Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

MELVINS A Walk With Love & Death

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"A Walk With Love & Death" is the 25th full-length studio album by US hard/heavy rock act Melvins. The album was released through Ipecac Recordings in July 2017. It´s the successor to "Basses Loaded" from 2016. While "Basses Loaded" is an album featuring material compiled from various recording sessions during the last decade, "A Walk With Love & Death" features freshly written new material.

"A Walk With Love & Death" is a double album release. The first part of the album is titled "Death" and the second part of the album is titled "Love". The "Death" part of the album (tracks 1-9) are individual tracks in the usual hard/heavy rock style that Melvins have played for now many years, while the "Love" part of the album (tracks 10-23) is the soundtrack to a short film by Jesse Nieminen, titled "A Walk With Love & Death". The album features various guest performances, but the main tracks were recorded by the three-piece lineup of King Buzzo (Guitar, Vocals, Theremin, Modular Synth, Assorted Noise), Dale Crover (Drums, Vocals, Assorted Noise), Steven McDonald (Bass, Vocals, Assorted Noise).

The heavy/hard rock part of the album is pretty standard quality Melvins. Some tracks stand out a bit more than others, but the "Death" part of the album is generally pretty consistent in quality and style. I´d mention tracks like "Euthanasia" and "Christ Hammer" as some of the highlights, but they aren´t major standout tracks. Overall it´s not Melvins as their best, but certainly not at their worst either, and the "Death" part of the album is generally entertaining enough.

The "Love" part of the album is another story. Some soundtrack albums feature "regular" vers/chorus pop/rock material and maybe some atmospheric sound collages/experiments, voice samples, and assorted noises (there are plenty of examples, but I´d mention "More (1969)" and "Obscured by Clouds (1972)" by Pink Floyd to make my point), but Melvins have opted to only include the latter type of material on the "Love" part of the album (with a few exceptions where they break the sound collage style with something which resembles regular songs). It´s probably an aquired taste if this type of music is something a listener can appreciate, but if enjoy atmospheric sound collages, you may be able to enjoy the 14 tracks on this part of the album.

Personally I find the "Love" part of the album completely redundant, and although the "Death" part of the album is good quality heavy/hard rock and "A Walk With Love & Death" features a well sounding organic production and Melvins are as always distinct sounding and very well playing, I have to evaluate "A Walk With Love & Death" as a full product, and in that regard the soundtrack part of the album does drag my rating down. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

JUDAS PRIEST Firepower

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 13 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
18 studio albums in, and Metal Pioneers Judas Priest are still relevant. There are many bands from the past who are making great music nowadays. Kreator have been as good in the past 10 years as they ever were in the ’80s. You can add Saxon and Accept to that list. Queensryche since Todd joined too.

Priest’s best moments on Redeemer Of Souls and Angel Of Retribution were in that sort of sphere as well but not to the unquestionable level of the above mentioned renaissances. Judging from how magazines, podcasts, blogs and websites I care about have reacted to Firepower however, I was expecting seriously great things when pressing play for the first time.

I’ve been hammering this record non-stop in the car for about half a month now, repeat listening to it over and over again. Its taken a while to grow on me as I had such high expectations after the last Saxon album and also all the hype surrounding this, that it almost did more harm than good setting me unrealistic expectations, but after taking a good long time to really digest it and understand how I feel about it, I can definitely confirm Firepower is a bit of a banger.

There are a few moments of variety, such as the slower closer ‘Sea Of Red’ and the brief instrumental ‘Guardians’ but most of the material is just straight ahead well written classic heavy metal. Highlights for me include ‘Evil Never Dies,’ ‘Rising From Ruins,’ ‘Flame Thrower’ and especailly ‘Traitors Gate.’

That being said, its an album you can listen to all the way through, and its an album you can happily listen to on repeat. I once heard the phrase ‘an album you can get lost in’ and that’s exactly how I feel about Firepower. The performances pop. Rob’s vocals are more energetic than on the previous record. Travis’ drums are that little bit harder. The production is a lot sharper and more metallic as well. Everything sounds that little bit harder and heavier. Maybe its having that Andy Sneap involvment? Who knows, but everything rips. The band sound twenty years younger.

I wouldn’t go overboard and start heaping tonnes and tonnes of hyperbolic praise on this personally. I wouldn’t argue its better than Screaming For Vengeance or Painkiller. I like Angel Of Retribution and Redeemer Of Souls well enough already not to go down that ‘best album since Painkiller’ route, but I will say it is a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue and no disapointment whatsoever. A pedantic person may be inclined to argue it is a bit overlong, and that a few songs are a bit forgettable compared to the better ones, but those are arguments that can be made for pretty much every album nowadays. Iron Maiden fans are well used to it at this stage and it doesn’t stop us buying their albums.

After Nostradamus I thought this band may be hitting a downer period and after KK left the band it seemed quite unlikely they would be anything more than a nostalgia act but that’s two albums now they’ve proved that fear wrong. The band are arguably on an upward streak and they are starting to sound almost as fresh and relevant as the new Accept and Saxon albums have been. Considering by how long Priest pre-date those bands its even more impressive really. It isn’t just as amazing as I was expecting, but what I was expecting wasn’t realistic to begin with, but the more I play Firepower, the closer it gets to being a reality.

If you like Priest, get it. If you like Classic Metal, get it. Hell, if you like Metal at all, get it!

AUGURY Illusive Golden Age

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
It's been a long road for the Canadian technical death metal act Augury to reach their third album, Illusive Golden Age (2018). Band members have come, gone and come back again and nine years have passed them by since the release of Fragmentary Evidence (2009), which itself took five years since their debut album Concealed (2004). The band was formed in 2002 and has never been outright inactive, but three albums in sixteen years isn't the most consistent showing. Augury is forgiven for this of course due to how bloody good those first two albums were. Augury is, as far as this humble reviewer is concerned, the best death metal act to have ever existed. Concealed is the main reason for that belief, but Fragmentary Evidence also goes a long way to strengthen it. Still, making their fans wait almost a whole decade for this follow-up can't have kept them in everyone's good graces. It's been so long that now that the album actually has dropped many may have even forgotten that these guys were in fact still around and who can blame them? But the third Augury album is here now and it's time to find out if it was worth the wait.

Hell. Fucking. Yes. Yes it was.

Illusive Golden Age has the sound of an album that is both familiar if you've heard Augury's earlier work but also with a bit of a different spin on it. The more atmospheric sections of music that they like to use have seen a reduction here compared to Fragmentary Evidence, as have the clean singing vocals from frontman Patrick Loisel, who main sticks to mixing his deep growling and higher pitched screams. His clean voice is still used but don't expect a track like the previous album's Sovereigns Unknown to show up during Illusive Golden Age. After nine years away Augury seem to have made a statement that they're all about the death metal. I'm not sure that anyone ever doubted that about them as they've always had a heavy sound and Loisel's deeper growls have always been brutal as hell, but that's the best description of how this album feels compared to their previous one that I can come up with.

That's not to say that their sound has become lesser by reducing these elements of variation. After all they are still there being used to effect when needed and the level of technical skill on display seems to be higher than ever, if that was even possible, including the audible fretless bass work from Dominic 'Forest' Lapointe. This is so noticeable it's like the bass is being used as the lead instrument. Not to sell what may be some of the best and most intricate technical death metal guitar work ever recorded short here, but fretless bass guitar works so damn well in this genre that it's near impossible not to focus on it as the band's defining feature. Augury and by extension Lapointe's ventures with similar band Beyond Creation have always done this well and it really does feel like he gets to share the centre stage with the two guitarists, Loisel and Mathieu Marcotte. That's very rare for a bass player and for me it's what really makes Augury more than simply technical, but also progressive.

Due to how technical and progressive their music is calling this album straight-forward seems like the start of a bad joke, but the simple fact that matter is that Illusive Golden Age is undeniably a bit less unusual in terms of its song-writing direction, especially if you're comparing it to the often weird Concealed (which for me remains their best album) or the more atmospheric Fragmentary Evidence. I think maybe stripped back would be a more appropriate way to describe it in relation to their previous, but Illusive Golden Age can only be called generic at your own peril. Augury's ability to write coherent and mostly unelongated songs while still being so technical with their riffs should quickly squash any such thoughts you might be having about this release. They did not make their comeback as just another generic tech death act by any means. They've made their comeback with an album that still sounds distinctly like an Augury album that has its own identity from their previous two. I don't know about you readers, but I'll take it.

I haven't mentioned any specific songs from Illusive Golden Age yet and that's because of the eight it's difficult to single out any particular one and then convincingly justify why that one is better. It can't be done. At a total running time of 44:20 Illusive Golden Age is pretty easy to take in during a single listen and let it all in as a singular experience. I will say that Augury made a good choice in Mater Dolorosa as the first song released to promote the album as it is a great one for getting a feel of exactly what to expect from the album. I didn't personally have any doubts that Augury would deliver when they eventually managed to get a third album out, but this song certainly sealed the deal on a CD pre-order from me. Of course there was little doubt that I'd have bought it anyway, but that song was enough to know that I need this in my hands as soon as possible. This is the death metal album to beat in 2018. I have little faith that anyone will come close to what Augury achieved here though. The long wait is forgiven...though try not to leave it another nine years next time lads.

DANZIG Black Laden Crown

Album · 2017 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Black Laden Crown" is the 11th full-length studio album by US heavy rock act Danzig. The album was released through AFM Records/Nuclear Blast Records in May 2017. "Black Laden Crown" is the first Danzig featuring new original material since "Deth Red Sabaoth" from 2010. The two albums are however bridged by the covers album "Skeletons" from 2015. The material on the 9 track, 43:11 minutes long album were recorded over the course of 3 years, with the initial recording sessions starting in February 2014.

Vocals, rhythm guitars, some bass parts, and some drums were performed by Glenn Danzig, while lead guitars and the remaining bass parts were handled by Tommy Victor. In addition to the drum parts that Glenn Danzig performs, no less than four other drummers were involved in the recording of the album: Joey Castillo, Johnny Kelly, Karl Rockfist, and Dirk Verbeuren.

Stylistically most tracks on the album can be described as a heavy and dark type of doomy rock. Most are slow and atmospheric tracks, but "Eyes Ripping Fire" and "Devil On Hwy 9" are slightly more hard rocking with a heavy bluesy edge. Not completely unlike the musical direction on the early albums by the band. It´s obvious though that a lot of water has run under the bridge, and in the intermediate years Danzig changed their sound and added industrial elements and generally had less focus on the bluesy heavy rock side of their music. On the last couple of albums the latter style has crept back into the band´s sound though, and "Black Laden Crown" is a combination of the various elements the band have picked up over the years. The material are generally well written and fairly memorable, although a bit more variation could have made the album more interesting.

The musicianship is solid, although there´s little here which requires great (technical) skill to play. Glenn Danzig was born in 1955 and is not a young man anymore, and while he still has a powerful and distinct sounding voice, said voice has changed a bit and has become a bit more hoarse on his older days. "Black Laden Crown" features a sound production which unfortunately takes away some of the power of the music. The instrumental part of the music is often a bit low in the mix, while the vocals are placed unnaturally high. The latter are also produced with an effect, which makes them sound a bit like they were recorded in an empty bathroom, and that´s not particularly pleasant to listen to.

Despite some elements of the album not quite reaching the expectations, it is nice that the tracks generally work well and "Black Laden Crown" is overall a decent quality release. It would be fair if some listeners had their doubts regarding the project after the minor catastrophy of "Skeletons (2015)", but thankfully Danzig make a decent return to form on "Black Laden Crown". The album doesn´t exactly reach the heights of the band´s iconic late 80s/early 90s releases, but less will do and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

KAMELOT The Shadow Theory

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
As someone who listens to a large amount of music every year, I’ve piled up a ton of favorite bands, some of which I’d say I can always rely on to produce an excellent album, while others fall into more of a long shot category, where sometimes they’ll disappoint me, but other times they’ll pull through and blow me away. One of the main bands I place into that category is American band Kamelot, one of the most well known and prolific power metal bands in all of North America. They’ve released three of my all-time favorite albums over the years in Epica, The Black Halo, and Silverthorn, but they’ve also released some disappointments like Ghost Opera and the total snooze fest, Poetry for the Poisoned. They’re one of those bands where every time I start to either lean towards loving them for all their great works or being a bit hard on them for their disappointments, they always manage to turn things around on me fairly quickly. So it’s no real surprise that after their last release Haven ended up letting me down a bit after the masterful comeback album Silverhorn, to the point where I started doubting the band again, their upcoming 12th full-length release The Shadow Theory has yet again managed to pull me back in. It’s not quite on the level of some of their all-time best works, but it’s a more consistent, more cohesive, yet somehow more varied and interesting album than Haven, which in some ways pushes their sound forward a bit, while also celebrating everything they’ve been in the past.

For a while it’s felt like Kamelot hasn’t quite known what to do with their sound, with the likes of Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned experimenting with melodic heavy metal and progressive metal respectively, neither of which quite worked for the band, while Silverthorn represented the return of their classic power metal sound in all its glory, paired with an increased focus on symphonic arrangements. At the time, I was expecting future albums to continue with that direction, but somehow Haven pushed the power metal elements into the background, while keeping the symphonic elements as the main focus, and so it ended up feeling like a slightly better version of the two aforementioned weaker albums, while still ultimately falling short of my expectations. Obviously, I had no clue what to expect from The Shadow Theory, but in the end, it has proven itself to be their most varied release in quite some time, possibly ever, combining elements from all their past releases, while also including some new elements at times.

Most notably, the keyboards seem to be a greater focus than ever before. Obviously, they were always there on past albums, but this time around they become the main focus a bit more often, along with the symphonic elements, of course. While they sound more typical on some tracks, others like “Ravenlight” and “Amnesiac” have a much more modern sound to them, almost giving the music a slight trance metal feel, which has never been there before. The guitar work is also a bit heavier and more modern sounding on some tracks, especially on “Phantom Divine” and “Kevlar Skin”. At the same time this is a Kamelot album, and so there’s still a ton of great melodies here as well, with some excellent melodic guitar leads, great guitar solos, epic symphonic arrangements, and huge vocal melodies and choruses. In fact, this album has some of their best melodies in quite some time, especially on some of the speedier, more power focused tracks, but even a slower, darker track like “Burns to Embrace” has an incredible chorus. As far as the songwriting goes, there’s a little something for everyone here, with fans of their classic power metal being given quite a few great tracks to look forward to, while fans of their slower, darker and more melodic tracks have quite a few songs to look forward to, and of course there’s a couple more progressive tracks as well as two ballads. Most importantly, though, where Haven had a couple tracks that bored me, this time around every song is consistently engaging. The musicianship is of course top notch as always and the production is absolutely perfect, as fans would expect.

The one element of Kamelot that’s consistently been excellent is the vocals, and of course, The Shadow Theory is no exception there. I’ve always loved Tommy Karevic’s vocals, and while I personally prefer his more emotional, higher ranged vocals he uses with his other band, Seventh Wonder, he’s done an excellent job of fitting in with Kamelot’s sound over these past three albums, and each time he sounds more and more comfortable. At this point, he feels like he seamlessly blends in with the band, doing an equally great job on the speedier, more upbeat sections and on the slower, darker sections. Perhaps the one thing I miss is some of the more dynamic vocal performances he gives with Seventh Wonder, as he seems to be more and more focused on channeling Roy Khan here, singing lower and darker than normal, which he, of course, does a great job of, but it does feel like some of his talents are largely being left untapped. Make no mistake about it, though, he does an excellent job on this album, and if anything my criticisms are more due to personal taste than anything else.

Of course, the biggest concern for any Kamelot album is whether or not the songwriting holds up. Thankfully, this time around the band has produced a collection of excellent tracks, which cover all aspects of their sound and it feels like they did their best job of giving everyone a little something to enjoy. Unsurprisingly, there’s both an orchestral intro and outro, both of which are quite nice, and in between those are 11 songs of varying sound, but each of them is memorable in different ways.

Fans of speedy power metal are in for a treat right away with “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)”, which has a brief keyboard intro before the orchestra and guitars kick in and it quickly speeds up, before slowing down for the slow but heavy verses. Once the chorus hits, though, it goes full speed ahead, with an excellent, speedy power metal chorus that fans of the band will instantly fall in love with, as Tommy delivers some epic vocals that bring Khan to mind in the best way possible, and from there the song keeps getting heavier and more intense as it goes on, with the second half of the track featuring the first of two appearances from Once Human vocalist Lauren Hart, who provides some pretty epic death growls. Overall, it’s an excellent track, which kicks things off in style. Next is “Ravenlight”, the first song released and it kind of represents a middle ground, largely being more of a darker, mid-paced track with some pretty heavy riffs and nice modern sounding keys, but it speeds up dramatically towards the end, for its most impressive section. Overall, I find the track to be solid, but it doesn’t fully grab my attention as the melodies are nice but not fantastic, and the main riff isn’t especially memorable. However, the final 45 seconds, when the song fully speeds up, are absolutely fantastic and help take it to the next level.

Other speedier tracks include the oddball “Amnesiac”, a fun and upbeat track which doesn’t quite reach full power metal speed, but it does move at a nice pace, especially during its chorus. It starts off with some very heavy guitar work, before giving way to some very trance-like keys, which lead the way through much of the track, especially the chorus, which is upbeat and very fun. It’s a bit of weird track, being a bit lighter and more keyboard driven than normal, but it’s actually very effective and feels fresh and new, while still having just enough of the classic Kamelot sound to fit in with the rest of the album. A more traditional power metal track is the hard hitter “Kevlar Skin”, which charges out of the gate and delivers some of the heaviest guitar work on the album, only slowing down a bit for the verses, before really speeding up during the intense and super addictive chorus. The guitar work only gets heavier as the track goes on, and the instrumental section is pretty damn intense and awesome. My favorite of all is “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)”, the most classic symphonic power metal sounding track here, as it’s a track that constantly rolls along at a fast pace, mixing heavy riffs with epic orchestral arrangements, and it has an absolutely incredible, super melodic chorus, where Tommy delivers some of his best-soaring power metal vocals. Even the one slower section in the second half stands out due to how dark and heavy it gets, and it makes for a great contrast with the rest of the track, while the instrumental section that follows goes back to being speedy and super melodic. Definitely my favorite song here and one I’d proudly put up there with some of the band’s all-time best. After that is the last full song here and also the longest and most progressive, “The Proud and the Broken”. It’s a more complex song, which starts off with a nice piano section before quickly speeding up. It goes through many transitions throughout, largely being a progressive power metal track, but it’s a bit lighter and more melodic than one would expect from the band, and it has some very nice softer sections, as well an excellent chorus, as usual. It’s definitely the most progressive track here and is another one of my favorites.

On the slower side, the first big stand out is “Burns to Embrace”, one of the band’s darker, more atmospheric tracks, but where I found the tracks like this on Haven to be a bit forced, this one actually works much better, pairing dark and heavy verses with a huge and epic chorus, and the track builds up tension nicely as it goes along, starting off calm and soft during its first verse, before picking up during the chorus and then finally going all out during the second verse. It’s a song that gets better as it goes along, with the instrumental section being great and then at the end the band brings in a children’s choir for the last two runs through the chorus, which is something I usually don’t like on a metal album, but here their voices combine with the lyrics to give the song a chilling and powerful effect that really elevates the track from being solid to being one of absolute best on the album. Unsurprisingly, things calm down with the next track, “In Twilight Hours”, a nice ballad which has some great vocal melodies, as well as some excellent guest vocals from Beyond the Black singer Jennifer Haben, who works very well with Tommy and helps to elevate an otherwise decent but forgettable track. She especially excels during the final run through the chorus, which is the best part of the song. The other ballad on the album is “Stories Unheard”, a largely acoustic track which has some very soft and excellent vocals from Tommy, as well as another excellent chorus. I find it to be a better written and more engaging track than “In Twilight Hours” overall, though both are pretty nice. Also on the softer side is “Static”, a track which starts off with some nice piano melodies and symphonic elements before getting slightly heavier during the opening verse. It’s a fairly light and calm track, with just a slight metal edge to it, and it has some nice vocal melodies, as well as another great chorus. It feels like the kind of thing they were trying to do on Poetry for the Poisoned and parts of Haven, except here it’s much better executed and more enjoyable. Also similar to much of Haven is “Mindfall Remedy”, a more mid-paced but very heavy track, with some great riffs and modern keys. It has a very fun chorus, as well as some more growls from Lauren Hart, and again it feels like they took the sound they had on much of Haven, except here the riffs hit just a bit harder and the melodies are just a bit more engaging, so the track ends up being much better than most of that album.

Overall, The Shadow Theory is an excellent album, which has a bit of everything for all Kamelot fans to enjoy. It once again brings back some of the band’s classic speedy power metal, as well as features some of their heaviest tracks, while also featuring some very modern keyboards and some darker, slower paced tracks, as well as some more relaxed and more melodic tracks. It’s definitely one of their most varied releases to date, while also feeling fresh in spots, and after Haven let me down, this one managed to win me over once again. I wouldn’t place it up there with their all-time best, but I’d certainly take it over anything else they’ve done since 2005, aside from Silverthorn.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/03/31/kamelot-the-shadow-theory-review/

RIVERS OF NIHIL Where Owls Know My Name

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 2.93 | 3 ratings
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Necrotica
In the 23 years I've spent on this planet, Where Owls Know My Name may be the most frustrating album I've ever encountered. Somewhere within this behemoth of a record, there lies an amazing journey that's equal parts harsh and melancholic; unfortunately, all of the external baggage caused by the inconsequential songwriting and sterile production robs it of its power. What's really sad is that, initially, all the ingredients to make this a masterpiece are in place. We're presented with incredible technical abilities from the musicians, lots of emotional potency in the performances, and an experience that's clearly striving to elevate the world of progressive death metal to something more ambitious and impactful. However, Where Owls Know My Name just goes in one ear and out the other and quickly becomes a dull grind akin to background noise.

The lack of dynamic range may actually be the biggest culprit here, especially as far as the metal sections go. There never seem to be any discernible climaxes or moments of catharsis, as the waves of guitar distortion and compressed production just wash over any sense of sonic variety. The best moments of variation and emotional weight come in the form of the album's quieter segments, such as the subtle keyboard-driven opener "Cancer/Moonspeak" or the beautiful saxophone break in "The Silent Life." But even these types of segments tend to be undercut by the generic riffing and djent-oriented chugs that kill both the pacing and ambition of the album. The entire first half of "Old Nothing" is crammed with intrusive blastbeats and dull deathcore riffs that ruin the album's sense of progression, as well as killing any potential atmosphere that could make it interesting. On top of that, quite a few moments just sound out of place and... well... ugly. "A Home" sounded great during the opening guitar chords, and the band didn't really need to throw a giant mess of triggered drum acrobatics all over it. Really, the majority of the metal in this experience is defined by strikingly similar chord progressions and tempos being glazed with gutless melodic noise that fills the treble end, while some chugs and mid tempo drum progressions try to fill in the cracks of the low end. That's basically the metal-oriented material in a nutshell, and it defines most of the tracklist. It's really easy to tune out of this album as it's playing, and very few moments really manage to gain one's attention back in a significant way.

Still, I'll give credit where it's due. Some moments still manage to be breathtaking, most notably that gorgeous acoustic intro to "Subtle Change." The song sounds like a real expedition, as the melodic bass traverses across the ample terrain of the rolling drums... there's a lot of 70s prog influence on this one, and it's one of the only songs in which the loud and quiet moments aren't too intrusive to each other. There's also a nice cleanly sung ballad intro that kicks off the title track, reminding me a lot of Paul Masvidal's vocals in the last few Cynic records. Finally, the last track "Capricorn/Agoratopia" cleverly brings the album full circle by using the intro track and giving it more fleshed-out instrumental accompaniment to drive the final mini-epic home. It's a decent way to conclude Where Owls Know My Name; I just wish the journey to get there was worth it.

It's not that the album comes off as misguided, but rather it sounds inconsequential and dull. If it was reduced to about 30-35 minutes and given an EP format, I might recommend it to fans of progressive death metal or even post metal. But in its current state, it happens to be arduous, overbearing, and boring all at the same time.

BLACK MOTH Anatomical Venus

Album · 2018 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Having been impressed by Black Moth’s 2014 album Condemned To Hope’s blend of doom, stoner and garage rock (which showed considerable growth over their debut) I was looking forward to hear Anatomical Venus, their first in four years. It sees a line-up change with guitarist Federica Gialanze taking over from Nico Carew. She previously played in a Black Sabbath tribute band whose influences can be heard in the grooves of this latest release as they were on the last album. The title Anatomical Venus was inspired by the wax models of women created by Clementi Susini which whilst being accurate anatomical figures for medical study also unsettlingly beautified them in death.

Istra kicks things off in fine style with powerful riffing and Harriet Hyde’s authoritatively biting vocal delivery but the song also manages to introduce some light and shade which works very well. A strong start and equally good is Moonbow, a pre-album single release, with a captivating and hypnotic 6/8 time riff. They clearly like playing in 6’s as Tourmaline later in the album does too. Whilst most of the influences that made Condemned To Hope such a strong release are in place they do seem to have toned down the purer doom touches, which were never particularly prevalent anyway, with most of the album being more in the stoner metal/rock vein with the garage rock still rearing its head from time to time. Black Moth are showing a lot of maturity as songwriters too with much of the album being their strongest work to date. The only lapse into ordinariness is Buried Hoards which whilst not bad creates a momentary lull though pleasingly short lived. Songs like Severed Grace more than make up for it though. A truly remarkable, haunting and powerful song, delving into the subject of the album title.

Anatomical Venus whilst I didn’t originally think so is the bands best work so far. A few listens however soon revealed what a compelling collection of songs this is with a few clever and unexpected twists and turns and deserves to give them wider recognition and success.

ELDRITCH Cracksleep

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
So far in 2018, a recurring theme has been bands who hadn’t quite managed to win me over in the past, finally managing to break through and impress me with their new releases. The trend continues with Italian prog band Eldritch. Granted, this is one case where I wasn’t terribly familiar with the band’s work, only hearing three of their ten previous releases, but while Tasting the Tears, in particular, had its moments, none of those three albums managed to consistently hold my attention the whole way through, and so I wasn’t exactly expecting a whole lot from their upcoming eleventh full-length release, Cracksleep. Somehow, though, were their three most recent albums had all failed, this one manages to pull through and provide a consistently entertaining release that I have played several times over the past week and enjoyed it every time.

Eldritch has always been on the darker side of the genre, and their music has always been quite heavy and atmospheric, but Cracksleep especially comes close to the likes of Evergrey at points, with the atmosphere constantly being an important part of the music, as even the heavier songs have some dark sounding riffs and keyboards that add a foreboding feeling to the music. The guitar tone especially reminds me of the Swedish band at times, though musically the album is more varied and has more power metal undertones than that band usually does. There’s quite a bit of variety to the songwriting, with a few speedy power metal influenced tracks, a couple of which have some very thrashy riffs, as well as the expected heavy mid-paced stompers, a few lighter, more atmospheric tracks, and a couple ballads. The faster and heavier tracks tend to be the most memorable, with the occasional flashy instrumental sections standing out and adding some extra energy and flare, but even the more atmospheric and slower tracks are quite nice, and this is the first album I’ve heard from the band that has kept me consistently entertained. It also happens to be a concept album, based around insomnia, which is quite the interesting and effective theme for this style of music, and I think the band pulled it off very well, both lyrically and with some of the sounds they used to evoke the feelings they’re going for.

One element of their music I’ve always enjoyed is Terrance Holler’s vocals. He has a very distinct and memorable voice, sounding very clear and rather airy, but he can provide a bit of extra power to fit well on the heavier tracks. On this album he really shines, sounding a bit frail in a way that fits the lyrics nicely, and he gives a very emotional and powerful performance that greatly enhances the tracks. There’s some occasional death growls used, most effectively on “Voices Calling”, where the band does a nice job of creating the old “voices in your head” feeling.

As with many bands, my biggest problem with Eldritch has long been their inconsistent songwriting quality. Surprisingly, though, Cracksleep is a consistently strong album throughout, with a few big standouts and no duds at all. The opening title track is a brief but very effective intro that opens with some nice piano and atmospheric keyboards, before eventually introducing a hauntingly beautiful main guitar melody that sets the tone for the album, and is actually a slightly slowed down version of a melody from the chorus of the next track, “Reset”. Speaking of which, “Reset” is an instant barn burner, and one of my favorites on the album, opening with some very dark sounding guitar riffs, before quickly picking up the pace and turning into a heavy, speeding track with strong power metal elements throughout. It’s definitely one of the faster and more immediately catchy tracks on the album, as well as having one of the catchiest choruses, but it still has a ton of atmosphere, especially from the background keys and slight symphonic elements, as well as that lead guitar melody I mentioned earlier. It’s an amazing track that really sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Despite being a very dark and at times melancholic album, there’s actually quite a few speedier tracks here, continuing with “Aberration of Nature”, another instant show stealer. This one is probably my absolute favorite on the album and is definitely the fastest and heaviest. It has some very thrashy riffs throughout, as well as the occasional use of death growls, and it’s a very in your face kind of track which speeds along during its epic, soaring chorus, while the atmospheric keys and crushing guitars are present throughout and help make it quite the special track. The instrumental section in the second half is absolutely crazy, and easily my favorite section on the entire album, while the rest of the song is also amazing. Another faster song is “Voices Calling”, which again makes very effective use of growls, as well as again having slight thrash elements during its rapid-fire verses. Its chorus is slower and brings out more of the atmospheric elements of the music, and all around it’s another excellent track. The final speedier track on the album is “Night Feeling”, another hard hitter, with a very nice chorus and another excellent instrumental section, while offering the usual mix of heavy guitar riffs and atmospheric keys.

On the slower but still heavy side of things, “Deep Frost” is an epic mid-paced track with crushing riffs during its verses, which build up to a calm and very melodic chorus, that again really brings out the dark feeling of the lyrics, and Terry gives a very emotional vocal performance throughout the track. Another heavier track is “Silent Corner”, a mid-paced track with some very crushing guitar riffs, that moves along at a decent pace and it has a very epic and melodic chorus, which gets very intense right at the end, in an awesome way. The track comes pretty close to djent territory at points, especially in the middle, but it’s a very nice track overall, which fits in nicely with the concept of the album, the guitar tone during the solo is absolutely gorgeous. In similar territory is “Staring At the Ceiling”, a rather slow-paced track with some pretty heavy verses and a very nice chorus. Its instrumental section is very heavy and is probably the closest the album comes to reminding me of Evergrey, especially during the beautiful guitar solo towards the end.

On the calmer side of things, lead single “As the Night Crawls In” is a very light and mellow track, entirely built around the atmosphere. It’s a slow building track with some haunting melodies, and subtle but very nice chorus, which serves as a nice indicator of the overall tone of the album. It’s a fairly subdued track, with brief bursts of heaviness and is quite good overall. Even softer than that is “My Breath”, the first of two ballads on the album. It’s a fairly calm, vocal-driven track with some nice melodies and a memorable vocal performance. There’s a great guitar solo in the second half, and overall it’s a very nice and atmospheric track. Closing out the album is one other ballad, “Hidden Friend”. This track is by far the softest on the album, with very simple and subdued guitar work being used to set the tone, and it makes very effective use of minimal sounds to create a thick atmosphere, while the vocals are very emotional and powerful once again. It’s quite the haunting track, which closes the album out nicely.

Overall, Cracksleep is the first time Eldritch has truly impressed me, with a very cohesive consistently engaging concept album that uses atmosphere very effectively, while having some heavier tracks, as well as occasional elements of power metal and thrash. The vocals and lyrics are obviously an important part of why the album connects with me, though it’s a very enjoyable album on the whole, and is definitely one I’d recommend to prog fans looking for something a bit darker and more atmospheric, while still having some great melodies and great riffs at times.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/03/03/eldritch-cracksleep-review/

PRONG Zero Days

Album · 2017 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
There's an argument to be made that a lot of bands put out their best material on their first to fifth album, or before they turn 40 years old. Think about all the bands who were better when they were newer. Of course, there are exceptions. Notable among those exceptions are New York's mighty Groove Metal Veterans, Prong.

Tommy Victor, who basically is Prong in the way that Dave Mustaine basically is Megadeth or Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails or Jeff Waters is Annihilator, has arguably only been getting better and better the more he works. Especially since the band really hit their new stride with their 8th studio album, Carved Into Stone in 2012. Basically, ever since then, everything the band touch has turned to gold. Great production, great tone, great vocals, great choruses, great riffs. Absolutely consistent, basically no filler, no drop-off from album to album.

You may have guessed already from that introduction, but I like Prong's newest album, 2017's Zero Days. I like it a lot. It is Prong's 11th full-length studio album (not counting remixes, covers albums and compilations),  and it is an absolute gem.

It follows that perfect formula of the past three studio albums perfectly, delivering more of that fantastic modernized Groove Metal with small hints of the different parts of their career all refined and with a lot of chug, pace and groove balanced out with catchy but not saccharine melodies. 'Bad Ass' are really the best words to describe their current sound.

Combining the crunchy, crushing riffs of a Pantera, the eerie melody and mechanical sensibilities of a Fear Factory, the hardcore-influenced groove of a '90s-era Sepultura and muscular power of a Machine Head, but with an updated sound and masterful production job; Prong batter the audience with a perfect blend of styles as easily enjoyable by a Black Label Society fan as a Five Finger Death Punch or a Pitchshifter fan.

Highlights include the speedy Hardcore influenced 'Force Into Tolerance' with its bouncy floor tom drive, opener 'However It May End' & also 'Interbeing' with their fat bouncy '90s riffing, as well as 'The Whispers' which seems to be a hark back to their classic single 'Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck' but with a much more melodic chorus that sounds like it should be in a pro wrestling event.

Just because they've been going a while, doesn't mean Prong aren't putting out some of the best material of their whole career. This album is a superb blend of tooth-kicking riffage and sweet but uncommon melody. It has all the advantages of Nu Metal without all the questionable drawbacks. Its fun, its bouncy and its accessible, but it still has ferocious riffs, impressive guitar solos and a direct through-line to beefy hardcore, classic thrash metal, and the slightest hints of industrial lurking deep in the background. If any of that sounds good to you, check this album out and check the three studio albums that preceded it too. You won't be sorry.

CANNIBAL CORPSE Red Before Black

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Red Before Black" is the 14th full-length studio album by US death metal act Cannibal Corpse. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in November 2017. It´s the successor to "A Skeletal Domain" from 2014 and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Cannibal Corpse are by now an institution on the death metal scene, and one of the most commercially successful artists on the scene too, but when you reach your 14th full-length studio album, it´s always interesting to hear if a band as seasoned as Cannibal Corpse can keep up the pace. There´s also a question of not stagnating artistically, and most artists would probably struggle with that at this point in their career...

...but that´s not really the case with Cannibal Corpse. Sure the quality of the songwriting has been a slightly (only slightly) up and down on their now many studio albums, but there has always been a certain standard that they have never sunk below. You can always count on excellent musicianship, a professional sound production, and consistent material, and nothing has changed in those departments on "Red Before Black".

Stylistically we´re treated to the brutal death metal sound, that is unmistakably the sound of Cannibal Corpse. George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher´s brutal growling vocals and occasional higher pitched scream, technically intriguing and powerful guitar riffs, the occasional screaming guitar solo, and the ever solid and hard hitting rhythm duo of bassist Alex Webster and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz. The gory lyrics (and another signature Vince Locke cover artwork) are also in place.

"Only One Will Die" opens the album in great style and establishes right away, that we can expect to be bludgeoned as always. From then on it´s one solid death metal track after another. Some faster, some heavier, but always of a good quality and in a few cases memorable. They could overall easily have been more hook laden though, and thereby also memorable longer after the album has ended, because that´s not exactly the case, and it´s not an album you remember many songs from. It´s not a major issue considering the brutality level and the fact that a one-dimensional songwriting style isn´t anything out of the ordinary on other contemporary releases in a similar style. At least Cannibal Corpse have a signature sound, and they deserve praise for that.

"Red Before Black" was produced by Erik Rutan, who has previously produced several of the band´s albums, and he has created a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well. So upon conclusion "Red Before Black" is another quality death metal release by Cannibal Corpse. It´s not one of their most standout releases, but it´s consistent in quality and style and an overall solid release. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

АРКОНА Храм

Album · 2018 · Pagan Black Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 5 ratings
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adg211288
Russia's Аркона (A.K.A. Arkona, used herein) must surely be their country's premium folk metal band. They've been releasing albums since 2004's Возрождение (Vozrozhdenie), but become something really special with 2005's Во славу великим! (Vo Slavu Velikim!), actually their third album by that point due to releasing Лепта (Lepta) later in 2004. Most recently, in 2016, they went back and remade their debut album in a much more polished yet faithful to the original version, complete with more authentic folk instrumentation as they were synthesising a lot of stuff when they first started, a treatment that I hope they give Lepta as well. Before that though the band had released Явь (Yav) in 2014, an album that saw them taking different approaches in their music. It's an album that can be seen as, through the kind of hindsight that can only be gained through the release of it's follow-up, Храм (Khram), as the kind of transitional, stepping stone release to the band becoming something different. Arkona may be Russia's premium folk metal act, but in 2018 their genre allegiance has taken a thoroughly more blackened turn.

Of course Arkona was always partially based in the black metal genre, also drawing on power metal in some songs, but here it's like the genre has taken over from folk metal as the band's main focus. Khram is not so much a folk metal album but a pagan black metal album. That means that there's still folk elements to be found, but it's much more about the blackened riff and a primitive sound. Vocalist Masha "Scream" Arkhipova still uses her clean singing abilities, but is dominantly using her growling style on this record. This is not to say that her growl suddenly sounds like the typical necro black metal rasp (it doesn't) or that the guitar tone is suddenly all raw and cold (it isn't), but the overall style and vibe of the band's music has certainly taken a shift. Yet it's still very much recognisable as the work of Arkona.

They've also got noticeably more progressive with this release. Yav had elements of what I would attribute to prog but it's much more overt here and has resulted in some added complexity within the primitive pagan black metal sound Arkona has forged for themselves. This also comes across in the form of some long song structures. Intro and Outro tracks aside the only regular length song can be said to be Шторм (Shtorm) at 5:12. The rest are all at least close to eight minutes long and one, Целуя жизнь (Tseluya zhizn') is over seventeen, making it Arkona's longest song to date.

I have one gripe I need to get off my chest at this point though. It's the intro track and by extension the outro track, both titled Мантра (Mantra). The Outro version only lasts for fifty-five seconds and it's really of any consequence but the Intro version goes on for too long at 3:51 before the first proper song gets underway. I wouldn't mind so much, but the chant-based intro just fails to really click with me on any level and proves a detraction from the release as a whole. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to start the album on track two.

However the rest of the rest is excellent. Khram is definitely more of a grower than Arkona's folk metal work, thanks in no small part to its darker sound, so it may take a few listens before it really starts to feel like it's rewarding its listener for their patience. The extra long track, Tseluya zhizn', certainly stands out as the crowning achievement of the album, but there's some great work to be found right across it, with plenty of variation in the delivery of each track that gives each identity, such as the use of piano on Волчица (Volchitsa), which is actually a cover song, originally by Russian folk group ВеданЪ КолодЪ (Vedan Kolod). Arkona has released covers before, but I believe this is the first one to appear on a main album. Despite the original artist having nothing to do with metal and Arkona's newfound more black metal direction the track fits in well with their original material.

The question is, given their folk metal back catalogue, whether Khram is really the album fans wanted to hear from Arkona? For some it's inevitable that the answer will be no. For others, this will be a breath of fresh air. This band has done several folk metal masterpieces that, frankly, they'd have difficultly in bettering. It's time now for something new. It's time for Khram.

ESOCTRILIHUM Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.92 | 4 ratings
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adg211288
Although barely half a year has passed since the release of Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension (2017), the debut by French atmospheric black metal solo project Esoctrilihum, it's lone musician Asthâghul has certainly wasted no time in getting it's follow-up out there. Entitled with the rather long-winded Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness), this second album sees the project building upon and expanding what was begun on the debut.

I want to make it clear that I personally loved Esoctrilihum's debut and nothing is going to be able to diminish the regard I have for that piece of work. It was a great example of the atmospheric black metal genre that could be considered contemporary to the work of I, Voidhanger Records labelmate Mare Cognitum. It wasn't the most surprising record in that respect, except for one sudden burst of death metal that came out of nowhere during the track BltQb (Black Collapse). Considered most likely to be a fluke by myself at the time, it's clear to me now that Asthâghul must actually be quite interested in what death metal can add to his music, since Pandaemorthium features considerably more death metal elements than Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension did, to the point where Pandaemorthium can be considered as much a death metal album as a black metal album.

While various black metal and death metal fusions aren't anything new, what makes Pandaemorthium a more unusual example is that the black metal elements themselves are still very atmospheric in nature, with many similarities to the first album in their underlying ambient, cosmic direction, a prime example being Lord of the Closed Eyes, the first song released for fans to hear. Naturally though the death metal elements greatly change the way that the record impacts upon its listener, becoming something much more aggressive. It is easy sometimes to forget you're listening to an atmospheric black metal record with this album because of them, which I guess is why some people seem to be saying that this album represents a complete stylistic shift for the Esoctrilihum project, but I have to say that I think that's false: if one listens past the death metal elements it's actually quite obvious that this isn't that big of a step away from what Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension started.

And that's just one of the things that's good about it! It's one thing to play this style or that style and another entirely to take bits of both and forge them into something that works as well as Pandaemorthium does. Another thing that's good about is the result of this mix. Pandaemorthium is an atmospheric yet intense album that will pummel your eardrums into submission for almost seventy minutes, neither letting up it's relentless assault or letting go of your attention span, not even during rare softer moments such as Breath of the Silent Shape. Expect plenty of black and death metal riffs (and even some thrashy ones in a track like The Holocaust of Fire in the Temple of the Red Oracle) that are full of technicality and complexity, interlaced with spacey atmospheric metal passages and of course Asthâghul's perfectly integrated, malevolent growling. I do find the latter hard to follow in terms of his actual lyrics, but as part of the whole package it works.

Pandaemorthium is undeniably a very satisfying release. It's not quite the album I expected to hear next from Esoctrilihum but maybe that's a good thing. A level of unpredictability makes this project even more exciting than it was already and Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension had already given me a lot of hopes for its future. For all we know, Asthâghul's next one for Esoctrilihum could easily be a full on progressive/technical death metal release, full on spacey black metal madness, or even something avant-garde. Or none of the above or maybe a bit of all of them and more. Wherever he takes this project next, it's clearly going to be one hell of a ride to take with him to find out. And for my money, Pandaemorthium is the first true standout album of 2018.

SAXON Thunderbolt

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 7 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Now, I don’t claim to be the world’s biggest or most devout Saxon fan. I only got into them about five or six years ago after hearing ‘Denim & Leather’ in an episode of both Metal Evolution and also Heavy Metal Louder Than Life and feeling like I needed to hear more. Since this was in my most financially broke student period its been a slow process gathering their discography. At present I own only about ¾ of their albums, but to be fair, have seen them live about 3 times (would’ve been four, but one was cancelled). Slowly, slowly they’ve won me over more and more and more until I’d now consider them one of my absolute favourite bands (if not for a mental block about having to have the full discography I have), and its a rare day you catch me without a Saxon t-shirt on, even at work.

Saxon have had several distinct periods over the years. The unsigned and first album era. The classic and most publicly beloved era of the next 3-5 albums where the bulk of their live setlist and greatest-hits tracklists will be drawn from. The more commercial 3 albums after that in the mid-late ’80s. The early ’90s comeback. The early ’00s comeback. The late ’00s comeback. Their current three comeback albums. Yeah, when I saw them live, singer Biff Byford joked “we’re on about our tenth comeback now!”

Even though they were already on an amazing comeback with Sacrifice, the public considered their last album Battering Ram a comeback as well, and judging by the chart performance and critical and fan reaction to this current album, 2018’s Thunderbolt (their 22nd studio album), the same thing is happening again.

Much like German Metal Legends, Accept or Kreator; Saxon are playing and writing better now than so many younger bands, than so many of their peers, and arguably than themselves in much of their classic discography.

Even as a new fan, this record is not something you want to be missing out on, this isn’t just a reason to tour or one or two new songs to add to a setlist for one tour, to be forgotten forever after, this is a damn strong, exciting, vital sounding album!

Highlights include the bombastic strung-up moody album-centerpiece ‘Nosferatu’ with its astonishing guitar work, dynamic mix of tempos and evocative lyrics, as well as the furious Motorhead tribute ‘And They Played Rock N Roll’ and the heavy ‘Predator’ which features guest vocals from Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg.

To be honest though, apart from an instrumental intro, there is not one skippable song on the whole album. Even towards the end of the album, tracks like ‘Speed Merchant’ are just as good as anything at the start of the album. It makes sense that the band are playing six or seven songs from this record live at the moment, as it is some seriously strong material. With Paul Quinn’s searing guitar solos, Nigel Glocker’s mighty drumming and Andy Sneap’s absolutely perfect production job… this is exactly what Heavy Metal is supposed to sound like; punchy, heavy, vital, catchy, impressive and fun!

If you like Saxon then this is no album to miss, if you are lapsed its a good re-entry point, and of course, if you are new or newish to Saxon then this is mandatory listening. I know some people would call it sacrilegious to compare it to career triumphs like Strong Arm Of The Law, Wheels Of Steel, Denim & Leather or Solid Ball Of Rock, but this tight, consistent and damn entertaining album is honestly good enough to be both up there with the best Saxon material but up there with the best Heavy Metal material coming out at the moment. I would have it over Iron Maiden’s latest at the moment, and they are on a high period as well. Don’t miss out, get struck by the Thunderbolt now!

BLACK LABEL SOCIETY Grimmest Hits

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Black Label Society are very much 'old dependable.' Every album is worth owning. For me I do have to admit prefering their Metal side to their Rock side and consequently thinging the first four albums and also Order Of The Black are the best, but even with that being said, nothing they do it bad.

2018's Grimmest Hits (a studio album, not a greatest hits, in case you didn't know) is their tenth proper Studio album. If it is your first BLS album, then you'll probably love it, if you already own a few, then you'll probably like me enjoy it, but not think it is the best. Like AC/DC or Hatebreed or Motorhead, the band do have album on album variation, but they always sound distinctly themselves and a causaul person may say 'heard one, hear em all.'

Its pretty much the usual fayer here, with a bit more Sabbathy and a bit less Groove Metal than some of their other work, but still very much more of the same. A few great ballads, a mix of fast, slow and mid-tempo Metallic rock songs with increddible guitar solos and vocals that owe a lot to both Layne Stayley and Ozzy Osbourne.

Highlights this time around include 'Seasons Of Faulter,' 'A Love Unreal' and the very catchy southern ballad 'The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away.'

Its the kind of album you have on in the car and listen to over and over again without realizing how much you actually listen to it. You wouldn't call it your favourite ever album but you certainly get your money's worth in the end. Recommended, not a disappointment, but not their greatest. If you are a new fan try something like 1919 Eternal first, move on to this when you're already a fan.

JUDAS PRIEST Firepower

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 13 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It’s hard to believe that the metal gods of the 80s who formed all the way back in 1969, yep, that’s 49 years ago are still around almost 20 years into the new millennium with their 18th studio album are still cranking it up and pumping out the metal glory. While most metal bands have formed and disbanded within this time period, JUDAS PRIEST somehow seems immortal as they unleash their classic 80s sound in modern form on their newest sonic artillery range FIREPOWER. On their previous album “Redeemer Of Souls,” PRIEST seemed to be having an identity crisis of some sort. The album sampled a bit from their entire career with one of the most diverse sounding albums since their Gull Records days, but on FIREPOWER, Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, Scott Travis and the newest member of the pack Richie Faulkner (who replaced found K.K. Downing in 2011) zero in on the classic 80s PRIEST sound that made them some of the metal lords of eternity. In fact if someone were to re-write history and replace “Turbo” with FIREPOWER and listen to their canon in sequential order, no one would probably even notice if they were not familiar with the real order or course.

While JUDAS PRIEST may have had mixed reviews with their 80s output, it’s generally agreed upon that they hit a high note with “Painkiller” and although it seemed that the band were on top of the world ready to rule another decade, Rob Halford upped and left leaving the band to find a new singer while he jumped into other projects like Fight and his self-penned band Halford. Once he found himself back in the band on 2005’s “Angel Of Retribution,” the original lead singer was back but that old school PRIEST magic was not. After a divisive attempt at a prog album “Nostradamus” and their decently performed but rather safe feeling “Redeemer Of Souls,” PRIEST finally return with one of their most confidently performed albums since “Painkiller.” To help rekindle the spirit of yore, producer Tom Allom rejoins the cast after an absence stemming back to 1988’s “Ram It Down.” To keep things fresh and modern Andy Sneap stepped in as co-producer which means FIREPOWER sounds like classic PRIEST in all thunderous heavy metal glory with a crisp punchy modern production fit for the modern era.

Right from the very first guitar gusto bursting out on the opening title track, it’s clear that PRIEST were going for the aggressive guitar riff heavy sound that is all their own with a serious feistiness not experienced since the “Painkiller” days although Halford is a lot more conservative with his high-pitched falsetto but nails the mid-range dynamics of his vocals perfectly showing not a single sign of multi-decade strain. The following “Lightning Strikes,” one of the singles follows in classic PRIEST form with heavy dueling guitar attacks, catchy and dynamic melodies with bombastic bass and percussive backup from Hill and Travis. Both of these tracks easily could have slipped in on any of the 80s releases. However just when it seems PRIEST was going completely retro on us with a few classic sounding tracks, they start to show a more diverse picture starting with “Never The Heroes” which shows influences from Halford’s solo career more than classic PRIEST with Fight inspired riffage although the soaring sustained guitar chord choruses yank the listener back into the classic era.

Some tracks like “Necromancer” carefully craft riffs around previous classics only changing it up enough to keep you guessing where you’ve heard it before much like Iron Maiden’s “Book Of Souls.” “Children Of The Sun” which sounds more like something from the Ripper years with clean guitar arpeggiated sections with thrash laden riffs showing that PRIEST were just as interested in incorporating other aspects of their career rather than a totally 80s free-for-all. Likewise the piano based “Guardians” serves as an intermission reminding more of the “Nostradamus” album before jumping into the now familiar guitar driven riffs of “Rising From Ruins,” another heavy melody rich stew of aggressive guitar driven metal only with softer verses that build up momentum.

The rest of the album continues this trend and pretty much continues the strong selection of compositions. While the album is surprisingly consistent in its quality, the album does hit a brick wall at the end with the head scratcher of a tune “Lone Wolf” which with a dirty bluesy shuffle sounds very weak amidst the heavier tracks. Likewise the “Sea Of Red” finale seems a bit anti-climactic as well as it slowly oozes in with a soft melodic acoustic guitar passage that also seems out of place in the midst of heavier company and not a very dynamic way to end the album although it’s not necessarily a bad tune by any means. Perhaps if it were placed elsewhere it would have packed a bit more punch. It also sounds like the classic PRIEST sound mixed with a Maiden “7th Son..” era with the un-PRIEST-ly sounding background vocals. When all is said and done, PRIEST deliver on 14 tracks of classic heavy metal fortified with a modern production as well as a contemporary lyrical subject matter.

FIREPOWER proves that PRIEST is not even close to ready for the retirement home as far as pumping out feisty adrenaline fueled classic metal anthems, however the news of of Tipton’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease resulting in his possible dismissal from the band’s line-up beckons the lingering question if the band after nearly a half century of head banging service will simply call it a day and at long last bask in their heavy metal god status glory that few others have achieved. The ingredients displayed on FIREPOWER do have a rather epic flare of gusto that would be a good note to end on. Personally i never expect much from classic era metal bands to deliver something compelling but i was pleasantly surprised with FIREPOWER. True it may not go down as the number 1 favorite PRIEST album of all time. That indeed would be a tall order to fulfill, but neither will it go down near the bottom. While not a perfect album by any means, for a band who’s been around for so long to put out an excellent midrange album this late in their career, that’s certainly a classic comfort i can wholeheartedly support and with metal music having spun off in so many crazy directions since the classic 80s, it’s really cool that one of the veteran acts of the day can create something that grounds them to the past while keeping both feet in the here and now.

XANTHOCHROID Of Erthe and Axen Act I

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
This first part of a two-part concept album finds Xanthochroid slipping from the progressive black metal of their debut album to a sort of "blackened progressive metal" sound, with extensive symphonic and folk touches and even more emphasis given to storytelling than the debut. As with Immortal, Xanthochroid's music is focused on exploring the band's made-up fantasy world, but Immortal have never gone as full Decemberists as Xanthrochroid do when it comes to the theatricality of their composition. It might not be absolutely groundbreaking, but it's a more than pleasant prog metal-with-teeth piece which makes me want to listen to the second album to hear the rest of the story.

KING WITCH Under The Mountain

Album · 2018 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
From Edinburgh, Scotland come King Witch out of the ashes of Firebrand Super Rock which featured vocalist Laura Donnelly and guitarist Jamie Gilchrist, a band I must admit to knowing nothing about despite releasing two albums. Still I’m certainly glad to have discovered King Witch fairly early in their career, Under The Mountain being their debut album coming after their 2015 EP Shoulders Of Giants.

I approached King Witch expecting a doom metal band and to an extent this is true. Songs like album opener Beneath The Waves and Solitary do nothing to dispel that. However for every song that fits the doom label there’s another that treads in more traditional retro metal territory – take the title track and Carnal Sacrifice for example and some of these songs crack along at a fair pace. This album is certainly heavy with nods to Black Sabbath littered throughout and the dense and organic production aids this. Vocalist Laura Donnelly is a revelation – definitely more of an old school singer with a powerful and soulful delivery shown to full effect on the excellent ballad Ancients which offers a bit of diversification and a brief break from the overall heaviness. The rest of the band are no slouches either and turn in strong performances with the rhythm section of Joe Turner and Lyle Brown laying down a strong foundation with plenty of syncopated rhythms whilst guitarist Jamie Gilchrist has an arsenal of memorable and inventive riffs at his disposal.

I just discovered on the day that King Witch were playing 35 miles up the road from me last Saturday but sadly it was too late to organise a trip to see them. Hopefully catch them next time but for now I’ll make do with this great debut album.

NECROPHOBIC Mark Of The Necrogram

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
Necrophobic have been releasing quality extreme metal albums since their 1993 debut The Nocturnal Silence, a highly regarded by many, old school death metal release. They shortly afterwards adopted a more blackened death metal sound which is pretty much where they have remained since. All of their albums have been at least good, if not essential listening, though I must admit to my recollection with some mid period releases vague.

It’s been five years since Womb Of Lilithu and Mark Of The Necrogram sees the band remaining faithful to their blackened death metal sound which means no surprises I guess but it’s still a quality release. The sound is nearer to 2009’s Death To All than WOL which is not surprising when you know that it marks the return of guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck who last played on that record. It also sees the return of original vocalist Anders Strokirk.

The first thing that hit me with the opening title track, apart from the crystal clear production, is they appear to have upped the melody quotient and as the album progresses it proves to be the case. There’s no shortage of catchy riffs, which I must admit to a large extent didn’t hit me straight away but once they did I was hooked. It doesn’t get any better than Odium Caecum which after a moody guitar arpeggio intro kicks in full throttle, more death than black until the chorus and is one of the heaviest songs too. There’s no shortage of great songs though played with strong musicianship. Ever present drummer Joakim Sterner throws in the expected array of blast beats and double kicks with expert precision and the guitar work is impressive with some melodic solo work too.

I’ll stick my neck out here and say that Mark Of The Necrogram may just be the bands best and most consistent album in their career. It’s also their best sounding too. I’ve never felt the need to own all Necrophobic’s albums, having cherry picked their back catalogue but this ones a keeper for sure.

VISIONS OF ATLANTIS The Deep & the Dark

Album · 2017 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s always exciting to see a band that had long been solid but nowhere close to the top tier in their respective genre, finally break through and release a masterpiece. I was never expecting to be able to say this about Austrian symphonic metal band Visions of Atlantis, a band I have long been a fan of but never been blown away by, but finally, it has happened! Their first two albums left a lot to be desired, to say the least, but with the likes of Trinity, Delta, and Ethera, the band showed themselves to be just a step off from being something special, with a mix of lackluster male vocals and inconsistent songwriting being the two issues holding them back. The band has gone through many line up changes over the years, but it seems no matter who the musicians or female vocalists were, everything mostly sounded solid, and yet their full-length albums up until now had all failed to reach their full potential. With their sixth full-length album, The Dark & the Deep set for release later this week, the band has finally upped their game and delivered not only their best release to date but an early contender for best symphonic metal album of the year.

Going into the album, the band went through their biggest lineup change yet, with only original drummer Thomas Caser remaining from their previous lineup, while both singers, the bassist, and guitarist were all changed. Yet somehow, The Dark & the Deep still very much delivers everything fans of the band would expect, while also managing to be a far more consistent and enjoyable release throughout, with by far their best songwriting to date. Stylistically, listeners can expect some very melodic symphonic metal, with a heavy emphasis on vocal melodies, allowing for two clean vocalists throughout, which has always been a Visions of Atlantis staple. There’s a ton of variety in the songwriting, with the expected mid-paced and super catchy symphonic tracks being present, as usual, but there’s also quite a good amount of speedy power metal tracks, as well as a couple ballads. While this isn’t a particularly heavy album, the guitar work is very solid, with some great melodic leads throughout, as well as some very nice solos and a few really good riffs on some of the heavier tracks, especially the more power metal oriented songs. The songs are all excellent, and everything flows perfectly, unlike on some symphonic albums I’ve reviewed in the past, which have occasionally dragged at times.

Obviously, the most important aspect of the album is the vocals, an area where I’ve always somewhat struggled with Visions of Atlantis. I was not a big fan of previous male vocalist Mario Plank, but with him out of the picture, Dragony vocalist Siegfried Samer has stepped in and he does an excellent job. While he clearly plays second fiddle on some of the tracks, he has a very strong, somewhat theatrical voice which fits in great with the music, and he does an excellent job of carrying the melodies while adding a classic power metal feel to the vocals. His counterpart and the main vocalist throughout most of the album is Clémentine Delauney, who has been very active in recent years, from her one album tenure with Serenity to being in the all-female band Exit Eden. Out of everything she’s done, though, this album does the best job of showcasing her talents, as she’s given a ton of space to work with, and she’s able to show much more of her range than ever before. She has a very soft and pleasant voice which carries melody very well, and at times she sings more normally, while at other times she does some pretty epic operatic vocals, and occasionally she even does some more powerful, rock style vocals, and she sounds excellent no matter which style she uses. With Visions of Atlantis always being a band centered around dual vocalists, it’s important that both singers do their job well, and this album is the first time where I can confidently say that has happened, which makes a huge difference.

Songwriting is the biggest area where the band has frustrated me in the past, as all of their past albums have had a mix of great songs, mediocre songs and occasionally some downright terrible songs. Thankfully, that isn’t the case on The Deep & the Dark, as everything here is excellent, and there’s enough variety here that all fans should be happy with the album. Up first is the title track, which opens with a nice symphonic intro, before quickly picking up the pace. The main riff is quite nice, though overall it’s a fairly light and upbeat track, with slight power metal elements. Keyboards and symphonic elements dominate the track, while the guitar work is solid throughout, and Siegfried is mostly relegated to backing vocals, while Clémentine leads the way and instantly impresses, with some very smooth, yet powerful vocals. The chorus is melodic and super catchy, making the song an instant favorite, while the melodic guitar solo, later on, is also quite good. Overall, it’s a very fun opening track and a great way to start the album.

After that comes the first single, “Return to Lemuria”, which is one of the most power metal oriented tracks on the album. Following a nice symphonic opening, the track quickly introduces some excellent keyboard melodies and a great main riff, before fully speeding up during the verses, where we get out first real taste of Siegfried’s vocals, as he and Clémentine split vocal duties throughout the track, and sound excellent together, with the male vocals adding a bit of theatricality, while the operatic female vocals are as smooth and beautiful as always. The guitar solo in the second half is excellent, and overall it’s one of the fastest paced, catchiest and overall most enjoyable tracks on the album, with the chorus, in particular, standing out in a positive way. Continuing with the speedier songs, next is “The Silent Mutiny”, another very fast paced track with slightly heavier guitar riffs throughout, and it has a very classic power metal feel to it, with Siegfried again adding to the power metal feel whenever he sings, while Clémentine leads the way and is excellent, as always. It has another catchy chorus, more great symphonic elements, and a great solo, and overall it’s another great track. Perhaps the heaviest track on the album is “The Grand Illusion”, which has some very thick and heavy guitar riffs, and Siegfried sings a bit deeper than usual, while Clémentine uses some of her most epic operatic vocals throughout the super speedy and addictive chorus. It’s another very fast paced track, which is once again very catchy and has some great instrumental work throughout. The last really the fast paced song is “Words of War”, which opens up with some great keyboard melodies, before speeding up and turning into another heavier track. It has perhaps the catchiest chorus on the album, as well as more fantastic vocals from both singers, and it has another excellent solo. It’s the shortest track on the album, but also my favorite, as it’s simply so addictive and so catchy, I can’t help but love it.

On the slower side, “Ritual Night” is a nice mid-paced symphonic track with beautiful folk melodies thrown in from time to time, as well as some nice melodic guitar leads throughout, while Clémentine dominates the vocals, singing calmly and very smoothly. The chorus is another standout, and it’s definitely another great track overall. Another track with some very slight oriental influence is “Book of Nature”, another mid-paced track which has a slight kick to its guitar riffs, and both vocalists are on full display here, delivering another excellent chorus, which is one of the best on the album. It’s the longest track on the album and has some of the best instrumental work out of all the songs, making it yet another highlight. The first of two ballads Is “The Last Home”, a very nice piano ballad, which serves as a great showcase for Clémentine, who mostly uses a lower register, though she delivers some powerful vocals during the chorus, and it’s another great track overall. In between two of the heavier songs on the album is the lighter “Dead Reckoning”, a more relaxed and mid-paced keyboard driven track, which is again dominated by excellent vocals from both singers, and it has another great chorus where the pace picks up a bit, as well as bursts of great guitar riffs, and another great solo in the second half. Lastly, we have the closing ballad “Prayer to the Lost”, another piano ballad where Clémentine takes lead and sings softly but very beautifully. The chorus is excellent and gets better as the track goes on, and the guitar solo in the second half is very beautiful. Overall, it’s a great track and a very nice way to end the album.

I was excited about The Deep & the Dark when I saw who the two singers were, but I would never have expected it to turn out as well as it did! Visions of Atlantis have finally reached their full potential, delivering by far their best album to date, with a nice mix of folk-tinged symphonic metal and power metal, and this is an album I’d recommend for any longtime fan of the band, as well as any symphonic or power metal fans who enjoy dual leading vocals, as it can’t be done much better than this!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/02/16/visions-atlantis-deep-dark-review/

ANGRA Ømni

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
It’s not often you see a singer or musician involved with two different albums from two different bands being released within a month of each other, but that’s exactly the case for famed vocalist Fabio Lione, who has certainly been very busy in recent years, since leaving Rhapsody of Fire. Earlier this month, he released a collaborative effort with Alessandro Conti, and now his current main band Angra are set to release their ninth full-length release, ØMNI, this coming February. I’ve had my struggles with Angra in the past, not enjoying their first couple of albums much at all and even finding most albums with Edu Falaschi to be solid but forgettable, outside of career high point Temple of Shadows, but I had hoped they would finally win me over with Fabio joining the band, as he’s by far my favorite of their three singers. Unfortunately, their previous album Secret Garden didn’t do much for me, so I had just about written the band off until I received the promo for ØMNI. Even then, I had my doubts after a couple of listens, but after giving it some more time, I have to say, this is the first time the band has truly impressed me outside of Temple of Shadows, and while it may not quite reach the heights of that masterpiece, it’s definitely a great album that can stand alongside it as by far my two favorite Angra releases to date.

While Angra is generally described as a power metal band, they stand out from most bands in the genre by having very diverse songwriting and by including some unexpected elements, such as a unique kind of percussion they include on many of their albums, as well as some very unique melodies. Their songs often stay in a more relaxed tempo than many power metal bands, and while this can work out well, I generally find their albums lack a lot of energy, which was especially a problem with Secret Garden, an album which I thought had some huge highs, but far too many lulls for my tastes.

With ØMNI, the band really hasn’t changed much, as the percussion is definitely in full effect on some tracks, the melodies are certainly unique and a bit bizarre at points and the songwriting is certainly varied, with many softer sections, but overall it definitely packs more of a punch than its predecessor, with the heavier sections really standing out in a positive way, giving the album a much-needed energy boost. Compared to Secret Garden, the prog elements are fully intact, and if anything this release has some much more complex compositions as well as even more technically impressive musicianship, occasionally reaching close to Dream Theater levels, and of course the symphonic elements still appear from time to time. The biggest difference is that where the previous album had shockingly little power metal compared to other Angra albums, this album has about the amount listeners would expect, with three full tracks of speedy power metal and many speedy bursts found on other songs. The songwriting is quite varied, as ever, and while the second half definitely is softer and slower paced, on the whole, there are enough heavier sections to keep it engaging this time around. Obviously, performances are strong all across the board and the production is flawless as always. It’s also worth noting that this is a concept album, based around a futuristic setting in the year 2046, though personally, I don’t find the lyrics to be either a selling point or a negative: They’re just kinda there.

One thing that’s definitely a selling point for me is vocalist Fabio Lione, who has to be the most prolific power metal vocalist in the world at this point. Seriously, it’s getting hard to find bands in the genre he hasn’t been involved in at least some way or another at this point. Regardless of how active he is, though, his voice still sounds as strong as ever, carrying the melodies perfectly as always and bringing in some extra power to enhance the heavier tracks. He gives an emotional performance that really lifts one particular track I’d probably find a bit lacking him and simply does an outstanding job all around. There’s also help from guitarist Rafael Bittencourt on a few tracks, as with Secret Garden, and he does a solid job, though I definitely prefer Fabio’s vocals over his. There are also some guest vocals on one track, which I’ll describe a bit further, but needless to say, they’re a real treat.

Moving on to songwriting, which tends to be my biggest problem area with most Angra albums, but this time around that isn’t the case. Opening track “Light of Transcendence” is a blazing fast symphonic power metal track with uplifting melodies, wonderful guitar work, a super catchy chorus, heavy riffs and an excellent guitar solo in the second half. It’s an amazing track that really got my hopes up for the entire album the first time I heard it. Next is lead single “Travelers of Time”, which is a pretty interesting track. It starts off with some of that percussion I described earlier as well as some very heavy, almost djent like riffs which carry on throughout the verses, but then as the chorus hits the track goes full speed away and becomes another epic, speedy power metal track that’s sure to please fans of the genre, with Fabio delivering some amazing vocals as always. The track gets heavier again later on and Rafael delivers some of his best vocals, which lead to a pretty memorable guitar solo, followed by an even more epic final run through of the chorus. Between this track and the opener, fans are treated to one heck of an awesome one-two punch to start the album.

After that strong start, we get one of the more bizarre and interesting tracks in “Black Widow’s Web”, which opens up with some very soft but quirky and kind of unsettling female vocals, which are very effective in setting the mood for what turns out to be a dark, heavy and very intense track. It’s more mid-paced compared to the first two tracks, though it does speed up at points, and it has a memorable chorus. The most notable feature of the track, though, aside from the uncharacteristically heavy, and again almost djent like riffs, is the inclusion of some very powerful and intense death growls, which show up frequently during the verses and chorus. Later on, there’s a section where the music gets even crazier and heavier, with the death growls being the sole focus. I’m sure some folks may be turned off by this track, but I find it to be one of the best on the album, and it’s certainly something I wouldn’t have expected from Angra.

After that, the album settles down somewhat. Next is “Insania”, another more mid-paced and progressive track, which still has some heavier sections, though it’s much calmer and melodic compared to the previous track, with its speedy and fun chorus being its best feature. It’s another epic track, with a nice use of symphonic elements, interesting drum patterns, great vocal melodies and some of that classic power metal feeling in the chorus. Following that is the first ballad, “The Bottom of My Soul”, which is led by Rafael. It’s a solid track in its own right, with a nice chorus and a nice use of symphonic elements, as well as an epic guitar solo later on, but I find it to be the weakest on the album overall. The pace picks up again after that, though, with “War Horns” being another fast-paced power metal track, falling somewhere in between the heavier “Travelers of Time” and the more melodic “Light of Transcendence”. It has some punchy guitar work, strong vocals, and another catchy chorus, as well as occasional voiceovers, which thankfully don’t distract much from the music. Definitely another one of my favorites on the album. Perhaps the biggest oddball on the album and one that took several listens for me to fully appreciate, is next, that being “Caveman”. It starts out with some odd rhythms, more of that djent influenced guitar work, and it features some of that unique percussion as well as some very odd chanting. Initially, I wasn’t really feeling the track and thought it was a big misfire, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the early parts as an interesting experiment and then after a while Fabio takes over and track becomes more melodic before eventually speeding up and delivering an epic power metal chorus. The instrumental section in the second half is very interesting and has a lot going on, and overall it’s certainly an interesting and very progressive track, which has actually become of my favorites over time, though I can see it being hit and miss for some folks. One thing’s for sure, though: That chorus is incredible, and easily the best on the entire album.

Moving into the last few tracks, the pace drops off a bit. Next is “Magic Mirror”, probably the most progressive track on the album, and one that brings Dream Theater to mind at times, with some of the complex guitar work in the second half, as well as the chorus. It also has a slight touch of retro prog rock during some of its softer moments, and it’s a pretty calm and melodic track overall, though it has one explosive heavy section in the middle, where the pace picks up. It’s definitely a very complex and engaging track, that shows how much the band has evolved over the years. After that is “Always More”, the second ballad, and while it starts off feeling a bit boring, with verses sung decently by Rafael, once Fabio jumps in to sing the chorus the track really picks up, as he delivers a very emotional performance that lifts the track to new heights. The final run through the chorus, in particular, is incredible and really enhances the song. The last full metal song is next, with the first part of the title track “Infinite Nothing.” It’s another progressive, mostly mid-paced track which has some great instrumental work, especially from the guitars, and of course, Fabio does an amazing job on vocals as always, delivering another emotional chorus. It’s a bit calmer than I’d expect for an epic length track, but it has quite a few memorable sections and is a great track overall. Lastly, we have “Infinite Nothing”, the second part of the title track and an orchestral piece containing melodies from all the previous tracks on the album. It’s a nice way to close the album and definitely brings Temple of Shadows to mind.

Overall, ØMNI is a pleasant surprise, being the second Angra album that has fully impressed me, and it comes right after their previous album left me feeling quite disappointed. It features the usual trademarks of the band, while also including some much heavier guitar work than expected at times, as well as some extremely varied and effective songwriting that helps lift it up to greater heights than most of their other albums. I expect longtime fans to be divided on it, but I’d highly recommend it to fans of power metal and prog who want a more varied and challenging album to listen to, as well as for anyone who can’t get enough of Fabio Lione.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/01/28/angra-omni-review/

SUMMONING With Doom We Come

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While SUMMONING officially formed all the way back in the early 90s, this current day duo from Austria has been quite sparse in their 21st century releases with only four full-length albums having emerged in the last 18 years which roughly means around five year gaps in between. Lo and behold and at long last a retreat back into the Tolkien lengendarium where Orks run wild and Mordor burns in fury as the Ring of Power remains firmly out of grasp as Hobbits dodge one bout with evil after another. Finally in 2018, SUMMONING which consists only of Selenius and Protector has unleashed their latest installment of their musical accompaniment for all things Lord of the Rings in the form of WITH DOOM WE COME. As with the previous albums beginning with 1995’s “Minas Morgul,” we are treated (or tortured) to another set of epic length jaunts into dark ambient melodic marches that feel as if they are procured by Elves, performed by Dwarves, considered by Hobbits and ultimately embellished with Gandalf’s white wizard ways of crafting the perfect balance between simple melodies that are glistened over with something more precious than Golem’s lost pride and joy.

WITH DOOM WE COME is only the eighth installment in the world of SUMMONING and after years of delays (which remain unnamed), the album finds the first rays of 2018 shining upon it like a new Hobbit movie emerging from the misty fjords of New Zealand. With Middle Earth firmly fixed in gaze, SUMMONING once again delivers the expected epic video game soundtrack romp through a series of eight lengthy tracks that continue the (now) traditional theme of taking a simple (and catchy) piano or synthesized melodic flow that seemingly riffs to eternity but on the march to freedom captures subtle changes in their midst. You are correct to assume that SUMMONING have mustered up yet another album familiar to all, that being heavily atmospheric dominated melodies that crank up the buzzsaw guitar action and raspy corpse paint vocals to conjure up visions of despair and utter dismay as all hope seems extinguished and only carried through by a melodic string that holds it all together.

Whether you love em or hate em, one thing is for sure: SUMMONING has a sound and style like no other. These guys have conjured up one of the most unique elans in a strange world that straddles black metal, dark ambient and video game soundtrack epic grandeur. WITH DOOM WE COME seems to have taken the expected mix of melodic flow in military march with distorted guitar, raspy vocals and orchestrated-the-hell-out-of-it approach to even more extreme pastures. While the basics remain firmly in place, it seems that the production is off-the-hook clear and the use of choirs for background emphatics is even more pronounced and epic in nature. Just as the new release of the video game Zelda takes epic video game experiences to ever more heightened arenas, so too does SUMMONING’s emphasis on these same epic qualities that ride in the same wake. Never before have drum machines, fuzzed out guitar, raspy screaming vocals or synthesized orchestras with choirs sounded so, well…. grand. It’s more of the same but yet the quality is off the charts.

For sure kvlt black metal worshippers, who have been throwing darts at the effigies of Silenius and Protector all these years for betraying the one-dimensional black metal ethos that strangleholds so many, will find nothing on WITH DOOM WE COME to rein in their hatred for anything remotely symphonic and atmospheric in nature. However, to be fair i have never really considered SUMMONING’s form of musical expression a black metal band at all (OK after their first album that is) but rather a dark ambient, darkwave, epic video game soundtrack style of music that just happens to take the raspy vocals and buzzsaw guitar distortion of black metal along for the ride after their black metal origins. Needless to say, if you don’t like what came before, you won’t be SUMMONING any more of these demons but this duo really knows how to craft a lush and exquisitely designed romp through the musical soundscapes of the Tolkien universe and that is something no others have successfully tackled. SUMMONING have latched onto their own brand of hybridized musical expression and why would anyone expect them to explore anything else but?

WITH DOOM WE COME is a welcome respite into a familiar sound with an ever expanding production value in a set repertoire. This is very much a hypnotic type of album that seduces the listener with an irresistible melancholy yet utterly addictive hook and then slowly ratchets up the tension with the swirling sensation of synthesized embellishments that add more and more flavors to the mix. This is one for the audiophiles as the production is super crisp and clear and every detail is drenched in perfection. Yeah, i too am a lover of everything kvlt, demented and evil but that’s not SUMMONING’s game. Their shtick is in the grey zone where black metal, dark ambient and epic soundtrack music meet in the triangulated mysteries of the dark. While this is definitely akin to their previous offerings, i have to admit that i can’t get enough of this stuff and i personally have no problem with a band continuing down a path they forged for themselves. This is a really compelling listen even if it goes down familiar turf. It’s exquisitely performed and that’s more than good enough for me!

BUCKETHEAD Pike 274 - Forneau Cosmique

Album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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B U C K E T H E A D ~ Pike 274 - Forneau Cosmique

1st album of 2018

Two tracks that clock in at 28:04

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

“Forneau Cosmique” (11:49) begins with a familiar BH sound, that is a synthesized atmospheric backdrop with mellow echoey guitar parts, however it quickly bursts into a heavy alternative metal type of guitar riff with the bass and drums along for the ride. Not unexpectedly, guitar solos emerge here and there trading off with the riffs. Compositionally speaking, the main melody is one of those looped recurring series of chords that maintain a rhythm guitar, bass and drums as a lead guitar joins in to provide variety. Around the 3.5 minute mark, the heavy metal drops out and the echoey clean guitars steal the show with the same rhythm and melodic progression. When the distorted guitar joins back in its less frenetic as the a sizzling guitar solo extends for a lengthy period of time building up power and speed. As the track continues its long journey, it retains the basic melody but pumps out different variations but basically comes across as a tad uninspiring as we’ve heard this a million times before and this is really quite too tame despite some crunchy metal riffing that occurs.

“Endless Experiments” (16:15) is an even crunchier metal monster with heavy guitar riffs hitting the ground running. They alternate with some freaky electronica. Unlike the previous track, this one wastes no time changing things up and heads to the other extreme where totally unrelated riffs and melodies juxtapose and clash with avant-garde sounding guitar parts. After a while it jumps back into straight forward heavy metal, then electronica, then clean guitar parts and then heavy metal slowed down. It takes no time at all to realize that this is one of those tracks that changes things up often zigzagging in unpredictable ways from genre style to genre style with heavy riffs, solos, electronic bloops and bleeps and bluesy rock all trading off with each other. This track is basically like somebody randomly hits shuffle every several seconds and where it ends up is anyone’s guess but all the styles performed are nothing new to the BH canon.

This PIKE is really nothing out of the ordinary however the two stylistic approaches generally do not sit side by side on the same release. The first track has been done to death at this point and is really quite boring whereas the second track is more unpredictably wild and more to my tastes but same problem. This style has been done to death and is performed in more interesting ways on previous PIKEs. This two track PIKE is really BUCKETHEAD by the numbers as nothing on it is new in any way, shape or form. While BH slowed down in 2017 releasing a mere 30 albums, many of them simply retread previous ideas sprawled out in the vast BH universe. Likewise the first PIKE of 2018 offers little insight that the new year will provide anything but the same. Decently played and performed but not inspiring.

REBELLION A Tragedy in Steel Part II: Shakespeare's King Lear

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
I'm sure that I can't have been the only one surprised when German heavy/power metal act Rebellion revealed their eighth studio album. It's not that the band was in a situation where a new album was either unexpected or past due; it'd been three years since the release of Wyrd Bið Ful Aræd – The History of the Saxons (2015), their usual length between albums for a few releases now. No, it was the title. The album was revealed as A Tragedy in Steel Part II: Shakespeare's King Lear (2018). Shakespeare's MacBeth - A Tragedy of Steel (2002) was Rebellion's first album and who could have expected that after sixteen years the group would return to the works of Shakespeare?

I for one did not and I have to admit, the move made me a little apprehensive. After all, MacBeth is undoubtedly Rebellion's weakest album; the very textbook definition of a record where the artist is still finding their sound. But not only that, the flow of that record was really disrupted by heavy use of narration elements, which unlike on other albums that make use of such weren't separated into their own tracks but inserted into the actual songs of the album and not always at the beginning or end of a piece. Of course it's obvious given the subject matter why they'd do that – it adds a feel of the theatre to the album, but for me at least, it really didn't work.

As a band Rebellion has obviously come a long way since then, producing an incredible run of albums starting with Born a Rebel (2003), their only non-concept and/or theme album, and going right up to the most recent release Wyrd Bið Ful Aræd. But even so, it seemed a really odd move for them to make. So now comes the burning question: were my concerns justified?

Yes, I think they very much were.

But with that said, positives first: it isn't like King Lear is a total bust for Rebellion. They still have their signature sound intact, with lots of heavy and power metal riff work on display, along with Michael Seifert's distinctive sung yet harsh vocal style. The album even actually breaks the band a bit of unexpected new ground with several tracks, usually the more heavy metal based ones, displaying an undertone of traditional doom metal, something that can be clearly picked up upon as early as opener A Fool's Tale. It's just a bit of flavour rather than a overt change in direction, but it's enough to differentiate the album from the band's others.

But the there's the issues with the album that put a real dampener on anything positive I can say about it. While it's not as extreme, the band did fall into exactly the same trap with the narrative elements on King Lear as they, way back when with a largely different line-up, did with MacBeth. Then there's the songs themselves. They're not bad and there is a few highlights to be had such as Dowerless Daughter, Storm and Tempest, and Battle Song, but there's an inescapable feeling that for the first time in a while Rebellion aren't coming close to knocking one out of the park and that despite those new doomy undertones, the album is very much Rebellion by numbers and that they went through the motions of getting an album out at the time they were expected to. As such it's difficult to really get invested in it as an album or get too excited by it.

It's still a solid enough release to avoid being considered bad, but there's no room for doubt in my mind that King Lear is the band's weakest album since MacBeth itself and I'm actually unsure which really deserves the dubious honour of being considered the actual weakest. I would say it's still worth picking up if you're a fan of the band and already have all their other work (and the price is right), but otherwise there's a choice of six other Rebellion albums out there that are considerably more powerful than this one that deserve your attention first. This one already feels like it's just there, a part of the band's discography that you're aware of and may listen to on occasion along with their other albums, but it won't ever be the one you reach for first.

HEAVATAR Opus II - The Annihilation

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.58 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Usually going into a new year, I have a pretty good idea of what bands will be in contention for my album of the year, but it seems every few years I’m thrown a curve ball and a band I would have never even thought of comes out and completely blows me away, leaving more anticipated albums far behind them. Obviously, it’s way too early in the year to tell if that’s how things will work out in 2018, but going into the year if anyone were to have told me that after a month my top album for the year would come from German power metal band Heavatar, I likely would have shook my head and said “not in a million years”, but somehow that’s exactly what happened. Heavatar was formed in 2012 by Stefan Schmidt, the mastermind behind a capella metal band Van Canto, who I happen to be quite a big fan of, so naturally when I heard one of their members was starting a new band, with a full metal sound, as well as some added classical music influence, I was excited. For whatever reason, though, Opus I: All My Kingdoms never really grabbed me, aside from a couple standout tracks, and I quickly forgot about the band. They’re now set to release Opus II: The Annihilation, an album which wasn’t even on my radar just a few weeks ago, and yet surprisingly enough it completely blew me away on my first listen, and has only grown on me more ever since, emerging as an early year favorite to possibly end up as my 2018 album of the year.

Stylistically, not much has changed on this album, as the band still plays an aggressive, guitar-driven brand of power metal, with a ton of classical melodies thrown in for extra flavor. As with Opus I, there are plenty of sections which clearly take classical pieces and create metal versions of them, with the likes of Puccini, Chopin, and Beethoven being cited as influences for some of the tracks. Sometimes these classical pieces are easy to recognize, such as on the title track and “Into Doom”, while on other tracks the classical influence is a lot more subtle, but it’s definitely there throughout the album. Honestly, it’s tough for me to pin down exactly why this album works for me in ways the debut didn’t, but I guess what it comes down to is more consistent, at times more adventurous songwriting, and the fact that the music constantly strikes a perfect balance, both between heaviness and melody, and also between being blazing fast at times, and slowing down to a more relaxing pace at other times. Many tracks go through tempo changes, especially during the four-part suite that closes the album, and I find overall the songs deliver everything I could ask for as a power metal fan, offering some awesome guitar riffs throughout, as well as big choruses on every track, huge, epic vocal melodies, plenty of great solos, which are often the points where the classical influence comes in, as well as a ton of other surprises. There simply isn’t a single dull moment on the entire album, where I found the debut to be very inconsistent. Obviously, the production is top notch, and the musicianship is great, with excellent guitar work from Stefan Schmidt and Sebastian Scharf, while former Stratovarius drummer Jörg Michael is explosive and exciting as always.

For some reason, I didn’t like Stefan’s vocals too much when I first listened to Opus I, but his voice has grown me a lot since then, and he has certainly delivered a strong performance on this album. He has a very deep and powerful voice that fits the music well, especially during the heavier sections and he can be very intense and animated at times, sometimes coming pretty close to using death growls, and his vocals add extra intensity to some already energetic and heavy tracks. Obviously, coming from an a capella band, he’s a great singer all around, though, so he can also sing very smoothly during calmer sections, which there are a ton of, especially in the second half of the album.

My biggest area of contention with Opus I was the songwriting, but thankfully this time around the band has delivered nothing but excellent music from start to finish. There’s nothing that clearly sticks out in a bad way like the acoustic “To the Metal”, and there are certainly many tracks that surpass even the best track on that album, the 11-minute epic “The Look Above”. Starting things off is “None Shall Sleep”, an absolutely stunning opening track that immediately had me collecting my jaw off the floor the first time I heard it. It opens with a brief keyboard section, before quickly giving way to some pummeling riffs that lead the way through the verses, which move by at a breakneck pace and bring a ton of energy, and then the chorus appears and is equal parts catchy, melodic, epic and just plain awesome. The best part, though, comes in the second half, with an excellent and very melodic guitar solo followed up by a classically influenced vocal section that is simply stunning and lifts the track to all new heights. All in all, this track is easily the best power metal track I’ve heard so far in 2018, and I won’t be surprised if it goes down as my favorite even at the end of the year, as it not only delivers everything I want from the genre, but it goes the extra mile with that one choral section to completely blow me away.

While that opening track is tough to match, the rest of the album certainly leaves nothing behind. Next is “Into Doom”, another fast-paced track, which has more of a classic power metal sound, compared to the somewhat thrashy riffs of the opener. It’s certainly still a heavy hitter, though, and it again has some huge classically influenced melodies throughout, as well as a blazing fast and super addictive chorus. Stefan changes things up during the verses with a soft and extra deep delivery, which works great. The big classical melody of the track comes in during the solo section in the middle and is both very obvious and quite awesome. After that is “Purpose of a Virgin Mind”, one of the tracks where I don’t notice the classical influence as obviously, but it’s certainly still an awesome track. It’s another up-tempo track, though slightly slower than the first two, with slow, but hard hitting verses with some great riffs, though it has some nice melodic leads, as well as one of the biggest and most melodic choruses on the album.

The first slower track of the album is the hilariously named “Hijacked by Unicorns”, which has some great lead riffs and some fun vocals during the verses, but it’s the chorus where the song really picks up, as the vocal melodies are excellent, the tune is super catchy and the lyrics are every bit as amusing as the name would suggest. It’s another track where the classical influences are quite easy to spot, coming in during the solo section later on, and it’s quite the fun track overall. After that is the title track, where the opening has a classical reference that is just as obvious as the one on “Replica” from Opus I, and it’s another heavy hitter, moving at a rather slow pace early on before picking up the pace in a big way, leading to an explosive and very epic chorus. Stefan comes very close to death growls later on in the track, and the choral section that follows is amazing, as is the guitar solo after that. The last normal song on the album is “Wake Up Now”, a mid-paced track and yet another heavy hitter, with slow but fun verses, excellent riffs throughout and yet another huge and super catchy chorus. This track changes things up a bit in the middle, with an epic keyboard solo, before the expected guitar solo, which is great as always.

After six amazing tracks, the band decided to go extra big for the grand finale, delivering a near 14-minute four-part suite, divided into four separate tracks. There’s a lot of ideas throughout the four tracks, but there’s one chorus that constantly shows up throughout, used in various forms, and it’s a very memorable one. Each part sounds different, though one thing that is constant is the use of symphonic elements, which help make the music even more epic and compared to the rest of the album these tracks are much more melodic and more complex. The opening part “A Broken Taboo” in particular goes through many tempo changes, and is quite the treat, introducing the main chorus in a big way, while also surprising me with some great female vocals, which appear later on, before again appearing briefly on the second part “An Awakening”, which is a more relaxed and melodic track, with some nice folk melodies. It’s definitely the closest the album comes to having a ballad, and it’s a very beautiful track. The most explosive section of the suite is “A Battle Against All Hope”, an epic, super speedy symphonic power metal track, which has some of the heavy riffs found on the first six tracks and it again moves at a breakneck pace and delivers a huge chorus, except this time the epic feeling is enhanced by the symphonic elements. I love all four parts of the suite, but this track is easily my favorite. Lastly, we have “A Look Inside”, which mostly serves as a softer, slower reprise of “A Broken Taboo”, and it’s a very nice ending to the main portion of the album.

There are two extra tracks here, the first being a cover of the Manowar classic “Metal Daze”, which is a very faithful recreation of the track, with a much better-sounding production than the original, while still hitting much harder and having more energy to it than Manowar’s own recording from Battle Hymns MMXI. Stefan uses some very over the top falsetto vocals at points, which are very cool, and it’s definitely a fun cover overall. One other bonus is “The Look Inside (Orchestral Version”, which is an instrumental version of the four-part suite, and while I obviously prefer hearing it with vocals, this version is quite good on its own, and it’s nice to have the whole thing on one track, which is perhaps the only thing I would have changed about the main version.

Overall, Opus II: The Annihilation is a huge surprise for me, as I didn’t care much for Opus I at all, but somehow Heavatar has really stepped up their game, offering some amazing and aggressive classically influenced power metal songs, which give me everything I could possibly ask for from the genre, while also managing to surprise me several times along the way. Obviously, fans of the band’s debut need to hear this, and I’d highly recommend it to any power metal fan looking for something just a bit different, as well as to any metal fan who wants to hear something with a classical influence, without being overly symphonic or using operatic vocals. A huge surprise, for sure, and while it’s still early in the year, I won’t be surprised if this ends up being one of my top five albums by the end of 2018, if not even my absolute favorite.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/02/03/heavatar-opus-ii-annihilation-review/

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Legendary Years

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Rhapsody have had an interesting career path, to say the least. What started as one band has been split in two for quite a while, with guitarist Luca Turilli behind Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, and keyboard player Alex Staropoli leading Rhapsody of Fire. Here, Alex has taken his band of merry men on a romp through songs from the first five Rhapsody albums, and in case anyone doesn't realise what is going on this selection is named after the debut, 'Legendary Tales'. What I have always liked about any of the Rhapsody bands, is that they not only have grandiose and almost Wagnerian Ring Cycle ideas, but they like to have the guitars tightly bound together with drums driving it all along. This may be Alex's band, but he acts more as a conductor and arranger, pulling the musicians in the way that makes total sense to his ears.

I haven't actually heard these early songs, so can't comment as to whether they are performed in a better or worse manner than the originals, so I am treating this instead as a brand new album by RoF, and in that context this works incredibly well indeed. They shred, they bring in a chorus, they stop the music dead, or let it sprawl through the speakers like an unstoppable lava flow, laying waste to all the lies before it. Fabio Lione is an amazing singer, and until this album has been the voice of first Rhapsody, and then Rhapsody of Fire, but here Giacomo Voli has taken on the role and it has to be said that he has done a very done job indeed. Overall this is a great album, and stands well in its own right, as well as an introduction to a band who have been at the forefront of symphonic metal for more than twenty years.

OPERATION: MINDCRIME The New Reality

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When I think of Geoff Tate I always think of one video clip, for one song, namely his singing on the charity single "Stars". He had been give his lines, and the first time he sang it he just wasn't happy and he just gave up and it was possible to see that he was wondering how to give it justice. When he returned to it he gave probably the best vocal performance of all those involved, and there were quality singers that day. Fast forward a few years and he and Queensrÿche parted company, not exactly on the best of terms, and after certain legalities he was no longer allowed to use that name so instead called his band after one of the most important prog albums of all time.

Apparently, this is the third and final chapter in a musical trilogy, following a little over one year after the release of the second chapter, 'Resurrection', and about two years after the first chapter, 'The Key'. For this project he has brought together a host of musicians, including Kelly Gray, John Moyer, Simon Wright, Scott Mercado, Scott Moughton, Brian Tichy and Mike Ferguson. But, just having known musicians play on the album doesn't mean that it works, and having a solid recording history doesn't mean that Geoff still has the goods. Let's be honest, I really didn't like this album - it is a collection of good intentions, with strange arrangements and confusion, and often with the vocals way too low in the mix and the drums way too high. Is Geoff trying to be Peter Gabriel, or David Bowie? He certainly doesn't appear to be the person we expect him to be, and for that I applaud him. Apparently this release is "another fine progressive rock/metal entry from Tate". No it isn't.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 10 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Truly one of the originals of the death metal scene, Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot' from nearly thirty years is still highlighted by many as a classic, and it is incredible to see that three of the guys in that line-up are still here on the tenth studio album. When I heard that this album had been released I was incredibly excited, as I have always thought of Obituary as a band that will always deliver the goods, time after time. But, even though the band is tight, John's vocals are as raw as they have ever been, and they smash through one song after another there was just something missing for me, a spark, that magical item that lifted them out of the ordinary.

To be honest, I soon discovered that I was bored, which is never a good thing in any form of music, but with death metal? Really? When I started looking ahead to see how many songs there were still to play on the album I knew that something wasn't right. It's not that I have lost my love of the genre, in fact I listen to far more of it these days than I did ten or twenty years ago. A quick check of my collection made me realise something that surprised me, namely that although I do have four other albums by Obituary, the most recent is from twenty years ago. So possibly I have never been as much of a fan as I thought I was, and this album is unlikely to do anything to make me change that opinion. Thy will always be a favourite on the festival circuit, and I am sure that they are great in concert, but is this an album to rush out and buy? It's not bad, but it certainly isn't brilliant either.

VARGA Mileage

Single · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Unitron
Varga made a small name for themselves back in the early 90's with their single "Greed" being featured on the popular MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead. Said single came from the band's debut studio album, Prototype, which was an amazing industrial/groove/thrash metal album which had amazing riffs, hooks, and variety. It's really one of the best hidden gems of 90's metal. However, the band started out playing technical thrash metal with their debut demo. When the band returned from a long time away in 2011, they released two albums a few years later which saw a return to their original sound.

Now those two new studio albums were fantastic comeback albums, and it was great to see such an underrated band come back with flying colors. Now the band has returned yet again with a new single, that ranks with the band's absolute best songs. "Mileage" is a crushing thrash metal track that's full of bite and attitude. Joe Varga's vocals has his signature edgy thrash personality blended with some higher-range vocals that scream so much attitude with the chorus. His bass, Dan Fila on drums, and Sean Williamson's guitar work bring a fantastic and catchy groove to the whole song. Williamson plays a killer spinning chromatic guitar solo that is complimented perfectly with Varga's low tuned and driving bassline.

All in all, this is classic Varga. It's a perfect mix of the band's reformed tech thrash sound with the personality and groove of their classic Prototype. Speaking for myself as a huge Varga fan, this single has me hyped for more. Can't wait to hear what these guys have coming next! Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

SAXON Thunderbolt

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 7 ratings
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Nightfly
For many it will always be those early albums like Wheels Of steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim And Leather that define Saxon’s status as one of the UK’s greatest heavy metal bands. In truth though, apart from a few glitches along the way, mainly late 80’s, Saxon have been churning out high quality metal albums all the way with some even matching those early classics like 2015’s Battering Ram.

Thunderbolt is another winner with the band on fine form aided by an in your face production, a bit more organic sounding than the last one, Battering Ram. It’s the usual mixture of fast and mid paced traditional metal with the occasional slow one (Sons Of Odin) full of compelling guitar riffs that hit hard and immediately with minimum fuss. The title track is a killer as is the Motorhead tribute They Played Rock and Roll – both Saxon at their up tempo best. I’ve always liked Nigel Glockler’s inventive drumming who as usual drives the band with mechanical precision. Biff Byford is still on incredibly fine vocal form, especially for a man of his age and has only lost a bit of his range over the years. He brings in Amon Amarth vocalist Johan Hegg on Predator for a bit of growl assistance but he can’t hold a candle to Biff. It’s all good stuff with only Roadies’ Song being a bit under par but even that in a lesser bands hands would be considered a success.

Overall then Thunderbolt is another great album to add to Saxon’s already impressive discography that any fan of the band is sure to be delighted with.

NIGHT RANGER Don't Let Up

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It's incredible to think that the debut Night Ranger album, 'Dawn Patrol' was released some thirty-five years before this one, yet Jack Blades (lead vocals, bass guitar), Brad Gillis (lead guitars) and Kelly Keagy (drums, lead vocals) are still there. Eric Levy joined on keyboards in 2011, while Keri Kelly (guitar) became a full member in 2014, although he had previously substituted for Joel Hoekstra. These guys were one of the original MTV darlings, selling millions of albums and releasing at least one bona fide classic single in "Sister Christian". They may not be hitting the charts like they used to, and their million-selling days are probably behind them, but that probably says more about the way that the music industry has changed as opposed to the music they are releasing.

The albums kicks off with "Somehow Someway", and it honestly sounds as if they are still as hungry for success as they were back when they started out. The guitars have just the right amount of edge and bite, the vocals are as solid as ever, and there is just hook after hook. I honestly think that it is impossible to play this album without a smile plastered right across your face as it is just one gem after another. I found that while writing the review I kept sitting back, listening to what was coming out of the speakers, and just really enjoying the music, and isn't that what it is all about when all is said and done? They may not be fashionable anymore, but this is a bloody great album, and don't let anyone tell you any different.

PORTAL Ion

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The stygian band PORTAL has emerged from its secret Australian outpost after a five year gap following their previous release “Vexovoid” (which ironically has already spawned a new band with that name). Following in the footsteps of their extreme surreality that some call avant-garde blackened death metal comes the followup ION which continues the brash brutality fix that they have been known for since the beginning. While their influences may have emerged from Morbid Angel, Beherit and Immolation, PORTAL have long since found their own comfort zone of death metal reality to call their own by becoming one with a parallel musical reality that sounds as if they are somehow trapped between a hyperdrive dimensional shift and in the process something went really, really wrong. Drowned in darkness and delivered in dense undulating waves of sonic fury, ION finds PORTAL churning out their most frenetic and brutal release to date.

As the intro track “Nth” slinks into existence as if a subtle hazy brume has wafted into your room, the ghostly fortifications of muffled tortured screams emulate with backmasked effects creating a dark ambient horrorshow soundtrack and thus insinuating a return to the impenetrable layers of atmospheric darkness that had created their wickedly new realm for extreme tech death metal. However, as the first blistering notes of “ESP ION AGE” rage into the scene, we are confronted with a new interdimensional rage and fury usually reserved for only the most brutal of death metal beasts more often heard in bands like Suffocation, however the angular nature and complete detachment from traditional old school standards allows a sepulchral wall of sound that allows each wailing formless riff to pierce the soul like a dagger flaying a adrenaline fueled beating heart. Add the pummeling relentless percussive overdrive with groaning guttural growls and the divinity of chaos has been reached.

The name ION is a fitting title if you know chemistry. An ION is an atom or a molecule with a non-zero net electrical charge, meaning it is either positive or negative and very susceptible to energy changes thus creating a potential for massive instability. As such PORTAL have constructed the perfect soundtrack for a state of energy easily activated by entropic changes and thus erratic and unpredictable shifts in magnetic fields. The noises emerging from the freneticism of the guitar, bass and drums are tantamount to the ionizing effect of a built up electrical charge bolting down from the thundering skies above with pulverizing consequences for any hapless atoms in the line of fire. PORTAL simulates the same sort of lightning bolt reality with jagged undulating waves of sound that capture brutal metal instrumentation in flux with atmospheric dungeony bleakness.

PORTAL remains an enigmatic and mysterious beast. Graced with faced masks and alter egos (such as The Curator on vocals and Horror Illogium on lead guitar), the band more than lives up to this alienating image with the brutal angularity and interdimensional avant-garde compositional constructs of ION. Once the dark ambient intro cedes into the frenetic chaotic metal meltdown the album remains relentless in its caustic between-realities surrealism that culminates in the harsh noise sonic terrorism of the instrumental “Spores” and then after one more shovel in the face with “Phathom” ends the album with the psychically damaging metaphysical dark ambient horror theme outro of “Old Guarde.”

While many tech death bands try to deliver the goods by creating sonic impressions of otherworldly atmospheres and moods, nobody does it quite like PORTAL. Perhaps the strange landscapes of their land down under have given them an alternative view on reality where their angular riffs shape shift like restless sands in the great deserts that cover most of their homeland. Whatever the case, PORTAL have perfected their sonic surrealistic terrorism with nine undulating tracks that despite sounding like no other band, remain utterly distinct from each other as one seemingly formless riff frenzy somehow ekes out a series of recognizable patterns that barely allow it to be classified as music as if the band are in the process of creating a whole new grammatical paradigm for death metal. One that the listener learn this new diabolical language and lexicon before being admitted to the club. Yes, this is an acquired taste reserved for only the seekers of the most technical sort of earache music possible, but if that’s what you crave, PORTAL delivers like a charm.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 10 ratings
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UMUR
"E" is the 14th full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive black metal act Enslaved. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in October 2017. It´s the successor to "In Times" from 2015 and there´s been one lineup change since the predecessor as keyboard player/(clean) vocalist Herbrand Larsen has left Enslaved and has been replaced by Håkon Vinje. It´s actually the first lineup change since "Isa (2004)" so Enslaved have enjoyed quite a few years and album releases with a steady lineup.

Stylistically the material on "E" continue the progressive black metal sound that Enslaved have played and developed upon over now many years and albums, but it particularly has many similarities to RIITIIR (2012) and "In Times (2015)", which is of course only natural, as they are the two direct predecessors to this release. So the progressive elements of the band´s sound are dominant, while their black metal side is more subdued in the soundscape. The change on the clean vocal spot doesn´t make a major impact as Vinje doesn´t have a voice that is much different from Larsen´s ditto (they both have pretty regular non distinct sounding voices and vocal styles), and the vocal melodies haven´t changed much either. Grutle Kjellson predominantly uses his raspy black metal vocal style but occassionaly uses a more death metal type growling vocal style, so the vocal department of the album is fairly diverse.

The instrumental part of the music can be described as varied too. Heavy riffs, mellow atmospheric sections, guitars harmonies, skillfully played guitar solos, a solid rhythm section, which mostly keeps a mid-paced tempo, but occasionally speeds things up, and an omnipresence of keyboards. Predominantly organ and mellotron/string sounds. The material are generally well written and quite intriguing with great dynamic between mellow sections and louder more heavy sections. The album features an epic atmosphere and Enslaved cleverly navigate the listener through both dark and lighter emotions. The album features 6 tracks and a full playing time of 49:45 minutes, but it´s recommedable to seek out the limited edition version which features the two bonus tracks "Djupet" and "What Else Is There?". The latter is a cover of fellow countrymen Röyksopp and it´s interesting to hear how well Enslaved handle what is originally an electronic oriented pop song. "Djupet" is a great quality track too.

The musicianship is as always on a high level and Enslaved have clearly reached a point in their career where they are very confident in their performances. "E" features a clearly defined and powerful sounding production. Where the two predecessors featured relatively similar sounding production jobs, "E" features a more "dry" and clear sounding production. It´s a well sounding album but a slightly more organic sounding production would probably have suited the material a little better.

Upon conclusion "E" is another high quality release by Enslaved, which as such isn´t surprising given the many, many high quality releases in the band´s discography, but to my ears it´s a slight step down from the last couple of releases. Probably mostly because I don´t hear much development (the saxophone on "Hiindsiight" is a nice progressive element though) or that many standout tracks on the album (I´d mention the two tracks "Storm Son" and "Hiindsiight", which bookend the album, as some of the highlights), but on the other hand it´s a consistent album both when it comes to quality and style. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

HATED Breathless Art

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
As the 21st century churns along, it seems that the heavy metal of the 80s and 90s has become ever more distant as bands continue to experiment and strive to find ways to differentiate themselves from the gazillions more bands on the planet these days. In the world of death metal, this has never been more true with the technical strain reaching out in every possible direction, sometimes hitting on something totally awesome (think Gorguts, Obscura or Portal) and more often than not retreading someone else’s surrealistic fantasy (too many culprits to mention). Hailing from the outpost city of Orenburg, Russia which is straddled next to the border with Kazakhstan comes a new type of band that also straddles borders musically speaking. HATED was founded in 2014 and tackles the retro 90s sound of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death in its full glory.

The band is a mere trio consisting of Tim “Graveyard” Verb on bass, Morgoth Hel on both guitars and drums and guitarist / vocalist who goes by the sole name Andrew. HATED succeed in producing a fiery cacophonous technical workout with the obvious influences deriving from Death albums such as “Human,” “Individual Thought Patterns” and “Symbolic.” Never before have i heard such a convincing second coming of Chuck Schuldiner’s unique and innovative sound finding new life long after his untimely passing. So convincing is HATED’s performance on their debut digital release BREATHLESS ART that if someone were to tell me that this was some sort of long lost collection of unreleased Death tracks, i would fuckin’ believe them. Even Andrew’s vocals are a dead ringer for the dead singer as he nails every aspect and nuance of Schuldiner’s idiosyncratic style. Likewise the guitar riffs, bass and drum parts simulate the complexities of the aforementioned Death period of albums.

For the most part HATED dish out an almost perfect carbon copy of Schuldiner and the rest but they do add their own to it as well albeit not as often as i would prefer. As well as the plethora of Death sound blasting out at high decibilage complete with frenetic guitar squeal solos and chugging riffs, the band at times implements standard classic 80s thrash and traditional riffing and captures the early 90s zeitgeist quite successfully. Old school is the name of the game with this one however some of the compositions take the approach of newer tech wizards Vektor with more sophisticated compositional changes and deviations from the straight forwardness of old school performances. I guess in that respect they do tackle the Death experience of “The Sound Of Perseverance” at times but the tracks have more of an old school death metal form of worship.

HATED simply nails the Death retro sound. Hyperactive intense guitar riffs complexly transverse sophisticated compositional multiverses with Andrew’s impressive vocal range effortlessly assuaging every distorted note into compliance. HATED is very much a band to look out for in the future. At this point they are way too derivative of their icons for my comfort but BREATHLESS ART is an intensely compelling listen finding the power trio in full command of their retrospective musical roles. The tracks are exquisitely designed and manage to match the high standards of classic Death. Once these guys shed the blatant Schuldiner worship and find a more original style of their own, these guys could be the next Vektor. I’m the meantime they more than impress on their rehashed and uninventive musical prowess.

EARTH WITCH Out of the Shallow

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 4 ratings
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Unitron
Now is a perfect time to be a stoner fan, as so many stoner rock and metal bands are popping up like crazy. Being a stoner fan, I'm very happy to see this, and many of them are retaining the old school 70's metal sound that started the whole genre. If you were to ask me who the best of these new stoner bands is though, I would probably have to say Earth Witch.

They set themselves apart with how much heart and soul they clearly have, and a real passion of classic 70's heavy metal. While many of the riffs would make Tony Iommi proud, the band has their own sound and plays some pretty beautiful leads. The band calls themselves "doom blues", which honestly couldn't be a more fitting title. The album is engulfed in a laid back blues metal vibe, but isn't afraid to crush some skulls with blistering doom riffs such as in the grand finale of "Earth Witch". Though the album is also bursting with driving riffs as heard right at the beginning with opener "Guts". The vocals will often be gravely sounding, but sometimes they're a bluesy croon in the vein of Danzig.

The best song on the album, and one of the greatest stoner songs ever written (Yes, it is that good) is easily "Butterfly". Not since Clutch's The Elephant Riders have I heard something so beautiful yet heavy from the stoner genre. The plodding murky yet melodious bassline blends perfectly with the crooning vocals, and adds that much more impact when the distortion gets cranked up to 11 and the guitar rips and the drums become colossal. The guitar leads and soloing are stunning, and let the heaviness and beauty blend right together.

Other main highlights include, the whole damn album! "Starfighter", "Lovecraft", "Riff Rider", "Green Torch", "Mermaid", "Pilgrim", it is all absolutely fantastic. Each song is among the best stoner you'll ever hear. Basically, if you want to hear beautiful melodies, singing guitar solos, punchy distorted riffs and hooks, warm and organic productions, or the aforementioned driving riffs and crushing dirges, this is essential listening.

I don't have much else to say, it is just an absolute masterpiece. If you're a stoner fan, do yourself a favor and listen to these amazing guys. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

SATYRICON Deep Calleth upon Deep

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.64 | 7 ratings
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UMUR
"Deep Calleth upon Deep" is the 9th full-length studio album by Norwegian extreme metal act Satyricon. The album was released through Napalm Records in September 2017. It´s the successor to the self-titled album from 2013.

Stylistically the material on the 8 track, 45:25 minutes long album is a natural progression from the material featured on the predecessor...or maybe more correctly, there´s been only little stylistic progression, and "Deep Calleth upon Deep" therefore feels like a natural successor to "Satyricon (2013)". Starting with "Volcano (2002)", Satyricon have gradually moved further and further away from their black metal roots, and have incorporated more traditional heavy metal elements, death- and doom metal elements, and even some hard rock (I swear I hear the odd Led Zeppelin influence here and there) and progressive rock elements. The aggression and pitch black darkness of their early releases are still a part of their sound, so although this isn´t black metal as such, it´s still gloomy and extreme music. Just another and more diverse type of extreme metal.

The unmistakable raw and raspy vocals and commanding delivery by Satyr are at the front of the soundscape and underneath the listener is met by heavy intriguing riffs, guitar harmonies, organic bass playing, and the inventive drumming by Frost. The latter reaches new adventurous heights with his playing on this album and I don´t hesitate to call him one of the most creative drummers on the scene. So again little has changed since the last album, but it still needs to be emphazised how well playing the band are and how convincing the delivery of the music is. Satyricon deserve that praise.

The material on the album is also well written, relatively diverse for the genre, and while it´s not Satyricon´s most innovative release, the quality is high throughout and there are several really strong compositions featured on the album. I´d mention "To Your Brethren In The Dark" and the title track as some of the highlights, but there are no sub par tracks on the album, which is entertaining throughout.

"Deep Calleth upon Deep" features an organic and powerful sounding production too, and upon conclusion it´s another strong album release by Satyricon. Black metal purists will probably wrinkle their noses and cry sell-out, but at this point it´s doubtful that there are many of those left in the Satyricon fanbase. "Deep Calleth upon Deep" is recommended to the listener who enjoys dark, clever, and heavy music with raw vocals and an above standard level of sophistication in the songwriting department. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

MACHINE HEAD Catharsis

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 4 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
To say this album is controversial is an understatement. To understand it, you really have to look at the psychology and recent history of the band and it’s frontman, Rob Flynn. When Machine Head first arrived on the scene in the early ’90s with their almost universally loved debut album and its follow up they were the hot new thing. By taking Thrash Metal, slowing it down, adding in lots of groove and Hardcore they ended up creating something unique that genre pedants still can’t agree on (Groove Metal or Post Thrash or just a weird version of Thrash, the arguments are endless). After that, when Nu Metal was popular and still new and exciting, the band who had always been talking about Hip Hop and Rap since their early days introduced Rap and Hip Hop elements into their music and changed the production and guitar styles, in so doing they made something altogether different that garnered both huge success and then huge backlash for their next two albums. After the backlash and all the constant criticism, the band almost broke up and their popularity plummeted drastically, but instead of throwing in the towel, they changed paths again and then released what can only be described as four of the best albums in the entire history of Heavy Metal… their stellar run from their return-to-glory Through The Ashes Of Empires to Bloodstone And Diamonds are four straight up faultless masterpieces, crowned by their beyond-popular The Blackening which is hailed as a classic by more people than there is time to list.

For the two albums after The Blackening though, even though they were incredible, it did not get the band the Festival Headliner status they justly deserved. Furthermore, after touring the material from those four albums, most of which is so lengthy and diverse that it absolutely ate up all the time they would get on festival slots thereby letting them only really play 4 or 5 songs… the band decided to start doing ‘An Evening With Machine Head’ shows where they could play multiple hour sets (often without a support act, although I’ve seen them twice, once with support bands and once without).

When doing those ‘evening-with’ shows and now having room to play more than just 4 or 5 of the newer era songs, they were able to drop in material from all over their career. Even tracks from the Nu Metal period that many people claimed to hate, but which the band are now getting nostalgic for and people seemed to be loving live.

So here we are in 2018; after four albums of absolute perfection, melding progressive flair, blistering thrash, flashy technicality, beautiful dual guitar melodies, and diverse mixtures of fast, slow, sludgy and groovy… the band needed to try something else to make a play for their absolutely-earned but frustratingly elusive festival headliner status. Full of nostalgia for the Nu Metal era and feeling no reason to be tied to a formula that isn’t giving them the success they deserve, Machine Head entered the studio and came out with Catharsis. The name has been explained as describing the writing process. Instead of having to hide away new ideas like incorporating poppy keyboard sounds that Rob is listening to on the radio, or delving back into the in their eyes unfairly overlooked Nu Metal stuff was cathartic for the band. Even though it is superb, they don’t want to just repeat The Blackening fifty times. It wouldn’t be fun as musicians. So back come the bouncy riffs and street-level lyrics, and newly incoming are the Jordan Fish sounding keyboard sections. That gets mixed in with the successful formula from the previous four albums, and the resultant mixture is what we have here on Catharsis.

Now; there’s two things that can make a certain time of metal fan do a spit-take. One of them is a Heavy band going Nu Metal. Another is anything that sounds like Bring Me The Horizon. So naturally; there has been a hell of a lot of negative reaction to this album. Not helping that is the world being so much more right wing now, people are complaining constantly about the socially conscious lyrics of this as if its a new thing. As if they weren’t singing about this all the way back on Burn My Eyes. As if the universally praised The Blackening didn’t have ‘Slanderous’ on it. As if Metal fans haven’t been praising bands like Anthrax and Nuclear Assault for being socially aware all the way back in the ’80s. As if music fans haven’t been praising bands like Dead Kennedys and Rage Against The Machine and the hundreds of other bands (I mean, there are so many more left wing or liberal rock and metal bands than its even worth counting, why is this even a topic of discussion?). I mean, its not as if Rob Flynn has ever guest starred on an Earth Crisis album or something is it? Oh wait…

Ok. So that’s the broad strokes out of the way. On to the specifics. It is almost an album of two halves (its almost two albums its that long, over 70 minutes… how does that compare to Unto The Locust getting pettily criticized for being too short?). The first half shows off the more experimental stuff. Songs like ‘Kaleidoscope,’ ‘California Bleeding,’ ‘Triple Beam’ and the album’s centerpiece ‘Bastards’ is where the real diversity and controversy lies. If you haven’t heard it or about it yet, ‘Bastards’ has been described as a folk song; four chords that have been around hundreds of years etc, and it climaxes with a shuffly drum beat that could be Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphies. It is a very surprising move from the band and sounds like nothing they’ve done before. ‘California Bleeding’ has that same style of lyrics that the much criticized ‘American High’ off of Supercharger had. ‘Kaleidoscope’ and the Title Track have touches of keyboards that have that Jordan Fish BMTH sound. There is a slight Slipknot influence on opener ‘Volatile.’ ‘Triple Beam’ despite having an absolutely brutal sledgehammer riff in it, is much-hated by people for being a very clear Nu Metal nostalgia moment. I think bands like Cain Hill and King 810 coming out, and bands like Coal Chamber reuniting, as well as fans at ‘Evening-With‘ shows enjoying the Burning Red material so much can explain this. This type of music was important to the band at one point and it must feel fun to write like this again and not have to feel ashamed of it. (Well, until now when the inevitable backlash came).

The rest of the album however is a bit more traditional. Its nothing you’ve heard before but if you really think about it, it is within expected limits of Machine Head. I mean, this whole album’s titular catharsis was them rejecting and pushing against those limits and that’s why the first half is the way it is. So of course, sure there is a bit of diversity in the second half too, with ‘Hope Begets Hope’ having a slight System Of A Down influence in the quiet guitar parts, and the odd melodic pre-chorus on the Motorhead tribute ‘Razorblade Sigh’ are a new addition but its all within the limits of a between-albums jump in their last four albums run. They were never four exactly identical albums and there was a reasonable jump between each, but the second half here is very much suitable for anyone who has loved the band’s renasiance period. Don’t let people who don’t like all the change in the first half let you miss out on the quality stuff at the end. There are riffs as crushing as anything on ‘Locust or ‘Diamonds, there are guitar solos as good as the stuff on The Blackening and there are vocals as good as anything on ‘Empires. I mean ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ opens up with violins, but so did ‘Now We Die.’

Even though the heavier moments are what we all come to Machine Head for, one of the highlights is ‘Behind A Mask;’ a semi-ballad that sounds like a superb mixture of ‘Darkness Within’ and ‘Descend The Shades Of Night’ but with an almost Bon Iver backing vocal, some tasteful electronic snare sounds, and absolutely and a stunningly simple but beautiful guitar solo.

Now; I don’t think this album is anywhere near as deserving of criticism as it is getting. (Really?! Your review was so impartial thus far, how shocking!). That being said, I do have some personal-preference issues. I for one am not a fan of the lyrics. Not the political stuff, I actually like that. Its the poor-taste vulgar stuff that feels out of place. I don’t want to hear ‘sucking dick’ or ‘getting head’ or ‘eating pussy’ or ‘a boner for miles’ from the same band who wrote the excellent lyrics to ‘Locust’ and ‘Clenching The Fist Of Descent’ …that is not to my personal taste. I also am not a fan of the weird effects on the drums at times. Sometimes, the music will cut out and Dave will be about to drop a really powerful drum fill but the production job will put an effect on it and make it sound strange and toy-like and detract from the impact. I also don’t like the decision to use less rhythm guitar and do the dual leads over only bass. It sounds a bit empty compared to previous albums some how. Lacking a certain power. Not album ruining but a little niggle worth pointing out.

Is it going to topple Unto The Locust as my own personal favourite Machine Head album? No. Is it going to topple The Blackening or Burn My Eyes as the band’s most known and loved classic album in the public opinion? No. That being said; It is the travesty people have been hyperbole-gushing about? Hell no. Is it a return to Nu Metal? Not really no, there are tiny amounts only. Is it a betrayal? No, don’t overdo it now guys. Is it even a bad album? No.

There are a few aspects that aren’t to my taste, there are a few aspects that will have more militant bullet belt wearing fans crying foul. The majority of the album however is still the same thing Machine Head always do: Unique drums. Heavy riffing. Interesting solos. Rob Flynn’s voice. There is an absolute load of good moments on the album, and the lesser moments have been greatly blown out of proportion.

PS. Another really great reason to check this album out? The bonus disc! If you get the right version you get a full length ‘An Evening With’ show live in San Francisco in 2015. It has 21 entire songs performed superbly and well captured. It has all the MH livery and banners and the good light show. The band are firing on all cylinders. The crowd seem pretty into it. The camera work and editing aren’t annoying or distracting like some concert DVDs. Heck; The DVD is good enough to be a full price release on its own merit. I highly recommend you check it out. Even if you’ve heard ‘Kaleidoscope’ or ‘Bastards’ or something and are skeptical about the new album, how can you argue with live renditions of tracks like ‘Game Over,’ ‘Aesthetics Of Hate,’ ‘Imperium’ and the like?

MACHINE HEAD Catharsis

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 4 ratings
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Vim Fuego
In the past, Machine Head has soared to mountainous metallic highs, and then plunged deep into despairing sewage filled depths. To say the band’s career has been inconsistent is a massive understatement.

At times, the band has been a shining beacon through eras of simpleton nu-metal and generic metalcore. “Burn My Eyes” was an intense indicator of where the post-thrash metal scene could have gone, but didn’t. Follow up “The More Things Change…” was heavier and more groove oriented, and was the peer to anything Pantera produced. In “The Blackening”, the band produced one of the most lauded metal albums of the first decade of the century, followed by the occasionally stunning “Unto The Locust”.

And then there were the misfires. The awful duo of albums “The Burning Red” and “Supercharger” are the red headed step-children best left confined to the attic. So which end of the spectrum are we getting with “Catharsis”?

Um… both.

Initially, this album sounds like a lame compilation of the worst metal pretenders of the past two decades.

The first track is “Volatile”. So far, so Devil Driver. All the ingredients are there to produce something which could and should be good, but isn’t. Yeah, it’s heavy, is played at a decent tempo, and the guitars aren’t bad, but there’s none of that breath-taking kick to the guts of Machine Head at top form. Ever wondered what Linkin Park might have sounded like if anyone in the band had ever learned to play guitar? The title track “Catharsis”. The less said the better… “Beyond The Pale”? Imagine Disturbed stealing riffs from The Bloodhound Gang.

“California Bleeding” lifts things a little, with more of a John Bush-era Anthrax feel with some decent melodies and strong riffs, and some fucking good solos. Yes, Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel remembered they can play their fucking guitars!

“Triple Beam” is probably the worst offender on the album. The listener is inflicted with a sub-Limp Bizkit turd, which even Fred Durst would be embarrassed by. The rapping is awful, the attempted melody out of tune and very forced, and the plodding, ultra-cliché’d riff is just dumb. It might be a song about a fight resulting in murder, but it’s insulting to the intelligence.

The clapping intro of “Kaleidoscope” is cringe-worthy, but it opens out into a bit of a rager, the likes of which the band made their name with. This song hits a sub-hardcore groove, and has powerful hardcore-shout vocals with suitable hard-hitting lyrics, but the word “Kaleidoscope” just can’t be sung aggressively and still sound convincing. It’s the best song so far, but not a redeemer.

And just when all seems lost, along comes “Bastards”. There’s that fucking shining beacon again. This is far from the typical Machine Head song. The song starts with a noodling guitar line, backed by an acoustic guitar. It is a “what the fuck”? at the Great Leap Backward which hit the United States politically and socially in 2016 and 2017 and, unfortunately, for the foreseeable future. It targets the newly empowered alt.right redneck “make ‘Murica great again” cadre of Neanderthals, racists, and religious zealots determined to drag the United States back to a time when people were property, a man could wear his pointy white laundry in public without shame, and God blessed it all.

This song was written the day after the Untied States of America (no, not a spelling mistake) decided an orange, racist, misogynist, former reality TV bullshit artist best represented what they stood for. Flynn’s heart felt, politically loaded lyrics perfectly portray the sense of disbelief, betrayal, and impending danger felt by decent people throughout his country, and the world over, as a once proud nation lurched into a state of quasi-fascism. And this is not one-off posturing from Flynn either. Earlier the same year, he rightly called out Phil Anselmo for a highly publicised white power Nazi salute.

As the song’s lyrics turn from disbelief to to anger, the music picks up an old school punk feel. Imagine Social Distortion gone feral. And the anger turns to resolve. “So give us all your faggots, all your niggas, and your spics/Give us all your Muslims, your so-called terrorists/We’ll welcome them with open arms, and put ‘em in our mix/We’re better off together now, embrace our difference”. A huge chunk of right wing metal fans are going to hate this song, because it cuts far too close to the bone.

And then it’s followed by “Hope Begets Hope, and the cliché and lameness is gone. THIS is the Machine Fuckin’ Head of days gone by. Big riffs, hard, harsh vocals, a driving beat, a well-placed solo, and it’s metal nirvana. And it keeps going, with “Screaming At The Sun”.

“Behind a Mask” finds Flynn singing within his limitations, and finally hits upon a decent vocal melody. It’s a ballad only in the sense it’s played with acoustic guitars and it’s not a balls out rocker. It’s followed by a string section intro, which turns into the epic “Heavy Lies the Crown”. The song expands into a sort of crusty power metal saga, then hits a thrash section, breakneck solos and all, before fading back to strings. “Psychotic” lives up to the title. “Grind You Down” has some of the most vicious vocals ever produced by this band. “Razorblade Smile” is traditional old school Machine Head, equal parts thrash, groove and hardcore. Then just for a final unbalancing step, “Eulogy” meanders for half it’s duration, with lazy guitars and lethargic vocals, but is unexpectedly overcome by a sludgy doom metal passage, and an ominous fade-to-black drone.

The initial reaction to this album is to go back to the start and try again. Were the first few tracks really so bad? Yes they were. Is the second half of the album almost like an entirely different band? Yes it is. Is it time to write these fuckers off? Up until “Kaleidoscope” I thought so. The rest of the album proves that you do so at your own peril.

THRESHOLD Legends Of The Shires

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.63 | 8 ratings
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adg211288
Back when I was discovering metal I moved through hearing bands in multiple genres before one genre stood out for me. That genre was progressive metal. That was the first metal genre I could really say I loved. I discovered both big names like Dream Theater, Ayreon and Opeth and lesser known acts such as Anubis Gate and Darkology. One band that I know I became aware of early on in my journey of discovering progressive metal was the UK band Threshold. This would of course have been through the Ayreon connection, as vocalist Damian Wilson guested on multiple releases and other projects of mastermind Arjen Lucassen.

Wilson was fairly recently re-inducted into the band at that time, for his third stint with them, so the then current material I heard from Threshold instead featured vocalist Andrew "Mac" McDermott, who sadly passed away in 2011, and was from their Dead Reckoning (2007) album, at the time their latest release. For some reason, it didn't grab me. I remember one of the songs I heard quite distinctly though. Slipstream. It seemed a far cry from the kind of stuff that I was listening to at the time and didn't inspire me to explore the band much further than that. I therefore remained largely incurious through the release of a further two albums with Wilson, though I did hear the band's third album Extinct Instinct (1997), also a Wilson fronted release, in that time through a friend and enjoyed it without being completed won over by the band.

With Wilson departed from Threshold once again, they've re-inducted another previous vocalist, Glynn Morgan, who to date had only sang on their second album Psychedelicatessen (1994). If that had been the one album I had heard in full by this point, I may have been more curious when this new line-up released Legends of the Shires (2017), their eleventh album. But no, what really made me decided to check this out was a twofold thing: it's a double album and ever since Ayreon I've always been a sucker for a double progressive metal album. But also was how well regarded it was quickly becoming, being ranked higher on 2017 progressive metal lists than even the likes of Ayreon, Anubis Gate and Mastodon. So I checked it out.

Man, am I ever glad that I did! Legends of the Shires is not only a great album, but it also made me realise that for over ten years there's been a Threshold sized hole in my album collection. This one will proudly be the first one, of what I plan to be many, to plug it.

The two disc release spans a total of just over eighty minutes, so it's only just over what a single CD can fit. This will no doubt make it seem a bit less daunting to approach than some double albums that can last for over two hours. Things are kicked off with The Shire (Part 1), a short acoustic introduction, albeit one that does feature vocals, before the first metal song, Small Dark Lines, really gets the album underway. This is a good one, quite catchy but with a real proggy solo section, but if there's a track here that's going to sell you early on, as it did me, it's the epic third one The Man Who Saw Through Time, which at just shy of twelve minutes is the album's longest song. This is a exemplary example of the progressive metal genre, featuring twists and turns, heavy and soft passages, plenty of soloing with both guitar and keyboard, but linked together by a strong vocal and lyric so it still sounds like a song instead of aimless noddling.

Three more excellent tracks take us to the end of the first disc, with some symphonic elements appearing starting with Trust the Process. Disc 2 then kicks off with The Shire (Part 2), which is musically and lyrically a throwback to the first part, though it's over twice the length and more like a full song in its own right this time and unlike Part 1, turns metal after a time. There's another brief recursion of this, The Shire (Part 3), later in the second disc. I do find the second disc to be a bit weaker than the first but there's still plenty of enjoyable material on offer, including another ten minute plus number, Lost in Translation. Despite the eighty-plus minute total length, it's a pretty easy album to take in one sitting, though can just as easily be broken into two chunks with each disc if preferred.

One thing's for sure about the whole thing though, Threshold know their craft, with plenty of riffs, melodies, progressiveness and most importantly memorable songs making up the album. Glynn Morgan, who let's be fair has to be thought of as that guy who sang on one Threshold album over twenty years ago and whose name isn't near as often associated as the voice of the band as much as Damian Wilson or Andrew "Mac" McDermott, proves to be something of a dark horse. His melodic voice is pretty stunning from start to finish, which really helps those lyrical hooks stay with you.

Threshold are old hands at this game now, and they're really showing the young guns how its done with Legends of the Shires (and maybe a certain founding father too after their own still recent double effort). I'm just sorry it took so long for me to catch on to how good they are. Legends of the Shires is undoubtedly deserving of all the praise it can get.

ANVIL Pounding the Pavement

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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aglasshouse
DISCLAIMER: because this is Anvil, a band that holds a very special place in my heart, my words are bound to be much less formal and a bit loose as I will tend to ramble. Be warned.

Ever since the release of the 2009 Netflix documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil", the sad tale of misfortune about the talented 80's group Anvil has garnered them the success and support that they've been seeking so dearly for almost 40 years. The members of Anvil have been very keen on stating how ecstatic they are to have found their success on numerous occasions through interview after interview. Hell, their newest effort is titled "Pounding the Pavement", a title that frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow postulates is referring to him "rustling up business for forty years and staying at it". That must mean, undoubtedly, that the product of this newfound success that is even titled as an acknowledgement to said success should be a glowing symbol of Anvil's victory. It should.

When bands like Slayer and Metallica started out, it only took them five or less years to have the hype of mainstream popularity hefted onto their shoulders. As such, they were rather quick to the mark to familiarize themselves with not only the expectations for themselves, but the expectations other put onto them. Anvil, a band so good during the same time that it influenced the two aforementioned examples, received no such popularity. Though stagnant in this regard, Anvil was nonetheless able to forge on, providing continued quality for the past several decades. But now that Anvil has gained a somewhat of a higher level of popularity, with them providing live show after live show with an attendee count higher than anything they would have gotten in the 80s, the staleness that usually hits a band after an extended amount of time under the same level of popularity has hit Anvil drastically in a matter of a few years.

Yes, it's rather unfortunate, but this album is likely the worst Anvil album yet. It's surreal to say as just two years ago Anvil is Anvil hit the scene and was, although a run-through of Anvil's signature traditional heavy metal sound, a still creative and rather entertaining release. Songs like 'Up, Down Sideways' and 'Fire On The Highway' remain exemplary tracks in the band's repertoire.

However with a lapse of creativity and a far more boiled down production, Pounding the Pavement lacks much of the charm and authenticity of it's predecessor. For one, this has to be the absolute worst Anvil lyricism yet, and that is definitely saying something. This is made clear with each time Anvil moves anywhere close to the political spectrum, such as on 'Ego' (likely the most laughably bad anti-Trump anthem put to music- "change your diapers", yikes) or on 'Don't Tell Me' (a lambasting of "fake news"). It isn't helped that Lips' vocals are seemingly more on the forefront of the sound, giving him ample opportunity to let loose his extremely cringe-inducing lyrics and similarly downsizing his fellow bandmates' place in the fray. With all that taken into account, Lips' vocal delivery isn't even that good. While adopting different tones and inflections on Anvil is Anvil (such as the Mustaine-esque one on 'Fire on the Highway'), his delivery seems to remain very bound to his default rasp that gets extremely grating, especially as it's not quite intimidating enough to come off as genuine.

Aside from the lyrics and vocals, Pounding the Pavement missteps in quite a few other areas. The aforementioned production muddies the overall sound quite badly. Chris Robertson's bass is almost completely drowned under the drums and guitar, giving him little room to be heard at all. Secondly, the charming songwriting that usually propels Anvil out of the halls of mediocrity have fused them to the spot on this one. On one end of the spectrum the songs are completely hook with little to no filling, i.e. trotting out the same (relatively boring) riff ad nauseum for three or so minutes. The other end sounds like what I believe my friend Khaliq put best: "a glam metal band comeback- and not a good glam metal band". 'Doing What I Want' is very true to the latter, with pseudo-swagger being backed by a contrived staccato riff. Other tracks like 'Rock That Shit' have a horribly cheesy arena-rock tone that would fit something done by latter-day Poison.

The magic that Anvil had on previous releases might be a bit sparse here, but it doesn't mean that some things weren't objectively done right, particularly concerning the Anvil trio itself. Robb Reiner. All that needs to be said is that name. Reiner is perhaps the most underappreciated and balls-to-the-wall drummers to ever grace heavy metal, and his performance on this record is the biggest driving force keeping me going through it. On the other hand bassist Robertson, I believe, will never ascend to the greatness that was Glenn Five, nor will he get a truly explosive track like 2001's 'The Creep'. Definitely not with this sort of songwriting or production. It seems like that even in songs where his bass must be at the forefront like 'Warming Up', he's pushed unceremoniously into the background as he tries desperately to follow with Reiner and Lips. In the guitar section, Lips is still rather on top even if his riffs are fairly contrived. It is still wise for him to follow the advice that many have given him over the years and obtain a second guitarist as to add dynamics that Anvil so badly needs.

Song-wise, there's a few standout tracks here. The title track instrumental is a classic gallop of a tune, hitting quite a few good strokes in its grooving runtime. The cowbell is a nice, earthy touch too. 'World of Tomorrow' is a big, monumental track that's kind of funny with this hard-ass riff being the background to moments like Lips weakly shouting "peace and love!!!!" Nevertheless its pounding nature and the impressive clashing guitar tones towards the second half make it stand out quite well. Other than that, the tracks have a bad tendency to bleed into one another, or stand out in a not-very-positive way.

That ends this ramble. I must stress that I did very much want this album to be as good as Anvil is Anvil was. It just wasn't. Hopefully, this is not a signalling of Anvil breaking their near-perfect forty-year streak of good albums, because that would really be a shame. Knock on wood.

Originally written for The Frying Pan: https://fryingpanmedia.blogspot.com/2018/01/music-review-155-anvil-pounding.html

ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.69 | 5 ratings
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adg211288
Italy's Elvenking are pretty much a staple band of the folk metal and power metal genres by this point. While for a long time I've considered their peak to actually be their first album Heathenreel (2001), they've remained an incredible consistent band for me. Their fourth record The Scythe (2007) was one that took a while to appreciate, but most of their work has been easy to enjoy, with the primarily acoustic record Two Tragedy Poets (...and a Caravan of Weird Figures) (2008) also ending up a surprise highlight of their discography. They had a brief period where their releases tended to focus on either the folk or power metal aspect of their music more, but with their last album The Pagan Manifesto (2014) they returned to the fused folk-power metal sound that they started with. This reunification of their elements continues on Secrets of the Magick Grimoire (2017), Elvenking's ninth album.

The Pagan Manifesto was a great album. Certainly the best metal album that Elvenking had done since Heathenreel (though for my money I retain a great deal of affection for Two Tragedy Poets). The band have lost none of the momentum that made it so great in the three years since it's release, a recording gap that saw them release their first live album The Night of Nights (2015). It is fair to say that in terms of the elements used that Secrets of the Magick Grimoire is a more of the same kind of release. It's folk-power metal with a dash of symphonic elements, the latter being one of the elements that distinguishes this period of the band from the actual Heathenreel days, as well as it's follow-up Wyrd (2004). While some listeners may prefer a band who are more unpredictable with every release, which could be said of Elvenking for their 2006 – 2012 releases where everything from The Winter Wake (2006) to Era (2012) showcased something a bit different each time, on Secrets of the Magick Grimoire it's actually exactly what the doctor ordered. This album isn't so much a rehash of the previous but a refinement of its sound.

It's difficult to explain in words exactly why that is. The best way to realise it is to listen to the two releases back to back. While nothing can diminish how excellent The Pagan Manifesto was or that it had more than a few of its own nods to the early days, Secrets of the Magick Grimoire just feels even more like a throwback to their roots. Naturally it's better produced and polished being their ninth rather than their first album, but otherwise it would actually be easy to mistake this as an older release of the band, it sits so comfortably with their earlier material, while also being a natural follow-up to The Pagan Manifesto. While not necessarily untrue of the previous as well, the song-writing here really seems tailored to appeal to the old school fan.

The energy of the power metal genre is fully evident, while the folk melodies are very tastefully integrated. Yet the album is no less excellent during those parts where the band do dial things back a bit, such as during The Wolves Will be Howling Your Name. Vocalist Damn is on fine form throughout, his distinctive voice as always acting like the icing on the cake within the band's sound. He's joined here by a few guest vocalists, such as female vocalist Elisabetta Furlanetto. Elvenking have regularly had guest female singers on their albums and some of their best material has come out of those collaborations, which is true here as well. There are also growls, maybe a few less than on The Pagan Manifesto overall, this time performed by Angus Norder of the bands Nekrokraft and Witchery, rather than former band member Jarpen. The most high profile guest though has to be Snowy Shaw, known for acts such as Notre Dame and Mad Architect as well as several guest appearances with Therion, who appears on At the Court of the Wild Hunt.

There's nothing here that won't be able to convince you that Secrets of the Magick Grimoire isn't another excellent album from Elvenking. There are no dull moments, with every track on a par with the rest. There's a couple that stand out early on, for me being A Grain of Truth and 3 Ways to Magick, but repeat listens will assert everything to be on the same level. I'll always admit whenever I review an Elvenking record that my favouritism for Heathenreel has a bit to do with nostalgia – it was through that record that I discovered this wonderful thing called folk metal – but there's a good chance that with continuing exposure I'll come to regard this one even higher. For now though, it's absolutely in the top three albums from the band.

Additionally if you don't mind spending a few extra quid, it's well worth picking up a special edition of Secrets of the Magick Grimoire. This will net you an additional four tracks. The first two of these are Petalstorm and The Open Breach, both of which were previously Japanese bonus tracks on prior albums. The real draw of the bonus material though is the 2010 version Jigsaw Puzzle. This song originally appeared on Wyrd, the only album in Elvenking's back catalogue not to feature the voice of Damna, so it's a window into what might have been had he not had a couple of years out of the band. Finally there's the 2008 version of Skywards, which is an acoustic version of the song originally from Heathenreel, undoubtedly from the Two Tragedy Poets sessions, though it doesn't appear to have been released before as far as I can tell. All are very much worth having.

RAGE Seasons of the Black

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 7 ratings
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Nightfly
Rage have been kicking around for an eternity releasing their debut album Reign Of Fear back in 1986. They’ve also been on my radar for almost as long with albums like Black in Mind particularly impressing me but for some reason I’ve never actually bought much by them. There’s a few of their albums on my ridiculously long Amazon wishlist but there always seems to be something that takes precedence and there they stay.

Seasons Of The Black is studio album number twenty two if my maths is correct. If you know Rage then you’ll know what to expect here – Power metal injected with thrash and traditional touches. Probably because they’re old school they manage to a large extent to avoid the cheesy clichés and excesses of much European power metal which is fine with me. SOTB has a smoother production than their last album, 2016’s The Devil Strikes Again and whilst not totally absent they’ve reigned in the thrash elements here. It’s good for sure but not great as a whole and they’ve certainly done better. It has great moments though like opener Season Of The Black which pelts along at a fair pace with some strong riffs and hooks. In fact it’s the faster stuff that works best for me like the thrashier Walk Among The Dead and All We Know Is Not. The biggest problem with SOTB is that nothing after the opener really grabs me in a big way until Walk Among The Dead. Songs like Time Will Tell and Septic Bite whilst not bad by any stretch leave no strong lasting impression. Nevertheless it can be very good at times. Apart from the previously mentioned highlights songs like Justify impress with strong melodies and Bloodshed In Paradise packs plenty of punch. There’s also a bonus six tracks available on the vinyl and digipak versions and songs like Faster Than Hell are better than some that made the final cut so if you’re buying I’d recommend getting one of these versions.

There’s too many gaps in my knowledge of Rage’s albums to start talking about where SOTB sits in terms of their best. What I can say though is despite my previous reservations the strong moments impressed me enough to buy it so that’s got to be thumbs up.

HAMFERÐ Tamsins Likam

Album · 2018 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.91 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
I’ve only just discovered Faroese doom metal band Hamferð. Their first album Evst released in 2013 having totally passed me by. Still, better late than never and I’m certainly glad to have caught up with them now as Tamsins Likam is the best album I’ve heard in the doom realm for quite some time.

Tamsins Likam is part three of a trilogy that began with their 2010 EP Vilst Er Siðsta Fet. It’s the story of a man who’s racked with guilt over the fate of his family. The story however goes backwards, starting with his death on the EP. Evst was the run up to his death and Tamsins Likam goes back to an earlier time where he and his wife are dealing with the loss of a child. You’ll have to take my word for this however as all the lyrics are sung in Faroese.

Funeral doom is a genre that I generally can only take in small doses despite enjoying work from Evoken, Shape Of Despair and Ahab in particular. The deathly slow tempos wear a bit thin with me after a while and it can sometimes come across as a little one dimensional with little room for variation despite many bands injecting atmospheric and mellower moments between the crushingly heavy riffs. Whilst Hamferð take funeral doom as a starting point, there is more to them than this. Sure there’s the expected doom drenched guitar riffs but drummer Remi Johannesen has a musicality not often seen in the genre amongst drummers with some inventive patterns shaping the song structures. I know very little about the Faroe Islands other than it’s around 200 miles north of the top end of Scotland, but through their music they manage to convey a feeling of cold stark beauty echoing my impression of the place, or what I imagine it to be anyway. This gives their music a unique flavour making them stand out from the doom crowd.

The album kicks off with Fylgisflog in a very understated way. Sparse guitar work and Jón Aldará’s clean mournful vocals take centre stage until it explodes into more familiar doom territory with Aldará using growls for the heavier sections. The music has a cinematic feel for want of a better way of putting it, aided by atmospheric keyboard work, with big riffs displaying a melodic sensibility with much musical tension present. There’s a beauty in this music that in a way reminds me of the way Opeth used to do it in their metal days – the way they could inject beauty in and around the most heavy riffs. Don’t mistake this for thinking they sound like Opeth though but you could say Hamferð are to doom what Opeth were to death metal. This sets the scene for much of the album with quiet restraint juxtaposed against the heavier sections. An exception is the death doom of Hon Syndrast which sounds huge from start to finish with some imaginative chord progressions, riffs and time changes making for a totally captivating listen and is perhaps my favourite of the entire album.

Tamsins Likam is a complete masterpiece of metal and I was so impressed I immediately ordered their last album Evst and plan on doing likewise with their first EP shortly. So early in the year yet I can already declare with confidence that this will be one of the best albums I’ll hear in 2018.

WATAIN Trident Wolf Eclipse

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
It’s been five years since Watain last released an album. The Wild Hunt divided opinion with many praising the growth of the band, which to be honest was nothing new and has been an ongoing thing since Rabid Death’s Curse. Others thought it a band aiming for a more accessible sound and losing something along the way. It was certainly epic and sprawling at over an hour in length and a big production sound certainly made it easier on the ears than many black metal albums. Whatever, I think it was the equal of anything they’d previously done in the past and joint contender with Lawless Darkness as my favourite from the band.

Forward to Trident Wolf Eclipse and on the face of it, it’s a little perplexing. This is certainly no Wild Hunt part 2. In many respects it seems like a backwards step. Immediately apparent is the raw production, more akin to earlier work and the songs don’t waste any time getting into their stride. One after another they’re in, do their business and bugger off. The one two salvo of Nuclear Alchemy and sacred Damnation is ferocious, both maintaining a frantic pace, as does most of the album. The recognisable Watain chord progressions remain intact however. You won’t mistake this for anyone else, even if Erik Danielsson’s rasp wasn’t there to give the game away. Thankfully the songwriting is excellent and consistent with each song needing little time to ingratiate itself, in part down to them cutting off all the flab. Likewise the musicianship, with the band operating like a well-oiled machine which when you’ve been at this game as long as they have is to be expected. Missing from my vinyl copy is the closing instrumental Antikrists Mirakel but it’s none the worse for it as it plods along somewhat aimlessly, even detracting from the flow of the album to an extent.

Trident Wolf Eclipse at this point in time isn’t my favourite Watain album but it’s damn good nevertheless and a great way to kick the year off. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess but like all the best bands they won’t be bowing to fan expectations I’m pretty sure. Let’s not wait another five years though hey guys.

EVILFEAST Elegies of the Stellar Wind

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
It's been quite a while since the release of Wintermoon Enchantment (2011), the last full-length release by Polish atmospheric black metal solo project Evilfeast. Although there's been both an EP and a demo in the meantime, musician GrimSpirit has emerged back in full force at the tail end of 2017 with Elegies of the Stellar Wind, an album that may just upset any established lists of the best black metal releases of the year once you hear it.

Comprised solely of long songs (the shortest is over eight minutes) with no messing around with separate intros, interludes or outros, Elegies of the Stellar Wind is clearly written with being immersive in mind and it's very effective in succeeding at that. This is the kind of atmospheric black metal record where it's almost like a paradox against what metal music is usually about, featuring traditional raw and cold riff work that often merely serves to lay the groundwork for an even colder ambience (actually the first thing you'll hear when the album kicks off with The Second Baptism... Shores in Fire and Ice), to do its thing.

There are plenty of parts where the ambient elements are withdrawn and the focus is purely on the raw riffs and growling vocals of course (which every so often are switched to clean singing, which features prominently when used, especially in the final track Inclinata Resurgit... Rebirth of My Noble Dark Kingdom), such immediately following the ambient introduction of the opener. The album's certainly at its best and most majestic when the two worlds combine though. I'm reminded of a mix of the likes of Striborg and the raw yet atmospheric sound heard on albums such as Autumnal Melancholy (2008) and Midnight Odyssey through the majestic ambient parts such as on the Shards of Silver Fade (2015) album.

While the extremely raw sound of the album may prove a detriment to all but the most fervent of black metal listener, to those among us who appreciate the style that Elegies of the Stellar Wind delivers the record is quick to establish itself as being something special. The mood captures both the winter season that the album was released in while also giving off some dark, medieval vibes. It's enough to be drawn in straight away, then keeps hold of my attention throughout, despite the considerable total length of 67:24 minutes. The first listen can easily be spent just revelling in all the fine details coming off the synths that it's only on the next go around that an appreciation starts to form for the real old school black metal guitar riffs that GrimSpirit has crafted. I usually prefer my black metal to sound a bit less fuzzy than this, but I have to admit that anything more would throw the combine atmosphere of guitars and synths off kilter. It's a delicate thing to balance, but one which is handled to perfection here.

It may not be pretty or polished, yet Elegies of the Stellar Wind resonates high up on the levels of creativity. It's an excellent release and even surprising work that despite it's late year release has quickly cracked my black metal top five for the year. It's because of that late in the year release date that I nearly missed it in time to include it in my annual best of year list. That would have been a shame, so don't make the same mistake I almost did.

NIGHT VIPER Exterminator

Album · 2017 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.54 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
Sweden. As far as metal goes it's probably best known for its death metal, a lot of it of the melodic death variety, especially the Gothenburg scene. It's also got a strong heritage in both black metal and doom metal through acts such as Dissection and Katatonia respectively, among others. What it's less known for it's it's output of classic heavy metal bands, especially in the eighties. There's Heavy Load who are likely the best known band unless one counts the more hard rock chart bothering Europe, the neoclassical metal virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen or the relocated Oz (who are Finnish), Swedish heavy metal in the eighties is mostly made up of lesser known acts who you're most likely to have only heard of if you either A) are Swedish or B) have extensively researched the scene.

In spite of this, Sweden does keep turning out modern bands that fly the flag for traditional metal, old school sound included. So arguably the country actually has a better heavy metal scene now than it ever did, which in times where modern traditional albums continually get overlooked in favour of their eighties counterparts is quite something. Night Viper, a female fronted act who released their self-titled debut album in 2015, is the latest of these to come my attention and they've really got me excited about what their country has to offer the heavy metal genre. Exterminator (2017), is their second full-length effort.

If you've previously heard the Night Viper self-titled effort, then it will be quickly apparent when Exterminator kicks off with No Escape that the band have had a little bit of a shift in sound in the couple of years since the first album's release. They're still playing old school heavy metal with a nice, crisp production sound that really highlights the riffs, but it's been tempered with an often pronounced edge of speed metal or thrash metal, depending on the song. This starts off right away with some speed metal references in No Escape, but is most prominent in the following track, the short but powerful Summon the Dead, which is the closest the album comes to having a full on thrash metal song. These additional influences give Night Viper's material a faster and more aggressive edge than traditional heavy metal usually has, while still being more about classic galloping rhythms.

Starting with Never Win we start to hear some more straight heavy metal from the band like that found on their debut, which while not as hard hitting is still just as satisfying work. Following this we hear the speed/thrash edge again in tracks such as the Exterminator title track, Ashes, Lady Bad Luck and All That Remains, while the rest is more classic old school heavy metal. Regardless of whether the song in question has this or not though, the one thing that's uniform across the album is the band's growth as instrumentalists. They come across as a real tight unit across the board, while vocalist Sofie-Lee Johansson has a strong melodic voice that carries the songs well; making them easy to follow and to keep the choruses going around in your head.

Whether the speed/thrash metal edge heard on and off on Exterminator is an indication that Night Viper is evolving more towards that kind of sound remains to be seen – the kind of thing that will only be answerable with the hindsight of time and another release from the band – but one thing's for sure: they've delivered a heavy metal highlight of 2017 in this one. Exterminator is the kind of release that's fun to listen to and doesn't inflict anything that a metalhead of any taste shouldn't want to hear: if you like heavy metal, you should like this album. And if you don't like this album, then I'll have to presume you don't like heavy metal.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY No Cross No Crown

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Corrosion Of Conformity have had a lot of different line-ups over the years and a few very distinct career phases. Some of the most notable and best of which are the short-lived Blind era of the very early ’90s, where Pepper Keenan and Karl Angel joined the band and wrote a very dark, yet strangely melodic mixture of Sludge Metal and Groove Metal. Then Karl left, Pepper took over somewhat and they released three brilliant mixtures of Stoner, Southern Rock and good old fashion Metal with a bunch of diverse records that had acoustic sections, interludes, ballads and speedy-ragers all mashed into one record. Their final album in that line-up (well, with a new drummer actually, but close enough…) was very Doom Metal focused. Then Pepper left, and the Trio line-up from before even the Blind era reunited but instead of making Hardcore or Crossover Thrash like they did in the ’80s; they released two Doom albums with raw punky influences.

The celebrated and arguably most popular line up (the Pepper-in-charge on from the mid 90s-early ’00s) reunited recently and toured the globe with incredible reunion shows and now the time has finally come for them to put out some new music together. Its probably one of my most anticipated albums in a very long time. What on earth could it possibly sound like? Well, the first track is a slow instrumental Sludge intro, bringing immediately to mind the Blind era. Next comes the third single, ‘The Luddite’ which is almost indistinguishable from the style on their Doom-focused In The Arms Of God album from 2005, which is interesting to hear with Reed Mullin on drums. It totally works. Speaking of that album, the creepy-ass title track here might remind you of a certain dark semi-acoustic track from there too.

Like their seminal Deliverance album, there are a few instrumental interludes and mood pieces sprinkled throughout. The first two singles, ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and ‘Cast The First Stone’ hark back to the Wiseblood sound, recalling hits like ‘Long Whip/Big America’ or ‘King Of The Rotten’ in a certain specific way that the instruments interact with each other and with the production style (by John Custer, who did Wiseblood too!) leaving the space at the end of sections and sounding very organic and Jammed-out-in-a-rehearsal-room, if you know what I mean. ‘Little Man’ has a very characterful and southern-fried sound, reminiscent of the under-rated 2000 album, America’s Volume Dealer, only without the over-polished production.

So far, so great. Towards the end, there are a also few slower, sludgy, dragged-out pieces that hearken back to both ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Bottom Feeder.’ It just wouldn’t be a C.O.C album without mixing in something slow and dirty sounding towards the end, would it now?

The overall feeling is a mixture of all the Pepper-era albums, with a warm and very earthy production. It doesn’t stand out as an immediate drop-everything, earth-shattering revelation, but it is a very welcome return (although they were never really that gone recently, and I’d still love if they threw ‘Demark Vessey’ or ‘Tarquinious Superbus’ into the setlist nowadays too!) that gets better with repeat listens. If you walk in expecting to be blown away like the first time you heard Deliverance you might be disappointed, but if you go in with realistic expectations you’ll find a very solid and rewarding album. My favourite track on the album is ‘Forgive Me’ which has a sort of Thin Lizzy vibe to its hook, but a very metallic breakdown, and Pepper’s vocals are very exaggerated and full of character like they were on ‘Volume Dealer.

To top it all off, there’s a cover of Queen’s very heavy and Sabbathy debut album deep-cut, ‘Son And Daughter’ and it really, really suits C.O.C’s sound. I remember Iron Monkey covering it in the past and it is a very suitable track for this end of the Rock & Metal spectrum. I know people imagining ‘Radio Gaga’ or ‘I Want To Break Free’ might raise an eyebrow, but Queen’s debut was a lot heavier than you remember. For Stoner, Doom or Sludge bands it is a natural fit.

In summary; without disrespecting the fine work of the trio line-up, its nice to have the four guys from Deliverance through to ‘Volume Dealer back playing together again with their unique chemistry. The album is pretty diverse, with a nice mix of fast and slow, clean and dirty, stoner and doom, sludge and hard rock, atmospheric and immediate. The production job is perfect and there’s a fairly decent proportion of the tracks would make it into any fan’s future dream setlists or best-of playlists. If you don’t immediately do a spit-take and have heart-shaped eyeballs the very first time you hear it though, don’t worry, it grows on you.

PSYCHEDELIC WITCHCRAFT Sound Of The Wind

Album · 2017 · Heavy Psych
Cover art 4.43 | 5 ratings
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adg211288
Although their formerly shared their vocalist Virginia Monti with the doom metal band Dead Witches and the remainder of the band are also involved with hard rockers Magnet, Italians Psychedelic Witchcraft haven't up until this point been a particularly heavy band themselves. This is in spite of also being easily grouped with acts such as Blood Ceremony through the retro rock connection. With their second full-length album Sound of the Wind (2017), they're clearly set out to change this. This one's a real hard rocker!

With ten new tracks under their belt, the band, whose first album was mostly a straight psychedelic rock affair with the occasional heavier edge creeping in, have near enough fully embraced heavy psych on Sound of the Wind. There's the odd moment where things are dialled back considerably, including the title track which sounds as if it could be a lost Jefferson Airplane number. I'm very much reminded of that band's famous White Rabbit during it fact. Mostly though, this album is all about rocking hard but with plenty of psychedelic vibes throughout. It's even close to metal at points, in terms of heaviness if not technique, though there's a vague air of traditional doom if you listen closely enough.

An improvement on the decent but ultimately less interesting (especially to the heavy rock and/or metal fan) debut, Sound of the Wind is quick to assert itself as one of the best hard rock albums of 2017. Despite this I have to say that it's that title track that sounds out as it's crowning achievement, but it's a strong record from start to finish. Perhaps more to the point it stands out in the crowd of these female fronted psychedelic heavy rock bands that have been (justifiably) quite popular in recent years, thanks in no small part to the increased heaviness of the guitar riff. Along with this potent riffage, the use of psychedelic melodies really pushes the album up a level, as do the charming vocals from Virginia Monti, whose voice fits perfectly and is a real delight to take in.

Overall I'm very impressed by Psychedelic Witchcraft's change in direction to becoming a heavier band and hope to hear more work in this style from them.

EARTH WITCH Out of the Shallow

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 4 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Metal Music Archives Reviewers' Challenge December 2017

A big problem with a lot of stoner metal is that the band gets too carried away with the stoner part and forgets the fucking metal. Not Earth Witch.

There’s plenty of Iommi/Butler/Ward worship going on here, but thankfully these guys realised it’s not compulsory to have an Osbourne too to make fucking great music. Too often stoner and doom bands ruin a perfectly good bedrock foundation by trying to top it with a screechy, tuneless Ozzy impersonator. There’s only one Ozzy, and a few good Ozz-like acolytes, and trying to create one is pointless. If you’re not born with the pipes and the moves, you’re out of luck.

So… If you want some hard assed, spazzed out stoner-not-stoned metal with riffs and grooves coming out the ass, Earth Witch is the band for you. “Lovecraft” is an outstanding rocker, cranking up the tempo, and features the rocking sort of riff 1972 was famous for. “Butterfly” is mellower, a bit of a comedown from the frenzy of the previous track. Unlike many blissed out THC tripping songs though, this track doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and has the decency to eventually start abusing the amplifiers again.

This isn’t quite as hard and heavy as High On Fire or recent offerings from Electric Wizard, but for someone coming from a straightforward rock or metal background, it’s a reasonably gentle introduction to the genre. When I say gentle though, remember this is still fucking metal! There’s also a deep vein of blues influence flowing through this album. Check the intro to “Green Torch” for some bluesy string bending goodness, and the main riff and leads in “Mermaid”. Sure it’s a mutant kind of blues, but then that’s where ye olde metal originally came from.

Ultimately, “Out of the Shallow” offers enough fire and fury to keep metal fans interested, and provides enough of a demonstration of stoner metal’s potential to encourage further explanation. It never falls into that old trap of becoming boring for a non-weed addled mind, while also retaining enough of the psychedelic and hallucinogenic to satisfy those in a chemically altered state of mind.

LEAVES' EYES Sign of the Dragonhead

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
It can be hard for longtime fans of a band when a founding member suddenly departs, especially when that founding member happens to be a singer with a very distinctive voice like Liv Kristine. Well, that’s exactly what happened with Leaves’ Eyes in 2016, and while I won’t go into details (because that sort of thing is best left kept between band members) it sure sounds like the two parties didn’t part ways on good terms, which makes the situation even harder for fans to take. Personally, I’ve always found Leaves’ Eyes to be one of those bands who I can always rely on to deliver a solid album, but they rarely blow me away, outside of their 2011 release Meredead, which surprised me with its extensive focus on Celtic folk, and while I always enjoy their music, I wouldn’t put them up there with the likes of Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation or Xandria as my favorite symphonic metal bands. With that being said, I am a fan of both Liv Kristine and her replacement Elina Siirala, and so I was interested to see what this new lineup would do all their first full-length release, following the Fires in the North EP in 2016. After waiting over a year, the band is finally set to release their seventh full-length album, Sign of the Dragonhead in 2018, but does it represent the start of a new era, or is it a sign that the band should call it quits? As usual, the truth is somewhere in between, in that there’s nothing here that truly blows me away, but it’s definitely a solid album that’s sure to please fans of the band, as long as they’re willing to give Elina Siirala a chance.

For their first few albums, Leaves’ Eyes seemed to be changing things up slightly each time, with Meredead in particular feeling like a shift into longer songs as well as being the album to put the most emphasis on folk elements, while its predecessor Njord, was perhaps the band’s heaviest and most gothic sounding album. Ever since Meredead, though, it feels like the band has started blending the two sounds together, with Symphonies of the Night and King of Kings both providing a steady mix of symphonic, gothic metal and Celtic folk, as well little bits of power metal here and there. I was curious to see whether or not the change in vocalist would also lead to a change in musical direction, but at least so far that isn’t the case, as Sign of the Dragonhead feels very similar to its two closest predecessors. Fans can expect some heavier tracks which mix in some gothic elements, including the expected death growls, as well as some lighter tracks, a ballad, some more folk-infused tracks, one speedy power metal track, and an 8-minute epic that closes out the album. Which is to say, this is quite the varied album, so at the very least it should keep most fans of the band happy, and the songwriting is fairly solid all around, with one exception. Musically, everything sounds tight as always, and while there’s nothing overly flashy going on, at least from the metal instruments, everything is well done and there are some good riffs and a few nice solos here and there. The symphonic arrangements and folk instruments stand out the most, as usual, but on the whole, it’s a nice sounding and well-produced album, as expected.

Obviously, the biggest point of interest on this album is the vocals, seeing as it’s the debut of Elina Siirala. I’ve reviewed both albums she’s done with her other band Angel Nation, so I was familiar with her voice before hearing this album and was already a fan, so it’s little surprise that I enjoy her vocals on this album a lot. She uses an operatic approach, like what Liv Kristine had been doing for a while, though her voice is a bit deeper and has a slightly darker tone. She doesn’t sound as distinct as Liv Kristine, but her voice is very nice and she does an excellent job throughout the album, sometimes using her operatic vocals in a very light and accessible way, while other times opening up a bit more and singing with more power, but she sounds equally great on every song and definitely fits in very well with the band. As usual, keyboardist Alexander Krull provides some growls, and once again, while his deep growls are powerful, they sound a bit forced to me, and there’s just something about how he uses them that I find a bit irritating, so the harsh vocal sections tend to be my least favorite parts of the album, just as they’ve always been.

The album gets off to a strong start with the title track, a rather fast-paced and epic symphonic metal track, which makes great use of its symphonic arrangements throughout. It has some pretty heavy lead riffs as well, and is definitely one of the harder hitting tracks on the album, as well as having one of the better choruses, where Elina instantly shines and proves herself to be a worthy vocalist for the band. There’s a brief harsh vocal section later on, which doesn’t bother me too much, and overall it’s an excellent start to the album. Next is “Across the Sea”, which opens up with some nice folk melodies, and it’s a very folk-infused track, where Elina’s vocals are very soft throughout in a pleasant way that carries the melodies well and blends in nicely with the music. It has a very catchy chorus and is one of my favorite tracks on the album. After that is “Like a Mountain”, a slower track which opens with a soft piano section where Elina uses some very strong operatic vocals. Once the song gets going, though, it’s a fairly standard symphonic metal track. The vocals are great throughout and there are some nice melodies, but it’s a fairly unremarkable track overall, aside from that great opening, and a similar section in the second half.

The rest of the album is quite varied and is fairly solid throughout, with a few standouts here and there. Going into some favorites, we have three folks infused tracks in “Jomsborg”, “Völva” and “Riders of the Wind”, which are all right next to each other. The first of these stands out to due to some very effective gang vocals, which add to the overall feeling of the track and help make it more epic, though musically it already has some great Celtic folk melodies, moves at a nice pace and has an excellent chorus, so it’s a very strong track overall. The middle track here is probably the least memorable of the three and is the slowest paced, though it has some great melodies and a great chorus as well, where the harsh vocals work effectively as backing vocals, though one harsh vocal section later in the track is a bit annoying. Lastly, “Riders of the Wind” is the most upbeat of the folk-infused tracks here, and it probably has the strongest Celtic folk influence, with some very nice melodies throughout, as well as some epic backing vocals and another amazing chorus. It’s a very fun and extremely catchy track which uses the folk elements particularly well, and the use of marching drums, later on, is pretty awesome. One last favorite is “Shadows of the Night”, a speedy symphonic power metal track, with great riffs and excellent vocals from Elina. Even the harsh vocal section, later on, is quite effective, and overall it’s the fastest track on the album, as well as one of the heavier songs, and it’s definitely one of the catchiest and most fun as well.

On the less memorable side of things, the ballad “Fairer Than the Sun” has some great vocals, but it never really gets going, with even the chorus not being overly strong, and aside from a nice guitar solo in the middle, there isn’t much about it that stands out. Fans may have already heard “Fires in the North” from the EP in 2016, and while it’s a solid mid-tempo track with a nice chorus, it’s another one of those songs which feel like fairly run of the mill symphonic metal to me. Lastly, we have the closing 8-minute epic “Waves of Euphoria”. To me, this track feels like the band’s attempt at a heavier, more extreme brand of symphonic metal in the style of Epica and newer Xandria, but while it has its moments, particularly the chorus where Elina really shines, the track overall comes up well short of its ambitions, unfortunately. Musically, the riffs are decent but nowhere near as strong as Epica’s guitar work, and on a compositional level, the song is decent but not as complex or impressive as what either band I mentioned has done in recent years. Worst of all, Alexander’s harsh vocals seem especially irritating on this track and really get on my nerves at points. There’s one really memorable guitar melody around halfway through, and Elina sounds excellent throughout, but otherwise, I find the track to be a fairly disappointing ending to the album.

Overall, Sign of the Dragonhead is a solid symphonic metal album which starts a new chapter for Leaves’ Eyes in much the same way as the last one ended, meaning it’s another enjoyable album, which mostly meets expectations, but musically it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the elite players in the genre. It does provide a nice blend of symphonic metal and Celtic folk, as well as strong gothic elements and occasional power metal elements, and I think it should please most fans of Leaves’ Eyes who are willing to give Elina Siirala a fair chance. I’d say it’s roughly on par with King of Kings and Symphonies of the Night, but not on the same level as Meredead.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/12/07/leaves-eyes-sign-dragonhead-review/

MORBID ANGEL Kingdoms Disdained

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 6 ratings
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"Kingdoms Disdained" is the 9th full-length studio album by US death metal act Morbid Angel. The album was released through Silver Lining Music in December 2017. It´s the successor to the much discussed and critizised "Illud Divinum Insanus" from 2011. There have been quite a few lineup changes since the predecessor as lead vocalist/bassist David Vincent has been replaced by Steve Tucker. The latter was also a member of Morbid Angel in the 1997-2001 and 2003-2004 periods and has recorded three albums with the band (the last being "Heretic" from 2003). Drummer Tim Yeung has been replaced by Scott Fuller (Abysmal Dawn, Havok, Annihilated), and guitarist Destructhor has also jumped ship. He hasn´t been replaced here, so guitarist and band leader Trey Azagthoth handles all guitars on "Kingdoms Disdained".

While "Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)" probably made quite a few Morbid Angel fans scratch their head in disbelief, it was an experiment the band needed to do, but listening to "Kingdoms Disdained" it´s also obvious that Morbid Angel knew what their fans expected from them after their little experimental adventure and in that regard they chose the safe path this time around. So "Kingdoms Disdained" doesn´t feature any flirts with industrial metal or weird electronic music experiments, but instead features the trademark Morbid Angel death metal sound of the 1990s. It´s old school and brutal, but still rather complex and sophisticated death metal loaded with twisted riffs, screaming atonal solos (actually not as many as usual), brutal yet intelligible growling vocals, and quite a few tempo changes. It´s not easy listening death metal, and a few more catchy moments wouldn´t have hurt the overall accessibility of the album, but this is uncompromising death metal, so that´s more or less the premise and nothing unusual for the genre.

The material on the 11 track, 47:43 minutes long album is otherwise well written, intriguing, and powerful. Not quite in the league of their first four albums, but definitely on par with the other Tucker fronted releases and after the challenging experience of getting through "Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)", it´s great to hear the band back on track, doing what they do best. The musicianship is as always on a high level. Tucker is not quite as distinct sounding as Vincent, but he is a pretty strong and commanding growler, and new drummer Scott Fuller delivers a powerful percussive attack. He has a great, and for the genre relatively varied drumming style. Azagthoth is...well Azagthoth. A lot of praises have been spoken of his inventive riffing style and solos over the years, and I can only join the choir here, and send more praise his way. As mentioned above a few more memorable and more straight forward riffs could have made some of the tracks a little more listener friendly, but on the other hand Azagthoth clearly does exactly what he feels is right for the music, and I always praise a bold and adventurous soul like Azagthoth.

"Kingdoms Disdained" features a dark, raw, and powerful sounding production, which is surprisingly organic since it´s Eric Rutan who is credited as producer on the project. I did not enjoy some of his early production jobs, but in recent years he has become quite a skilled producer. Some of the guitar riffs could have been more clearly defined as they sound a bit murky and low in the mix, but other than that "Kingdoms Disdained" sounds pretty great.

Upon conclusion "Kingdoms Disdained" is a high quality death metal release by Morbid Angel and a clear letter of content that the experiment of "Illud Divinum Insanus (2011)" was a one-off. "Kingdoms Disdained" is not what I would characterize as a standout release in the band´s discography, but it´s an important album because of when it was released. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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