once in a while a band like Pain of Salvation or Leprous proves me wrong with instantly contagious emotionally connective composiitons. Unfortunately CALIGULA’S HORSE doesn’t evoke that same visceral reaction and CHARCOAL GRACE does even less than previous offerings. Not a bad album by any means but sounds a bit too middle of the road for my liking.

CHRONICLE Where Chaos Thrives

Album · 2023 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Where Chaos Thrives" is the third full-length studio album by Danish, Frederikshavn based death metal act Chronicle. The album was released through Mighty Music in May 2023. It´s the successor to "Demonology" from March 2020 and unlike what happened when "Demonology" came out almost simoultaniously with the COVID-19 lockdown, Chronicle got the opportunity to tour in support of "Where Chaos Thrives". "Where Chaos Thrives" features nine tracks and two unlisted bonus tracks, which are the two songs from the October 2021 "Undivided" single.

Chronicle again (like they did on "Demonology") tapped producer Tue Madsen to produce, mix, and master "Where Chaos Thrives" at his Antfarm Studios, and if I had a few minor complaints regarding the drum tone on "Demonology" those complaints are completely gone when listening to "Where Chaos Thrives", which is a very well produced release, providing Chronicle´s music with the perfect platform to shine.

Stylistically it suits Chronicle to add a little more brutality and growling vocals to their music, which they of course had done gradually over the last couple of releases, but it works really well here along with the more dominant blackened snarling vocals. The instrumental part of the music is dynamic with varied tempi, which means both fast-paced sections, mid-paced sections, and slower sections (although not too many of the latter). The lead guitar themes and solos are incredibly well thought out and performed.

So upon conclusion "Where Chaos Thrives" is without a doubt the best quality release from Chronicle up until now, but if I have to make one minor complaint it would be that they don´t really produce music that is particularly unique sounding. You can hear a lot of influences from other melodic death metal artists (past- and present) and if they could conquer that last border and create more original sounding music they have both the songwriting and playing skills to travel even further. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ENTHEOS Time Will Take Us All

Album · 2023 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Starting out as a supergroup formed by ex-members of Animosity, Animals As Leaders and The Faceless, the USA based ENTHEOS (as opposed to the Canadian band of the same name) got its start in Santa Cruz, CA before relocating to Nashville, TN. Basically the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist who is the drummer in the live settings Navene Koperweis, this band underwent many lineup changes over the course of its existence that began in 2015 and spanned the course of an EP and three albums, the latest TIME WILL TAKE US ALL which emerged in 2023.

While 2017’s “Dark Future” saw the band as a quartet that relied heavily on keyboards, TIME WILL TAKE US ALL has been whittled down to the mere duo of female vocalist Chaney Crabb and Kopeweis who covers all guitars and drums however former member Evan Brewer does come back only demoted to session musician for whatever reason. This new monstrosity of an album sees the band expand in every conceivable direction with a lot more attention paid to the trippy atmospheres and the outstanding production.

While a technical death metal band, ENTHEOS nurtures a rather psychedelic ambience into TIME WILL TAKE US ALL and employs a mix of stylistic shifts to ensure a more varied album than previous efforts. While the album starts out on sheer brutality mode which showcases that ENTHEOS has lost none of its technical prowess in the ensuing six years since “Dark Future,” the album mellows a bit with “Oblivion” and “I Am The Void” which allows for Chaney Crabb to actually reveal her feminine charm with clean girl singing but wow she can scream and rip like the best tech death metal singers in the business and it’s utterly amazing how guttural growls are fairly genderless in how they are perceived!

TIME WILL TAKE US ALL features nine tracks at over 40 minutes of playing time and although this band has primarily existed as to showcase the technical wizardry of the seasoned veterans on board, this third album reveals that Koperweis is a gifted songwriter in general since the tracks on this third installment allow much more varied passages that range from the usual tech death brutality to surreal stints of psychedelia in the vein of Blood Incantation or other psych death metal bands have conjured up. The beauty is in the details on this one and the fact that Koperweis was in complete control of the project basically means he could take his baby any direction he so chooses and in this case he chose wisely.

With the band’s earliest connections to deathcore, TIME WILL TAKE US ALL showcases all those vocal trade offs between guttural growls and demonically possessed gargling utterances along with a series of various chugging sessions, drumming styles and interesting compositional changes that allow the tracks to drift into a series of changes. The results are quite satisfying as ENTHEOS loses none of the overall brutality of its past but adds so many different layers, recording techniques and sonic flavors that this album is an instantly exciting one. While the chaotic swirls of tech death are never far away, ENTHEOS also chooses to let melodic moments dominate the soundscape for a while. It’s a nice mix between the caustic chaos and the more pleasant placidity of traditional metal moments.

While i was not overly familiar with this band until this release i have to say that i was quite surprised by how well this album is written and recorded. It’s a bonafide treasure as far as crafting a nice diverse palette of sounds that includes groove metal, grunge, jazz, prog and others into the labyrinthine tech death metal workouts. When the melodic parts do occur there are interesting dissonant counterpoints that keep it all from getting even close to cheesy. Koperweis is as much an accomplished guitarist as he is an extraordinary drummer and Chaney Crabb has some of the best female growls out there. A fine example of modern tech death done right. Not that i need my tech death to have moments of melody but it is nice when an album adds some bells and whistles in the production department that offer more onion layers to the mix. If done right it’s magical and this album is really done right.

ENTHEOS Acédie

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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ENTHEOS, not to be confused with the USA based band of the same name, emerged in Montreal, Canada first as Givre but in 2014 changed to the current moniker and then followed the next year with its debut “Ototeman” which featured a progressive atmospheric style of black metal with original singer Jean-Lou David. With this lineup they released two albums, the sophomore effort titled “Le Zahir” and then ENTHEOS returned as a 3-piece for the 2020 EP titled “Continent.”

After a few years of reorganizing ENTHEOS has returned with newbie vocalist Laurent Bellemare and a shift from the world of atmospheric black to the world of Gorguts inspired technical death metal. ACÉDIE places the band in the modern world of technical disso-death in the vein of Sunless, Ulcerate, Veilburner and a whole slew of modern noise makers. This album is rather short with only six tracks that don’t even add up to 30 minutes playing time but the impact these caustic beasts of sonic terror leave is no less than exhilarating.

Clearly channeling the works of Luc Lemay and his projects (especially Gorguts), ENTHEOS delivers a chaotic stream of consciousness type of disso-death with caustic jangly chords turned up to 11 and off-kilter time signature workouts that place this clearly in the progressive arena. While the emphasis is more on the tech death metal of modern days, the blackened aspects still are retained in the creepy tones of the guitar and atmospheric contributions. The band walks a tight line between chaotic dissonant death metal in the vein of Ad Nauseam and other crazy avant-garde bands and a more accessible post-metal procession that sorta repeats the riffs with the crazy guitar fills offering some freaky off-kilter wildness.

The only track that deviates form the incessant brutality is the all acoustic guitar intermission “L’étouffeur” which lasts slightly more than a minute and although not metal features the same eerie atmospheres that accompany the album’s run. The final track “Cauchemar” jumps back into the brutal death metal banter only with an stronger atmospheric gloom in the forefront. This chugging manic number is a stand out with jittery choppy riffs that alternate with the acoustic guitars introduced in the previous track along with freaky eerie synthesized backdrops. The track is better at offering a diverse palette of dynamics which segregates it from the rest of the album.

While i wouldn’t consider ACÉDIE or ENTHEOS in general anyway groundbreaking or offering a style that hasn’t been well covered so far, i have to admit that this album is a very interesting mix of disso-death with blackened elements made all the more alienating with the progressive accoutrements. The vocals are most like those of Gorguts with that tortured dungeon beast sort of effect. The riffs are just accessible enough to follow easily while the chaos is always threatening to derail the entire process. A nice mix of tension on this one and clearly a band that still has a lot of potential that perhaps they will take further in the future. As for the overall sound, this is a dead ringer for that classic Montreal tech death scene and while not the top dog of the style, clearly has the chops to get there.

JOB FOR A COWBOY Moon Healer

Album · 2024 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Like a prickly saguaro in the Sonaran desert, Arizona dwellers JOB FOR A COWBOY have been a part of the landscape for well over two decades now, first emerging as a electrified unhinged deathcore band and then settling into a more tech death with proggy accoutrements comfort zone. With the debut EP “Doom,” the band proved it has the testicular fortitude to compete with the big boyz of death metal and on the full-length debut “Genesis” found the band deemphasizing the core attributes in favor of a more traditional death metal style with techy overtones. The band kept the ball rolling for the next four album by upping their game and honing their chops which culminated with 2014’s “Sun Eater” which showcases a maturity beyond the confines of traditional death metal but then suddenly went silent.

JOB FOR A COWBOY has remained on unemployment for an entire decade now and presumed MIA but given the Lazarus qualities of 2024 seeing many artists long lost for decades suddenly jumping back into the world of musical output, so too has JOB FOR A COWBOY with its fifth album MOON HEALER which finds the band in full employment mode and crafting a wicked slide of modern tech death metal with a voracious appetite to claw their way into the modern world. Basically a continuation of where they left off, this band surprisingly has not experienced a major lineup change with the same team of Jonny Davis on vocals, Tony Sannicandro and Alan Glassman delivering dueling guitar and bassist Nick Schendzielos however newbie Navene Kopeweis of Animals As Leaders, Animosity and Sleep Terror takes hold of the drummer’s seat to unleash his percussive fury.

A gritty no nonsense style of tech death, JOB FOR A COWBOY’s death metal ethos has not mellowed a bit in the last decade with a feisty bravado that showcases the angst of classic tech death in the midst of a slickly produced modern rendition. Dropping the bomb right away with “Beyond The Chemical Doorway” the band demonstrates its commitment to sticking to the JOB FOR A COWBOY playbook with twin guitars muddled with raw crusty distortion and delivering caustic riffing sessions that stand outside the thundering rhythmic drive of the bass and percussion. Skirting the fine line between the traditional melodic styles of old school death and the nerdier modern disso-death varieties, JOB FOR A COWBOY delivers the dissonant chord strumming of the latter while keeping the tasty guitar licks and leads finely tuned into near neo-classical diamonds in the rough.

The band has actually never sounded better. More tight, more emphatically dedicated to its craft and sounds quite happy to be back in the game of death metal ferocity. Lead vocalist Jonny Davy demonstrates a wide breadth of screams, growls, grunts and guttural gymnastics in tandem with the musical processions. The instrumental interplay and attention to dynamics go a long way as well making MOON HEALER an album you can sink your teeth into. It seems that the prog attributes are exaggerated a bit as this is not a prog metal album in the least. While rampant experimentation and the ability to shift gears in myriad directions goes a long way in sparking the creative infusion that these musician’s have fueled, the compositions don’t drift off into crazy psychedelic prog oriented off-world planetary orbits in the way more recent bands like Blood Incantation, Morbus Chron or Fallujah have dished out. These guys are more direct in their approach.

Overall MOON HEALER is a nice re-introduction from long lost friends who have fallen off the radar in the ever-changing world of fast paced death metal. These guys may have fallen on hard times but have bounced back stronger than ever. Feeling confident and refreshed and ready for a new feisty assault on the senses, JOB FOR A COWBOY manifests its own destiny in a series of eight rabid slices of tech death ready to rape your very soul. The album is quite satisfying on many levels but ultimately the one ingredient that the band has failed to master is the art of extremely original tracks that stand out from the burgeoning hordes of modern death metal. A very competent album that ticks off every possible box and then some but lacking enough creative infusion to make the album stand above the best of what the 21st century has to offer. For those seeking the more traditional tech death sounds laid down in the last 20 years this album has a lot to offer but just don’t expect a long awakening from a band that found its true calling as it’s pretty much business as usual however business is good.

BORKNAGAR Fall

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 6 ratings
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Founded in 1995 by Norwegian Øystein Garnes Brun to escape the confines of the brutal aspects of death metal with the band Molested, Brun formed BORKNAGAR which has now had a near 30 year run of mixing black metal, folk metal, Viking metal and progressive metal in varying recipes through the course of 12 albums and a consistently changing lineup. As the founder and only member to transverse the band's near 30 year existence, BORKNAGAR has featured 17 different musicians and vocalists adding their signature style so in the process, BORKNAGAR has unleashed some of the most varied albums to be heard in the realms of progressive black metal.

Well Garnes is back with the newest BORKNAGAR album FALL which lands with the same exact lineup as 2019's critically acclaimed "True North." Back for the ride is vocalist / bassist ICS Vortex, lead vocalist / keyboardist Lars "Lazare" Nedland, percussionist Bjørn Dugstad Rønnow, guitarist Jostein Thomassen and of course Brun on guitar as well as taking care of all the mixing, mastering and production. The new album continues in the spirit of the progressive black metal meets folk metal predecessor "True North" only this time around BORKNAGAR looks to the past to add some of the earliest sounds of Viking metal and the crushing razor-sharp guitar riffing of the earliest releases. The album features 9 tracks and clocks in at over 59 minutes. The limited edition digipak offers two bonus tracks (both basically demos).

One thing i can say about BORKNAGAR and that is no two albums are alike. This band is all about exploration and shifting gears into totally uncharted musical territories which is honestly why some of the albums are utterly brilliant and some not so much so but at least i give Brun credit for going where no black metal dared before. It seems in recent years Brun has upped his game and figured out how to balance all the stylistic shifts into a cohesive whole and that is exactly what is the case with FALL, a powerhouse of progressive metal, Viking metal and black metal with the added folk inspirations that have always been part of the equation. "Summits" starts the party with a black metal furor that portends to find the band revisiting the ferocity of the self-titled debut but soon all those notions are put to rest as the clean vocals and psychedelic atmospheres conspire to usher in a Viking metal infused progressive metal touch.

"Nordic Anthem" follows but offers an instantly calmer mood with an atmospheric smothered war march percussive drive and an indeed anthemic vocal delivery of Viking metal that would make Quorthon himself render a thumb's up. The track ramps up the extremely melodic nature of the album and the rest of the album pretty much follows suit. "Afar" offers the same dreamy entryway into a pacifying array of swirling atmospheric ambience but soon erupts into a second wave Darkthrone inspired black metal furor but this album shifts gears quite a bit and it trades off with the mellower clean vocal parts once again. "Moon" just skips the formalities and immediately ushers in a symphonic black metal approach but eschews the raspy vocal style. "Stars Ablaze" is the only overlong track that spends too much time in the clouds. Personally i think the album would be better if this were edited out. "Unraveling" delivers a much needed boost of heavy vs mellow and "The Wild Lingers" delivers a nice mix of both only more directed into the Viking metal camp. "Northward" ends with a nice upbeat furor.

FALL is an epic sounding album, more so than other BORKNAGAR releases. While the emphasis is on the cleaner vocal styles of progressive metal and Viking metal, the black metal raspiness and metal furor is distributed nicely so as to give the album a boost when it needs it most to keep it from drifting too far into near orbit space. The tracks themselves are complex little beasts that meander through various passages, a litany of chord changes, tone and timbre curveballs and a perfect tightrope act between the heavier extreme moments and the Viking folk aspects that often threaten to jettison the metal altogether by going the route of 2006's "Origin." The complex progressive touches allow the album to sail into the distant horizon and the black metal roots keep it all anchored in place so that it can all be reeled back in when the contrast is required to spice things up. The album has some moments in the middle that perhaps the clean vocal drifting drifts too far and outstays its welcome (ahem, "Stars Ablaze," but for the most part the album feels pretty well balanced.

By ending with the uptempo "Northward" the album comes full circle back to the raspy black metal heft that began it all. The vocal tradeoffs come off as natural and not gimmicky and the guitar tones of both the cleaner parts and heavier ones are very nice. BORKNAGAR has for my tastes at least been a very hit and miss band with some of the releases sounding a bit too goofy for their own good as progressive ideas don't always work out so well if not implemented correctly but on FALL, Brun has ironed out all the wrinkles and delivered an outstanding slice of melodic progressive black metal that effortlessly fuses all the band's previous incarnations into a cohesive whole. It seems BORKNAGAR is one of those bands that gets better with age with longevity serving as a friend rather than foe. For those looking for a second wave black metal album, don't even bother but if you are all about progressive metal complexities that features black metal as one of the many ingredients, then this album will not disappoint.

DARKSPACE Dark Space -II

Album · 2024 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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DARKSPACE has been something akin to the Star Trek Enterprise in metal boldly going where no man has gone before and was rightfully one of the pioneers in the cosmic and psychedelic realms of ambient black metal. Led by Tobias Möckl, this Bern, Switzerland crew has been around for a quarter century now having formed in 1999 with an amazingly stable lineup of Tobias Möckl aka Wroth (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, synths, drum programming), Zhaaral (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Zorgh (bass, backing vocals). Well that amazing stability has finally been shaken up and Zorgh has jumped ship and replaced by Yhs.

Never the most prolific band in the world of black metal and certainly not the most creative in keeping track of album titles, the band began simply with “Dark Space I” then “II” until it reached the clumsy looking “III I.” Ironically DARKSPACE released an EP in 2012 titled “Dark Space -I” which actually came out before Dark Space III I.” Oh i’m getting a headache now! Not heard from in an entire decade it’s like the band was in the cryogenic chamber awaiting a landing on another undiscovered celestial body in a galaxy not near you and in 2024 surprisingly returns with the fifth studio album DARK SPACE -II. This one is also the first to be released without the consistent black background with the group logo.

Forged with lengthy sprawling tracks that frigidly craft the perfect cosmic soundtrack of a black metal journey into the gravitation-free zone of outer space, DARKSPACE has always delivered a series of sprawlers on their albums and on DARK SPACE -II simply eliminates any pretense of having to name titles at all. This album is simply a single track titled “Dark -2.-2” and at 47 minutes plus is actually a short album considering most of the band’s album are well over an hour’s playing time or at least close to it. Also all of the previous DARKSPACE releases have been re-released on the Seasons of the Mist label and DARK SPACE -II marks the debut for the label as a first timer.

A decade may seem like a long time to us Earthlings but in space time breaks down and to those familiar with the 25 year trajectory of DARKSPACE, this band has had a very consistent sound and only changes things up enough to keep each album from sounding too similar. Referred to by some as “gravity metal” which means space themed metal which is like a the fluidity of a lucid dream, DARKSPACE continues its hypnotizing stylistic approach which delivers both black metal and black ambient in equal doses with various mixes in between. -II continues the business of long sprawling post-rock styled cyclical loops that repeat to infinity with slowly building dynamics and a never-ending incremental change of both the ambient and metal aspects.

Icy cold atmospheres allow long metal guitar fuzz to linger on while raspy vocals gasp for air from the unknown. Droning and glacial pacing allows the lengthy journey to slowly drip drop across the soundscape one measure at a time. Noticeably less metal oriented than previous releases DARKSPACE seems to have mellowed a bit with a stronger emphasis on the dark ambient synthesized sounds often leaving the black metal to sound like a couple of receptive chords simply adding buzzsaw guitar feedback light as if the crew was running out of oxygen and the vitality has been compromised on the lengthy space journey. Whatever the case there is no ferocity like we last encountered on “Dark Space iII I,” just faint guitar and suffocated vocals from the void.

Given the emphasis on the black ambient the album sounds more orchestrated which isn’t necessary a bad thing but the tamping down of the metal elements also makes the drums sound very ineffective as the percussion has become nothing but a metronometer and gone are the blastbeats and variation. Gone too are the guitar solos and various stylistic shifts that offer some relief from the monotony. On the contrary, this one track sounds like it’s stuck in a groove and never really deviates from it. Some of the guitar chugging becomes more activated towards the end but it’s not nearly as vibrant as the DARKSPACE we’ve all come and known to love.

Well it seems like Tobias Möckl might be burning out as both his DARKSPACE project as well as his other flagship ambient black metal baby, Paysage D’Hiver has also been sputtering on fumes in recent years. Perhaps the creativity well has run dry and he has milked this space metal shtick as far as it can go. Don’t get me wrong, DARK SPACE -II is not a bad release at all but in comparison to the releases that ended a decade ago, this one is more like a house cat compared to the wild savage tigers that came before. It’s a devolution of intensity, creativity and ingenuity. Interestingly databases will say there’s only one long track but on the band’s Bandcamp site there are three shorter excerpts but don’t really offer anything new. A tad disappointed in this one. Definitely my least favorite DARKSPACE release so far. Once again i don’t dislike it but it sort of settles on mediocrity.

SUFFOCATION Hymns from the Apocrypha

Album · 2023 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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"Hymns from the Apocrypha" is the ninth full-length studio album by US, New York based death metal act Suffocation. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in November 2023. It´s the successor to "...Of The Dark Light" (Nuclear Blast, June 2017), although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the November 2021 "Live in North America" live album. "Live in North America" is a live album marking a significant change in the history of Suffocation, as it´s a recording of original lead vocalist Frank Mullen´s last show from October 2018 before he retired from Suffocation. He is replaced on "Hymns from the Apocrypha" by Ricky Myers. Myers who is also known as the drummer of Disgorge, had been touring with Suffocation in the periods 2014-2016, 2018-2019, as Mullen already at that point couldn´t dedicate enough time to Suffocation anymore. Myers for example did all European shows in those periods. So choosing Myers as the replacement for the legendary Mullen was of course a no-brainer.

Stylistically the material on "Hymns from the Apocrypha" is no surprise if you´re familiar with the preceding releases by Suffocation. If they´ve evolved since the last album it´s details, and Suffocation still sounds unmistakably like they´ve pretty much done since their inception in the early 90s. Brutal/technical death metal featuring multible breaks, changes of pace, brutal thrash oriented riffing, a high level of technical playing, and a brutality level way over the average for the genre. Myers does a good job replacing Mullen although the latter did have a more personal and distinct sounding growling style. The music is spiced up with the occasional lead guitar moment (which are nice for the variation and they are well done too), but as always it´s all about producing the most heavy and brutal music around.

Back when Suffocation first emerged there was pretty much no competition (at least not anyone able to match their level of brutality), but a lot of water has run under the bridge since then, and today brutal/technical death metal bands come a dime a dozen. So in that respect "Hymns from the Apocrypha" isn´t anymore brutal than a lot of other contemporary bands and releases, but Suffocation have the advantage of experience and writing this type of music for 30 years, and when you listen to the album those factors are audible. As on most Suffocation releases variation between tracks is a slight issue, but it´s to be expected with music as brutal as this.

As it´s almost become custom on Suffocation´s releases (starting already on "Pierced from Within" from 1995) they´ve also this time around re-recorded a song from their second album "Breeding the Spawn" (1993) and included it on the tracklist (with Mullen guesting on vocals). This time "Ignorant Deprivation". It may seem odd for a death metal band to re-record tracks from a particular album and include them on the tracklists on several of their subsequent releases (instead of just re-recording the full album and release it, if they feel so bad about the original sound production), but Suffocation have always been able to include the re-recorded tracks in a seamless way and make them fit perfectly with the new original material. It´s pretty much just another testimony to the fact that Suffocation have stayed true to their roots and their sound throughout their career.

"Hymns from the Apocrypha" features a powerful, sharp, and detailed sound production, and although my ears don´t always agree with the clicky metallic bass sound, that´s a subjective observation, and objectively this is a good quality sound production. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of The Last Human Being

Album · 2024 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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Of all the artists to rise from the dead like Lazarus of Bethany in the calendar year 2024, the Oakland based freak show known as SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM was not exactly on my radar. After all, these curators of one of the most surreal Dadaist performance art niches in the entire world of experimental rock and avant-garde metal had a full life with it’s “Grand Opening And Closing” ceremonies in 2001 followed by its most creative and insanely disturbing pinnacle with its following “Of Natural History.” With its third installment “In Glorious Times” the band shifted gears a bit with seemingly nothing left to prove and then closed up shop and presumably down for the count. While rumors persisted it seemed that the creation of the band Free Salamander Exit formed shortly after with album emerging in 2016 announced that the SGM was as history as the fire ravaged fictitious museum of its namesake. But this is SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM and the only thing that can safely be expected is indeed the unexpected.

Seventeen years is a long time for such a creatively insane band to drop off the scene entirely and suddenly reemerge but that is exactly what has occurred in the earliest moments of 2024 when the majestic madness of the SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM has announced its reopening with an invitation to experience its latest exhibit - OF THE LAST HUMAN BEING. Yes, it’s all back and so too are the main curators and partners in crime which has included the mischievous gypsy geniuses Nils Frykdahl, Dan Rathbun, Carla Kihlstedt, Michael Mellender and Matthias Bossi and of course they resurrect their entire arsenal of sound making devices for your listening pleasure. The “Rock Against Rock” troupe has reactivated all the musical mojo that made the first run so magical and once investigated a bit further, it turns out that SGM actually began to write for a fourth album as soon as the third one was complete therefore much of the material presented on OF THE LAST HUMAN BEING actually feels like a natural continuation of where the band left off in 2011. But of course it wouldn’t be SGM without throwing a few curveballs and for that we will always love them.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated returns to the world of avant-prog metal, the new album was made possible by fans crowdfunding the financial creation of it. Perhaps all of those who missed their favorite musical mystics needed to relish in the unsavory thematic events that emerge from the age of the Anthropocene Extinction just needed their fix once again. Well look no further. The band sent out some teaser’s with early video releases for the tracks “Burn Into Light” and “Hush Hush” and proved that they still have that eerie avant-garde connection to the wellspring of ethereal creative conductivity that has once again manifested itself in this larger than life lumpen musicalis from which there is apparently no cure. OF THE LAST HUMAN BEING exemplifies the typical format of the SGM with 13 diverse tracks that take you through the roller coaster ride love affair of avant-prog, freakish metal, psycho-folk, screwball cabaret all the while narrating the musical maelstrom with some of the most head-scratching themes and lyrical content in the world of art rock. The wait is over and the feast is ready for serving. The album is just under 66 minutes long.

Fears of a botched comeback gone wrong are extinguished very quickly as the opening “Salamander In Two Worlds” evokes the same lullaby pacification that “Of Natural History” exhibited throughout its labyrinthine callithump. The tintinnabulation of xylophones and glockenspiels with Nils Frykdahl’s familiar vocal tones feel like a long lost friend. The track exhibits all those bittersweet contradictory musical factors: avant-prog time signature workouts and insane instrumental interplay that these gifted musicians are now famous for. The title makes you wonder if it refers in code to the announcement that SGM and Free Salamander Exit will exist simultaneously although literally the track actually refers to Theodora Kroeber’s biography “Ishi In Two World” which narrated the last known member of the Native American tribe, the Yahis. Ishi became a living museum exhibit and apparently now an exhibit at everyone’s favorite Dadaist institution.

While the opening track exhibits the SGM’s propensity for cleverly crafting intricately delicate melodic developments fortified with all kinds of complexities and dynamic shifts, the following “Fanfare For The Last Human Being” seems to extend back to Rathbun and Frykdahl’s Idiot Flesh days with a marching band type musical procession only embellished by violin-fueled folk and a Stravinksy classical flavor however it is a short instrumental and the third track “El Evil” jumps into the more familiar straight on metallic rockers of “In Glorious Times” only showcasing Carla Kihlstedt’s amazing violin shredding capacity. Strange tribal rhythms, erratic industrial guitar freneticism in avant-funk mode accompanied by Frykdahl’s best possessed by sheer evil vocal performances ensure that this album has lost none of the creative fortitude of its predecessors. All fears of an botched project have officially dissipated at this stage! Woohoo!!! And damn how do these MUSEUM curators make evil so fucking addictive!

The band has also lost none of its propensity for keeping the album flowing in different directions with the chimes of “El Evil” ceding perfectly into the chime-rich short instrumental “Bells For Kith And Kin” which makes you feel like you’ve been teleported to some Tibetan monastery! Next up “Silverfish” which allows Karla Kihlstedt to pacify the soul with her Bjork-ish vocal delivery. Dark and brooding the track begins as a Chelsea Wolfe type of dark ambient pop sound only with a melancholic jig styled violin accompaniment which offers a strange bedfellow with the witchy spell casting lyrical delivery. The following “S.P.Q.R.” actually dates back to 2004 and features one of the most frenetically demented bass runs of the band’s entire output. As the group sings along in unison it almost sounds like some bizarre ritual as the bass and violin shred like Pagini with eerie brooding atmospheres oozing in from the ethers.

“We Must Know More” is another throwback to the marching band rich Idiot Flesh days. Completely devoid of bass and guitar, the track features a tuba, trombone and Frykdahl delivering a sermon of surreality. The catchy melody is almost of commercial jingle value. Perhaps the catchiest track the band has ever released, at least the most accessible. Think of a barber quartet gone psycho-marching band and you’ll get the gist. “The Gift” jumps back into the brooding darkness and the jarring avant-prog musical processions that hop, skip and jump between slow passages and then erupt to fully ignited avant-metal rampage. In other words, it’s SGM caliber weird! “Hush Hush” comes next. One of the videos that served as a sneak peak is actually not indicative of the album as a whole. A tender ballad SGM style narrated by a fragile Carla Kihlstedt, the is brooding and stays in an eerie downtempo sort of speed with Kihlstedt’s vocals soft and contemplative however even this track breaks into a metal sequence in the middle before Kihlstedt regaining control

“Save It!” is one of the most spastic tracks and sounds like some sort of industrial avant-funk, something like you would expect if Primus and Einstürzende Neubauten were collaborating forces with Univers Zero. “Burn Into Light,” also released as a video, visually showcased a bizarre collision of a crow-human alchemist and humans seeking magical knowledge beyond their ability to control. The video was captivating and creepy as hell and what the musical score offers is no less so. An industrial metal rocker with the expected avant-prog workouts, this track fires on all pistons including Kihlstedt’s controlled violin contributions. “Old Grey Heron” is actually the longest track at 7 1/2 minutes. A tale of a heron who only wants humanity to get it together before the extinction event occurs, this post-rocker resembles the track “The Creature” from “Of Natural History” at least in Frykdahl’s lyrical delivery. The music is less punctuated by avant-prog stabs and rather remains calm and calculated and perhaps the most free-flowing track the band has thus penned. The time signature workouts are kept to a minimum and the minimalist approach (by SGM standards) ensures the message is uninterrupted. Even the metallic heaviness is more like a “normal” alternative rock / metal band than anything remotely SGM. The trumpet adds a nice mariachi band touch.

You have to put your rose-colored glasses on for the album’s grand finale, “Rose-Colored Song” which bookends the album much like it began with a tinkling of a glockenspiel that resembles a music box and a fairy tale soundtrack quality with psycho-cabaret overtones. As the Disneyland-esque theme park ride giddiness cedes to bizarre industrial sound effects, the sputters on aimlessly allowing a dark brooding atmosphere to slowly bid you farewell from the latest MUSEUM exhibit. Once against the light and the dark wrestle for world domination and once again a truce of the forces keeps the cliffhanger in perpetual motion. And then it’s done leaving you to wonder how this album stacks up against its predecessors. Well after a few spins already, i have to say REMARKABLY WELL! With nothing left to prove it seems that SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM was content to simply mine its entire history in order to retain a sense of familiarity yet allowing new ideas to organically coalesce into the greater mix. In other words this album exceeded all expectations and proves to me that this band of musical troupes really is one of the most creative forces on the planet par none.

OF THE LAST HUMAN BEING really does feel like a continuation of the band’s earlier trilogy and although i have heard no announcements of the band’s future, we can only hope that at least another trilogy is on the drawing board. While my expectations were set low as to avoid any disappointment whatsoever, it comes as one of the most pleasant surprises of 2024 that a band so talented could pull off a proper comeback nearly two decades down the pike. A brilliant and instantly palatable set of tracks will allow any fans to instantly regale in past endeavors only set to the immediacy of the 2020s. Perhaps a bit more accessible than the albums that preceded but only in a way that is logical and allows the continuity of the album’s entire run to play out. It’s true that the metal aspects of “In Glorious Times” have been tamped down quite a bit but on the bright side the playful and often giddy larger playground of instrumentation that was so missed on the previous album has returned to generate one of the most ingenious album experiences of the 2020s. SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM is not only back with a new exhibit but one has produced yet another masterpiece of magnetic music magic unlike any other. Oh rejoice for the pleasures of life are too fleeting and too few.

VITRIOL (USA) Suffer & Become

Album · 2024 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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BitterJalapeno
Vitriol has had four and half years to produce a follow-up to the cacophonous monolith "To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice". Evidently, the band has used this time wisely and are back with an updated lineup, and a notable upgrade in sound. While their debut showcased some of the most punishingly frenetic death metal ever put to wax, "Suffer & Become" shows a fraction more restraint, with the Portland-based quartet paying more attention to compositional and structural diversity. That said, it should be stressed that this is no walk in the park - "Suffer & Become" is still so utterly bewildering in its complexity and so overbearingly intense that a casual attempt at listening will most likely end swiftly, even for death metal enthusiasts. This is best reserved for the most masochistic of listeners willing to suffer and become at one with torture, ultimately reaping the tumultuous rewards of giving this monster their full and undivided attention.

"Suffer & Become" is distinguishable from its predecessor through a few slight augmentations to their richly textured tech death which, when combined, yield delightfully successful results. Although its compositional base still lands you in the same hurricane of incomprehensibly intense drumming and discordant riffs, the use of melody is key in giving the album a platform of its own. After opener “Shame and its Afterbirth” has beaten you to a pulp, virtuosic guitar leads machete their way through the carnage to temporarily save your soul in majestic fashion. “The Isolating Lie of Learning Another” also shines in this respect with a brief yet triumphant solo, soaring joyously above the chaos. A greater variance in tempo also pays dividends with the slower, lumbering groove of “The Flowers of Sadism” and “I am Every Enemy” helping to break up the incessant rapid-fire drumming. “Survival’s Careening Inertia” provides arguably the starkest contrast on the album with clean guitar dominating the first few minutes, serving as a short intermission. The track gradually builds in intensity before morphing into monstrously dark and atmospheric epic outro, rich in swirling overdriven leads and ominous synths. From this point on, the album is consistently at its most brutal, tormenting you with a tirade of chaotic riffs, near constant double bass peddling and snarling interplay between equally ferocious vocalists, one in the death camp and one with a spine-chilling black metal shriek.

Despite all this talk of diversification, one thing is certain: no matter what respite you are granted, Vitriol will slam you straight back down into the depths of hell almost immediately. "Suffer & Become" is so suffocating and oppressive that after several listens, you still won’t have made much progress with unpacking its contents. Perseverance will reward and those with enough patience will enjoy an astounding sophomore that displays a supreme level of technical skill and an insatiable thirst for pushing the limits of death metal. If it were to push any further, Vitriol may collapse under the weight of its own genius.

Attribution:

https://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/88183/Vitriol-USA-Suffer--Become/

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