Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

HERESIARCH Incursions

Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Up to this point Wellington (NZ) based death metal band Heresiarch have released just one album in their ten plus years of activity, but that has now been amended by French label Krucyator getting the rights to their debut demo ‘Obsecrating The Global Holocaust)’ (2011) and their two EP’s ‘Hammer of Intransigence’ (2011) and ‘Waelwulf’ (2014). They have all been put together in one album, with the track listing staying in the same sequence as when they originally came out. Given the gap between the last EP and the 2017 album ‘ Death Ordinance’ it perhaps isn’t surprising that none of their earlier songs made it onto that release, so this is a nice and easy way to listen to the early material without having to dig too hard.

Hearing this album made me realise just how small the music scene is in New Zealand, as there are few bands who actually tour very much, and this is the first time I have come across the name as they are in Wellington and I tend to be in either Auckland or Christchurch. With small venues closing here as they are elsewhere it is incredibly hard for local bands to get enough of an audience to justify playing outside their own small area. That’s a real shame as this is an incredibly powerful outfit, heavily influenced by the likes of Cannibal Corpse, but also bringing in Nile as well as some more over the top black metal tendencies at time. It is frantic, it is frenetic, and the only way for it is to make any sense at all is by playing it very loudly indeed. Your neighbours will thank you. Having only just come across these guys I can see I am going to have to hear some more, as this is over the top mayhem guaranteed to create a serious mosh. Intense.

ANGEL Risen

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1978 I was given a cassette by a mate of mine to see what I thought of the music. It was the new greatest hits collection by a band I had never heard of, and as this was a good old TDK-90 there were no images. I took it home and that night fell in love with the music of Kiss, and the compilation ‘Double Platinum’. It was quite a shock when I first saw what they looked like to be honest. As well as soon being a fully paid up member of the Kiss Army when it launched in the UK, I not only was wearing a denim jacket with Kiss emblazoned across the back, and buying every album I could find by the band, but was also seeking out bands that had some connection. That was how I came across Van Halen, but the band which really made the impact on me was Angel. Signed to the same label as Kiss due to being discovered by Gene Simmons, there was something about their melodic heavy keyboard-driven music which fascinated me. The first album I bought was ‘On Earth As It Is In Heaven’, but quickly realised that their masterpiece was ‘Heluuva Band’. Frank DiMino had an amazing voice, Punky Meadows had great licks while in Gregg Giuffria they had one of the greatest pomp keyboard players. But they burned hot and they burned fast, and by 1981 it was all over. Giuffria made a name for himself with his own band and in House of Lords, but I was saddened by the loss of the band who I felt never really gained the acclaim they deserved,

I never lost my love for Angel, and in the Nineties when my daughters were looking for a present for me, I asked for the import double CD set ‘Live Without A Net’. There was another album in 1999, but although singer Frank DiMino and drummer Barry Brandt gave it some authenticity it just didn’t have the impact or passion I expected. So when an email turned up in my inbox a few weeks ago offering me the new Angel album I was totally shocked as I wasn’t aware that Punky and Frank had been working together again after all this time as I thought that Punky had left the music business altogether. Checking the web I can see he did, but returned with an album in 2015 which featured among others Danny Farrow (rhythm guitar, vocals) and keyboard player Charlie Calv, who along with bassist Steve Ojane, and drummer Billy Orrico comprise the new line-up.

Even before I listened to it, I looked at the cover and it just made me smile. At the top there is the ambigrammatic logo (it looks the same upside down), and there are all the band dressed in white staring at the photographer, just as they did on all their original albums (apart from the debut). Punky just doesn’t look his 69 years, and if Zappa was still around today, I am sure he would enjoy penning a sequel to “Punky’s Whips”. If the cover took me back to being a teenager once again, the music did so even more. The keyboards aren’t quite so front and centre as they used to be, but Frank is singing as well as ever, and Punky is relishing the opportunity to be more central than when he was always vying with Gregg for musical dominance. There are also now two guitars in the line-up, whereas there only used to be one, so it is no surprise they have come more to the fore.

The production is superb, and the hooks are there for all to hear. It isn’t a perfect album, in that there are a few places where it drags, but if this was edited down to the length of their albums in the late Seventies then I am sure we would be asking exactly where it sits in the pantheon. Would it be above ‘Sinful’? Probably, but although it wouldn’t topple ‘Helluva Band’, it would be pushing hard. Talking of which, my favourite song from the band has always been “The Tower”, so I was somewhat surprised, and concerned, to see that they had decided to re-record that as the closer of the 17 numbers . The initial keyboards are quite different, but when the drums come in it is very close indeed to the original, but the band aren’t trying to recreate what was achieved back in 1976, but rather show they understand where they came from.

I have been listening to this a great deal, and while I am fully aware that is probably in many ways because I loved them so much some forty years ago, but this is a great album which certainly doesn’t sound as if they have been away for so long. Angel are still one helluva band.

HELLOWEEN United Alive

Movie · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
Imagine a Judas Priest show with both Tim Ripper Owens and Rob Halford singing together. No wait… Imagine a Sepultura show with both Max Cavelera and Derick Green singing. No wait, that’s not even it. I’ve got it… Imagine an Iron Maiden show with Paul Dianno, Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bailey all singing. Well, maybe, if Dickinson had left after four albums and Blaze had been there ever since. Ok, Now swap out the zombie mascot for some comedy pumpkins and you’re approaching the situation here. Helloween, one of Germany’s biggest and most important bands, one of the most iconic Power Metal bands in history, with one of the most impressive family trees (Gamma Ray, Masterplan, Freedom Call, Unisonic, Iron Savior etc) make one of the most anticipated decisions in the history of the genre.

Who is your favourite Helloween singer? Is it Kai Hansen, the heaviest singer and the original? Is it Michael Kiske, the most technically accomplished and the one from their most iconic record? Or is it Andi Deris, their best frontman and the singer on the most albums? – Turns out, now you don’t have to choose. United Alive, the live video from the Pumpkins United tour sees all three join the stage together, cracking out a career spanning mixture of material from the earliest thrashiest material to the modern gems, with all the iconic genre defining masterpieces from the peerless Keepers’ era sprinkled in too.

There are over 20 tracks here (some are intros and solos, and some are medleys/combinations, but still…) that’s a lot of Helloween. All three singers take it turns to sing. Sometimes not even a song each, but rather dividing it up section by section inside each song, or all at once. It is very welcome to hear them back on some of their own tracks like ‘Heavy Metal Is The Law’ after not hearing it on the other live videos, or ‘Dr. Stein’ after having heard only Deri’s take on it previously. Conversely it is very interesting to see Kai or Kiske sing on some of the big commercial ‘90s/’00s hits like ‘Perfect Gentleman’ or ‘If I Could Fly.’

There are often 7 members on stage at the one time (or 8 if you count the keyboardist, Eddy Wrapiprou). There’s Weikath and Grosskopft on guitar and bass as always. Sascha Gerstner and Daniel Löble on guitar and drums like the last several albums. And the three aforementioned singers (with Kai also playing guitar).

There’s a mix of footage, ranging from headline shows in Madrid, Spain to festival appearances at Wacken and in Brazil. Sort of like they did already on their previous ‘Legacy World Tour 2005/2006 DVD.

Normally I really prefer a concert DVD to come from one single show, rather than complied from a series of different dates in different places with different lighting, sound and camera work, but given that the band itself is now a compilation of past and present members and some of the songs included are medleys, I don’t know why but it just works here.

The band put on a great show. There’s a lot going on. There’s video screens, a big pumpkin stage set piece around the drum kit (which has 4 kickdrums for some reason, just to add to the over-the-top feel of it all), a light show, and a few cheesy moments like members coming out dressed in a top hat and cane, or raining pumpkin balloons.

Deris, ever the consummate front man is great at revving up the crowd, and then the different members get spotlights for certain tunes and join up on others, there’s prolonged solo segments, a tribute to late drummer Ingo Schichtenberg, its all very diverse and entertaining. They even do a stripped-down bare bones version of the ballad ‘Forever And One’ straight after a super heavy Walls Of Jericho/EP medley, which pretty much shows both polar opposites of the band’s varied discography.

There’s multiple different ways you can buy it. DVD, Blu Ray, combinations thereof. Versions with CDs. The version I got it two Blu Rays. One with the concert and one with a load of extra footage. There’s a few extra songs (Including the underrated ‘Kids Of The Century’ from the oft maligned Pink Bubbles Go Ape album). There’s a bunch of behind the scenes footage looking at various aspects of the tour and production. It comes in a nice shiny digi-book with some brief liner notes and a glossy photo booklet. You know, just as if it wasn’t value for money enough already with an almost three-hour concert of a Helloween fan’s wildest fantasy line-up.

As a concept you really have to hand it to them; its quite a clever move to reuinite with past members without losing current members as some fans never got over Kiske leaving the band or only ever even tried the Keepers albums. Some fans really love the Kai era and you never get to see Helloween play much material from it anymore (you only really get the chance if he chucks one in to a Gamma Ray show some time). Its a great idea to reel them back in and show them how great the Deris era can be too. Come for ‘Halloween’ and ‘Future World’ but stay for ‘Sole Survivor’ and ‘Power’ then learn to love the Deris era if you don’t already.

Thankfully though, its not just the concept that’s good. The whole package is good. The sound, footage, editing and bonus material. Most importantly though, the performance. It doesn’t come across as a novelty cash grab, it really feels like a jubilant celebration. As they say in the opening track ‘Halloween’ ”There’s magic in the air.” This may be cheesy to say (but hey, if you like Helloween, you better be used to cheesy) but it really is a heavy metal dream come true. Buy it!

OPETH In Cauda Venenum

Album · 2019 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.14 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
These days there are literally a gazillion metal bands that come and go with even some of the bigger names which often blur into the massive number of albums that emerge every single month and then there are bands like OPETH, a band that has become so legendary that it actually creates quite a stir even over two decades after the band’s debut with “Orchid.” This Swedish band founded by lead vocalist / guitarist / songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt all the way back in 1989 has successfully straddled the fence between the disparate genera of death metal and progressive rock often blurring the distinctions. While fans on both sides of the fence have been routing for the band to take one path or the other, OPETH for the most part has successfully remained staunchly in hybrid mode at least until the last few albums.

While starting out as the former and taking the leap into the latter beginning with 2011’s “Heritage,” the group has successfully created some of the most lauded albums that decorate both the prog and metal top album lists and with the band’s 14th studio album IN CAUDA VENENUM (“Poison Of The Tail”), OPETH shows no signs of slowing down and have crafted yet another album of intricate melodies teased into progressive sprawlers that are bathed in aspects of psychedelic rock, folk rock and progressive metal. Only the growly vocal death metal elements have been jettisoned as OPETH has decloaked any traces of its earliest aggressive tendencies and have instead seemingly adopted the permanent features of clean vocal styles and King Crimsonian style prog rock circa the “Red” area. And still going strong which started all the way back in the very beginning are those beautiful arpeggiated acoustic guitar segments are still riding high in the mix.

OPETH tried something new on IN CAUDA VENENUM, which was somewhat common with Italian prog bands of the 70s but not so for the Scandinavian scene. This album has been released twice both in English and the band’s native Swedish. Despite the differences in language, the music is exactly the same and both albums clock in exactly at 67 minutes and 44 seconds. While the choice of language may appeal to some, for those like me who are less concerned about lyrics and much more into the compositional meat and potatoes, i personally don’t care if a song is titled “Universal Truth” or “Ingen Sanning Är Allas.” Having said that, Swedish is a beautiful language and although this review is based upon the English version of the album, i will inevitably want to absorb the majesty of an OPETH album in its native lingo. After all, Swedish is the language that sings and love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Åkerfeldt is one singing MF and becomes more nuanced with his vox box as time goes one.

After releasing “Sorceress,” the band received a lot of criticism for jettisoning too much metal and becoming just another retro prog band. Yeah, those metalheads can get really testy about things. Even on the prog side of the music world, they got shot down in some circles for not being original enough, by recycling 70s sounds and jumping on the bandwagon that seems to be all the rage today which may be fine for, let’s say a band like Wobbler, but for metal superstars like OPETH? No way, just ain’t cuttin’ it. IN CAUDA VENENUM corrects that faux pas and adds some extra metal oomf to the mix once again however in many regards, this album is a lot like “Sorceress” in that its progressive elements are the main focus, the clean vocals shine in the forefront and the music is lushly orchestrated to create pleasing atmospheric counterpoints to the folk-tinged melodic developments. As far as the psychedelic rock aspects are concerned, IN CAUDA VENENUM is drenched in piano, Fender Rhodes 88, harpsichords, Moogs, mellotron and a Hammond CD to boot.

The metal almost seems like an afterthought that is there solely to add a bombastic contrast to an otherwise super chill album. So much for the band’s original intent of becoming one of the most evil bands in the world. Now much closer to Pink Floyd than to Mayhem, OPETH seems to have nurtured this new path into the prog world quite well. IN CAUDA VENENUM is an amazingly consistent album that may be a much more metal-free zone than say albums like “Morningrise” or “Deliverance” but still manages to sneak in some ferocious guitar riffing and power chords amidst the proggy time signature rich passages as they tick off all the proper prog check lists.

Out of the newer OPETH albums that rely less on the metal aspects, IN CAUDA VENENUM is actually one of the most diverse of the lot so far expanding OPETH’s sounds into new arenas (such as the jazzy “The Garroter”) to the more familiar (which is most of the album.) One of the main tricks up Åkerfeldt’s sleeves has always been those appropriately placed classical guitar segments which tastefully starts off the album intro on “Garden Of Earthly Delights.” The twin guitar attacks of Åkerfeldt and Frederik Åkesson are still in action especially in the more metallic tracks like “Heart In Hand.” There are new developments in OPETH’s arsenal such as the overdubbed choir parts in “Dignity” and let’s face it lots and i do mean LOTS of organ parts. Despite scouring the periodic table to add as many metal elements as possible, IN CAUDA VENENUM is firmly in progressive rock territory with just a touch of heavier bombast to hopefully entice the older crowds into the new OPETH show.

On a personal level, OPETH has never been a top band in my reality but i am amazed at how consistent the quality of the material is on every single album in its long never-ending canon and therefore they have my utmost respect and admiration. Åkerfeldt was born to bring to life catchy yet proggy tunes that while crafting the instant ear worms of pop music still have quite the catchiness factor even if it takes a few spins to sink in. Whether OPETH is in full death metal regalia or simply taking a siesta in organ drenched prog makes no difference to me personally. I find the Jekyll & Hyde peekaboo act to be amusing since the band so successfully masters both styles quite well and on IN CAUDA VENENUM, the band seems to find new ways of incorporating both aspects into a cohesive whole without deviating from the current trajectory of settling on the prog side of the equation.

IN CAUDA VENENUM will surely not win over those who ditched the band when “Heritage” declared the new OPETH was in town but it certainly won’t disappoint those who have been digging the recent prog albums such as “Pale Communion” and “Sorceress.” While taking cues from both, this one moves on into ever more diverse pastures and the great thing about OPETH is that it is a band that no matter what criticism is heaped upon it, is never afraid to just sally forth in whichever direction the musicians feel it right for them. While IN CAUDA VENENUM will receive ample amounts of hate from metalhead purists and equal amounts of love from retro-proggers, taken as a work of art, IN CAUDA VENENUM is a compelling album with rich seductive melodies and intricately crafted musical developments. Another excellent album in the OPETH camp.

DRAGONFORCE Extreme Power Metal

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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DippoMagoo
“Extreme” and “Power Metal” generally aren’t words one would expect to see placed together, as the genre is generally known to be on the light, catchy and fun side of things, as far as metal goes, and yet one band has deemed themselves as being so daring, so adventurous and so far ahead of the pack, that their music is worthy of being called “Extreme Power Metal.” That band is, of course, British band Dragonforce, who has always been a very divisive band, most notably for the fact that their first big success came when their song “Through the Fire and the Flames” was included in Guitar Hero III. Jokes aside, though, while the band is certainly an acquired taste, they picked up a rather large fan base over the years, releasing seven albums to date, with each of them being highly enjoyable. While I’ve always struggled with some of the band’s earlier works, I’ve been very pleased with their past three releases, especially Maximum Overload, and so I always look forward to hearing more from them. Their eighth full-length release, the indeed boldly titled “Extreme Power Metal”, is almost upon us, and it sure lives up its name, as it’s equal parts extremely fun, extremely fast, extremely catchy, extremely melodic and extremely cheesy, in all the best ways possible!

For better or worse, Extreme Power Metal represents everything Dragonforce stands for, while at the same time allowing a bit of room for experimentation, so listeners can certainly expect a ton of very high speed, high energy power metal, with some heavy riffs, some insanely upbeat melodies, some excellent choruses, some occasional cheesy moments, some very retro sounding keyboards, and of course some very lengthy, technically impressive instrumental sections. There has been one lineup change since the release of Reaching Into Infinity, that being the departure of longtime keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov, and while he hasn’t been officially replaced yet, the band brought in Epica’s Coen Janssen to record the keyboards for this release, and obviously his contributions are excellent, and very much up to par with what fans would expect. If anything, he at times give the music even more of a cheesy, 80’s feel than ever before, which fits in perfectly with the overall direction of the album.

All musicians are in top form, with dual guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman delivering the same blistering leads, glorious melodies and insanely impressive solos they have always been known for, while the keyboards are cheesy but very effective, and everything sounds perfect, as always. Vocalist Marc Hudson is also in top form, at this point proving himself to an excellent power metal vocalist, being equal parts intense and epic at times, while also being able to sing very smoothly during some surprisingly soft tracks. In fact, contrary to what the name might suggest, this album is actually fairly tame at points, with some slower than average Dragonforce tracks, including a couple of ballads, both of which are excellent, emotional and driven by incredible performances, both from the musicians and from Marc, who just sounds incredible on both songs. Otherwise, fans can still expect plenty of high octane power metal moments, as well as some rather surprising moments on a couple of tracks, which help bring the “Extreme” part of the name back into focus. Overall, the songwriting isn’t quite perfect, but there’s certainly a lot of variety, compared to some Dragonforce albums, and the band has struck a nice balance between the overall simplified, more melodic approach of their first two albums with Marc, and the more extreme, adventurous sound of their first four albums. I’d say this album is slightly more accessible and less complex than Reaching Into Infinity, but it still has a ton of stuff going on, and there are quite a few fresh ideas here, while still giving longtime fans everything they want to hear.

Songwriting is an area where the band has greatly improved over the years, managing to make their last three albums more varied than their first four, while still providing a ton of fun, speedy power metal, and this latest release is no exception. Starting things off is lead single “Highway to Oblivion”, which starts off with a very light, keyboard-driven vocal section, before the guitars kick in and the track quickly speeds up and turns into a very classic Dragonforce sounding song, except with a much stronger chorus than most of their earlier songs had, while also having the kind of frantic, super intense verses fans are used to. It’s a very speedy, very melodic track, and while it’s fairly straight-forward overall, it does have a rather lengthy instrumental section in the middle, where the two guitarists show off their skills. Overall, it’s exactly what fans of the band would expect, and it opens the album up with a huge bang! Next is “Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shredding Machine”, which opens up with a nice guitar melody, as well as some rather cheesy retro sounding keys. The track has a slight symphonic influence, while still being another blazing fast power metal track, with more heavy riffs, fun verses and one of the best choruses on the entire album, where Marc shines, especially near the end, where he hits some very impressive high notes. The instrumental section in the middle is unsurprisingly amazing and has some very retro sounding keys, that almost sound like they came from an NES videogame, which is pretty neat. It’s another excellent track, overall, and one of my personal favorites.

Another personal favorite is “The Last Dragonborn”, the first of two ballads on the album. One would expect a band like Dragonforce to shy away from ballads, but they’ve proven themselves to be pretty good at them, with the likes of “Trail of Broken Hearts” from Inhuman Rampage and “Silence” from Reaching Into Infinity. However, this track is a big step above those two, as it’s a surprisingly beautiful track, with some wonderful melodic guitar work (including the expected excellent instrumental section), as well as some epic symphonic elements, but the two biggest highlights of the track are the unbelievably epic chorus, which Marc absolutely slays, and the overall feel of the track, which has some nice Japanese folk melodies. It’s certainly not something I ever expected to hear from the band, but they nailed it, as the Japanese melodies sound incredible and help give the track a distinct feel, while everything else is executed to perfection. Over the years, I’ve heard some very weak ballads, some solid ballads, and even some great ballads, but I rarely hear a ballad I’d consider my favorite track on an album, which makes “The Last Dragonborn” a rare exception, as it’s just such an absolute masterpiece of a track, I can’t help but wanna listen to it over and over again, sometimes even repeating it while listening to the album.

Following up that impossibly good track, second single “Heart Demolition” is perhaps my least favorite on the album, though it’s still an excellent track, with a few rather surprising moments (plus the video for it is absolutely hilarious and totally worth looking up on Youtube!) The track moves at more of a moderate pace, and the guitar tone during the verses actually reminds me a bit of some Dream Theater tracks, though this quickly changes, as the pace picks up and the riffs become more intense in the second half of the verses.

The one part of the track I don’t love is the build-up to the chorus, which has a bit of a classic hard rock feel to it, and I find this rather annoying. The chorus is excellent, though, with a bit of an upbeat 80’s pop feel to it, and Marc, of course, nails the vocals. Overall, the track is a lot of fun and feels fresh, while still having that distinct Dragonforce sound, so even though it’s not one of my favorites, I’m still glad the band made it. Next is “Troopers of the Stars”, which opens up with a rather surprising sequence, with some screams, some thrashy guitar work, and some intense blast beats, which do feel a bit “Extreme”. Following that, the band uses some epic keys and an incredibly epic, upbeat vocal section, which quickly launches into the opening verse, where the band goes full speed ahead, with more heavy riffs, uplifting melodies, and some intense drumming. The chorus is the kind of super cheesy, upbeat and just pure fun the band is known for, and while the track is full of cheese, it always puts a smile on my face, and is probably my favorite of the speedier songs on the album, with the instrumental section in the second half, in particular, feeling like one of the most inspired sequences on the album.

The momentum keeps up with “Razorblade Meltdown” and “In a Skyforged Dream”, which are two more super speedy, hard-hitting tracks, filled with epic melodies, impressive guitar work, and super fun, catchy choruses. They’re pretty much exactly what Dragonforce fans would expect, and are both excellent tracks. In between those is “Strangers”, a bit of an oddball track, in that it’s fairly slow-paced and very keyboard-driven, with modern electronic keys dominating throughout, while the guitars generally provide rhythm and not much else, aside from the usual instrumental section. I find the verses a tad boring, though they get the job done fine enough, while the chorus starts slow, but speeds up a bit as it goes along, becoming extremely epic in the process. The track has a strong 80’s pop feel to it and feels like one of the more adventurous tracks on the album, and while it’s not exactly what I was expecting, it’s a lot of fun.

Coming towards the end of the album, “Remembrance Day” is the second ballad, which starts with some very epic bagpipes. The track has a pretty epic feel to it, overall, with some awesome melodies throughout, and while it lacks the unique feel of “The Last Dragonborn”, it makes up for it with some very impressive guitar work, some strong symphonic elements, and another awe-inspiring chorus, where Marc really shines, as he pours a ton of emotion into the track. For a band not known for ballads, this album sees them going 2 for 2, not just for making “good” ballads, but for making amazing ones, so that’s quite a pleasant surprise! Speaking of ballads, the band chose to close the album out with a cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic, and while the opening teases at a soft, keyboard-driven track, the pace rapidly increases in a hurry, and it turns into the kind of super fun cover they did with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” in 2014, taking a song from a totally different genre, and expertly turning it into one of their own tracks, managing to nail the overall melody of the track, while putting their unique touches on it, and flawlessly executing it within their own style. It’s certainly an impressive cover, as well as an extremely fun way to end the album.

In spite of its rather comical name, Extreme Power Metal is yet another excellent Dragonforce album, and one which at times feels like a victory lap, with the band fully demonstrating everything their fans have come to expect from them, while at other times it takes some chances, going in some rather surprising directions, with almost everything working out very well. Obviously, I expect to see a lot of people poking fun at that name (and the band in general), but while the album really doesn’t feel all that “Extreme”, it is an excellent, surprisingly varied album, with a tons of speedy, hard-hitting power metal, as well as some lighter, more melodic tracks and two amazing ballads, and of course everything is brought together by the usual mix of excellent musicianship and fantastic vocals. Fans of the band should be most pleased with this release, and I think it would make a great starting point for newcomers, as it showcases everything the band is great at, while also having some surprises. I think Maximum Overload is still my favorite Dragonforce album, just for how consistently perfect it is, but this release isn’t too far behind, and it continues the band’s winning streak, which started with The Power Within.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/09/23/dragonforce-extreme-power-metal-review/

CULT OF LUNA A Dawn To Fear

Album · 2019 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
A Dawn to Fear (2019) is the eighth full-length studio album by Swedish atmospheric sludge metal act Cult of Luna. As their last album Mariner (2016) was a collaboration effort with vocalist Julie Christmas (Battle of Mice, Made Out of Babies), A Dawn to Fear marks the first 'pure' Cult of Luna studio album since Vertikal (2013). It is a double album consisting of eight tracks, most of them lengthy, with half passing ten minutes each. The total length just passes 79 minutes, which is actually about what a standard CD can handle at a push, but I guess the decision was made to play it safe from a technical point of view, since I have heard of CDs having playback issues on their final tracks when the maximum duration is reached. Still, it's on the line enough to avoid accusations of passing a single album off as a double, unlike the couple of minutes shorter Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (2016) by Metallica, which really should have been a single CD, not a double with a double's price to go with it.

But even if it would fit on a single disc, we can forgive Cult of Luna more than we can Metallica, because unlike the legendary on/off thrash metal band, Cult of Luna has delivered exactly what any fan of the band would have wanted in A Dawn to Fear. This could possibly be their best album to date, which is coming from someone who was so blown away by Mariner that he had to confess to wishing several times that Cult of Luna + Julie Christmas would become a permanent thing. Then they release this. The kind of album that immediately grabs your attention and drags you down into its atmospheric sludge metal and softer post-rock passages, leaving you submerged in it's sound, which is distinctly that of Cult of Luna even if the only prior album you've heard happens to be Mariner, for its duration and only allowing you to surface upon its conclusion. A conclusion which seems to come around much sooner than it's near eighty minute length would suggest it should.

On a personal level I first heard Cult of Luna's music with Vertikal. That album was very likely also my first taste of the atmospheric sludge metal style. It quickly became an album I enjoyed very much, but it was only with Mariner that I started to really pay attention to how good the band actually was. I've since been back and heard fan favourite albums Salvation (2004) and Somewhere Along the Highway (2006), both of which are also excellent releases that cement Cult of Luna's reputation as the world's premium, not just atmospheric sludge, but sludge metal in general, act. It's to my own detriment that, including A Dawn to Fear, my knowledge of the band's catalogue only extends to just over half the the studio albums.

Mariner has, in the few years since it's release, become one of only a few albums released since that time that is still in a fairly regular rotation for me. It has that indescribable something that keeps pulling me back. While it is still early days, I can't see that A Dawn to Fear is going to be any different in that regard. Mariner was a grower; the kind of album you suddenly realise is one of your favourites. A Dawn to Fear is instant satisfaction. There was never any doubt in my mind that it would be good, but this good? Truth be told, it's single-handed got me out of a slump regarding new music. This is actually the first review I have written since November 2018. That's how good it is.

Saying any more about the album's specifics feels like I would be doing an injustice to the experience that Cult of Luna has created in this album. A Dawn to Fear offers up tracks that are each substantial enough to be taken as individual entities but like with many atmospheric albums it's surely best taken as a whole rather than try to pick it apart as say this song or that song is a highlight. If you've listened to the band before at any point in their now twenty+ year long career, even if you only came to them on Mariner through Julie Christmas, then stop everything and do yourself a solid: buy A Dawn to Fear immediately. For this listener's money, it's quite likely the album of 2019.

NUCLEUS Entity

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Entity" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Chicago based death metal act Nucleus. The album was released through Unspeakable Axe Records in June 2019. It´s the successor to "Sentient" from 2016 and features the same four-piece lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Stylistically the material on "Entity" is old school influenced death metal featuring sci-fi lyrics. It´s a well performed and relatively well produced album, and the sci-fi themed lyrics and imagery create a futuristic atmosphere to the album. The songwriting is of a good quality too and Nucleus certainly understand how to write an effectful death metal song with both a decent number of tempo changes, brutal riffs and heavy rhythms, atmosphere enhancing lead guitar work, occasional use of dissonance (which imply a slight Immolation influence), and a solid growling vocalist in front.

The word solid actually comes to mind often when listening to the album, which is of course great as it´s a word which spells quality, and Nucleus are definitely a quality death metal act. I´m a little less inclined to use the word excellent here though, as I still think the band are lacking a few things to enter the premier league of death metal. First of all the material could have been a little more catchy/hook laden (and it´s got nothing to do with variation, because considering the core music style here, there is actually a decent amount of variation on the album) and secondly a more distinct sounding growling vocal style could also have enhanced the overall impression of the album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still well deserved though and Nucleus can rightfully be proud of what they´ve achieved with "Entity".

HATRIOT From Days unto Darkness

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"From Days Unto Darkness" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Hatriot. The album was released through Massacre Records in July 2019. It´s the successor to "Dawn of the New Centurian" from 2014 and features a couple of lineup changes. Hatriot was originally formed by (at the time) former Exodus lead vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza and his two sons Cody Souza on bass and Nick Souza on drums plus guitarist Kosta V.. When Steve "Zetro" Souza was invited back to the Exodus fold in 2015, he had no other choice than to quit Hatriot, as he could not handle the commitments of two bands. There have been a couple of other lineup shuffles on the second guitarist position, but on "From Days Unto Darkness", the band settled on Kevin Paterson. A worse issue was of course to replace a legendary and distinct sounding lead vocalist like Steve "Zetro" Souza but bassist Cody Souza stepped up to the challenge, and performs vocals on "From Days Unto Darkness" in addition to his bass duties.

A change on the lead vocalist spot is always serious business for a band, but upon initial listening to the opening track "One Less Hell" I actually thought that "Zetro" had helped out and done session vocals on the album, because that´s how similar a voice and vocal style Cody Souza has to his dad (it´s almost too easy, but I can´t resist the temptation to quote the Exodus song title "Like Father, Like Son"). Listening a bit more closely there are some differences though and the longer you get into the album, the more the young Souza comes into his own. He also performs some vocal styles (like occasional semi-death metal growling) that his father would never do. The Exodus comparison is of course inevitable though, and it´s not only because of Cody Souza´s voice sounding very similar to his fathers ditto, but the general music style is also US, Bay Area influenced thrash metal through and through. The riff style, the guitar solos, the drumming, and how the vocals are delivered are all trademarks of that particular brand of thrash metal.

So Hatriot won´t win any contests if the goal is to have an original sound, but they will definitely be contenders for the title of being one of the most powerful and convincing acts on the scene. The musicianship is high class on all posts and Hatriot are also skilled composers who know how to write an effectful and memorable thrash metal song.

"From Days Unto Darkness" features a punchy and powerful contemporary sounding production job, which suits the aggression and power of the music and the performances well. So it´s an album for fans of a slightly updated Bay Area thrash metal sound with clear influences from the classic 80s acts from the area. The lack of a more original sound is a slight issue, but only a very small one, as the music is as well written and well performed as it is. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

MGŁA Age of Excuse

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.07 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Black metal has emerged as one of the most creative and fertile grounds in all the metal universe where countless hybrids of musical genres have cross-pollinated and resulted in some of the most forward-thinking stylistic approaches in the entire metal universe so it always boggles my mind when a rather ordinary run of the mill band seems to emerge from the darkened battlefields and achieve a major victory in terms of commercial success and popularity. The Polish black metal outfit MGŁA is exactly one of those types of bands that i’m talking about and this band ain’t no Behemoth or Batushka.

Having formed in 2000 as the duo of multi-instrumentalist Mikołaj "M." Żentara with the collaboration of drummer Dariusz "Daren" Piper after playing together in Kriegmaschine, Daren moved on in 2006 just as M continued on to create a series of EPs and full-length albums and since then has steadily enamored the black metal world like very few have in recent days once the current drummer / percussionist Darkside (Maciej Kowalski) joined forces and conspired to conquer the world from their dark metal headquarters in Krakow, Poland.

MGŁA found its niche and has stuck to it ever since rarely deviating from its status quo and has been called the Amon Amarth of black metal in the process and that’s not an unthinkable comparison actually. Just like its death metal Swedish counterpart, MGŁA takes a melodic approach on the more extreme examples of the sub-genre and tames the once dissonant rage into more harmonic and accessible chunks of the blackened noise parade. Here in 2019, this duo has released its fourth full-length album AGE OF EXCUSE and not surprisingly continues where the previous “Exercises In Futility” left off.

While i’ve been aware of MGŁA (Polish for “fog”) for many years now, my scant exposure to a few tracks here and there has never prompted me to actually investigate further. Well, after the band releases another album with many fans going gaga, i figured it was probably time to fully digest a complete album in its entirety and AGE OF EXCUSE proved to be the easiest point of reference since it’s the most current album at this moment. Accusations of Nazi sympathies and other vicious rumors aside, MGŁA comes off as a rather generic black metal band that does everything by the books and really adds zilch to the sub-genre of black metal at all and no matter how hard i try to understand what the big whoopty-do is about this band, i remained baffled.

While nothing on AGE OF EXCUSE (or any other MGŁA release) is bad by any stretch of the imagination, neither does this band add any creative interpretations nor does it excel in any technical wizardry that sets it apart from the legions of imitators out there. The one thing they do exhibit quite well is the fact that the melodic constructs are instantly catchy much like Amon Amarth, Rotting Christ, Dimmu Borgir or a whole host of others however unlike all of THOSE bands, MGŁA just seems insincere to me and going through the motions. My first impression is that the band is basically copping a melodic take on the Deathspell Omega sound. Miikko Aspa styled raspy vocals drenched in evil, slightly off tune guitar on dissonance light and rather monotonous drumming techniques dominate AGE OF EXCUSE from beginning to end.

Another complaint about this album (and band) is that it begins to sound quite monotonous halfway through. Now it’s quite common for many to claim that a black metal album is monotonous and that is quite true for the untrained ear but the genre is all about detecting the subtleties beneath the carpet bombing of din that assaults the senses from every perceived angle. MGŁA delivers the same tritone laced chord progressions and monotonous groove with impunity. Yeah, there are some drumming outbursts from time to time and as i’ve stated, the album is perfectly listenable but as someone who has spanned the entire spectrum of black metal from its nascent origins with bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory to the more avant-garde experiments that range from Ukraine’s Graal to Norway’s Dødheimsgard, i just do not detect anything spectacular here.

Repeated listens do offer that magical ear hook experience for sure but at the end of the day i just can’t shake that this band is just playing the melodic alter ego of the much superior Deathspell Omega. Yeah, i do understand to a point. As metal ages and artists develop bolder and more avant-garde styles of musical expression, some of it is a little alienating for newbies trying to latch onto the relevance of the sub-genre but personally i would always recommend going back to the earliest examples of melodic black metal over this been-there-dont-that-before retro metal any day. Excluding bands like Emperor or Dimmu Borgir that implemented synthesizers to nurture a more melodic approach, bands like Dissection, Kvist, Nagelfar, Melechesh, Windir or Sacramentum just to name a few were much more creative in their delivery. As open minded as i am about music, once in a while a certain band makes me hit a brick wall and i just have an immediate reaction and in the case of MGŁA i am perplexed why it has become so revered while i just get a meh ho hum reaction. Oh well.

COME BACK FROM THE DEAD The Rise Of The Blind Ones

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Despite kicking around for a decade Come Back From The Dead, a death metal band from Spain were unheard of to me, until I recently added them to our database here on MMA that is. Always eager to hear some new death metal that will pummel me half to death I gave this, The Rise Of The Blind Ones, their second album a listen.

Did it do the trick? Well, to be honest not really, but that’s not to say Come Back From The Dead don’t have any merit. They clearly sit in the old school camp and play with no shortage of enthusiasm. Their songs are on the raw side, fairly simply structured but played well enough nevertheless. Vocalist Paul attacks the songs with unrestrained vigour and is the bands greatest asset. These songs whilst not going to set the world on fire occasionally makes me sit up and listen more intently but for the large part its death metal by numbers. They also inject a bit of doom and some punk touches too which is a welcome addition. Death metal should bludgeon the listener into submission but a weak and thin sounding production robs the band of having much hope of doing this. The drums in particular sound very distant at times though drummer Marcos is clearly giving it his all. Something that dawned on me later, that’s unusual in death metal, unless I missed them – no double kick drums. They’re barely missed however with Marcos throwing in no shortage of fast rhythms and fills around the kit.

Come Back From The Dead should not be written off by any stretch and I warmed to this album more with repeated plays but with the glut of great death metal out there they’ll need to follow this up with something a bit more special if they are to make any serious dent in the current scene. I think they have it in them though and the next album with a better production could be a winner.

TNT (NORWAY) Encore: Live In Milano

Live album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
‘Encore’ was recorded during TNT’s headlining set at Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan on April 30, 2017 and is currently the final live footage of the band with singer Tony Harnell. Given that this is the third time he has left the band no-one can be really sure he won’t be back, to be fair, but TNT need him as although many may think that guitarist Ronni Le Tekrø is the one who really matters, and while he and drummer Diesel Dahl have been there since the very beginning back in 1982, it is Harnell who provides the class. His voice is amazing, and he is the one who lifts the band, as to be honest most of their numbers are fairly forgettable, but when he is fronting them then he takes them to a whole new level.

I’ve lost count of how many live albums Frontiers have released recently, but you have to admire the commercial nous which got them to set up a festival just for their bands and then record all of them. Here the sound levels and production are perfect, with the right levels and mix throughout. This time around it is the lack of great songs which lets down the band, but they have been in the business for the best part of 40 years, so maybe it’s just me. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of TNT, but Tony Harnell? Boy, that guy can sing.

DAWN OF NIL Culminating Ruins

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Culminating Ruins" is the debut full-length studio album by French progressive death metal act Dawn of Nil. The album was independently released in May 2019. Dawn of Nil is a one-man project formed by Vincent Laugier, who performs all instruments and vocals on the album.

Stylistically the music on "Culminating Ruins" is progressive death/black metal, often atmospheric in nature (keyboards are occasionally used and the album feautures acoustic parts too). The vocals are low in the mix growling/occasional black metal screaming, and the riff- and rhythm styles vary between death metal and black metal influenced playing styles (often in the more melodic end of the spectrum). The material is structurally adventurous and there are some pretty creative songwriting ideas on the album.

It´s obvious that Laugier is both a skilled musician and knows how to compose music, but the sound production on "Culminating Ruins", do come off slightly amaturish. It´s a bit too audible that the drums are programmed, which wouldn´t be a problem if the artificial programmed drum sound was an integral part of the the soundscape and enhanced it, but here they work like a replacement for a human drummer, because a human drummer was either not available or because Laugier did not want to bring in a session musician to play the drums. It´s sometimes the curse of one-man projects that the artist has full control and often don´t realise that outside input could have enhanced their project greatly. The drums are otherwise well programmed, they just sound a little stiff and artificial.

The choice to place the vocals as low in the mix as they have been placed is another production choice I question. Maybe they are placed this low to create a mystical effect or something like that, but to my ears it does not work well. They sound like a deep growling noise in the soundscape and thereby more like an instrument than actual vocals.

So upon conclusion I´ll praise the many creative songwriting ideas on the album (and the many great epic and melodic moments) and the fact that Laugier is a capable musician, but the songs really aren´t that memorable and they generally don´t differ enough from each other (there are many great ideas, but they aren´t put together in a particularly effectful or memorable fashion), and as mentioned above the "bedroom" sound production and the programmed drums don´t do the material any favors either. I overall respect the basis of project, but to my ears the glass is only half full, and Laugier still has some way to go, before releasing what I would characterize as a fully professional sounding release. Still a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

OCTOBER TIDE In Splendor Below

Album · 2019 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 1995 by Katatonia members, Jonas Renkse (Bloodbath) and Fred Norrman, October Tide released two albums before going on hiatus for eleven years. In 2009 Norrman parted ways with Katatonia, and resurrected October Tide, consolidating the band's re-emergence with a new featuring Tobias Netzell of In Mourning on vocals. Now back with their sixth album in total, the band currently comprises Fredrik Norrman, his brother and guitarist Mattias Norrman (also ex-Katatonia), vocalist Alexander Högbom (Demonical), bassist Johan Jönsegård (Letters From The Colony) and drummer Jonas Sköld (Letters From The Colony, Thenighttimeproject). Although Katatonia came out of the Swedish scene they were always a very different proposition to the rest of the bands around them (I still consider myself very fortunate to see them at No Sleep Til Auckland in 2010, one of the very few metal festivals we’ve had here in recent years). The same can be said for October Tide, as although their roots are far more obviously in the melodic death scene, they have also put in plenty of doom and considering one genre is normally very quick while the other is slow, it means they are approaching the music from a quite different area than many. The other, rather refreshing, aspect is that this band keeps getting heavier while many of their contemporaries from the Nineties seem to have forgotten what they started all those years ago.

Look past the death metal style logo, and the rather threatening cover imagery, and even some of the growls, and one quickly realises that what we have here is an incredibly heavy band who are also intensely melodic. True, this isn’t the sort of material one will hear on the radio, and the riffs during “Seconds” would make Iommi proud, but each time I play “Stars Starve Me” I find myself singing the chorus. It’s not intentional, it just happens! I don’t expect it from a band with this style of imagery, and to be honest I certainly don’t expect it from any outfit who are signed to the mighty Agonia Records (one of my favourite, and certainly one of the most consistent metal labels around), yet somehow it just happens. These guys have captured a groove and a style which is lifting them above so many others. Alexander Backlund (singer with Letters From The Colony) undertook production duties, and knowing the guys so well obviously helped as the sound he has captured it huge, while Daniel Lidén did a great job on mixing and mastering.

This isn’t an album I would have expected from either October Tide or Agonia Records, as it is so intensely melodic as well as being incredibly heavy. Certainly worthy of investigation, play it loud.

L.A. GUNS The Devil You Know

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Given there have been a few different versions of this band treading the bands, and even now there are two in existence, it can be somewhat difficult to understand which one is the real deal. To me, and to many other fans it has to be said, whatever version contains guitarist Tracii Guns is the one that matters. And if that version also contains the one and only Philip Lewis, then that is the one to go for. Lewis and Guns have fallen out more than once during their long relationship, which stretches all the way back to 1987, but when they are together there is no doubting the chemistry. I first came across Lewis when I purchased Girl’s second single “Hollywood Tease” back in 1980. I was curious to see what a British band would do with the Kiss classic, and they made it their very own. After the success of their superb debut album ‘Sheer Greed’ I was somewhat surprised they imploded but given that Collen went on to Def Leppard and Lewis eventually to L.A Guns it was obviously a good training ground.

Whenever Lewis is at the microphone, he somehow embodies sleaze, and sneers through the vocals, and when he has Guns next to him then both of them hit pure form. There is no doubt that in the 30+ years since they first met, their finest moments have been when they are together. The rest of the line-up is Johnny Martin (bass), Scot Coogan (drums) and Ace Von Johnson (guitar), but none of them have been there for more than three years in a band whose history can be traced all the way back to 1983 (of course there was a small detour into some outfit called Guns ‘s’ Roses). This is the Lewis and Guns show, and they are showing now sign at all of slowing down. Lewis screams with power and swagger as if he is still in twenties pouting “Let me be rude, do you mind if I'm crude, I'll insult all of your friends” while Guns has turned it up, and shows whatever Lewis can do on his part of the stage he is going to do his very best to show who is the owner of the name.

L.A. Guns are back with a huge bang, and this album deserves very close attention indeed. It rocks, it rolls, and it belts it out. This is the real deal, the Eighties L.A. scene which brought us bands like Faster Pussycat, has been brought back to life in a relevant and fun manner. This album just makes me smile.

ELVENKING Reader of the Runes - Divination

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.92 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
While it is generally believed that most bands get worse over time, either through failed experimentation or because their music has gone stale, I find that to not be entirely accurate, as there are certainly many bands out there who have not only aged well, but have arguably put out some of their very best works to date, in recent years. One such band is Italian power/folk metal band Elvenking, who have never released a single album I would call less than great, and they have been on a particularly impressive run over the past seven years, with the trio of Era, The Pagan Manifesto and Secrets of the Magick Grimoire all being among my favorite releases by the band. Every time I hear they’re releasing a new album, I get excited, because I trust in them to always deliver something special, and so when I heard their tenth full length release, Reader of the Runes – Divination, would be coming this year and that it would be the start of a multi part concept, I was beyond excited, to say the least! Now that Reader of the Runes is here, I can safely say it continues the band’s ongoing winning streak, and manages to be possibly their best release to date!

At this point in their career, Elvenking has settled into their signature blend of speedy, aggressive power metal and epic folk metal, and while some releases towards the middle of their career were a bit experimental, their past couple of releases have felt like a seamless blend of all aspects of their music, with everything coming together perfectly. This trend continues with Reader of the Runes, as it feels like the band has figured their sound out completely, and they know exactly what they want to do, so fans of any of their previous releases, are definitely in for a treat! The album explores their sound to every extreme, with some very aggressive speedy passages, some more relaxing, uplifting folk passages, some more epic mid paced passages, and plenty of tracks that bring everything together, for one awesome package. The songs are generally straight-forward, with very catchy choruses, but between the excellent guitar work, symphonic arrangements and all kinds of different folk instruments, there is a lot going on at times, and many of the tracks alternate between different movements, with frequent tempo changes throughout. Instrumentally, the release is equal parts hard hitting, epic and very melodic, as always, and performances are fantastic across the board, while vocalist Damna sounds as distinct, intense and memorable as always, singing very powerfully at times, while also being able to rein in it and carry some epic melodies. He remains one of the most unique features of the band, with his very distinct voice, and while everything about the album is amazing, his vocals are my favorite part of it, as usual.

Songwriting has always been a strength for Elvenking, so it’s no surprise Reader of the Runes is yet another triumph, with nothing but greatness from start to finish. While I found the previous release, Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, to be book-ended with excellent tracks, and let down a tiny bit in the middle, this album is balanced all around, with my enjoyment never slipping off at all, throughout the entire release, across several listens: Just like The Pagan Manifesto, this album has a perfect a start, a perfect middle, and a perfect end.

The album opens with a brief intro, “Perthro”, which has various folk instrumentation and some epic chanting, as well as slight symphonic arrangements, and it’s a very relaxing, beautiful piece, which sets the tone wonderfully for what’s to come. Opening up the album in full force is “Heathen Divine”, which begins with more nice folk instrumentation before the guitars kick in and the pace picks up, never looking back. Verses are fairly fast paced, with some hard hitting riffs and fun vocal melodies, while the chorus goes full throttle and is the kind of epic, triumphant sounding chorus the band specializes in, except here it’s dialed up to the max, to somehow be even more awesome than usual. It’s certainly a wonderful way to kick off the album, and is one of the best choruses the band has ever written. The second half of the track mixes in some slightly slower passages, more epic vocal melodies and a great guitar solo, as well as an extra epic final run through the chorus. Overall, it’s an amazing song, and possibly my favorite on the entire album. The momentum doesn’t let up, though, as the first of two title tracks, “Divination” (also the third and most recent single,) is a fast paced, hard hitting track with some excellent riffs, furious verses, and a very fun, catchy choruses, which is a bit on the repetitive side, but in a way the band pulls off perfectly, so it ends up being energizing instead of annoying. There’s some nice folk melodies throughout, especially in the middle, to help make the track a wonderful blend of power and folk metal, like the band is capable of.

The first slower track on the album is second single “Silverseal”, a more relaxing, heavily folk infused track with some wonderful melodies. It moves along at a fairly slow but nice pace, with some relaxing, enjoyable verses, and the chorus is very melodic and warm, with some excellent vocals from Damna, but the highlight of the track is the wonderful folk instrumentation, especially in the middle, with some very nice melodies to accompany an epic guitar solo. Despite being on the slow side, it’s a very catchy track, and showcases the softer side of the band perfectly. Back on the heavier side of things, “The Misfortune of Virtue” starts off with more nice folk melodies, before turning into one of the heavier tracks on the album, with some pretty extreme sounding guitar work, and furious blast beats, at points. It’s mostly a fast paced track, with very heavy verses and instrumental sections, though the chorus is actually very soft and has some beautiful folk melodies, so it’s yet another case of the band blending the different aspects of their sound together perfectly. Once again on the softer side, “Eternal Eleanor” has some very soft, melodic guitar work, as well as a ton of folk instrumentation. It’s the calmest, most relaxing and most beautiful track on the album, with Damna singing very smoothly, and yet with a ton of emotion, giving a stunning performance. It feels like a classic folk tale set to music, with minor metal elements throughout, as well as slight symphonic arrangements. It has very nice verses and a huge, epic chorus, which only gets better towards the end, as it the sound gets bigger in scope and scale. Overall, it’s an incredible track, and one of my personal favorites. Following that is the brief interlude “Diamonds in the Night”, a largely acoustic folk infused ballad, which teases the chorus of the album ending second title track. It’s a brief, but very nice track, and serves as a nice interlude.

The lead single is “Under the Sign of a Black Star”, another softer, more folk infused track, though it has a bit more bite to it, thanks to some slightly heavy guitar work. Verses are fairly laid back, but still engaging, while the chorus is the kind of upbeat, epic and heartwarming material the band excels at, with some excellent vocal melodies, as always. The track has some heavy instrumental work in the second half, but it’s still a very nice, melodic folk metal track, overall. Getting back on the speedier side, “Malefica Doctrine” is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, and it does a nice job of alternating between speedy verses, with some very flashy guitar work, and a slower, epic chorus, with more wonderful vocals and folk melodies. The track varies in tempo a lot throughout, as well as alternating between heavy power metal passages, and lighter folk passages, to help make it another excellent blend of the band’s two styles. Next is “Sic Temper Tyrannis”, a more straight-forward track, which stays at a more moderate pace throughout. It has some epic symphonic arrangements, and is another heavier track, with a very epic, catchy chorus. The folk melodies are a bit more downplayed, compared to normal, but they’re still in there, though the track leans more towards symphonic power metal, overall, and does an excellent job of it.

Back on the more complicated side of things is “Warden of the Bane”, another track which alternates between some heavier passages, and some more melodic, epic folk passages. It gets a bit dark during the verses, before the uplifting melodies kick in for the chorus, and it alternates nicely between fast and slow passages, while being pretty heavy in spots, and beautiful in other sections. It’s another excellent track, overall. Closing out the album is the second title track “Reader of the Runes – Book I”, a near 11 minute epic, which takes everything the rest of the album has going, and dials it up to the absolute max! It has some fast, heavy passages, more amazing folk melodies, epic symphonic arrangements, and one of the biggest, catchiest and best choruses on the entire album. It alternates nicely between soft and heavy, as usual, and has some great extended instrumental work, while still having plenty of excellent vocal melodies. It’s an epic track, overall, and an amazing way to close out the album!

Elvenking are one of those bands that always deliver an excellent album, every time, and Reader of the Runes – Divination is no exception. It contains the same seamless blend of speedy, hard hitting power metal, and epic, uplifting folk metal as usual, while having some epic symphonic arrangements, and plenty of memorable huge, epic choruses, as always. This band has only gotten better with age, and while I initially thought The Pagan Manifesto could be unbeatable, this album may have just proven me wrong! Either way, it’s an absolute must buy for fans of the band,a s well as anyone looking for some truly special power/folk metal, as there really aren’t any other bands in the world who can pull this sound off nearly as well as Elvenking can. And with the promise of a direct follow up, I can’t wait to hear what comes next!

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/08/31/elvenking-reader-of-the-runes-divination-review/

GRAND MAGUS Wolf God

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.71 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Grand Magus are back, with the same line-up they have had for quite a long period of time now with Janne „JB“ Christoffersson (guitar, vocals) and Mats Fox Hedén Skinner (bass) having been there since the very beginning, and even “new boy” Ludwig Witt (drums) has been there since 2012. This time they decided to record in a different manner, as JB says, “We decided to let go of the current philosophy to record drums first and then bass and then guitar etc. This time, we met up, jammed and created together during the last six months with the goal to record basic tracks live.“

I have long been a fan of JB’s voice, and while this is their ninth studio album I think I have six of them, so am always intrigued to hear what they come up with, but to say this is something of a disappointment is an understatement. Straight forward metal, with some nods along the way to the likes of doom, this reminds me a great deal of a heavy take on Rainbow’s “The Shed (Subtle)”, while bands such as Rage and even Sabbath also get a look in. But, there is little here for the metalhead to really get into, and while the band may not be going through the motions it certainly feels like it at times. If it wasn’t for the powerful vocals, particularly on numbers such as “Brother of the Storm”, then I doubt I would have played it as much as I have. It’s not that it’s a bad album, but rather that for me it is just pretty boring. Next.

ELUVEITIE Ategnatos

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
The Swiss septet have been making quite a name for themselves since their formation in 2002, but to my ears they haven’t always been as consistent as they might have been. When they are good they are very good indeed, but the mixing of melodic death with folk sometimes jars as opposed to gels. Well, with the release of this their eighth studio album they are back with a huge bang. I had long set myself the expectation that they would never again reach the heights of 2008’s ‘Slania’, but right from very first note this album grabs the attention and refuses to let go. Here they have channelled Midas, with everything they touch turning to pure gold. Chrigel Glanzmann has his melodic growls hitting just the right aspect, while Fabienne Erni’s pure clear sounds provide the contrast. In most bands she would be the solo singer, with not only great range but a real emotion in her voice, but her and Glanzmann share the stage and the band is all the better for it.

Often it is a whistle or recorder that can be the lead instrument, but when the band belt into full bore metal it is a brave piper who stands centre stage and weathers the storm. It is hard to pick a favourite, but “Deathwalker” stands out just because it is so damn catchy. This is one of the elements which has made this album leap out from others in that it is contains loads of great songs, with catchy riffs and hooks, so much so that one at times misses the maelstrom and sheer heavy mix of music which is going on as well. Incredibly heavy, yet always melodic, even when death metal is coming to the fore, with folk elements strongly alongside metal at all times. This isn’t a band throwing in a few bits and pieces just for the hell of it, but instead are taking the music of founding fathers Horslips and taking it to a logical conclusion. But have they reached the peak? What will come next after this one, how can they improve? The next release will be a live album later in the year during the course of their current world tour. 2019 has seen the masters of folk metal come back with a bang, long may it continue.



A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH When The World Becomes Undone

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"When The World Becomes Undone" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US alternative/doom/goth metal act A Pale Horse Named Death. The album was released through Long Branch Records in January 2019. It´s the successor to "Lay My Soul To Waste" from 2013 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as guitarist Matt Brown has been replaced by Joe Taylor. A Pale Horse Named Death was formed in 2010 by former Type O Negative and Life of Agony drummer Sal Abruscato, who has switched to vocals and guitar on this project. The Type O Negative connection has been further strengthened with the addition of the other former Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly to the ranks.

Stylistically the material on "When The World Becomes Undone" features heavy riffs and rhythms, which partially fall in doom metal territory and partially fall in alternative metal country (think Black Sabbath meets Alice In Chains). The vocals are melancholic and there is a generally dark atmosphere to the album. In other words "When The World Becomes Undone" continues the style and sound of the two predecessors. It´s pretty basic vers/chorus structured songs, and the songwriting isn´t exactly adventurous, but there are some fairly memorable moments on the album. Featuring 13 tracks and total playing time of 61:59 minutes, it´s a bit too long for its own good, and definitely overstays its welcome by about 20 minutes. The album could have been much stronger if A Pale Horse Named Death had cut some of the least memorable tracks from the tracklist and had only released the best tracks on a 40 minutes long album.

"When The World Becomes Undone" features a decent sounding production, which suits the material well, and the musicianship is pretty strong too, although Abruscato isn´t a particularly strong or distinct sounding singer. So decent sized checkmarks to those features. It´s the songwriting which doesn´t reach more than standard heights and regarding the development of style and sound it´s like the band are treading waters. It´s more of the same, and it would have been nice to hear something a little different. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

TOOL Fear Inoculum

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 6 ratings
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Necrotica
Tool’s fifth studio album is one of those projects that I don’t think most people had much faith in. Over a decade was spent waiting for it, getting to the point where several memes online mocked the band for their inability to stay on the same page and get the record done. I get the feeling many of us thought it would go the way of Half-Life 3 and become the musical version of vaporware, and the constant rumor mill from the band and media wasn’t convincing people otherwise. And yet… somehow, we actually made it. Fear Inoculum is out, and critics are already stumbling over each other giving the album (mostly) rapturous praise. Most of the public seems onboard for it too, giving kudos to the band for not missing a beat and swinging back stronger than ever. For the most part, I can agree with this.

Fear Inoculum is not the easiest experience to dive into; it runs at 80 minutes (86 if you’re talking about the digital version) across only 7 tracks, which means almost every song is over 10 minutes. That’s a lot to digest, and many of these songs run at very slow, almost doomlike paces. But, as usual for a latter-day Tool album, there’s plenty of dense progressive metal to sink your teeth into. You’ll find all the typical Lateralus-era stuff here; tribal rhythms, post-metal buildups and payoffs, subtle polyrhythms, and frequent dynamic ebbs and flows all make their way on this record. However, it’s important to note that the buildups are much more lengthy and detailed this time around. In fact, I’m a little shocked that the title track was able to become a charting single, given the fact that the song doesn’t really get off the ground until about halfway into its 10-minute runtime. I suppose that’s the power of hype and expectations after such a long wait from the band’s devoted fanbase! Anyway, these long runtimes work better for some songs than others; “Pneuma” and “Invincible” are fantastic examples of balancing their buildups and payoffs perfectly for emotional effect, especially in the way the latter combines triumph and resignation to flesh out the story of an “aging warrior” (see also: Maynard Keenan himself). The former presents itself in a darker and almost ritualistic manner, with Maynard repeating several lines over and over while the stuttering rhythms are constantly throwing you off in the process. Every time the heavy Drop-D riff comes in, it’s a welcome release from the tension.

The band members themselves have clearly grown over the years, and they sound even more comfortable than ever when flexing their virtuoso muscles. However, one thing that I’ve always loved about Tool over the years is that they never really beat you over the head with their instrumental prowess, instead preferring to showcase their skills in more subtle ways; Fear Inoculum definitely sticks to this. Instead of doing a giant shred solo, Adam Jones might lay down some simple guitar chords that are played in a slightly off-kilter or wonky manner, such as he often does in album highlight “7empest.” The entire song is like a giant experiment where the band members all try and see how many cool things they can do the metallic framework they’re given, and the outcome is just phenomenal. As far as vocals go, Maynard is more reserved and introspective this time around; but given the structures and dynamics of the songs here, that’s the perfect route to go. Plus, given his age, he still sounds excellent. Still, I don’t think many people are going to doubt that this is absolutely a rhythm section-centric record. Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey absolutely tear up this album, providing both an incredible backbone and an infinite stream of ways that Adam Jones could work his guitar magic over them. “Chocolate Chip Trip” might be the most inconsequential and skippable song on the album in the grand scheme of things, but I still don’t advise missing out on that sweet drum solo that Carey lays down on it. It’s one of the great highlights of his recorded output.

So what’s wrong exactly? Well, just one thing… and it’s a pretty important thing. Let me start this off with a movie analogy: have you watched an actor that you can only see as that actor and not a character they’re playing? A big example in my case is Tom Cruise. Every time I see him in a role, I just see Tom Cruise; I don’t see a character, because Cruise just kinda overtakes the role itself. It’s a really frustrating situation, because it constantly sucks me out of the immersion of a film when I can constantly see the “man behind the curtain.” And unfortunately, Tool fall right into this trap. One of the things that made Lateralus and even 10,000 Days so great is that there was always that additional instrumentation that fleshed out the atmosphere of those records. There were always Jones’ guitar pedals and a bunch of warbling industrial effects lending to the dark, eerie vibe Tool succeeded so well at crafting. Sadly, on Fear Inoculum I just hear 4 guys jamming out in the studio. The atmosphere is so empty and sparse on this album, and it doesn’t help that there usually aren’t many extra synthesizers or pedals to spice things up. That’s not to say the entire record is like this; “Pneuma” has an excellent middle section with a buzzing electronic effect alongside some beautiful clean guitar melodies from Jones, and of course the tribal drumming in the majority of the title track is always welcome. But considering this is Tool’s longest and most dense album, it would have been nicer to hear some more little touches to provide extra detail and texture to the experience.

Still, I’m really glad Fear Inoculum is finally here. I’m glad that we’re finally able to let all the old memes and jokes about Tool’s constant delays finally die. And unlike Duke Nukem Forever, we have a delayed product that’s actually incredibly solid and worth the time it took to make it. If you enjoyed Tool’s prog era, you’ll most likely love what they did here. Fear Inoculum is the logical outcome of the band’s constant flirtation with complexities and intricacies over the years, as well as how much they’d grown personally and creatively to get to this point in their lives. I can’t say that this is a better album than Lateralus - which I still consider to be the band’s gold standard - but it’s definitely my second favorite of theirs so far. There’s just too much ambition and quality songcraft here to pass up or ignore. So was Fear Inoculum worth the wait? I wholeheartedly say: yes.

DISOWNING Human Cattle

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
I’m always on the hunt for new bands to check out. Most I come across are average and uninspiring or even total crap. Being competent in this day and age is not enough. Now and again though the search reaps a reward like in the case of Human Cattle, the debut album from Disowning, a death metal band whose members are divided between Canada and France.

From opening track Ghost Area things are looking good. A decent organic production is always a good start as we have here. Straight in with some blast beats and the obligatory double kick patterns over some compelling riffs lifted from the Trey Azagthoth songbook. It’s intoxicating stuff for sure and fortunately it proves not to be a one off. These guys are good and go for an old school vibe. Sure this stuff is fast at times but speed is not the overall objective giving these songs space to breathe and the riffs are immense. Morbid Angel and Immolation come to mind though these guys aren’t outright copyists but they have that similar crushing sound that Immolation do. They also inject some atmosphere into the mix and slow down before they explode into the next barrage of blast beats. Plenty of tempo and rhythm changes keep things interesting as perfectly demonstrated on Intoxicated by This Illusion. There’s nothing more boring than relentless blast beats with no change of tack on every track. You won’t find much in the way of melody though except on some of the lead guitar work which is certainly not a problem to these ears with down tuned heaviness being the top priority.

Human Cattle is not an original sounding album but who gives a shit when it’s this good. Every time I think I’m listening to my favourite track along comes another just as good to replace it. It’s hard to believe this is a debut album such is the maturity of the songs. The standard of musicianship is excellent too with strong vocals from Jesus “The Butcher” which are in the vein and low register of Immolation’s Ross Dolan.

This albums going to be on heavy rotation in my house over the next few months and will almost certainly feature on my best of year list in a few months’ time. You really need to check these guys out even if you just have just a passing interest in death metal, it’s that good.

KILLSWITCH ENGAGE Atonement

Album · 2019 · Melodic Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
2019’s Atonement is the 3rd album since Jesse Leach rejoined the iconic metalcore band, Killswitch Engage. I’ll skip to the end right away and say this album is no disappointment. There are a bunch of new songs fit for any future KSE live sets or compilations.

The sound, performance and production are all top notch. More or less similar in quality to the past two albums. Sonically; it is crystal clear and perfectly produced. As classy as you can get without tipping over into overproduced. The band pound away with the same ratio of aggression and contemplation, and nail it perfectly.

Unusually for Killswitch, there is a guest vocal performance from an outisder, from Testament’s Chuck Billy. They add him over one of the thrashier songs (‘The Crownless King’) and he really suits the music. Also; in contrast to the outsider guest spot, and in a nice mirror to Jesse Leach’s guest vocal performance on The End Of Heartache, during the time that Howard Jones was the singer, now that Jesse is the singer, Howard Jones pops up here for a guest vocal performance, on the track ‘The Singal Fire.’

I’m not just saying it due to the above fact, but the best song on the album is definitely ‘The Signal Fire.’ Next time I see Killswitch I really hope they play it live.

Other highlights include the opener ‘Unleashed’ and ‘I Can’t Be The Only One’ (which I imagine will become a single and a live favourite). I am also rather fond of ‘Know You Enemy’ which channels Dimebag at times in the riffs, and the album closer ‘Bite The Hand That Feeds’ which is arguably the fastest and heaviest one on this album. There’s plenty of new songs to get excited about, and very little if any in the way of filler.

Initially I was a bit sceptical about this album before getting it, as they said it was their most diverse album to date, and then the first song they released from it, ‘I Am Broken Too’ wasn’t exactly a big rager like ‘In Due Time’ or ‘Strength Of The Mind’ or ‘This Is Absolution’ …and I feared that they might be loosing their touch. Luckily the album is not all in that style anyway. And furthermore, do you know what? The more I listen to that song, the more I like it. It may be a bit mid paced and overly earnest, but dammit if that chorus doesn’t sound better and better each time I play it. As long as there are ragers there too, it doesn’t hurt to have a calmer moment to break things up.

Overall; this is a very strong album and a welcome addition to the Killswitch catalogue. If you don’t like Killswitch already, it won’t change your mind, for all the media talk of it being their most diverse album, it pretty much sounds like modern Killswitch and nothing else for the majority of its duration, but if you like modern Killswitch you shant be disappointed, as it is an expertly performed, produced and written modern Killwitch album, and that’ll do just fine.

ARCH / MATHEOS Winter Ethereal

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Winter Ethereal" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Arch / Matheos. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in May 2019. Arch / Matheos is a project formed by former Fates Warning frontman John Arch and Fates Warning guitarist and main composer Jim Matheos. While Matheos since the early 80s has continuously recorded and toured with Fates Warning (and has released a couple of solos albums and has recorded a couple of OSI albums), Arch had a longer break from the music industry after leaving Fates Warning in 1987. It wasn´t until 2003 that he stuck out his head again, when he released the "A Twist of Fate" EP, which was released under his own name. The EP was created in collaboration with Matheos, and while it didn´t initially mean a comeback to the scene for Arch, the seeds were sown for the Arch / Matheos project.

The project´s debut album "Sympathetic Resonance" was released in 2011 and featured bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Engine, Armored Saint), drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Fates Warning, Halford, Iced Earth) and lead guitarist Frank Aresti (Fates Warning) in addition to Arch on lead vocals and Matheos on guitars. While the three mentioned session musicians are also featured on "Winter Ethereal", the album features quite a few other session bassists and drummers, including former Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder, former Fates Warning bassist Joe DiBiase, and the omnipresent bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Testament, Iced Earth...etc.). With musical capacities like that it´s no surprise that the musicianship on "Winter Ethereal" is exceptionally strong.

The stars of the show are of course Arch and Matheos though. Matheos as always have written some tasteful and quite intricate progressive metal songs and his riffs and sense for rhythm are dynamic, and can be both heavy and loud but also subtle and more sophisticated. Arch is a skilled vocalist with a strong voice and a wide range (although he predominantly sings in a very high register). His long break from the scene has probably meant that there hasn´t been the wear on his voice other singers his age typically experience. He sounds almost exactly as he did in the 80s. His high pitched vocal style, voice, and ornamented vocal lines are probably an aquired taste, but personally my jaw drops every time he opens his mouth and sings. To my ears he is an incredible vocalist with a distinct sounding voice and vocal style. A top tier progressive metal vocalist.

"Winter Ethereal" features 9 tracks and a total playing time of 67:59, so it´s a fairly long album, but it doesn´t really feel that long, as the material are both well written and relatively varied. Highlights include album opener "Vermilion Moons", the power ballad type track "Tethered" (well...power ballad is probably stretching the definitions of that term, but there are some similar features), the short and powerful "Straight and Narrow", and the 13 minutes long closing epic "Kindred Spirits". This is a high quality album through and through though, and there´s not a single sub par track in sight.

"Winter Ethereal" features a powerful and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly and upon conclusion it´s a high quality sophomore release by Arch / Matheos and a more than worthy successor to "Sympathetic Resonance (2011)". It´s not often you come across progressive metal releases of this quality, featuring an origial sound and musical style too, and add to that high level musicianship on all posts, this is simply layers upon layers of quality features, which work in perfect balance and symbiosis. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.

ORIGIN Abiogenesis - A Coming into Existence

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
This is an interesting concept, as this isn’t the current direction or sounds of the band Origin, but instead is a trip back to the very earliest days of the band. The twelve-track album includes eight new (previously unreleased) songs from the pre-Origin period, spanning from the ‘Necrotomy’ (1990-1991) and ‘Thee Abomination’ (1992-1993) eras of the band which followed by a remastered version of the band’s first ever EP from 1998. For this project band leader Paul Ryan spent five years recording all the old material on his own. As he says, “Over the years people have asked me how Origin just came to be as a band so ferocious virtually out of nowhere. This is a small summary of the Origins of Origin. Basically, I spent a lot of my youth at shows at the outhouse practicing garage grinding, basement blasting & shed shredding anywhere I️ could, composing as what my father would call 'Infernal Racket' as I was very passionate about death metal. That's all I ever wanted to do. This is by no means the current direction of the band Origin, but simply music that is the Origins of Origin. I did to the best of my ability to recreate the instrumentation of all the former members and the guys who I played this music with blended into each track (and yes there was a lot of editing!!!!). I’m officially retired from recording drums ever again!".

The end result is an album of 12 songs, which is under half an hour in length. Although recording wise this is very polished, this brutal death metal act is quite different in many ways from what I think of today with Origin as they exist now. I am a big fan of their last album, ‘Unparalleled Universe’, which shows the more technical direction the band takes now. The vocals are often distorted and screamed and add little to the overall sound of the music. It is very heavy, and the drumming is surprisingly good (which makes me wonder exactly how much editing went into that area), and while the guitars and bass are as tight as one would expect from Ryan it is the vocals and song length which really lets this down. But, this isn’t really designed for the casual listener, and if it was placed before 2000’s ‘Origin’, which in many ways is the right place for it to be, then it would have been discussed in a different way. As it stands, this may be mostly for Origin fans only as it shows where they came from, but apart from the vocals this is still a fun ride.

GOATKRAFT Sulphurous Northern Beastiality

Album · 2019 · War Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
The war metal section of black metal seems to be growing by leaps and bounds in 2019 with not only new releases by classic bands such as Diocletian and Seges Findere but finds a whole new cast of beastial noise bringers to the mix! New releases from Esoteric Order of the Red Goat, Mothersuperior, Savage Necromancy, Ygarokk, Death Worship, Pig’s Blood, Warbrother, Morbital, Sankara, Eggs of Gomorrh, Abysmal Lord and Tetragrammacide just to name a few DEMON-strate that this little loud and obnoxious subgenre is in no danger of falling into oblivion any time soon. Add to the list is the debut album by one of Norway’s newest noisemakers - GOATKRAFT and it’s also clear that the frigid darkness of the Scandinavian northlands continues to generate angsty youths who love to take out steam through the most vile and horrific sounds possible!

Emerging from Bergen, the city of Immortal, Burzum, Gorgoroth and Taake also clearly shows that this little city on Norway’s west coast is also in no danger of losing its touch for delivering the black metal goods. GOATKRAFT formed in 2017 and quietly released its debut EP in the form of “Angel Slaughter” the following year. Now one year later in 2019 comes the band’s debut full-length affectionally titled SULPHUROUS NORTHERN BESTIALITY, a true northern brutal slice of bestial black war metal in the vein of the most aggressive and energetic miscreants this little nook in the black metal universe can muster up. Living up to the standard of the war metal world, GOATKRAFT delivers a crude slice of lo-fi black metal fortified with the rampage of death metal drenched in pure eeeeeee-vile! Steeped in the blood of the pioneers such as Blasphemy, Archgoat and Beherit, GOATKRAFT don’t reinvent the wheel but rather blow it to smithereens.

Falling into the same camp as newer bands like Weregoat, GOATKRAFT exudes a purely Satanic saturation of which the hellish album cover art is what attracted me to sample SULPHUROUS out of the many war metal albums releases as of late. While the album cover gets a full five stars for its perfecting the mysterious nature of the evil underground, musically GOATKRAFT don’t exactly top my list for epic black metal releases. While gazing towards the past to tritone based Darkthrone in its earliest second wave black metal compositional flair, GOATKRAFT does strike the perfect retro pose while adding new layers of aggression to their 21st century angst but unfortunately the album (as do many in the war metal zone) comes off as a one-trick pony with incessant power chords with tremolo picking and incessant blastbeat drumming that blurs into a continuous headache inducing machine at full speed for almost the entirety of the album’s playing time.

With a running time of just under 29 minutes, the album buzzes along on a relentless rampage with only the opening “Yawns From The Abyss” and the intermission “Invocation Of The Lord Of Huracan” providing some dark ambient ritualistic noise to demarcate some sort of contrast. Other than those two short snippets of sound, SULPHUROUS NORTHERN BESTIALITY tends to sound like a typical lashing out by a drug overdosed schizoid who screams and snarls until blood gushes out of every orifice. While the grim riffing and brutal bombast are certainly up to snuff in generating the proper degrees of musical violence and lupine savagery, the lack of any sort of deviation from the overall plan does tend to create a bit of monotony on this nihilistic journey. In the end a decent war metal album but not in the top ranks of the sub and certainly doesn’t match the majesty presented by the album cover art but nevertheless, GOATKRAFT provides a distinctly morbid brutal sound and a band to look out for in the future.

WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA Syntheosis

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
One of the current trends in the more progressive aisles of the music store at least is the fact that more artists are choosing to collaborate and create some highly innovative side projects that could have but mostly like would not have happened otherwise. One of the more recent examples is when two of Finland’s up and coming atmospheric metal bands Dark Buddha Rising and Oranssi Pazuzu coming together this one courtesy of the Roadburn Festival which has become one of Europe’s leading underground events for heavy music of all types. This new project called WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA is what you get when you combine the stoner doom metal laced with atmospheric sludge that has been a trademark of Laitila based Dark Buddha Rising with the blackened psychedelic and avant-garde metal of Tampere’s Oranssi Pazuzu, the latter of which has become one of the metal world’s latest conquering forces in the darkened underground and a clear case of why a psychedelic metal tag is ubiquitously bound to erupt into the mainstream consciousness.

In case anyone needs proof that the metal universe hosts some of the most creative and fertile musical explorations in the entire world of sonic fecundity, just one listen to SYNTHEOSIS, the debut album of WSOS, will inculcate a massive appreciation for the intricate fusion of disparate musical genres. As metal continues to evolve into more progressive and unrelenting evolutionary splinterings, it is only logical that it take the road to the world of sprawling compositional prowess that can be heard in Western classical music as well as some of the darker more adventurous arenas of progressive rock and in this pursuit of going where no band has gone before, WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA easily melds together the aspects of atmospheric sludge metal of its Dark Bhuddha Rising persona perfectly with the psychedelic blackened doom variety of Oranssi Pazuzu. Unlike many so-called supergroups that tend to get in each other’s way instead of properly concatenate into a cohesive whole, WOSO in many ways creates a more dynamic sum of the parts than any of the two bands have successfully crafted in their own right.

SYNTHEOSIS is a cosmic journey of epic proportion wrapped up in a blanket of psychedelic haze and contrasted with crashing percussive bombast and crushing metal guitar and bass riffing. Starting out subtle as if simulating the creative forces of evolution that emerged from the god force, the sounds that emerge like a mere pin drop of sound develop incrementally and metamorphose into every greater complexity. Adopting a more darkened version of Hawkwind’s electronic sound effect fields, the music slowly generates into a sonic representation of massive solar winds crashing against the Earth’s magnetic field meanwhile the hypnotic effect of the sludge induced metal riffs in perpetual cyclical loops evoke the post-metal fury of the pioneers of the genre such as Neurosis and Isis. While mostly an instrumental affair, this dramatic cosmic score finds itself hosting two vocalists, one of Vesa Ajomo aka The Shaman and the other Marko Neuman aka The Professor. While both reside in the Dark Buddha Rising camp, their roles display the ultimate cosmic battle between the spiritually infinite and the ephemeral materialistic separation of the right / left brain complexes.

With a massive lineup that includes ten musicians which means two drummers, three guitarists, two bassists, two electronic / keyboard wizards and two vocalists, it would seem that a possible sonic overload could easily derail this project but every little detail is segregated into its proper place and my hunch is that these two bands tag team rather than attack from all angles with a vengeance. Add to the ever plodding metal riffage and atmospheric wind storms, a rich variation of extra instrumentation that ranges from lush wind chimes to ethnic cosmic sitars and you are often wondering if this is psychedelic metal or metallic psychedelia. WOSO really takes the listener on an ambiguous journey. Just black enough to feel the impending doom of a cosmic blackhole where all hope and aspirations are bound to be sucked into the abyss if one dares approach too close but also flitters near the light with uplifting moments of triumph and visions of angelic forces leading the way to promised lands even as extreme metal growls and rasps of hopelessness lurk in the background trying to be heard from under the suffocating din.

When all is said and done, SYNTHEOSIS feels like a true representation of what could actually be considered space metal. Not just merely insinuating a nod and a wink to the Krautrock of the early 70s or the mere subject matter of more technically infused thrash and death metal bands but provides all the sound effects to insinuate a true interstellar locus as if this musical experience was generated on some sort of extraterrestrial base that still had ties to the Earthly influences that prompted it. Graced with both crushing metal riffage and fully fueled shamanic ritual practices coming to the ultimate climax on “Vacuum Head” it seems that the album serves as a sonic reminder of our shamanic distant past and our modern day technologically intergalactic presence and insinuates the possibilities of marrying the two which results in creating a timeless epic feeling soundtrack to the limitless combinations of musical genera. Graced with post-punk chunks of rhythmic drive expanded into post-metal sonicscapes that arc with subtle tangential fluency, WOSO is more than a collaborative band effort but a duality that merges the inner and outer worlds seamlessly into one.

Approach the cosmic portal and transport yourself into the next generation of musical collaborative efforts where the ego is shattered and the dominating mission of the musicians involved never loses sight of the greater aspirations at hand. Like a journey to the moon, SYNTHEOSIS emulates the laws of physics with energetic crests, waves, peaks and troughs that meander like disparate wavelengths transcending the vast infinity of the cosmos without a true beginning and without a true logical ending. A musical meditation that zigzags through the metallic fueled asteroid belt and the benign atmospheric emptiness of the mind, WASTE OF SPACE ORCHESTRA annihilates the notion that the metal universe is in any possible way in danger of dying out any time soon as its unparalleled reach is as expansive as the stars in the heavens above. SYNTHEOSIS is a strange beast that somehow bridged the gaps between sludge metal, black metal, post-punk, progressive rock, neo-psychedelia and ambient electronica and implemented them as colorful elements to be painted on a greater classically infused canvas. Whoah! I’m sooooo tripped out! Nice :)

INDESTRUCTIBLE NOISE COMMAND Terrible Things

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Although the current rhythm section only came on board in 2012, the rest of the guys were in I.N.C. when they unleashed their thrash debut ‘The Visitor in 1988. They took a break between 1990 and 2010 but have been active ever since. Original formed as Genocide Inc. back in 1986, released some demos, then changed their name in the same year when they realised there was another band with the same moniker, and Dennis Gergely (vocals), Erik Barath (guitars) and Tony Fabrizi (guitars) have been there throughout. They started off playing thrash, and don’t see any reason to change now, and musically this has a great deal in common with the scene of 30 years ago.

This is their fifth album, their third since reforming, and If I had to guess where they hailed from I would have been correct in New York as it as if they are taking Anthrax and Overkill and then bringing in a touch of hardcore from Life of Agony, and there is the sound. The vocals are strong and melodic, more in common with power metal than many of the thrashers out there, and it certainly doesn’t sound like a self-release. They are full of confidence, probably not surprising given the length of time the core of the band has been together, and the result is something which may not be totally essential but is a damn fine dandruff loosener all the same.



IN FLAMES I, the Mask

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is safe to say that I wasn’t a fan of the last In Flames album, ‘Battles’, where I said “Now, change isn’t necessarily bad, and it can often be good, but then there are also the concerns that the band haven’t changed so much as having left the planet altogether and gone into a new universe. Possibly one where they have been starved of oxygen which could explain what they are doing now.” So, when I realised there was a new album out, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the prospect of listening to it. Between this album and the last they have changed the rhythm section, and one wonders just how much that has had an impact on the overall sound as although this is not a return to the classic sound which made them so many fans, it is certainly a huge leap to the better.

Okay, so it is still alternative metal as opposed to the melodic death with which they made their name, and the overall sound seems quite compressed and being kept under tight control as opposed to being allowed to roam free and find the right spot. They still sound as if they are angry young Americans as opposed to a Swedish act who have been together for nearly 30 years and should really know better by now. But the riffs are tight, the guitar interplay works, and I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed the album. I found myself playing it without gritting my teeth and bearing it just for the sake of a review, which is a massive difference between the last release and this one. There is no way that In Flames will ever have the impact they did when they burst onto the scene all those years ago, but if they keep producing music like this then old fans may at least tolerate what they are doing, and they may even gain some new ones. I won’t be so hesitant when I next see a new album by the band, and that at least is progress.

CARNIFEX World War X

Album · 2019 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
For anyone who’s been listening to Carnifex since the Dead in My Arms, it’s crazy how much they’ve evolved over the years. Back in 2007, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t lump them in with either Suicide Silence or Job for a Cowboy… or basically any big deathcore band from the Myspace era. But the way the first wave of deathcore splintered off into so many offshoots is fascinating in and of itself. Job for a Cowboy now makes progressive death metal in the vein of The Faceless or Rivers of Nihil, while Suicide Silence spent their last album making “TEE-HEE”-ridden nu-metal rip-offs. Meanwhile, you have bands like Shadow of Intent bringing more credibility to the genre than ever. But Carnifex is in a bit of an interesting place as far as the deathcore scene goes.

They’re probably one of the most well-respected deathcore bands around, mostly because they’ve had such a notable evolution over the years. As every album passed, there was more of an emphasis on black metal and traditional death metal elements rather than the pure deathcore they were once known for. Sure, the deathcore is still there, but I often find that the more they stray from that genre, the better they get. So here we are at World War X, another suitably punishing and brutal effort that also experiments with a lot of the same textures and dark atmospheres that permeate the band’s later work. Not only does the finished product sound hellish and uncompromising throughout its 35-minute run, but the vibe is also incredibly depressing and hopeless as well.

For instance, you have the beautiful classical piano sections in “This Infernal Darkness,” which manage to be both unsettling and downcast at the same time. They provide a perfect contrast to the heavy riffs, which is something I can also say about Alyssa White-Gluz’s clean vocals that are scattered about “No Light Shall Save Us.” There’s something apocalyptic about the way her singing is combined with the throat-shredding growls of Scott Lewis; mix that in with some doomy melodies and chugging, and it’s all very effective in sucking you into its unique world. In general though, the melodic moments have just gotten much better than before. “Brushed by the Wings of Demons” boasts a beautiful Anata-esque harmonized guitar solo in the midst of its crushing death metal, while guest guitarist Angel Vivaldi brings a nice neoclassical touch to “All Roads Lead to Hell.”

Of course, the metal itself is still just as chaotic and intense as ever. But every album boasts more of a technical slant than the previous one, and World War X is no exception. Jordan Lockrey’s lead guitar work is getting more and more intricate - especially in regards to his solos - and Shawn Cameron continues to incorporate more elaborate tricks into his drumming. This is probably the largest amount of tempo shifts he’s ever had to plow through on a Carnifex album, and he’s absolutely up to the task. On “Eyes of the Executioner,” the musicians are called upon to switch tempos and moods almost constantly, such as immediately switching from a breakdown to an onslaught of blastbeat-ridden black metal riffs. Stuff like that is great when it comes to adding more variety into the mix. “All Roads to Hell” also taps into this nicely by getting faster and faster with every few measures to constantly ratchet up the tension before finally resorting to blast beats and thrash riffs to make their point.

However, the one downside here is that there’s still not quite enough innovation here to mark the album as a huge step forward. There’s a temptation to label the album as “just another Carnifex record” despite the abundance of great music we’ve got here. Plus, the lyrics - while dark and suitably creepy - are starting to get a bit tired and played out by this point. They fit the atmosphere, yes, but a little more effort thrown into the imagery and themes wouldn’t hurt. But hey, at least it’s better than the near-constant stream of F-bombs we were greeted with on 2014’s Die Without Hope! So I suppose that’s a good thing. Anyway, I do highly recommend World War X. Is it a huge leap forward in terms of stylistic innovation? No. But it’s just an incredibly solid slab of death metal that implements its deathcore and black metal elements in all the right places. And when you get down to it, these guys are still leaving about 90% of their deathcore contemporaries in the dust, so you enjoy the genre, you shouldn’t be disappointed in any way by this record.

HAMMERFALL Dominion

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Swedish heavy/power metal band Hammerfall have become very reliable over the last 22 years, releasing one great album after another, without showing any signs of slowing down. They first splashed onto the scene in 1997 with their critically acclaimed debut, Glory to the Brave, and ever since they’ve been both very prolific and consistently entertaining, proving themselves to be one of the absolute best in their field. While I tend to enjoy some of their albums more than others, they always manage to have their fair share of excellent tracks on every release, and so I always look forward to hearing new music from them. I was particularly impressed by their previous release, Built to Last, which proved to be a big return to form following the much-reviled Infected, and the solid but somewhat underwhelming (r)Evolution. Their eleventh full-length release, Dominion, is nearly here, and after several spins, I can safely say it not only improves upon its already excellent predecessor, but it’s an amazing album in its own right and one that can easily stand toe to toe against any of the band’s best works!

Hammerfall has a pretty distinct sound at this point, striking pretty much a perfect balance between 90’s-early 2000’s Euro power metal, with slight modernization here and there, and some classic heavy metal. The only album that didn’t quite fit that description was Infected, which had a much darker, slightly heavier and more modernized sound, overall. Dominion, however, continues where Built to Last left off, showing the band at their most melodic, and the most energetic they’ve been in quite some time, channeling their younger selves at times, while still having some sight modern twists, as well as a couple of their heaviest songs to date. The guitar work is, of course, excellent, as always, with some amazing melodic lead guitar work, some great solos, and some very heavy riffs, and while there are times where the music takes a slightly modern twist, for the most part, the songs have a very classic feel to them, which works perfectly. There are a few points where the music approaches Infected levels of heaviness and darkness, but the band always counters it with some excellent, uplifting vocal melodies, and so anyone turned off by that release should not be disappointed by this one. As far as pacing goes, the album is very much what any Hammerfall fan should expect from the band, with a perfect mix between speedy power metal, some slower, hard-hitting heavy metal, a couple of tracks which alternate between the two, and a couple of ballads. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the release, though, is the vocals, with Joacim Cans sounding clearly at the top of his game, delivering the kind of epic, soaring power metal vocals he’s always excelled at, and especially shining during the choruses, which are easily some of the band’s catchiest, most melodic and just plain best in quite some time. Production and performances are of course excellent across the board, as always, and everything sounds perfect.

Leading up to the release, the band has delivered three singles, all of which would suggest a move away from their typical power metal sound, though all three of them are excellent tracks, in their own right. First up, lead single “{We Make} Sweden Rock” is a rather upbeat, moderately paced heavy metal track, with a slight hard rock feel to it. It has some nice heavy riffs throughout the verses, which give way to a very melodic, extremely catchy chorus, and while the lyrics may be a bit cringy for some, the performances and overall songwriting are more than strong enough to help make it a winner, and the guitar solo and chanting in the second half are quite excellent. The second single is “One Against the World”, which starts with some pretty cool modern sounding keys, before slowing down and turning into one of the band’s heavier tracks. The verses plod along at a slow pace, but with some very powerful guitar work, and they do a great job of building towards the typically great, uplifting chorus. The track picks up in the middle, with an epic speedy section that brings classic Iron Maiden to mind, and then it only speeds up further from there, going into full power metal territory for a truly awe-inspiring final run through the chorus. The third and most recent single is the title track, another very hard-hitting track, with a killer lead riff that falls somewhere in between Black Album era Metallica and classic AC/DC, as well as being some of the band’s most brutal guitar work ever, aside from Infected. The track moves along at a fairly slow pace, with calm, melodic verses, enhanced by some cool choir vocals chanting the name, and then the chorus comes in and is beautiful, with some of the band’s best vocal melodies of all time, and some very funny lyrics. The solo section in the middle is also epic and brings back some of the heavy riffs from early on. Overall, it’s my favorite song on the album, as as well as probably my favorite heavy metal track they’ve ever made, aside from maybe “Patient Zero”, from Infected.

The singles may cause fans to expect less power metal on the album, but thankfully that is not the case at all. First up, we have the explosive opener, “Never Forgive, Never Forget”, which starts with a nice soft intro, where the music immediately gives off a slight old Western vibe, and this remains throughout the entire track. Following that intro, the tempo immediately picks up, with the verses galloping along at a fast pace, while the chorus is very fun, melodic and quite fast-paced, with the track only briefly slowing down for some nice instrumental work in the second half, followed by an extremely fun and intense vocals section, which gives way to some great solos. Two tracks later, “Testify” is the heaviest of the power metal songs here, moving at a fast pace throughout and delivering some pretty crushing riffs, with a slightly modernized sound, overall. The highlight of the track is the chorus, with some pretty cool gang vocals delivering the title. It’s very fun and intense track, overall. On the more melodic side of things, “Scars of a Generation” has a very classic Hammerfall feel to it, moving at a nice pace with some moderately paced verses, before going full throttle for a very speedy, yet extremely melodic chorus, which is sure to please many power metal fans. It’s a very fun track, with some awesome vocal melodies, and is one of my favorites. The last two speedier tracks on the album are “Bloodline” and “Chain of Command”, both of which strike a nice balance between being fast-paced, melodic and having some heavy riffs and very melodic, catchy choruses, as well as some great instrumental work during the solo sections. Both tracks also have some excellent choral vocals throughout, and both are excellent tracks, overall.

Aside from the singles, the only real heavy slower track is “Dead by Dawn”, which has more of a classic Hammerfall sound to it, with some pretty heavy riffs during the verses, but with more of a traditional feel to them, while the chorus is quite fun and intense, and has some more great choral vocals. On the softer side, Built to Last ended with the incredible power ballad “Second to None”, which the band decided to follow up on this release with “Second to One.” While this track isn’t quite as epic as the aforementioned masterpiece, it’s still a very nice ballad, starting with some nice piano work and vocals, which remain throughout the first two verses and chorus, before guitars take over for a very emotional solo. The chorus is excellent, and the verses do a good job of building up to it, while the instrumental work is excellent. It doesn’t have any speedier passages or any real metal elements, at all, unlike “Second to None”, but it’s an excellent ballad, in its own right. Closing out the album is the second ballad, “And Yet I Smile”. This one starts with some excellent melodic guitar work, and it’s a slightly heavier track, overall, with some nice bursts of heaviness, particularly in the second half, while still clearly falling into power ballad territory. It balances nicely between soft and heavy sections, with Joacim delivering some brilliant vocals throughout, especially during the chorus, the instrumental section is extremely well done. Overall, it’s a very strong, if somewhat predictable, way to end the album.

For the longest time, I used to consider Hammerfall as one of those “singles” bands, where each of their albums would have maybe 2-5 excellent songs I played over and over, while ignoring the rest, but over time I’ve grown to enjoy almost all of their work, and while some of their albums do still feel a bit inconsistent, the band has proven their ability to deliver some great, more consistent releases over the years. Dominion is yet another triumph, with some of their best tracks to date, including some excellent speedy power metal, some slow, crushing heavy metal with excellent vocal melodies, and a couple of excellent ballads. Longtime fans of the band should be very pleased, while anyone looking for some fun heavy/power metal is highly recommended to give this album a shot, as it’s one of the band’s best works to date!

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/08/10/hammerfall-dominion-review/

VLTIMAS Something Wicked Marches In

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"Something Wicked Marches In" is the debut full-length studio album by multi-national death metal act Vltimas The album was released through Season Of Mist in March 2019. Vltimas was formed in 2015 by guitarist Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir, Nader Sadek). Eriksen conceived the idea of the band and wrote some material which he send to drummer Flo Mounier (Cryptopsy, Nader Sadek) and asked if Mounier would be interested in joining, which he was. Shortly after Eriksen contacted vocalist David Vincent (Morbid Angel, Genitortures), who was fresh out of his second stint with Morbid Angel, and thus the trio lineup who recorded "Something Wicked Marches In" was completed.

With Vincent on vocals it´s almost impossible not to think of early 90s Morbid Angel, and references to that band and that era of death metal actually aren´t completely off when describing the sound on "Something Wicked Marches In". Eriksen´s black metal past and influences shine through on some of the riffs, but other than that this is old school influenced death metal through and through. It´s technically well played, but not with a focus on technical playing. The complexity of the riffs and rhythms are more a means to an end. Vincent predominantly uses his distinct sounding and intelligible growling vocal style, but there are clean vocals on the album too, which are sung in a deep kind of gothic rock/metal style. It´s nothing which takes away the focus from the death metal brutality and authenticity of the music though, just a little extra dark spice, which works perfect on the album and provides variation and atmosphere to the music.

The material on the 9 track, 38:22 minutes long album are well written, detailed, and intriguing death metal. Multible riff styles are employed, the guitar solos are very well played, and Mounier´s drumming is powerful and creative (the album features many breaks, tempo changes, but also great restraint as Mounier understands when to play more simple, when that is called for). While all tracks feature catchy hooks which return more than one time during a track, the song structures are a bit more adventurous than your regular vers/chorus formula structure, and the creative song writing ideas and intriguing compositional details make "Something Wicked Marches In" an interesting and entertaining listen throughout. Highlights include the opening title track, "Monolilith", and the delightfully fast-paced "Truth And Consequence", but all tracks on the album are more or less of an equally high quality.

"Something Wicked Marches In" features a well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. There´s the right balance between power, clearness, and an organic touch. So-called supergroups often fail to deliver what the names and previous output by their members often promise, but Vltimas are, based on "Something Wicked Marches In", a shining example of the opposite, where a supergroup actually works and produce a memorable release. "Something Wicked Marches In" reeks class in every way possible and a 4.5 star (90%) rating is fully deserved.

FLAW Vol. IV Because Of The Brave

Album · 2019 · Nu Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
I really enjoyed the 2001 debut album Through The Eyes from Kentucky Nu Metal band Flaw, they were always one of the more underrated bands from that particular subgenre and the quality of their debut is up there with any of their more famous peers. I saw them live in 2002 and they were really good. Maybe the market was just saturated, at the time, maybe they didn’t get the right exposure, who knows? Maybe the manager didn’t land them the right tour…who knows? All I know is it sure as hell wasn’t for lack of brilliant songs that they aren’t as big as they should be. The follow up, Endangered Species was pretty good, but it came out when Nu Metal was falling off the map and hardly anyone heard it. I wanted it but didn’t ever find it in any music stores at the time, and this was before the internet was an obvious way to get albums. I’m sure you could, but I didn’t think of it yet.

Cut another 15 years forward to 2019, the band have gone through line-up changes (Wikipedia lists 19 ex-members, that’s up there with Cradle Of Filth and Annihilator for turnover), solo albums, a self-produced album and a reunion/comeback. The second album since their comeback, Vol. IV Because Of The Brave is now out, and it reminds me once again what a solid and dependable band Flaw are. It reminds me what an excellent vocalist Chris Volz is. It reminds me how entertaining Nu Metal can be when its done right.

It’s a decent album. 35 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. Fair production job. Good solid songs. A typically excellent vocal performance from Chris Volz. There’s also a few surprises. ‘Wake Up’ for example sounds a bit more like Korn than Flaw. The album closer, ‘Lest We Forget’ is pretty interesting too. Its sort of mid paced alternative metal with spoken word kind of reminds me a tiny bit of what Queensryche were doing on American Soldier.

Highlights include the opening one-two punch of ‘Persistence’ and ‘Walk The Line’ as well as single ‘Conquer This Climb’ (which seems to be a bit more modern and almost slightly Djent flavoured for the first few seconds before it turns to the classic Flaw sound – but with a rather tasty guitar solo).

If you have any inclination to check out Flaw for the first time, then obviously, go for their by now classic debut first. This is good but its not as good as the first two albums. But if you are a fan you can relax knowing the band are still here, still putting out music, and aren’t disappointing. Overall; A welcome addition to the Flaw catalogue, if you are into that sort of thing (which I certainly am).

POSSESSED Revelations of Oblivion

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.72 | 5 ratings
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Vim Fuego
When Possessed went through their various bust ups, there was a feeling among fans that the band’s true potential was never fully realised.

Through the legendary “Death Metal” demo, the influential “Seven Churches” album (NOT the first death metal album. No, it just fucking wasn’t, even if this site says it is!), the slightly more polished “Beyond The Gates” (which has one of the stupidest album covers ever), and the mellower “Eyes of Horror” mini album, Possessed had created a small, powerful, but occasionally patchy catalogue of evil, high energy thrash.

The band first split in 1987, not long after the release of “The Eyes of Horror”, with a variety of fates befalling the various band members. Guitarist Larry LaLonde joined fellow San Fran thrashers Blind Illusion, and then to rock weirdos Primus. Guitarist Mike Torrao continued with the Possessed name, but the band’s reputation had declined to the point where they suffered the indignity of playing support to an up-and-coming unsigned band by the name of Machine Head. Bass player/vocalist Jeff Becerra was shot in 1989 during a robbery, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Swept away in the great metal purge of the early 1990s, it seemed this legendary band had died young and left a beautifully ugly corpse.

But then an unusual thing happened. Possessed came back from the dead. “Revelations of Oblivion” is the result. The wheelchair-bound Becerra decided that 32 years was long enough for the world to be without a new Possessed album, so put together a band, wrote some songs, and recorded this little beauty. It all looks so easy when written like that...

When the creation of this album was first announced, the naysayers were quick to jump in with opinions on how bad it would be. After all, there’s only one original member left in the band, often not a great recipe for success. However, the most important element is the one that’s left – Becerra’s distinct shout/scream vocals. Have you ever tried singing sitting down? No, not just at a birthday party or in church (eek!), but really SINGING. Ever notice that professional singers always stand? Look at opera singers, choirs, and pretty much any band or performer you ever see. Singers stand. Why? Because that’s where the power comes from. Volume and breath control comes from being able to stand and move freely. See where this is going? Jeff Becerra is confined to a wheelchair. Listen to his vocals. The difference between 2019 and 1987 is negligible. Yeah, studios, recording methods, technology and all that shit have advanced immeasurably in those three decades, but you can’t work wizardry unless you have the right noises to work with in the first place. Becerra still sounds angry, evil, and most importantly, powerful. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of what he has achieved here.

And the naysayers can fuck off. “Revelations of Oblivion” finally realises the full potential of what Possessed always threatened. No, this won’t have the impact or influence that the band’s earlier work did, mainly because there’s a shit-ton more top quality extreme metal in the late 2010s than there was in the late 1980s. Extremity has sprouted in numerous black, dead, grinding, and technical directions since that time, and any single release now will have a more specific audience than back in Possessed’s initial run. However, if old school thrash which dabbles in cartoonish Satanic themes is your thing, then you won’t top this.

“Chant of Oblivion” is ye olde traditional spooky intro track. Tolling bells fading in with spooky horror movie orchestration and chants. So far, so clichéd, so fucking good!

And then the album bursts straight into the speedy evil “No More Room In Hell”. The first and most obvious thing is that while the sound is sharp and clear, it’s distinctively Possessed. No one else wrote or played wrist snapping riffs like that. Spiky, sharp guitar riffs, courtesy of Daniel Gonzalez and Claudeous Creamer, fly off each other. And that’s the great thing here. There’s nothing these two do which would have been out of place if done by LaLonde and Torrao. It’s Possessed, done in the style of Possessed.

Drums were always the weak link in the original Possessed line-up. Mike Sus was enthusiastic, but never very technically proficient, and couldn’t quite keep up with the rest of the band. No longer. Well, Sus is no longer in the band anyway, having gone on to become a psychologist, but drummer Emilio Marquez doesn’t miss a beat, which is a dreadfully clichéd way to describe a drummer, but this guy is faultless and powerful, and clichés become clichés because they fit.

Drums and guitars aside though, this is really the Jeff Becerra show. “Damned” has a great vocal melody, with rapid fire rhyming couplets, which gives it a weird evil Dr Seuss feel, but it’s near flawless. “Shadowcult” features a wicked chant. “The Word” blasts in with a great opening riff, but as soon as Becerra’s rasp hits, it’s obvious the guitars are only there as a vehicle for this voice.

In 2006, Celtic Frost surprised the metal world with “Monotheist”, easily their strongest album, a decade and a half past their supposed prime. Strongest, yes. Most influential, no. It was never going to be since times had changed. The same thing has happened here with Possessed. “Revelations of Oblivion” is stronger and more consistent than anything Possessed created in the 1980s, but despite finally realising the band’s full potential. it’s not going to have the impact of the previous albums. Unlike Celtic Frost though, let’s hope Possessed don’t call it a day after this.

WITHIN TEMPTATION Resist

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.71 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I have been a fan of this Dutch outfit for some fifteen years, since the release of their third album ‘The Silent Force’, so when I realised they were back with their seventh (it has been way too long since ‘Hydra’) I was incredibly excited as I have always loved the vocals of Sharon den Adel and their symphonic almost gothic approach to metal. Then I listened to it. According to Sharon, “After ‘Hydra’ we didn’t feel inspired anymore, up to a point where for the very first time we could see the end of the band coming near. After so many years of making music, only creative inspiration and innovation can motivate you to make a new record. And a very long break, no hasty decisions plus refilling your battery with new experiences. Like I did with recording my solo record ‘My Indigo.’ It eventually turned the tide. Our hunger to create and innovate awoke again. With this record, we’ve taken inspiration from modern music and gave it a face - a very dark one. Sometimes it feels that today’s pop music lacks a rebellious edge. Our main goal was to collect pieces from sounds we did like and roughen it up as much as we could. ‘Resist’ is our take on metal in a new way: to give modern music its rebellious edge.”

Which is all well and good, and I always want bands to change and move, but this just feels too artificial, where production and manipulation of sound has become more important than the end result. I am sure, I hope, that when these songs transfer to the live environment then they will be quite different, but as they stand at the present, they lack emotion and direction. The keyboards sound as if they have come straight from the electronic realm as opposed to the symphonic, the music feels ragged with sharp edges, and although Sharon’s vocals are as strong as ever, here they don’t have the impact they used to. I am sure there are plenty who will be pleased with the new direction of the band, but it just doesn’t work for me at all, and will watch with interest what happens with the next album. But given it has taken five years for this one to be released, I’m not sure when/if that will happen.

ROTTING CHRIST The Heretics

Album · 2019 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.61 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I was fairly late hearing Rotting Christ for the first time, but even I have been a fan for twenty years now. It is incredible to think that Sakis Tolis (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and his brother Themis (drums) formed this band as long ago as 1987, and now in their thirty-second year they have surely produced an album which is going to make the metal world sit up and take notice. The Greeks have brought in a couple of guests to help out and have then somehow produced one of the most incredible melodic black metal albums I have ever had the privilege to hear. The album opens with monks in their cloisters, a voice describes heretics, and then suddenly the band are crunching into “In The Name of God”. This is one of the most blistering, melodic and heavy black metal numbers I have come across as the riffs blast through in perfect unison, crunching everything into mush beneath the sheer power.

It is an incredibly brutal album, yet it is wrapped in symphonic majestic black metal power, a real iron fist inside a silk glove as it is incredibly commercial yet totally uncompromising all at the same time. That this has been picked up by music buyers and has catapulted it into charts all over the world is not a surprise to me, as any metalhead who hears this (no matter what subgenre they normally listen to) will just be blown away. Irina Zybina makes her presence felt on “Vetry Zlye” with some delicate additional vocals, adding yet another touch of class to what to my ears in a faultless album. I have been playing this a great deal, and I just can’t tire of it, each and every time I listen to it I am blown away by the sheer scale as this is something that feels to be far more than just music. This is a real force, an artistic creation which is monstrously beautiful. Now if only they could tour down here so I can hear this in the live environment then it would feel complete. This is one of the most important albums within this genre ever released, as it cuts through and across so many areas and is an amazing achievement.

OVERKILL The Wings Of War

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 6 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Overkill are back with their 19th studio album and show no signs at all of slowing down. They have a new drummer since ‘The Grinding Wheel in Jason Bittner, but given he has played with the likes of Shadows Fall, Anthrax, Toxik plus Flotsam and Jetsam his metal credentials are definitely established, and he drives the band from the back (even though the actual drum sound is more than a little suspect). D.D. Verni and Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth will soon be gathering in their pension, having formed the band as long ago as 1980, but even guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek "The Skull" Tailer will soon be celebrating 20 years, so here is a band with incredibly longevity and consistency. They have long since stopped trying anything significantly different, and as soon as the Overkill logo is sighted then one knows that here is thrash as it should be played, hard and fast and little in the way of anything fancy.

I was a huge fan of their last album, which I felt was the best of their career to date, but this one hasn’t grabbed me in the same way at all. It is okay, in fact it’s quite good, but it doesn’t have that touch of brilliance and class from the last one. I can’t put my finger on it, not sure if it is the songs, the arrangements or the production, as Bobby certainly hasn’t changed his approach and his rough-edged vocal style is still at the centre of all they do. I can’t imagine them ever releasing a bad album, but for me this certainly isn’t as essential as some of their others.

SLIPKNOT (IA) We Are Not Your Kind

Album · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 5 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
I’ve said it before, but I don’t think in my life I have listened to any album more than Slipknot’s 1999 debut. I got into the band my first year of high-school and for my generation they were the biggest and most important band in the world, the way Metallica and Maiden were for people starting school in the ‘80s, or Pantera were for people starting school in the ‘90s, or Zeppelin and Kiss were for people starting school in the ‘70s.

Slipknot were more than a band; they were so much more in my mind. I can’t count on two hands the number of pictures I drew of them, or discussions I had with school friends about them or magazines I bought just because they were in it. The first time I saw them live, on the Iowa cycle at Belfast Odyssey Arena, is one of the most memorable concerts I have ever been to. I don’t want to throw around terms like life-changing in my old and cynical age, but if I was to apply such an epithet to any band, Slipknot would be the one.

To some extent I like everything they have ever done. I am a bit of a lifer and so this review isn’t exactly going to be impartial or unbiased. But I am not 100% blind and unwilling to think critically either so I’d like to say you can trust what I say. I will admit All Hope Is Gone is not as good as the others. I’ll be happy to admit that there quite a few lyrics I dislike and sometimes Shawn’s video projects are a bit too arty and pretentious and that maybe a straighter take might do the band more favours. I’ll even admit that some songs I like have choruses I dislike even if the rest of the song is enjoyable. (‘Sulpher’ for example has a chorus I always seem to resent, as it represents the band going a bit too far away from what made me like them in the first place). I did get a bit sceptical when a few too many clean vocals started creeping in and what were amazing and refreshing moments of clean (‘Me Inside’) amongst the heaviness became the norm and it started to seem almost every song had to have a radio chorus.

A lot of people aren’t so keen on the band’s last two albums, All Hope Is Gone and .5 The Gray Chapter, so you can expect the reviews for this will all certainly feature some kind of ‘return to form’ or ‘best since’ line or two. Now; as I said, I like every album Slipknot have ever made (and probably every song too, its just some parts I am not keen on)… but I both can and can’t see why this ‘return to form’ thing is going to be so prevalent.

Now; I think The Gray Chapter is brilliant. I’ve been reading a lot of negative things about it online in the build up to We Are Not Your Kind’s release. I don’t agree with the narrative that it was a rushed or undercooked or too much like Corey’s other band Stone Sour. Tracks like ‘Custer,’ ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘The Negative One’ are rabid and savage, and even though I sort of resent them, I can’t deny the radio moments like ‘The Devil In I’ are damn catchy… However; In the same way I initially hated ‘Psychosocial’ when I first heard it for the big clean radio chorus that felt like a change in what the band was trying to be and what they represented, I can see how the cleaner moments on the Gray Chapter would put people off. I mean in isolation I like almost every one of them anyway, but I just wish on principal that on the last three albums there were a few more ‘Disasterpeice’ and ‘Metabolic’ style choruses and a few less ones like those of ‘Dead Memories’ and ‘Before I Forget.’ I reckon a lot of other older fans feel the same way.

We Are Not Your Kind seems to be blowing a lot of people’s skirts up for its heaviness and brutality. There is plenty of it on here. ‘Orphan,’ ‘Red Flag’ and ‘Nero Forte’ all connect like a haymaker to the face. Corey did say in interviews while it was being written that it reminded him of Iowa and on these songs you can sort of see why he might have thought that if they were the ones he was working on at the time.

But this album has plenty of clean moments too. Hell; the first real song (track 2) on every other Slipknot album is always one of the fastest, heaviest, most brutal ones on the record, and yet here, track two is the big single ‘Unsainted’ with its absolutely huge radio chorus and festival sing-along intro. So the public’s different reaction to ‘Gray Chapter and We Are Not Your Kind can’t just be about heavy vs. clean.

One thing that is clear is that the songs on this, their sixth official studio, album are just really good. It might be that simple. The first distorted verse to ‘Unsainted’ is fierce as honey badger and the drums throughout are really impressive and energetic. The way Jay flails sideways into the china cymbal at unexpected times reminds me of what made the band’s debut so damn exciting.

You know what else makes this album so good? (Now; I’m not saying it wasn’t there on the last two albums, but…) on this album the amount of time given over to the band’s extra members and how high they are in the mix seems to be higher on this record. Lots of Sid’s DJ scratches. Lots of additional percussion from the two extra percussionists. Lots of samples and sounds from the mysterious Craig. It feels like this album really goes out of its way to justify having all nine members and revels in what makes Slipknot unique… After the massive success of Vol. 3 and its radio singles and ballads, it felt like on the follow up, All Hope Is Gone that the band were trying to be more of a ‘normal’ band instead of celebrating their uniqueness. Here they seem to shine a spotlight on them more often.

What else is great is that the band aren’t afraid to do new things. ‘Birth Of The Cruel’ for example sees the band discover ‘90s Groove Metal, and lean into the sort of riffs and drum beats that would fit on Burn My Eyes or Chaos Ad at times, with bendy riffs, and stomping jarring rhythms. Obviously through a Slipknot filter, but still…

I think the best thing about the album though might well be the fact that Corey isn’t holding back with his vocals so much. On the first album he screamed his head off so much that we were told he wasn’t allowed to talk between shows so he could rest his voice. By the time Vol. 3 came around he had to find a way to scream without damaging his voicebox and came up with the new voices that he has been using on that and all subsequent albums. It feels at times though that on this album (and maybe ‘Custer’ off of the last album… because as I said, I don’t get the hate for that one) that Corey is back to shredding his throat to pieces like back in the glory days. Some of the vocals on ‘Red Flag’ and the start of ‘Orphan’ could be straight out of ‘People = Shit’ or ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and that is the sound I fell in love with all those years ago. That was a big part of the initial magic that hooked me in and made me such a lifer for this generation defining band. Corey howling himself hoarse is just one of the best noises in all of heavy music and its nice to hear it so much again.

The production is also good, it keeps the mix clear without losing the frenzied and chaotic feel too much on the heavier tracks. You can hear each beater on the kick drum, you can hear the bass under the vocals, but you can also tune out and just be swept away in the energy of the whole thing. It doesn’t feel like the edges have been sanded down too much.

One little minor niggle against the album is the exclusion of the track ‘All Out Life’ (which was separately released back around Halloween 2018, but it contains the title line ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ repeatedly chanted). Admittedly; There was one bit I didn’t like in it, where they slow down and there is the spoken word ‘‘I will not…’’ section that was a bit similar to the intro of ‘Pulse Of The Maggots.’ Otherwise however, that track was quite a rager. I really love how driving the first verse is and when he sings that ‘’the horizon is coming like a hellbent killing machine’’ you really feel this sense of urgency and momentum. I have just added the track in as number 15 on my iTunes and phone so I get to hear it every time I hear the album (which has been pretty much non-stop since release). If you want it on CD though, you’d have to buy the special Japanese bonus track edition. Bit of a shame though that everyone doesn’t just get it as standard, because it’s a great song that I’ve really grown to love and it fits into the album well.

I feel it’s a bit weird to leave it out, as the biggest complaint I have about The Gray Chapter is that it needs just one more heavy song to balance the album out. It’s a bit frustrating to see them make the same decision again. I mean don’t get me wrong; I like ‘A Liar’s Funeral’ and ‘Not Long For This World’ and their atmospheric build ups. (Slipknot have always been the master of that, with the likes of ‘Gently’ and ‘Skin Ticket’ in the good old days, and ‘If Rain Is What You Want’ recently). But what right-minded metal fan wouldn’t want the majority of a Slipknot album to be flailing double kicks and gnarly riffs?

Now I don’t want it to be exclusively speed and power. Slipknot’s diversity is as big a draw as their ferocity. The band have always had a creepy experimental side (often driven by Shawn) to balance out Joey and Mick’s love of Deicide and Morbid Angel. All the way back to ‘Tattered And Torn,’ ‘Frail Limb Nursery’ and ‘Scissors’ from the debut and evolving into things like ‘The Virus Of Life’ and ‘Danger Keep Away (Extended Version)’ they have been balancing out the aggressive songs with nightmarish moments. They have also been experimenting with clean and subtle moments on recent albums like ‘Killpop’ and ‘Goodbye.’ So you can sort of see the legacy and evolution there and so it isn’t a total bolt out of the blue, when this album takes the cleans and mixes them with the creepy to come up with a new sound. I have read a lot of reviews of this record saying this record is dominated by experimentation. You can sort of see why. The album is full of creepy nursery rhyme-meets-experimental electronic tracks. ‘Death Because Of Death,’ ‘What’s Next,’ ‘My Pain’ and ‘Spiders’ for example come across at the same time as being both something that the band has never done before but also as a continuation in their long line of broadening the scope of their albums by adding in something more esoteric.

This album is certainly diverse; you have the four aforementioned quiet creepy ones, you have the two above-mentioned atmospheric ones, a selection of ragers as discussed prior, the huge big radio single with the surprisingly heavy verses and great drumming to open the proceedings. There’s also ‘Critical Darling’ which toes the line between radio and rager with its chorus reminiscent of Alice In Chains’ track ‘God Smack,’ and then there’s the album closer ‘Soloway Firth,’ which is a sprawling, strangely structured and winding song that goes in many different directions and which requires a good few listens to even pin down and follow what’s going on. Its not prog, but its certainly not three-chord trick, verse-chorus-verse, rock either.

All in all it is a very interesting listen (even without adding in ‘All Out Life’ for heaviness sake). I don’t want to go and say ‘’The best album since…’’ because I am really fond of all their albums, but it is certainly really good. Really, really good in fact. As a bit of an over eager fan it certainly satisfies, but objectively it is a damn fine record with a good flow, a good balance of different directions, a good sound and fantastic vocal performance. It not only meets my high expectations but exceeds them.

VOLBEAT Rewind, Replay Rebound

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
I am not the oldest Volbeat fan, I only discovered them last year at Download Festival 2018, but I have been listening to them absolutely non-stop ever since.

Volbeat cds for birthday and Christmas, Volbeat t-shirts under my work clothes pretty often, Volbeat on the car stereo during every road trip to visit relatives, Volbeat in the car ride to work almost every work day. Overall; I’ve listened to over 2,900 times in the past year. Something that few other bands can boast. Since records began in 2011 (when I started tracking it via LastFm), they are my 9th most listened-to artist. So basically; I’ve listened to them more in one year than I have some of my favourite ever bands, almost any other band in fact, in the last 8 years.

So you could say, that coming into this new album, which is the first new one to be released in my time as a fan (not counting the amazing live album, Let’s Boogie! Live from Telia Parken), that I was more than a little excited.

…So imagine my surprise when the first time I listened to it, I didn’t really care for it. At all.

Now, that was partially my own fault, first of all I was lifting weights on a red hot Summer’s day, with a noisy fan on while I did so, so maybe it wasn’t really hearing it in the best conditions. Additionally; I was beyond hyped, so I wasn’t really going in with realistic expectations.

Having listened to it a good few more times, some of them while driving, some while exercising and some just sitting there in a quiet room paying close attention, it has definitely grown on me more.

There are some stand out tracks that I am really happy to have in my Volbeat collection and which I would be excited to see live. ‘Die To Live’ is probably the best of them. I mean, how could it not be, featuring as it does guest vocals from the mighty Neil Fallon from Clutch. It is a jaunty up tempo rock n’ roller with tinkly piano reminiscent of Illusion era GnR and fun saxophone reminiscent of the Boomtown Rats but a basic bouncy pop punk structure for the rest of the song that wouldn’t be out of place on a mid period Green Day or Rancid album. Real fun tune.

There is also the singles ‘Parasite’ which is a 40 second punk statement with punctuated vocals and oodles of energy, and ‘Leviathan’ which is just an absolute sing-along anthem up there with previous gems like ‘Heaven Nor Hell’ or ‘Thanks’ or ‘Lola Montez’ in the Volbeat-sound-like-fun stakes. The band are always great when Jon gets pounding on the floor toms. It is the kind of smile-inducing big stadium shouter that makes you remember how fun Rock Music is when you are 13 years old.

Another great thing about the album is the lead guitar work, Michael and Rob’s lead guitar lines and solos are utterly majestic at times (think the Guitar solo from Anthrax’s ‘Safe Home’ and you’ll know what I mean)… the kind of magical guitar solo that transports you to another place.

That said. I don’t think I would be out of place in saying this is the band’s worst album. Well, if not worst, then, least good. The first point against it in my book is really subjective, but it is just not heavy enough. There’s maybe two Metal songs on it. ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ (with guest guitar from Exodus’ Gary Holt!) are the heaviest tunes, but they stand sort of alone in that front… and even ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ is only Metal in the second half once the guitar solo section kicks it up a notch.

The second thing against it is they re-use a lot of things from previous albums. Single ‘Pelvis On Fire’ for example will be real good fun if it is the first Volbeat song you ever hear but it is exactly halfway between ‘Devil Or The Blue Cats Song’ and ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ and you kind of feel they are ripping themselves off a little bit. Haven’t I heard that vocal melody before? Hasn’t he done an Elvis voice before? That slow down speed up thing sounds familiar.

The third thing, again subjective, is that they do too much of the overly earnest big American radio rock style. On the previous album they did it a bit on tracks like ‘Goodbye Forever’ or on the album previous to that, with ‘Cape Of Our Hero’ but they did it really, really well and in small doses. Here they do it so much it kind of overwhelms the album. They do inject Volbeatness into those songs, but just not enough for my tastes. It makes the album sound a bit bland. Usually a Volbeat album is a rollercoaster going from sounding Psychobilly, to Pop Punk to Groove Metal to Stoner Metal to 1950s Rock N’ Roll to Metallica-Worship and back again, all in a seamless package where it all flows together and you don’t even realise its weird that bagpipes have entered the mix.

On this album it feels like a radio rock album with a few detours. Initially at least. The more I listen to it the more I get into it. I also feel like me saying they do too many radio songs is a bit like Millicent Stone in the TV show Bunheads telling the ballet dancers they are doing too much of a certain step (when she herself has no knowledge of dancing). And saying there isn’t enough metal is a bit silly when the tracks I have said where the best songs, ‘Die To Live,’ ‘Parasite’ and ‘Leviathan’ are in no way metal and are still brilliant. And some of my all time favourite Volbeat songs from across the discography like ‘Lola Montez’ and ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ and ‘Still Counting’ aren’t metal either.

That’s perhaps a conflicted mess of a review. To summarise I would sum it up thusly, the gut reaction was negative but its a grower and although I would certainly not make it your first Volbeat album unless you love earnest radio rock, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a disappointment and it has at least 5 or 6 songs I am really happy with and will be happy to include on future playlists, and would be happy to see live. However; if all you liked about Volbeat was the heavier side of them, like ‘Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza,’ ‘Slaytan’ and ‘Wild Rover Of Hell’ …then maybe this album might not be an instant hit with you either.

MEMORIAM Requiem for Mankind

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
When Memoriam released their debut album “For The Fallen” in 2017 I was expecting great things from them. After all they had two former members of Bolt Thrower in their ranks, the best death metal band to come out of the UK. Whilst it had its moments I was somewhat disappointed – it was certainly heavy but lacked the Sledgehammer bludgeon and strong hooks Bolt Thrower always delivered. Follow up “The Silent Vigil” likewise and felt a bit rushed arriving the following year with a weak production. For album number three, released only a year later again, they have finally nailed it.

The first thing you notice about “Requiem for Mankind” is the production. Here they’ve hired the services of producer Russ Russell and it’s really paid off. The sound is big and for the first time they’ve really captured some of that Bolt Thrower bludgeon. Not only that, but as is immediately evident from opener “Shell Shock” they’ve got the riffs to back it up. Here they really crush and hit hard with just enough melody for them to get firmly under the skin. It’s mainly mid-tempo stuff, injected with groove, also like Bolt Thrower, heaviness taking precedent over speed. Best of all, they keep it up for the whole album with every song earning its place. The band turns in a strong performance – guitars, bass and drums all sounding crushing with Scott Fairfax’s guitar work being particularly good. There’s quite a bit of war themed stuff here but the lyrics also get political on the self-explanatory “Austerity Kills” and delivered with conviction by Karl Willetts.

Despite my earlier comments the first two albums weren’t bad, just ordinary. Here though Memoriam have released an album that can stand head and shoulders with the best death metal the year has to offer. Here’s hoping that album number four, due in 2020 if their current prolific streak keeps going, is just as good if not even better.

PISSGRAVE Posthumous Humiliation

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Having lived and worked on farms most of my life I think I’m a pretty good judge of the gory and gruesome.

I have picked swarms of maggots from the putrefying flesh of living animals. I have been splattered in grey matter (yep, calf brains) and guts, bathed in piss, and showered in shit. I have removed rotted placenta and foetal material from the birth canal of a half-ton beast. I have cleaned up two inch deep jellied blood from euthanised sheep. I have killed animals with blunt force and firearms alike (clarification: never, ever for fun - always from necessity). I now work as a medical writer, dealing with pictures of gonorrhoeic genitalia, ulcerated eyes, suppurating sores, and scathing skin rashes. Blood, pus, viscera, excreta, it’s all part of life. Someone has to deal with it, and quite often that someone has been me.

Pissgrave have achieved something with the cover of their second album “Posthumous Humiliation”. They caused me to look away in disgust. Yep, the cover of this album is utterly revolting. Well done!

Why “well done”? Because it’s hard to get a reaction of disgust out of me, without resorting to inhuman and inhumane cruelty (I don’t go looking for torture and murder for fun). While the victim of the illustration here is obviously dead, it looks like the result of a violent accident rather than a willful act of violent depravity. Cannibal Corpse left the imagery of a hammer smashed face to the listener’s own imagination. Pissgrave brought that image to life... er, death.

And after a cover like that, you’d probably expect a vile mishmash of formless near noise, right? Not this time.

Pissgrave’s thing is some pretty fucking solid death metal, accented with guttural beyond goregrind vocals. This differs from your usual loose labial grinding gore mess in that it’s tighter than a gerontonecrophiliac’s nutsack at the site of a plane crash full of senior citizens. The music is structured, and the riffs are actually pretty fucking good. If you’ve ever thought “I wonder what Autopsy would sound like if they had been a bit faster and tighter”, then here’s your answer. Of course, part of Autopsy’s charm is the way the band always skirted the edge of total disaster, but still...

Pissgrave’s riffs are tight and focused. This is proper death metal, and while not up to the quality of something like Cannibal Corpse or Morbid Angel (what is?), it’s streets ahead of the heavy-for-heavy’s sake deathcore/slam multitudes. There are solos in the frantic Rick Rozz style of old school Death and Massacre, strings squealing on the verge of snapping. The drums aren’t mindless blasting or a robotic mechanical rattle. Don’t worry – there’s more than enough blast beats and double kick drums to go round, but there’s enough space left in the mix for contrast and definition.

The vocals are the big point of difference. The pitch-shifted guttural growl is amped and fuzzed within an inch of white noise oblivion, almost completely blown out. A lot of grind bands do this by accident with a mushy, muffled sound. In this case, it’s voice as instrument, like John Tardy’s early Obituary efforts, except a shitload faster, and more mangled and manipulated.

Pissgrave are really at their best when they hit a high speed groove, like in second track “Canticle of Ripping Flesh”. The music is frenetic and chaotic, but from it a sub-melody emerges. It’s the kind of groove death metal pioneers hit, and new school tech-deathsters miss. That’s why a lot of people still love the old shit and get left cold by a lot of the new stuff. It brings death metal to life. And despite the dead bad luck of the unfortunate cover model, this is an album full of life. True, the “life” is probably gangrenous, highly infectious, and purulent, but this is an album which is much smarter than it may appear at first glance. If you’re brave enough to take a second glance, Pissgrave have distilled the essence of old school death metal and spiced it up with some new school flavours.

Just don’t look at the album cover while trying to eat...

QUEENSRŸCHE The Verdict

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"The Verdict" is the 15th full-length studio album by US prog/power metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through Century Media Records in March 2019. It´s the successor to "Condition Hüman" from 2015 and the third studio album by Queensrÿche featuring lead vocalist Todd La Torre after Geoff Tate was fired from the band. Drummer Scott Rockenfield had a child and after the touring cycle supporting "Condition Hüman (2015)" chose to take a leave from the band to care for his child. However when it became time to record "The Verdict", Rockenfield did not feel ready to begin playing with Queensrÿche again, and as the rest of the band felt it was time to record a new album, they had to look for an alternative solution on the drum post. Fortunately La Torre is not only a brilliant vocalist but is also a very capable drummer, and therefore the band opted to let La Torre record the drums for the album, instead of bringing in a session drummer.

Stylistically the material on "The Verdict" continue the melodic US power/heavy metal style of the two direct predecessors (which also feature La Torre on vocals). All three albums are actually very similiar in sound and style, and while I was relatively satisfied with the first couple of La Torre-fronted Queensrÿche releases, we´ve come to a point, where it would have been nice with an album which doesn´t sound almost one to one like the last couple of releases.

No one can dispute the high quality of the music though (including me). Queensrÿche are a very well playing act and La Torre is a top tier heavy metal vocalist. "The Verdict" is well produced too, featuring a relatively powerful and detailed sound, which suits the music well. So it´s the songwriting which lacks the last catchiness and memorable hooks. Some tracks of course stand out more than others, and the band also try a few new things on the album, but there are simply too many tracks on the album which are very similar in style and sound, and which don´t stand out. A 3.5 star (70%) is still deserved though.

SABATON The Great War

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, even my favorite bands will leave me a bit disappointed, which happened with Swedish power metal band Sabaton in 2016. They’ve been among a short list of my few absolute favorite metal bands for close to 10 years now, so I always have sky high expectations for them, which means even an album that could merely be called “very good” instead of “incredible” will leave me feeling somewhat disappointed. Sadly, that’s what happened with their sixth full length release, The Last Stand, as while it was still a highly enjoyable release, with a few particularly amazing tracks, it felt a little low in energy and inspiration compared to normal, and it had some songs that simply never grabbed me the way the band usually does. Despite that slight setback, I was excited when I heard the band had a new release coming in 2019, and I was hoping they could get back on track and blow me away once again. Early indications, from the first single as well as hearing the concept of the album, had me very optimistic, and now that I’ve listened to their seventh full length release, The Great War, 20+ times, I can officially say that whatever happened last time did not happen again, as this release represents the Swedes at their best, most energetic and most fun, while also having some truly powerful and awe inspiring moments!

There was a slight lineup change in between albums, with guitarist Thobbe Englund departing and being replaced by Reinxeed singer/multi-insturmentalist Tommy Johansson, who of course does a fantastic job, as always. I’m not sure if it’s specifically because of his presence, or just a general burst of inspiration, but the performances on this release feel even stronger than normal, with some otherworldly good melodies at times, as well as some of the most inspired solos I’ve ever heard from the band. They’ve always been known to have some incredible memorable choruses, but on The Great War, even the verses are infectious, as well as the bridges. In fact, there really isn’t a moment on the entire album that isn’t memorable or epic in some way or another. With all that being said, though, it’s still fairly similar to their previous few releases stylistically, in that the tempos are generally a bit more restrained compared to some power metal bands. In fact, the tempo rarely goes full speed on this release, aside from on a couple tracks, but instead, most tracks end up feeling fairly upbeat and move along at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It very much reminds me of Heroes, with how the songs are short, straight to the point and move along at a good pace, with each track having plenty of memorable moments, while all going by quickly enough to let the album flow from highlight to highlight.

As with many of their previous releases, The Great War is a concept album, and in that regard, the band has really gone above and beyond with how well they’ve covered their main theme. Obviously, all Sabaton songs (with a few exceptions) are about historic battles in one way or another, with most albums tending to focus on one specific theme. This time around, they’ve chosen to make an entire album focused on World War I, which is obviously a very important, logical topic for the band to tackle, and they’ve done it perfectly, covering many important moments, as well as historical figures, units and the like. While all their albums have very good lyrics, I think this one might have their best yet, just due to the important of the topic, as well as because of how well they’ve covered it. The album really feels like it flows together perfectly, and the concept helps everything to feel unified, while still allowing each track to stand out in their own way, which is pretty much exactly what I want from a concept album. Obviously, the production is as perfect as always, all musicians do an amazing job as always, and Joakim Brodén’ deep, powerful yet melodic vocals are as epic and amazing as always.

While I’ll always love Sabaton’s core sound and Joakim’s voice, their songwriting tends to be one of their biggest strengths, as well, so I was hoping The Great War would deliver in that area, after The Last Stand was a bit disappointing, and thankfully it does. Similarly to Heroes and The Last Stand, it’s a fairly short album, containing 11 tracks and clocking in at just under 39 minutes, which causes the tracks to fly by in a hurry, and of course that also makes it very easy to play the album several times over in one sitting, to really dig deep into it. Kicking off the album is “The Future of Warfare” a fairly slow paced, atmospheric track with some excellent keys throughout. The verses move along fairly slowly, but are filled with some very strong vocal melodies, while the chorus opens up and is very fun and epic, as always, while the solo section in the second half is very energetic and a lot of fun. It’s a very catchy, very enjoyable opener, and it kicks the album off quite well. Next is “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, a slightly speedier track, with a very classic feel to it, including a main melody that feels like it could have come straight from the band’s “Metal” trilogy of songs, spread across their first two albums and Coat of Arms. This feel is especially true for the main keyboard melodies, and it sticks around for most of the song, while the guitar work is a bit heavier than on the opening track, the verses move along at a pretty nice pace, the chorus is extremely infectious and catchy, the bridge is awesome and very inspired, and of course the guitar solo in the second half is excellent. It’s an awesome track, overall, and an early album highlight.

Things only get better with “82nd All the Way”, another speedier track with some excellent keyboards, as well as some nice melodic guitar work. It moves along at a slightly relaxed, but nice pace during the verses, with more excellent vocal melodies, and then the chorus is quite fast and it’s simply a treat, with some awesome keys, awesome vocals and some amazing melodies, and just like the previous track, there’s an excellent bridge, which gives way to a very melodic and fun guitar solo in the second half. The first real slow track on the album is “The Attack of the Dead Men”, and it has a slightly unique feel to it, with much darker, more atmospheric sounding keys, and indeed the track has a fairly grim feel to it overall, and the band pulls it off quite well, with slow, but heavy verses and a fairly strange but quite interesting build up to the chorus, which is of course every bit as upbeat, melodic and super catchy, as always. The track has a particularly inspired instrumental section, which goes on for quite a while, with some very classic sounding melodic guitar work, as well as possibly the heaviest, most technical passage on the album and it’s one of the highlights of the album for sure. Next is “Devil Dogs” and it’s yet another instant classic. It again has a familiar feel, opening with an epic tease at the chorus, before the pace picks up during the opening verse, which contains some very epic choir vocals, as well as some heavy riffs, and the song moves along at a nice pace, with another huge, epic chorus, as well as a very fun instrumental section, preceded by an epic, triumphant vocal section, which is followed by an over the top, but quite funny voice over, as well as more excellent solo work.

Next is second single “The Red Baron”, and some fans may not have heard the normal album version yet (for reasons I’ll explain near the end of the review), which contains an epic hammond organ recreation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Little Fugue in G Minor” during the intro. Following that, the track introduces a rather playful keyboard melody, that has a bit of a swing feel to it, and it carries on throughout the track, giving the track a very cheerful feel. The song moves along at a fast pace, with very fun verses, one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard so far this year, and it has yet another excellent instrumental section, with more playful keyboards and some excellent melodic guitar work. Following that is third single, “Great War”, which is one of the slowest, yet also most epic tracks on the album. It moves along at a slow pace during the verses, with more atmospheric keys and strong vocals from Joakim, and then the chorus is of course unbelievably powerful and epic, with strong symphonic elements and some excellent choral vocals, to help give it a more dramatic feel. The pace picks up again with “A Ghost in the Trenches”, which is one of the faster tracks on the album, with a nice gallop to the verses, as well as another very upbeat, very fun chorus, and more great instrumental work throughout. It’s definitely one of the catchier songs on the album.

The band did something which I think may be unprecedented with lead single “Fields of Verdun”, by having cello metal band Apocalyptica record a cover, and then releasing that cover a couple days before the release of the original track, itself. The cover was actually an amazing, very beautiful and atmospheric piece, with a nice use of varying tempos, while the Sabaton version is fairly straight-forward, very fast paced and quite fun, with an excellent, super catchy chorus, a very strong guitar solo, and fun verses. Both versions of the song are excellent, and it’s easy to see why it was picked as the first single. The last full length song on the album is “The End of the War to End All Wars” and it’s another very epic track, opening with some soft piano and slight symphonic elements, before turning into a full blown symphonic metal track, which gets more and more epic as it goes on, complete with some orchestral elements and some very epic choir vocals. It’s definitely one of the most epic, cinematic tracks the band has done, while still fitting their style perfectly. Verses are fairly dark, atmospheric and a bit heavy, while the chorus is extremely fun and theatrical, with the choirs taking full charge, and there’s a very epic, classical flavored guitar solo in the second half (I suspect it is taken from a classical piece, but I can’t figure out which it is) and overall it’s a very beautiful, powerful track, which gives way to an outstanding ending to the album. This outstanding ending comes in the form of “In Flanders Fields”, a choral performance of the classic poem, written by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. It’s a very beautiful cover, done entirely a Capella, with a choir, and it’s an absolutely wonderful way to end the album.

Before concluding this review, I’d like to point out that there are actually two version of the album: A normal version, which has all tracks uninterrupted, as well as a “History Version”, which includes some narration. The latter effectively makes the album feel similar to The Art of War, with a woman briefly introducing the topics for each track, and these narrations are fairly brief, so as not to disrupt the flow too much, while giving a bit of insight and historical context for each track. For the most part, the songs themselves are exactly the same on both versions, except that the History Version removes the Hammond organ intro for “The Red Baron”, and that’s the version the band used for their video. I generally prefer the normal version, for its overall flow, but the History Version is definitely worth a listen or two, for the narrations.

Sabaton will always be one of my all time favorite bands, with even a disappointing album like The Last Stand still managing to entertain me time and time again. Thankfully, though, The Great War is a big return to form, containing the same mix of speedy and slower tracks as Heroes, along with the seamless flow of that album, moving from highlight to highlight, while also having a very important concept, and executing it to perfection, with optional narration, excellent lyrics, and a stunning ending sequence. At the same time, there are plenty of amazing individual tracks here, as well, so anyone just looking for some addictive power metal, with little care for the lyrical themes, will also find a lot to enjoy here. It’s too early to say where it ranks among my all time favorite albums, but The Great War is definitely one of my top three favorites from Sabaton, along with The Art of War and Heroes, which is already saying a lot, and it’s far and away the best album I’ve heard in 2019 so far, with any upcoming releases having next to zero chance of topping it.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/07/15/sabaton-the-great-war-review/

FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE Veleno

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Perhaps more than any other extreme metal band on the scene the Rome based Italian band FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE has been the most instrumental in keeping the symphonic branch of death metal in the spotlight and three years after the release of the band’s previous album “King,” returns with a brand spanking new slab of molten technical infused death metal along with the expected piano, choral vocals and operatic symphonic touches. VENENO (Italian for “poison”) is the band’s fifth overall full-length release and it carries on exactly how one would expect, that being an equal rich tapestry of classical music components that scanned the horizons of the past and channeled the compositional fortitude of the masters such as Paganini, Bach, Mozart and whoever else the trio led by Franceso Paoli could incorporate. Of course, for us brutal death metal lovers, it is the bombastic roar of the guitar, bass and drum that created the harsh counterpoints that was the draw with the orchestral parts providing Dr. Jekyll aspect while the Mr. Hyde metal created a neoclassical death metal firestorm.

While VENENO follows suit, what’s instantly noticeable is how the orchestral parts have been tamped down a few notches and take a backseat to the fiery metal fury as heard on the opening “Fury” which completely eschews the long-winded orchestral classical build ups and just gets down to business with heavy crunchy death metal guitar riffs pummeling along at breakneck speed. In fact this is the album that emphasizes the orchestral parts the least of FLESHGOD’s decade long string of albums as they don’t really become a major tour de force until the fifth track “The Praying Mantis’ Strategy” which is a short intermission and respite from the distortion fueled metal that dominated the soundscapes prior with only faint background traces. The symphonic elements carry over to “Worship And Forget” and then slowly retreat to the backdrop again however careful listening reveals that these classical elements are always lurking in the background and the main impetus for constructing the melodic flow, it’s just that on VENENO they are suffocated by the pummeling death metal aspects which gives this album a different feel than its predecessors.

Another aspect that differentiates VENENO from the past is that album hosts a couple of guest musicians with Veronica Bordacchini on vocals and newbie Fabio Bartoletti on more guitars with Francesco Ferrini handling piano and orchestrations, newbie Paoli on vocals, guitars and drums and Paolo Rossi on bass and the sporadic clean vocals that pop up. Once again FLESHGOD creates an album that is graced with the perfect production job that allows the beautiful clean aspects to reverberate perfectly with the filthy raw bombast of the death metal that doesn’t sound too polished. Perhaps it comes off as a little muddy at times, especially in the opening tracks but i think that’s what the band was going for this time around. A full string quartet, a classical percussionist and a Baroque choir provide the symphonic touches and once again seamlessly meld with the death metal. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album is the closest thing to a ballad the band has ever created in the form of “Pissing On The Score” which starts off as an opera with Veronica Bordacchini’s diva tenor vocal talents taking the lead and then turns into a beauty and the beast duet. The track sounds more like something from Phantom of the Opera and never integrates the death metal. Hmmm… could these be a new phase? If so i don’t like it but it’s not bad as a one off for contrast.

All in all, VENENO is yet another exciting chapter in the FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE universe that continues the band’s now rather infamous mashup of death metal and classical elements and tweaks them into a slightly different sounding album. VENENO is by no means going to win over any fans who have already fled the growly vocal fueled bombast of the death metal paradigm but neither will it offend those who have already signed up for the fan club. VENENO delivers all the expected goods and despite a feeling of the recycled riffs and overall feel of been there done that, VENENO cranks out enough spontaneity to keep my interest while retreading the rather lonely niche of performing extreme bombastic death metal with a full symphonic orchestra integrated. The performances on VENENO are top notch and although the ballad is the one track i could live without, the album is chock full of beautiful melodies and ugly brutality all swirled together like a copulating yin yang sign at the circus and for me that’s good enough. While the actual album ends with the Chopin inspired title track which is mostly a piano workout, some albums include two bonus tracks including the Rammsteain cover of “Reise Reise” which is quite an interesting take on the German industrial band’s 2004 song from the album of the same name. VENENO is yet another great album from FLESHGOD!

DARKTHRONE Old Star

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
Perhaps Arctic Thunder was just something Darkthrone had to get out of their system - a necessary creative purging before moving on to this. Old Star sounds much more like the followup to The Underground Resistance that a lot of us were expecting than Arctic Thunder does. Whereas the latter album felt more like "blackened heavy metal" than a full-on black metal release, this time around Darkthrone deliver up black metal with a strong influence from the genre's roots in thrash (via Bathory or Venom) and traditional heavy metal (via Mercyful Fate), with more of an emphasis on the thrash this time than on Arctic Thunder. I wouldn't put it above The Underground Resistance, which I consider to be the pinnacle of Darkthrone's current sound, but it's pretty damn good in its own right.

OVERKILL The Wings Of War

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"The Wings Of War" is the 20th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash/heavy metal act Overkill. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2019. It´s the successor to "The Grinding Wheel" from 2017 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Ron Lipnicki has been replaced by Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, Anthrax, Toxik, Flotsam and Jetsam).

"The Wings Of War" pretty much continues the energetic and raw thrash/heavy metal style of "The Grinding Wheel (2017)" (and the style on quite a few albums before that one), with hard edged thrash/groove/heavy metal riffs, blistering solos, and a strong playing rhythm section. It´s sharp, it´s raw, and it´s powerful. The icing on the cake is as always the rusty "fuck you" attitude loaded vocals by lead vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. His voice is like listening to nails put through a grinder but at the same time he is able to put enough melodic hooks and catchy phrases into the songs, to always keep a good balance between the raw and the more accessible.

There´s little out of the ordinary featured on "The Wings Of War" but all tracks are of a relatively high quality. Highlights include the opener "Last Man Standing", the heavy groove laden "Distortion", and the fast-paced and energetic "Welcome to the Garden State", but all tracks are pretty much of an equal quality and catchiness. The band are as usual incredibly well playing and obviously very passionate about what they do, and that´s one of their greatest assets.

Upon conclusion "The Wings Of War" is yet another high quality release by Overkill and I´m still amazed that they can continue to produce music of this quality, keeping in mind this is their 20th full-length studio album. There have been small ups and downs in quality over the years, but they are more or less the definition of solidity. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

DEATH ANGEL Humanicide

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
When the title track kicks off the album one starts to wonder if they are in the right place, as it is incredibly Maidenesque, but soon the interplay stops and the guitars are being riffed and again we are exactly where Death Angel want us to be, deep in the world of thrash. This is serious thrash metal, with loads going on with the carpal tunnel guitars, but just listen to Damien Sisson and what he is doing with the bass. He is providing counter melodies, nuances here and there, while at others he is firmly locked in with drummer Will Carroll to provide the heartbeat and foundation of the band. Simply put, this opening five minutes in some of the finest thrash one will ever come across, from a band who have been together in one form or another since 1982!

The guys jut refuse to let up from here on in, and although I loved their last album ‘The Evil Divide’ there is no doubt this one has seen them lift it to a new level. Each song contains real intensity and desire, as they show there is still real venom and passion in all they do. Here is a band who have stuck to their roots and have brought something which reminds me in many ways of Testament’s ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ in the way that it shows a classic band taking the movement to a new level. This is class from start to finish, with hooks, anthemic choruses, even the use of a piano, as they strive to drive the genre onwards and upwards.

Death Angel were there at the very beginning and show no signs whatsoever of slowing down or throwing in the towel. This isn’t a band who are going to keep touring the world living on past glories, but are creating new glories for a whole new generation of fans. Superb.

CHILDREN OF BODOM Hexed

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
The band couldn’t stay as a quartet outside the studio as their sound needs that double hit of guitars, so in 2016 they brought in Daniel Freyberg (ex-Naildown and ex-Norther). It must be a hard job settling in with a group of guys who have been together longer than many marriages, but certainly when it comes to the sound, he seems right at home having spent the last three years on the road with them. Straight from the off on this this record, one thing that is immediately noticeable is the seeming higher presence of keyboard player Janne Warman. Laiho agrees, “Yes, he’s played a big part of every single album, but this time this might seem even more prominent only because of the sounds that he uses. Because the funny thing is that on, let’s say, ‘I Worship Chaos’ or ‘Halo of Blood’, the keyboards were there all the time, but you might not even know that they’re there because he’s doubling my guitars with some insane, super-low octave sound that doesn’t really stick out. So maybe he pops out more on this album, and I guess he has more of a main role in a lot of parts of the songs.”

This album feels more melodic, more commercial in many places, than some of their previous albums and it is hard to know if this is down to the larger emphasis on keyboards, the production, or the new member of the band. Certainly, Raatikainen is hitting the drums as hard as he has for more than quarter of the century, and his double bass blastbeats are there in evidence, but one has to really listen to them as he has been pushed more into the background. The band have used Mikko Karmilla to mix their sound for years, but here it feels muddier and not as clean – it is really noticeable when playing this album straight after the last one, as the sound is quite different indeed. Interestingly the band have also gone back in time and have revisited a song they had recorded before, 2002’s “Knuckleduster”, as it was felt it wasn’t treated correctly first time around. Unfortunately, Laiho didn’t have the lyrics for the verse, so had to write new ones. This is the last song on the album and shows the band with some of their heaviest elements, which contrast well with the keyboards. When Children of Bodom get it right there are few in the world to match them, and even when slightly under par they are one of the best bands in the metallic universe.

Although I would have liked to have heard this with slightly different production, yet again Children of Bodom have produced the goods.

AVANTASIA Moonglow

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
2019 saw Sammet return with the next album from Avantasia. Again, there are plenty of guests, including past collaborators ex-Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate, Pretty Maids frontman Ronnie Atkins, Michael Kiske of Helloween, Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan), Eric Martin (Mr Big) and Magnum’s Bob Catley. This time around we are also introduced to Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian, Kreator’s Mille Petrozza and Blackmore’s Night frontwoman Candice Night. Work started on the album following the previous Avantasia tour. As Sammet says, “For the foreseeable future none of my bands were scheduled to do anything but an anniversary celebration of Edguy. For the first time I had no deadline or contract… nothing. I was completely free. The plan was to take a break, but the freedom I found presented me with more and more ideas. The material had time to grow. It was a very relaxed way of working, especially because with the help of Sascha Paeth I had built my own studio which helped me to work at my own pace whenever I came home from creative breaks in England, which I found to be extremely inspiring.”

“In a way, its lyrical topics are quite dreamy,” theorizes Sammet. “There’s no end of the world touch; I see these songs as having a Tim Burton-esque eeriness.” Another commonality with 'Ghostlights' is that 'Moonglow' is conceptually based. “Each song is a chapter based upon a creature that is thrown into the world but fails to find its place. It cannot connect with that environment and turns instead to the dark in the hope of finding shelter there. The lyrics are very personal but wrapped up in a fantastic surrounding inspired by writers of dark romanticism, especially gothic novels of the Victorian era by the likes of Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood. Yes, it’s a concept album but don’t expect elves walking through the forest,” laughs Tobi. No elves, but there may be orcs, as in many ways the word ‘Moonglow’ is a great title as this is an album which musically and lyrically can be very dark, but never overpoweringly so and there is always that hint of light, that glimmer which shows the way in the dark.

While all his albums are linked in terms of style, this feels as if in many ways it is just a continuation of the last album as the heavy over the top Steinman, Wagnerian and Mangum-esque styles are here again in spades, yet there are plenty of times when Sammet also reverts to the more power metal style associated with his day job. The use of different singers is again a real strength of the album, with “Book of Shallows” (one of the outright heaviest songs on the album), definitely benefitting from that approach.

But, there is something very important you need to understand before playing this album, and that is not to play the final song. Just play the other ten and all will be right with the world, you don’t really need to listen to a symphonic metal version of “Maniac” – yes, the same one from ‘Flashdance’. They try, they really do, but nothing can get away from the fact that it is still the same song. It’s a real shame as it is a great album until that point, but at least they put it at the very end, so it is easy to ignore. Another incredibly solid album from Tobias Sammet.

MAJESTY Legends

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It can sometimes be very shocking, when a well established band, known for a very specific sound, suddenly decides to shift gears seemingly out of nowhere. It’s happened with countless numbers of well known bands before, and will almost certainly happen countless more times, as bands continuously look to evolve and distinguish themselves from everyone else. One band who always had a clear, distinct direction to their music is German heavy/power metal band Majesty, formed in 1997, and with eight albums in their discography (or nine, if you include their Metalforce album, which had a different name, but was largely similar to their other releases.) While the band had made some very subtle changes on some of their albums (such as the more laid back Sword & Sorcery, or the pure, intense knockout of an album that was Hellforces) their main sound was always immediately noticeable, falling somewhere in between classic Manowar and early Euro power metal.

So, when the first single for their upcoming ninth album, Legends, was released and proved to be a dramatic change in direction for the band, fans were shocked, and in some cases disappointed to hear the band seemingly abandoning their usual sound. Personally, I found the change interesting, as I do love the band’s earlier releases, and found their previous album, Rebels, to be easily their best since Hellforces, but a potential shift in sound didn’t bother me one bit, as long as they could pull it off well. Now that I’ve heard Legends several times, I am left with mixed feelings, as there are moments where the new sound works wonders and takes the band to new heights, but there are also some misguided experiments, as well as times where trying to mash old and new elements together don’t quite work out. The album ultimately feels like a new beginning for something that could pay off on future releases, but at least for now, the band hasn’t quite nailed their new sound down as well as their old one.

Longtime fans of the band were certainly in for a shock when they heard the rather cheesy keyboards used on lead single “Burn the Bridges”, and while not every song falls in line with that one, there’s certainly a lot more where that came from. On each of their previous albums, Majesty played a style of music that could best be described as a mix of classic Manowar and Euro power metal, with a bit more speed and intensity compared to the former, while at times being a bit more laid back than the latter, while still being very epic and melodic at all times. Their lyrics were often in line with their heroes, as indicated by such album titles as “Keep It True” and “Reign in Glory”, and so Legends is already a big chance of pace, being a concept album centered around a post apocalyptic wasteland, complete with little bits of narration. This is the first sign of trouble, as the album lacks some of the fun and wackiness of their past albums, while the narration is very forced and irritating, especially on the very skippable intro track, which gets the album off on the wrong foot.

Musically, the band still has traces of their classic metal sound, but the songs all have a more modernized feel to them, with keyboards aplenty, and some of the guitar work has a slightly chunkier, more modernized sound to it. I actually find the album works best when the band goes all in with their new sound, as they do have the ability to write some very fun, energetic tracks with a slightly more modern sound, and the speedier, more power metal focused tracks are especially strong on this one, while some of the tracks where they try inserting some of their classic elements to go along with the keys and overall more melodic approach, just don’t quite work out too well. Performances are still strong across the board, with the guitarists having some great moments, especially some really beautiful, melodic solos on many of the tracks, while vocalist Tarek Mahgary still sounds like a slightly lighter singing, deeper voiced version of Eric Adams, and his vocals are as excellent as always, while the production is also top notch.

The biggest area where the album comes up short is in the songwriting. There are some excellent songs here, but there’s also a few that come up just a bit short of greatness, as well as one that could only be described as a total disaster. Following the terrible intro track I already mentioned, the band comes out full guns blazing with “Rizing Home”, a speedy, hard hitting power metal with some great lead riffs, an excellent solo in the second half, fun verses and an absolutely incredible anthem like chorus, the likes of which they’ve always excelled at, though this may be one of their absolute best, especially with the infectious hook of “ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh Rizing Home”, which will never get old! It’s also a perfect example of how to pull off their new sound effectively, without fully abandoning their past, as it’s still very much a heavy, energetic metal track, but it mixes in some keyboards, though the key is they’re largely kept in the background and used to add an extra layer of epic, to what’s already a great track, and so they’re never dominant or distracting. Overall, it’s an absolute masterpiece of a track, and one which, sadly, the rest of the album can’t quite live up to.

Following that epic opener is lead single “Burn the Bridges”, another fine example of the band’s new sound. This one immediately gives off some Sabaton vibes, with the very cheesy keyboards, and it has a lighter sound overall, though it still moves along at a fast pace, with some very fun verses, an epic build up and then the chorus comes in and manages to be simultaneously a whole lot of fun, while also being one of the most annoyingly repetitive things I’ve ever heard on a metal track. I eventually came to love it, but the fact that it has to follow “Rizing Home”, which manages to be equally energetic, while having a much stronger chorus, does end up hurting it just a bit. The solo in the second half is excellent, though, and it’s a very fun track overall. Next is “We Are Legends”, and this one is a bit of a mixed bag. It has traces of the band’s classic sound, with an epic, fun chorus that brings “Rebels of Our Time” to mind, but at the same time, the chunkier guitar work during the verses feels a bit out of place, while the keys are a bit awkward sounding, and don’t mesh well with the overall classic vibe of the track. It’s a case of old and new clashing together in a way where everything just comes off feeling a bit muddled.

The album picks up for a while after that minor letdown, with second single “Wasteland Outlaw” laying down the blueprint for how to make a slower paced, more laid back heavy metal track with the band’s new sound, as it’s very light, very keyboard dominant and is one of the most relaxed and more melodic tracks on the album, with guitars playing a very minor role. At the same time, it’s a very enjoyable track, with an excellent, irresistibly catchy chorus and an excellent melodic guitar solo. Next is “Church of Glory”, another very keyboard driven track, though it’s a more upbeat track, with some very bouncy keyboard hooks during the verses, while the chorus has more of a classic feel to it, with some nice melodic guitar work, some insanely epic backing vocals, and awesome vocal melodies all around. It’s definitely one of the best, most fun tracks on the album, though some fans may be turned off by the over the top keys. Another strong track is “Mavericks Supreme”, which is very much in line with the previous track, though the keyboards are a bit more restrained, and if anything the chorus is even more epic and fun. It’s another fun, upbeat track, with incredible backing vocals, an excellent, very melodic guitar solo, and a nice use of keyboards. The final speedy track on the album comes two tracks later, with “Last Brigade”, and it’s another massive highlight, probably the best on the album aside from “Rizing Home”. It’s a fast paced, hard hitting track with some very aggressive guitar work, fast and furious verses, and an unbelievably uplifting, insanely epic chorus, with some more incredible melodies and backing vocals. It’s one of those tracks that fits in perfectly with the new sound, while still managing to have a slight throwback feel to it, and it’s absolutely amazing from start to finish.

Unfortunately, the worst moment of the album comes in between those last two tracks. Majesty are usually pretty good at ballads, with “Across the Lightning” from Rebels being particularly excellent, but it’s safe to say, “Words of Silence” is by far their weakest ballad ever, if not their absolute weakest song, period. It’s largely a piano ballad, with slight symphonic elements, but it struggles to get going right away with some rather awkward vocal melodies, and more alarmingly, an F-Bomb shows up early on, with more to follow later in the track. The thing is, swearing can be effective, if used on an angry, aggressive track, but on such a tame sounding ballad, it just feels forced and hopelessly out of place. Worse though, the second verse has an attempt at some very bouncy vocal melodies that come close to rap, and it’s just pure torture to listen to, while the chorus is better, and feels close to being good, but it just doesn’t quite get there: Something about it just feels a tad off, and so it never gives the emotional feeling it should. A nice guitar solo in the second half is really the only redeeming quality the track has, but otherwise (and I really hate to say this,) the track is an outright colossal failure, and one of the worst tracks I’ve heard so far this year, if not the absolute worst.

With that downer of a track out of the way, we move to the final two tracks, both of which are solid, but unspectacular. First up is “Blood of the Titans” a slightly upbeat, hard hitting track, with solid verses and a pretty epic, fun chorus, though it doesn’t reach the heights of most of the earlier tracks on the album, aside from another excellent guitar solo in the second half, as well as a great use of keys. Closing out the album is “Stand As One”, a very modern sounding, more mid paced track, with some very chunky riffs, an overuse of keys, and decent verses, helped somewhat by yet another very fun, epic and catchy chorus, with more outstanding vocal melodies. Its not the strongest way to end an album, but it’s a pretty solid track, and it doesn’t reach the lows some of the other tracks do, so it’s a fine enough ending.

Legends is an interesting album, in that it shows signs of being incredible at times, with the new keyboard driven focus working wonders on some tracks, while the vocal melodies and choruses are generally amazing, the speedier sections tend to be equal parts intense, melodic and pure fun, while the solos are excellent, as always, and yet there are enough weaker points to drag the album down, to the point where it ends up being a bit of a mess. I think Majesty need to decide whether or not they’re willing to fully commit to this new sound or go back to their roots, as the tracks that lean more towards one way or the other tend to work out the best, while tracks that try and mix the two together often see the two styles clashing in ways that cause the song to turn into a muddled mess. I can definitely see longtime fans of the band being disappointed, though I can also see people turned off by their Manowar influences being more willing to give this album a chance, thanks to the more modernised approach, while newcomers are likely to find some enjoyment, as there’s enough variety and enough outstanding moments for the album to be worth a shot. It’s not as good an album as I was hoping it would be, but it’s still very fun at times, and it does show potential for better things in the future, if the band can figure out how to pull everything together. At the vary least, it feels like a potential start to a new era for Majesty, and it leaves me very excited to see what they come up with next. It may not be the total knockout I was hoping for, but it certainly isn’t a total failure, either. It’s more of a fascinating near miss, than anything.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/06/26/majesty-legends-review/

DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 11 ratings
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UMUR
"Distance Over Time" is the 14th full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Dream Theater. The album was released through InsideOut Music in February 2019. It´s the successor to "The Astonishing" from 2016. A double concept album release which divided the waters. Some felt it was pompous and overblown, while others lauded it´s epic scale concept and praised the boldness of the band.

With the release of "Distance Over Time" it would seem Dream Theater have gotten their epic scale album wet dream out of their system, and that they have also listened to those who felt that their experiment was a bit too much, because "Distance Over Time" is very much back to basics Dream Theater progressive metal. Sure there´s the epic moment here and there, but that´s not unusual for Dream Theater, but most tracks on the 9 track, 56:51 minutes long album are relatively short and to the point. Don´t expect "regular" vers/chorus structured tracks though, as Dream Theater as always toy with song structures, and incorporate complex instrumental sections, but the music is generally more immediate and hard rocking/heavy than the case was with much of the material on "The Astonishing (2016)".

It´s almost pointless at this time in their career to talk about how skilled and virtuosic the guys in Dream Theater are, because that´s been the focus of many reviews and interviews over the years, but I´ll get it over with as fast as possible, and just quickly mention that Dream Theater are still at the top of their game performing their music. James LaBrie still hits the high notes with ease, and although the riff style, the solo style, the keyboard sounds, the bass playing, and the drumming aren´t exactly surprising anymore, it´s all delivered in an extremely high quality. "Distance Over Time" also features a powerful, detailed, and overall very well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. So check mark on that too.

So it´s of course the songwriting which should be the main focus when writing about the details of "Distance Over Time", and to my ears Dream Theater hit spot on what they do best on "Distance Over Time". Powerful riffs, melodic guitar solos, intricate keyboard work, and a rhythm section capable of playing very complex beats/bass lines. The melody lines are catchy and although the tracks are fairly complex, they are still pretty easy to sing along to, which has almost always been one of the great strengths of Dream Theater. A good balance between technical playing and catchy melodies.

I´m not gonna mention specific tracks, because "Distance Over Time" is a varied high quality progressive metal album through and through, and there´s not a weak moment on the album. It´s not the most standout album in the band´s by now large discography, but it´s definitely not among their less remarkable ones either. To my ears it´s their strongest release since Mike Mangini replaced Mike Portnoy. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

TROLLFEST Norwegian Fairytales

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I really don’t know how to read these guys. Are they serious or is it is just one almighty pisstake which has now been going on for well over a decade? Personally, I think it’s the latter, and having been onto their website and discovered their logo may seem threatening at one point until you realise it is comprised of plastic blow up toys, I am pretty sure I am correct. But whatever you think of them, the Norwegian nutters are back with yet another album, their eighth! This time around they have apparently released a concept based on various Norwegian myths and legends. Each track tells the story of a different ancient tale from the band's home country. For example, opener "Fjøsnissens Fjaseri" deals with a troll who, depending on how you treat him around Christmas, either lovingly takes care of your farm animals or simply razes them to the ground, and includes a guest appearance from BORKNAGAR/ex-DIMMU BORGIR singer ICS Vortex.

Even the press release is on the joke, saying that the album “grabs the listener by the neck and push them through 10 more anthems dealing with the devil, undead sailors and the obvious explanation why you just shouldn't feed any alcohol to your goats.” Look, it’s Trollfest. If you are a fan of this drunken style of folk metal then you will love it, and if you’re not then you won’t. Unless you also drink serious amounts of alcohol.

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