Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

NECROT Blood Offerings

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Although they’ve been kicking around for quite a few years now, releasing three demos that were eventually brought together for the compilation album The Labrinth, Blood Offerings is in reality Necrot’s first studio album.

Necrot play old school death metal. Now these days if you’re going to release an old school death metal album it had better be good if you want any hope of being anything other than an also ran as it’s already been done to death (no pun intended) numerous times before. Fortunately Necrot haven’t wasted the last six years and released an excellent album of solid as a rock no frills death metal. Bolt Thrower immediately come to mind with their thick chunky riffs, not over-playing the speed card but most important of all memorable riffs that stay firmly in your head. Sure these guys can play fast when required but they’re smart enough to realise that an album of relentless blast beats can become a bit dull so they change the time/tempo regularly, even slowing it down to almost, but not quite, a doom pace occasionally. The old school vibe is helped by the organic production with a drum sound that sounds powerful and real. The Blade kicks things off and by death metal standards the pace is measured but packing plenty of punch with rolling kick drums and some killer hooks. It proves to be an album highlight but it’s far from downhill from here as most of the album is similarly compelling as perfectly demonstrated on Rather Be Dead which immediately follows. And so it goes – I keep expecting the quality to dip but pleasingly it doesn’t, well not to any great extent anyway, with only Beneath not hitting the spot fully. The standard of musicianship is excellent including some strong guitar solos and great drumming. The vocals are standard death fayre but well done nevertheless.

Overall then, a great start with hopefully even better to come in the future and it impressed me enough to order a vinyl copy – what better recommendation can I give. Check them out if you’re after some old school death metal that still manages to sound fresh and vibrant, you won’t be disappointed.

SAILLE Gnosis

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
Melodic black metal ruminating on the musicians' personal occult interests is hardly new - Dissection were all about that, after all - but on Saille's Gnosis they offer a solid and enjoyable example of the form. Guest performer Dries Gaerdelen's keyboards and other features add some tasteful symphonic touches, but these are neither bombastically prominent enough to drag the album into symphonic black metal territory or clumsily heavy-handed enough to overwhelm what the rest of the band is doing.

With the sort of tributes to Biblical fallen angels, Norse gods, H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley that have littered innumerable metal albums over the years, you'd think that this would have entered the realm of utter cliche, but whilst there's nothing lyrically new under the sun here, musically there's plenty for melodic black metal fans to sink their teeth into.

PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA oltreLuna

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 6 ratings
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Warthur
Progenie Terrestre Pura are probably secretly aliens. Sure, they claim to come from Italy, but they give the game away with this album. See, Earth people typically wouldn't consider psybient and other electronic/ambient genres to be a natural fit with black metal - even in the world of atmospheric black metal, which has been known to dabble in the synthesiser from time to time - and they certainly would have picked up on the fact that if every member of your band has a role in working the synthesisers and/or drum machines your metal credentials are going to be questioned by purists.

And yet here they come with this bizarre industrial-black-ambient head trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy, taking the listener through a calvacade of different moods ranging well beyond the usual cold misanthropy of black metal, and they expect us to believe they're just ordinary human beings like the rest of us? Come off it, Progenie Terrestre Pura: just 'fess up and give us the secrets to faster than light travel so we can go visit your home planet and learn where you learned to play like this.

SIKTH The Future In Whose Eyes?

Album · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
SIKTH took the progressive metal world by surprise when they debuted their unique and demanding debut release “The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild” in 2003 which along with the avant-garde tendencies of Meshuggah changed the coarse of djent guitar styled extreme progressive metal in the early 21st century. This Watford, England based band emerged seemingly out of nowhere and showed the world a new way of melding the avant-garde with progressive rock and metalcore. Despite being cited as major contributors to the djent guitar sound and dizzying mathcore freneticism, SIKTH only released two albums in a four year span and then suddenly disappeared into the ethers of the underground only to let a whole slew of imitators (think of bands like Periphery) to fill the newly created vacuum. In 2015 the band dropped a little teaser of an EP called “Opacities” which showed that they were still in top form and ready to jump back into the mosh pit and fight it out with the newbies on the block. Finally in 2017 we see the long waited third release THE FUTURE IN WHOSE EYES? which emerges a full eleven years after the last full length album “Death Of A Dead Day.”

One of the main reasons for the band’s initial demise in 2007 was the fact that the duo vocal team of Mikee Goodman and Justin Hill had left the band to pursue other musical endeavors and since a great deal of SIKTH’s signature sound is utterly dependent on this one-two vocal punch, the band called it quits lest they sound like any old metalcore band with progressive leanings out there. The band rekindled their connections when Goodman returned but Hill had apparently jumped ship for good, so in with the new blood and Joe Rosser makes his debut as the second vocalist. The album also has been released in two formats. There’s the original release with 12 tracks and the Earbrook Edition that has two bonus discs, one of re-imagined tracks and another of the entire album in all instrumental form. Whaaaat?!!!! Now who wants to hear an instrumental album of SIKTH? The vocals are half the fun! I’ve forsaken this bonus pack and stuck with the originally intended program.

As the album begins with “Vivid,” it sounds like SIKTH never went away as the combination of Goodman’s socially conscious lyrically prose bursts out in schizophrenic screams with the combo effect of Dan Weller and Graham Pinney’s duo guitar onslaught of blistering core based guitar riffing. The rhythm section of James Leach on bass and Dan Foord hammering out precision percussion is fully aflame as well. SIKTH is back and means business. “Century Of The Narcissist?” only continues to ramp up the frenzy and sounds very much like SIKTH’s comfort zone as heard on previous albums only incorporates a nice mix of both screamed and clean vocals with a rather alternative metal type of riffing approach. “The Aura” displays a new style for a full album SIKTH album although was present on the EP “Opacities” as baritone poetry is read introducing yet another blistering metal assault to the senses. At this point it’s clear that SIKTH has mellowed out a bit as they have incorporated a lot more slower passages that mix and mingle with the bombastic as fuck trademark maniacal madness that they are known for.

“The Ship Has Sailed” is yet another short poetic prose with dark ambient musical accompaniment that ushers in yet another progressive metal / metalcore frantic mashup. By the time we get to “Cracks Of Light” it is apparent that the spoken poetic prose mixed with the clean progressive metal style is here to stay as the hardcore elements are deemphasized and only appear in certain proportions in the mix. While these developments were laid out on the EP “Opacities,” it is now quite apparent that the band has been working on fusing these elements into their new style which takes the balls-to-the-wall aggressiveness all the time and allows the music to expand into a more diverse arena. Depending on your reaction, you could possibly deem this as an attribute of “selling out” or simply “maturing.” Perhaps it’s a bit of both considering three singles have been released from this one, however bands need to move on and find a new relevant way to express themselves and metalcore is not exactly the easiest of metal genres to expand one’s tentacles into new arenas. SIKTH prove on THE FUTURE IN WHOSE EYES? that they can still stand ground with the best of the newer metal bands out there.

True that this one doesn’t have the same whoah factor that the first two albums did and it took me a few more spins to appreciate but once it sinks in, the results are stunning in how they have mixed and melded hitherto unthinkable aspects into their musical mania. In addition to the newer elements already mentioned, there is a very mature approach to the production standards which is quite professionally and pleasantly executed. After a skeptical start with this album, i think it has grown on me to the point i’m actually glad that SIKTH have returned. With the more dynamic effects of pacing the aggressive elements that intermittently commingle with more ambient and more subdued alternative metal approaches, SIKTH have found yet another avenue of musical delivery which is very different than their earlier albums where it was 100% adrenaline firing at full speed with more subdued respites later on. Here they maintain a flow of different energy levels that ultimately works quite well. While this album does tend to lack some kind of major high that blows me away, i can’t fault it in any way as well. It seems that it was only my unrealistic expectations that kept me from initially warming up to it. After accepting it for what it is, i’m quite enamored by the maturity of composition and musical performances.

SEVEROTH Forestpaths

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Ukrainian musician Severoth is a busy man, having released four albums in 2016, each for a different project: the band Endless Battle and their third full-length Roots of All Evil, the dungeon synth solo project Galdur and it's second album Age of Legends, the black metal solo project Морок and its second album In the Dungeons of Mind and finally the second album of self-titled and presumably flagship project Severoth, Самітність. His first and so far only album of 2017, Forestpaths, is a follow-up to this one.

In this project Severoth plays atmospheric black metal of the heavily ambient influenced kind. It's raw and cold, though not to the level of an album like Striborg's Autumnal Melancholy (2008). The ambient elements are a prominent feature and the main source of melody within the release, with the black metal guitar work severing more of a backdrop role while Severoth delivers some rather primal sounding growls over the top. I, at least, cannot follow a word of the lyrics and I think that would be true even if they weren't in Ukrainian but that's part of what makes a release such as Forestpaths work. You're not necessarily supposed to understand the words, but be entranced by the experience and as an album the six track release certainly does that, with its artwork also providing a great depiction of the kind of atmosphere the music conveys. I'd imagine taking it deep into the woods on a cold, snowy night would be the way to experience the full effect.

Like with many albums of its kind there is some blurring together of the individual tracks on Forestpaths due to there being little change in style on each track, but my experience with it is that Severoth succeeds more in this regard than others have thanks in no small part to the ambient elements, which have some wonderful melodies. Opener Мікрокосм particularly stands out in this regard, though I recommend that the album be experience as one complete journey. It's biggest change in overall style comes right at the end of the release during the second half of closing track Чумацький шлях where, the black metal now removed from the music entirely, the ambience takes on a decidedly folksy sound that lasts until Forestpath's conclusion. It's a nice section of music, but if there's a fault to be had with the album as a whole it's that Severoth made us wait that long to hear it. It would have been nice to hear more exploration of that sort of thing earlier in the album. All in all though Forestpaths is a very pleasing release from Severoth, so I have to say that this only acts as a minor niggle for me.

POWER TRIP Nightmare Logic

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.24 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Nightmare Logic" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Texas based thrash metal act Power Trip. The album was released through Southern Lord Recordings in February 2017. Power Trip was formed in 2008 and released a demo and two EPs before releasing their debut full-length studio album "Manifest Decimation" in 2013. "Nightmare Logic" features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Chris Whetzel (bass), Riley Gale (vocals), Nick Stewart (rhythm guitar), Blake Ibanez (lead guitar), and Chris Ulsh (drums).

Stylistically "Nightmare Logic" is the natural successor to "Manifest Decimation (2013)" as it features a similar raw and powerful thrash metal sound, but adds a bit more quality to the songwriting and also features a sound production which is of a higher quality than the production on the predecessor. The basis of the music is still hard edged thrashy riffing, screaming chromatic solos, hard pounding powerful drumming, riot gang choir vocals, and Riley Gale´s raw shouting vocals in front.

The material is obviously written to make the listener bang his/her head and to mosh in the pit, and the tracks are generally both powerful and quite catchy. It´s almost impossible to not scream along to tracks like "Executioner's Tax (Swing of the Axe)" and "Firing Squad", but the album is overall very consistent in quality and all tracks on the album are worth listening to.

Power Trip aren´t exactly the most original sounding band and artists like Exodus, Slayer, and late 80s/early 90s Sepultura are valid references. It´s not a major issue, but it´s in that department Power Trip could move up a level, and with the qualities they have, it could be possible at some point. For now "Nightmare Logic" is a high quality thrash metal release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 267 - Thoracic Spine Collapser

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 267 - Thoracic Spine Collapser / 24th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 8 tracks / Clocks in at 29minutes 36seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead.

“Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” (2:58) starts things off with a heavy processed riff crunch that has a quickened tempo, a rather thrash oriented chugga chug and then adds some lightning fast guitar licks to the mix. It continues with a rather detached proggy float through time signature alley but then turns into an electronica frenzy before letting a mask melting guitar solo erupts. It reverts back into industrial thrash land. Towards the end it breaks into funk rock. A lot of mileage covered in this short monster

“Thoracic Sprain” (2:59) jumps into echoey heavy distorted riffs that sort of skip like a record as well. Instantly guitar solos erupt into an energetic frenzy before it becomes more of a psychedelic space metal echo guitar show but wait! It then goes somewhere unexpected. No way! Basically this one jumps all around from slower passages to heavier ones and changing the riffs, rhythms and basically everything as it moves on. Sort of a medley of BUCKETHEADLAND. Passages can range from total cacophony to little melodic rock bits

“Nerve Compression at T4” (3:54) changes over and adds even more zest and zeal to the energetic parade through strange metal riffing. This one is more of monster stomp type of riffing but then becomes more of a heavy distorted arpeggio followed by an ever changing rotisserie of changin’ it up styles. The segments are getting shorter and generally last only 30 seconds or so. They all have a few things in common: heavy, distorted, noisy and demented. Of course there is the occasional slow burner only fleetingly so

“Nerve Compression at T5” (4:08) begins with a heavy blues riff that sounds like a more caffeinated version of Stevie Ray Vaughan but of course that doesn’t last long and soon a serious bass funk groove erupts as does frenetic guitar solos. At this point it’s impossible to predict where these roller coaster tracks will lead you but this one tends to stay within the rails of blues rock, funk rock with only occasional outbursts into alt metal and weirdo left field ventures

“Nerve Stability at T6” (3:48) begins totally different with a robotic distorted bass groove and only a little atmospheric guitar frosting while metallic noise fuzz looms in the background. Very ominous and industrial feeling with the pace of sped of doom metal but very hypnotic until it takes a sharp turn into faster blues oriented hard rock with a guitar solo. At least for a while before it begins the spiral down another adventurous coaster track. Tempos speed up and then slow down. Complete musical breakdown and then eruptions into new styles with different instrumentals changing up their roles. Heavy blues rock makes the most appearances in this one. Ends with echoey space guitars and riff finale

“Complete Shutdown of Central Nervous System” (4:09) begins with an off-kilter guitar riff that has odd time sigs and then bursts into crunchy metal riffing and then the two styles alternate. After a frenetic venture into noise rock, it changes into funk rock and then a sizzling solo bedazzles before more blues rock enters the coop.

“Thoracic Park (home of the most spine shattering roller coasters)” (2:36) actually does have sort of a soundtrack quality to it as it chugs along in a mega-metal funk type of way. The bass riff is off the charts as the guitar adds licks but ultimately takes over with a cute little thematic riff session. The metal guitar parts are down tuned and this one actually continues an overall theme and melody throughout its existence unlike some of the other aimless tracks

“Rejuvenation Chamber” (5:04) is completely different for this PIKE. This starts out with ambient electronic swirls with a subdued guitar slowly unfurling a molasses flow paced melody. BUCKETHEAD’s ambient tracks are hit and miss with more missing the mark but this one is actually pretty freakin’ good. It has a very nice melody that is carried out by the interaction of the guitar riff but augmented by the ambient synth sounds. It is very ethereal without bass and drums. It’s like a meditative cloud sweep through the skies and after a noisy, chaotic PIKE, quite the surprise.

Not bad. Although this style of PIKE has been done many times before. BH has been perfecting his chaotic roller coaster rides in BUCKETHEADLAND to make a more balanced feel to his preferred madness of choice. Although the genre styles and avant-garde adventusisms are in full effect, there is something more gentle about how this Frankenstein is stitched together. As the PIKE progresses it gets ever more frenetic but the final track offers a nice little musical valium pill to assure the listener that everything is all right and that it was just a musical coaster ride that is now over.

PALE MIST Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls

Album · 2016 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls (2016) is the second full-length album by UK depressive black metal act Pale Mist. The solo project of Glomor, he's released an EP and a split in the time since the debut album Where the Darkness Is Praised (2012) was released. The album was originally released on CD and digital formats by Sinister Stench Productions with a limited cassette release following in 2017 through Heidenwut Productions.

The album opens with Through the Thick Fog of Misery and Woe, an instrumental that slowly builds up the album towards it's first vocal track, which is the title track Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls, which is noticeable more aggressive than the former, where the guitars have quite a jangly tone, which is repeated in other tracks of the album including the eighteen minute long Embraced by the Pale Mist. I rather like the tone of those parts actually; they give the record what in my experience of the black metal genre as a whole is an atypical sound. There are also quite a few more clean tone parts used on the album as well, including a second instrumental, Gazing, Opening the Barriers. When used in the tracks with vocals though the clean parts when combined with the growls create a surprisingly dark vibe, more so than the heavier parts of the album manage. The album's finale is The Welcoming Glow of the Moon, another long track at just over twelve minutes.

Though the album as a whole does fit the mood of a depressive black metal release due to its rather bleak sound and a semi-raw production it's overall a lot more accessible than some such bands are. Glomor sticks to using growls, albeit fairly tortured sounding ones, and doesn't throw any of those wailing and whimpering like clean vocals that some DSBM bands like Taiga or Todesstoß use. You know, the kind that can really grate on one's nerves after a while. Fortunately there's none of that nonsense here and Spreading My Wings into the Abyss That Calls is a better album for it. I didn't hear of this album until after the year of its release, but I definitely count it as one of my best 2016 finds from after the event.

ULSECT Ulsect

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
As soon as Fall To Depravity, the opening track on the eponymous debut album from Dutch death metal band Ulsect kicks in, it’s pretty apparent that we’re not going to be in for an easy listen. This band features a couple of members of Dodecahedron for starters, an avant black metal band who as it happens I only discovered a few months ago. Well you could say that Ulsect are the death metal equivalent.

So what you get here is those chiming dissonant guitar riffs that seems to be quite a thing these days. Now I’m all for a bit of this sort of stuff and have albums by the likes of Deathspell Omega and Gorguts (an immediate reference) in my collection but it’s fairly easy to descend into total chaos without structure when playing this avant style. Fortunately Ulsect have the necessary chops and writing skills – they’re not new at this after all despite this being their debut, to pull it off. Kings of the atonal riff for me are Immolation but Ulsect aren’t anything like them being a much looser proposition. Their riffs chime and resonate and are soaked in atmosphere with the black metal leanings of guitarist and drummer Joris Bonis and Jasper Barendregt showing through though at times they tighten things up with some unison syncopated rhythms. This is great stuff and Ulsect create an uneasy tension in their music, seemingly on the verge of falling apart at any minute but the inventive drumming of Barendregt holding it all together nicely.

By anyone’s standards this is a very good album, all the more remarkable it being their debut. Definitely a band worth keeping an eye on for those into this sort of thing and a band I’ll watch with interest in the future.

IN FLAMES Battles

Album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.84 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland


It is always interesting to research bands such as In Flames on the web, as to say that they have upset a few people with their change in musical direction is something of an understatement. Like many others, I was incredibly impressed with these guys when they burst out of Sweden in the Nineties, so it was something of a shock to come across them again many years later and discover just how far they had changed. Now, change isn’t necessarily bad, and it can often be good, but then there are also the concerns that the band haven’t changed so much as having left the planet altogether and gone into a new universe. Possibly one where they have been starved of oxygen which could explain what they are doing now.

But, I think the largest issue here is that the band is called “In Flames” and there is a skull on the cover. If one discounts those two then it is possible to view the band in a quite different light, and think of them more as a strange My Chemical Romance and Killswitch Engage hybrid. This is Alternative Metal with a larger emphasis on the former than the latter, and the result is something that feels created and false, as if it has been written solely for radio play and charts, as opposed to anything that the band believes in. They may say “we are the truth that hurts the most” in “The Truth”, but the real truth is that here is a band that has lost their way and while they have probably gained a great deal of new fans as a result, the old ones are long gone.

EDGUY Monuments

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
here can’t be many bands around that can lay claim to be celebrating their 25th anniversary with three original members who have yet to reach forty years old, and to have had the same line-up for more than twenty years. But, that is the case with Edguy, who were formed when singer Tobias Sammet and guitarists Jens Ludwig and Dirk Sauer were just fourteen years old. To celebrate reaching this milestone, Nuclear Blast have released a double CD compilation containing five new songs, plus a collection of “greatest hits” plus B-sides and rarities. They have also released this as a limited-edition package which includes a DVD of a 2004 show plus all their promos, and a book crammed full of photos. But, I’ll put up with a digital download of the music, as Edguy always know what they are doing, and they do it mighty fine.

Tobias may keep going off to work with his other project Avantasia, but Edguy allows him to return to what he does so well, providing stunning vocals on the top of a traditional heavy metal attack. The first song that gained Edguy some acclaim was of course “Vain Glory Opera”, and it still sounds as good now as it did when it was released nearly twenty years ago! The music may have become more complex since then, but there is always room for anthems, and apparently, they have played this song at every show since then. Edguy have never pandered to what people feel they should look like to sound like, and even have a name that annoys some people (as with Lynyrd Skynyrd, they are named after one of their teachers), but they’re still going strong. They will be out on the road again soon promoting this album, but if you have ever wondered what these guys sounds like, then this twenty-eight track two-and-a-half-hour long collection is a great way to do it.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Dying Fetus have created quite a stir over the years, releasing some important albums on the way, and finally having a stable line-up is paying dividends as the trio are back with what is to my poor abused ears, easily their most comprehensive album to date. John Gallagher (guitar, vocals) formed the band in 1991, with bassist/vocalist Sean Beasley joining in 2001 and “new boy” drummer Trey Williams keeping the seat warm since 2007, and there is never any room to hide in a trio and when a band has been together for ten years they know what they are doing, and that is very much the case here.

Brutal death metal is what Dying Fetus have always been about, and with both the band name and album title they are showing that there is no change this time around, and why should there be? They have obviously been influenced by Cannibal Corpse, yet Nile have also had an impact, as has Napalm Death as the guys keep their form of death metal just this side of grindcore. It is intense, it is over the top, with absolutely no room for compromise, yet somehow the ten songs all feel quite different and don’t wash out in the way that some albums tend to when they follow the same musical path throughout. There may not be much room for light on this album, but somehow the different shades of brutal black convey enough power and difference to make this album stand out.

There have been some incredibly strong and powerful death metal albums coming out recently, and this is another to be added to the list.

DECAPITATED Anticult

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


When a band is formed at music school, the chances are that the guys behind it know what they are doing with their instruments, and this is how Polish technical death metal act Decapitated burst onto the scene more than twenty years ago. Since then they have released albums, suffered tragedy (in 2007 their tour bus collided with a truck, and drummer and founder member Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka died from his injuries) and been through line-up changes, so that only guitarist Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka is still there from the beginning, but they show no signs of slowing down. There has been a slight line-up change since the last album, ‘Blood Mantra’, with bassist Hubert Więcek (Banisher), officially replacing Paweł Pasek last year. Hubert is normally a guitarist, and that is his role in Banisher, so he has a different approach to many bassists and has really locked in with both Vogg and drummer Michal Lysejko, allowing singer Rafał ‘Rasta’ Piotrowski to get on with what he does best.

Although this is still death metal, it isn’t nearly as “pure” as could be found in the band’s early days, as they have combined death, thrash, rock ‘n’ roll, even black metal, and atmospheric parts together. I am also convinced that it was no accident that they chose Daniel Bergstrand to be involved with the mixing and mastering, as there is a distinct Meshuggah flavour to much of this. It is heavy, it is loud, it is raw, and it is most definitely passionate. This is music with balls, attitude, attack, and a refusal to conform, and all power to them for that. They included many first takes on this album, including many of the solos, and the vitality and power shines through in everything they do. They are planning on touring throughout the world to promote this album, and I can only hope that they include New Zealand in that list as this is a band I really want to see. This is superb.

BLIND GUARDIAN Live Beyond the Spheres

Live album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Blind Guardian have been at the top of the power metal game for quite some time now, having been formed as long ago as 1984, and they show no sign of slowing down just yet. A decision was taken to record all the shows from their 2015 European tour when they were promoting ‘Beyond The Red River’, and then from those gigs they selected the best versions of each song and have now released it as a triple CD set which is more than two and a half hours long! This is their third official live album, but is going to be viewed by many as their most complete due not only to its length, but that the setlist is one which includes virtually all the songs that any fan could want. Is “The Bard’s Song” on there? Of course, and “Mirror Mirror”, “And Then There Was Silence”, “Nightfall, “Wheel Of Time” – all up there are twenty-two songs on the set, all played as only Blind Guardian can play them, and performed in front of avid audiences who wanted to sing just as much as Hansi Kürsch.

These days the band may only be Hansi (vocals), André Olbrich (guitars), Marcus Siepen (guitars) and Frederik Ehmke (drums), with the line-up being completed by session musicians Barend Courbois (bass) and Mi Schüren (keyboards), but these guys are refusing to sit back and relax, and instead keep waving the power metal flag for everyone to see. When it comes to this style of music there is no-one who does it any better, and this album captures them in their native element, onstage in front of their fans. This album is simply indispensable if you like this style of music. www.nuclearblast.de

ATTILA Chaos

Album · 2016 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


So, Attila are back with their seventh studio album since their debut in 2007, and they are still peddling the same brand of deathcore that either makes them a great band or not, depending on your opinion. To say they are immature is probably one of the politer ways of describing them, as they roll out a string of words designed to offend in “Public Apology”, and I just kept thinking that it might appeal to me if I was fifteen years old again – although I still think I had better taste in music when I was that age. Their music also owes a great deal to Korn and bands such as Limp Bizkit, although not nearly as good (and I must confess to not being a fan of LB either).

Some of the songs do show some promise and even some originality, with the more death-oriented “Obsession” being a case in point, but there is just too much banality and pandering to hopeful radio play to make this an album that I will ever suffer again now I have written about it. That they have made it to the seventh album says something their perseverance, and possibly something about the target audience, but this isn’t for me.

FIRESPAWN The Reprobate

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Firespawn are a band, a death metal supergroup even, born from a desire to play more brutal and complex death metal than their day job bands. Vocalist L-G Petrov and guitarist Victor Brandt (Entombed A.D.), drummer Matte Modin (Defleshed), bassist Alex Friberg (Necrophobic) and guitarist Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed) to name just some of the bands these guys have played with. Back for their second outing, with the same line up as on their 2015 debut Shadow Realms, the Reprobate sees them consolidating the positive start made on their debut.

I remember Shadow Realms receiving mixed reviews at the time, though I greatly enjoyed its energy and strong collection of songs with intricate riffing and compelling hooks. The Reprobate whilst not exactly showing any changes in style and maintains (not surprisingly) the Swedish influences improves in the writing department delivering a collection of songs more brutal and technical than before. Not that this in itself makes them better but whilst Shadow Realms had plenty of killer riffs a few less memorable moments made for the occasional lull. Here though from opener Serpent Of The Ocean onwards the intensity rarely lets up, the band seemingly out to silence any naysayers of the debut. The playing is incendiary, the songs nearly always busy with some fantastic guitar work both rhythm and solos and Petrov’s vocals if anything are even more guttural. The rhythm section of Modin and Friberg lay a solid as a rock foundation though busy and complex as well when required. Best of all though a strong consistency is maintained throughout.

The Reprobate has many old school death metal traits but a sharp and modern production clearly mark it as an album of the times and one of the better death metal releases of the year so far. It wasn’t immediate though as the hooks took a few plays to come through as this is pretty busy stuff, so don’t give up on the first listen as this albums well worth quite a bit of your time.

AENAON Hypnosophy

Album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I remember reviewing the album released by Aenaon prior to this one, ‘Extance’, and saying that the Greek Black Metallers had a lot going for them as they refused to conform to what was expected, and this 2016 release has continued that progression. There has been a slight line-up change, and far less use of guests than before, but while some of it looks normal and as expected, there are some subtle differences. So, we have Astrous (vocals), Achilleas C. (guitars, bass, keyboards) and Anax (guitars), which are all straightforward. But, Nycriz is listed as providing drums, percussion, saz, bouzouki, sitar and oud – certainly not one would expect from a drummer, and some of these would never be expected on a black metal album. The newest member is Orestis, who of course provides saxophone. Saxophone? On a black metal album? The only guest is Giorgos Papagiannakis who provides some clean vocals against the gruff.

On hearing this album, one wonders why not more bands are using a sax in a metal setting, as it works incredibly well, providing a different edge while the guitars are riffing away which feels much more integral to the overall sound than keyboard sometimes do in the same setting. This isn’t the only difference within the album as the guys refuse to sit within any particular form, so although sometimes they are set squarely with the black metal genre there are other times when it is just an influence, and others where they drop it altogether where they move more into the mainstream. This is an even more balanced, exciting and adventurous album than ‘Extance’, and is one that I highly recommend, even if this form of metal isn’t normally to your liking.

ATLAS PAIN What the Oak Left

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
Folk metal and I have an unusual relationship: I'm quick to count it among my favourite styles of metal, but I can list all the folk metal bands I truly consider myself a fan of on my fingers (and if I discount the ones that are heavily based in black metal or power metal (etcetera) I only need one hand). Even more so than with death metal I'm very picky when it comes to this genre. Where am I going with this you ask? Simple - it's just so easy for a folk metal artist/release to press all the wrong buttons for me. As it's a diverse genre that can draw from a large genre pool of influences on both the folk and metal sides I wouldn't say that there's an inherent objectively 'right' way to create it (though for my money the right way is authentic folk instrumentation, but I have heard good simulated stuff too), but there are many albums out there that in one way or another seem to miss the point behind the whole folk metal idea.

Italian band Atlas Pain brand their style as 'epic-folk metal' but their debut full-length album What the Oak Left (2017) unfortunately comes across as being one of the ones that missed the point. There are two ways that folk metal acts miss the point and it's not necessarily anything to do with simulating folk melodies instead of using real instruments to create them (not every artist especially newer ones have access to such things), but rather failing to find balance between folk and metal. Some bands are strong on the folk side but lacking on the metal side. Some bands are the other way around, Atlas Pain being one of them.

These guys are a relatively new entry in the Italian metal scene and have a prior demo (2014) and an EP, Behind the Front Page (2015), under their belts. I have to give them credit where it is due, they prove themselves quite capable in their metal aspects on What the Oak Left. It's a decent and at times even brilliant debut album, energetically played, fun and has plenty of epic moments. Theirs is a symphonic take on the folk metal genre and if I listen to the album as a symphonic metal album I come away feeling a great deal of appreciation for it. Their metal backdrop draws on both power metal and melodic death metal elements and the band are clearly capable of catering to the audience of epic, catchy and polished metal music, while retaining an extreme edge thanks to the primarily growled vocals. The feel of the whole thing is primarily melodic death metal/extreme power metal, with a rare dip into more black metal orientated growls, though musically the album doesn't ever go near anything remotely black metal. It's far too polished and power metal sounding for that.

But the folk part of What the Oak Left really trips it up. It's actually the symphonic elements that end up hindering it in the long run despite providing some of the album's best and most epic moments. The impression I get it that they've been applied a bit too excessively which causes them to detract from the album's status as folk metal. The band are actually delivering some great folk melodies on a regular basis, using either the orchestrations or the lead guitar, but the whole feeling of them being simulated is hard to ignore here because the folk ideas always manage to seem of secondary importance to whatever else is going on at the time, be it an epic orchestration or a speedy power metal guitar riff.

I don't know about anyone else, but for me that approach doesn't work. It sounds more like a kind of folkish metal rather than the real thing, just like viking metal and pagan black metal can be folkish in their ways. To my ears even though I do enjoy the album it creates the nagging feeling that it's missing something, which brings me back around to what I said at the start of this review: the thing What the Oak Left is missing, if it is supposed be a folk metal album (and I can't find any reason to argue that it isn't considering Atlas Pain's own branding for their music), is the point. The clue is in the genre name. Folk metal. What that means is don't slack on your metal elements but the folk should be a dominant feature as well. I can't honestly say that's always the case here. The times the band do get it right though are very good, which gives me hope for future releases.

Just to be clear, What the Oak Left is a very good album from Atlas Pain but I have to rate it as a folk metal album and as one of those it's lacking in a crucial way. But if you want to rate it as what it actually comes across as, a folkish symphonic melodic death/extreme power metal album, then you can easily add another full star to my rating. You'll have to consider me coming away from this one with a mixed opinion.

WARDRUNA Runaljod - Ragnarok

Album · 2016 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
With Eilif Gundersen taking on more instrumental duties and Gaahl taking his leave, the third album in Wardruna's Runaljod trilogy sees another stylistic shift. This time, the folky world music stylings of the previous album take a dark, foreboding turn, in keeping with the apocalyptic overtones of Ragnarok. The end result is, unfortunately, a bit of a mixed bag, with some songs fascinating whilst others leave you cold. (Album opener Tyr takes what would have been an evocative 1-minute intro and drags it out over six and a half minutes, for instance.) Still, despite the fact that it might be the weakest of the trilogy, Ragnarok will likely be enjoyed by anyone who got excited by the first two entries in the Wardruna discography.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 266 - Far

Album · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 266 - Far / 23rd release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 5 tracks all titled “Far” / Clocks in at 27minutes 33seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead. It’s another lullaby album :O

“Far 1” (3:57) begins with a snail’s paced tempo. Echoey spacey clean guitar tones, intermittent bass notes and lazy dreamy percussion. A melody develops and a few distorted electrical guitar parts join in but this track is very much on cloud nine. It picks up again towards the end with power chords but never picks up tempo and reverts back to the space rock that it began as.

“Far 2” (4:34) picks up a similar melody with clean guitar and sounds like the track 1 with a few more guitar parts but picks up more distortion and creates a similar melody. Not too much different on this track but has a few guitar squeals here and there. Similarly alternates between the quiet passages and the more energetic segments.

“Far 3” (4:48) picks up imperceptibly and continues pretty much the same tempo, same riffing and very similar melody. It is a little more energetic as it immediately picks up steam and eventually a little tempo but remains fairly chilled out space rock.

“Far 4” (3:54) sounds like a record getting stuck on the same track. It begins with the same slow tempo clean guitar riffs but does pick up a bit with heavier riffing but the melody sounds almost identical to pretty much all the other tracks.

“Far 5” (10:40) the longest track begins similarly but more atmospheric ambience and begins immediately with heavier guitar riffs along with the space rock sounds. A guitar solo is finally allowed to erupt into a sped up bluesy frenzy. Although this one has more of rockin’ feel, it still is nothing more than a repetitive loop of a few chords that continue on with soloing over the main rhythm.

This one goes on FAR too long. It’s repetitive, it’s predictable and for me it’s quite boring. It’s one of those PIKEs that’s decent background music if you’re focusing on something else but as an active listening experience it just lacks enough variety. After my favorite PIKE of 2017, this one ranks amongst my least liked. Ah, BUCKETHEAD. You really know how to keep changing things up!

BEASTMAKER Inside the Skull

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Formed in California in 2014, this is the second full-length album from the doom/stoner trio. Now, I like doom as much as the next metalhead, and have lots of stoner in my collection, but I can’t get out of my head that this is NWOBHM-tinged doom as opposed to the real thing. Now, back in 1979 I was sweet sixteen, and fell into the genre wholeheartedly but even in the early days it was easy to see what bands were going to make it, what bands might make it, and what bands were probably just going to release one album or single and then vanish, and Beastmaker fall into the last category. They are currently touring with Zakk Sabbath, and I can imagine that they would be a great warm-up band, but never anything more than that.

This is an okay album, but there isn’t enough in the way of good songs for me to want to keep returning to it, and there is a feeling that they have a lot to do if they ever want to break out of the second division.

ALTAIR Descending: A Devilish Comedy

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes I’ll hear an album from an up and coming band and think to myself that I’d better take note of them now and keep them in mind for if and when they release future albums, to make sure I’m constantly up to date with their music. One such band is Italian power metal band Altair, who released a pretty solid debut in 2013, titled Lost Eden. That album was a case where it was clear the band still had some work to do when it comes to distinguishing themselves from other bands in their field, but otherwise it was a very strong album in all areas, with solid vocals, catchy songs, great instrumental work and it had a nice variety, mixing in symphonic and prog elements to go with their main sound. After hearing that album, while I wasn’t blown away, I enjoyed it enough that I was curious to hear anything the band would do in the future, and so when I unexpectedly saw I had access to a promo for their sophomore effort, Descending: A Devilish Comedy, I was excited and immediately jumped at the opportunity to review it. Suffice to say, the band has delivered in a big way, with an album that builds on everything they had going on their debut and expands on it greatly while presenting a more clear direction for their music that helps them stand out a bit more

On Lost Eden, the band played a more traditional brand of power metal, very much focused on the melodies, and while it did have some progressive sections and some heavier parts, it never strayed too far from what fans of the genre would expect. This is not so much the case with Descending. Not much has changed with their lineup in between albums, with the only change being guitarist Gianluca Ferioli departing and being replaced by Albert Marshall, while another guitarist Gianmarco Bambini remains, to keep the dual guitar attack in place. I’m not sure whether this one change is responsible or not, but either way this is definitely a much heavier, more guitar-driven album, and while there are moments where the keyboards stand out, such as on the chorus of “Flame of Knowledge”, it’s definitely the guitars that lead the way most of the time. While the power metal elements from their debut are fully intact and there’s certainly plenty of speedy sections throughout, this time around the band has gone for a much more progressive sound, in the vein of a band like Symphony X, especially with how some of the lead riffs and solos sound. Make no mistake about it, this album features some excellent guitar work, with everything from the leads to the solos all being very impressive and there’s a ton of great extended instrumental sections. At the same time, the band has remained very good at writing songs, and there’s a nice variety here, as well as a good balance between more challenging songs like “Seven” and closer “A Lesson Before Ascending”, which requires multiple listens to fully open up, and more accessible, catchier songs like opener “Path of Worms” and lead single “Seed of Violence”, which are more immediately engaging.

While the album has some fantastic musicianship, vocals are still very important, and thankfully Simone Mala can definitely hold his own along with his bandmates and does a great job throughout the album. He has a very deep and powerful voice and can be very animated at times, adding some extra power and emotion to the songs. He also has a very impressive range, sometimes able to go much lower than a typical power metal vocalist, while at the same time also being able to hit some very high notes, and many of the songs are well written to fully take advantage of his capabilities.

The album begins with the title track, which is a fairly typical intro, using a mix of orchestral sounds, guitars, and drums. It does a nice job of building up the tension until opening song “Path of Worms” kicks in, and immediately we get some very heavy guitars, which carry on throughout the song. The track moves at a fairly fast pace throughout, and is a great introduction to the band’s new sound, as it has a mix of great riffs, powerful vocals, and an excellent chorus, as well as having some nice keyboard effects, symphonic elements and a very impressive solo section where the musicians really get to shine. On the whole, it’s a fairly straightforward track, but it does show signs of the more progressive direction the band has taken on this album. The next track “Limbo” is a bit more complicated, using some interesting keyboard sounds that help establish the theme of the track and fit in well with the dark tone of the album, and while it’s still a fast-paced track, it’s definitely a bit more complex than the opener, and it has some great instrumental work once again, as well as some more progressive arrangements.

Things get really interesting with “Seven”, easily the most complicated track on the album. Simply put, there’s a whole lot going on here, as the track starts off with a fast paced riff, before slowing down for a section where it feels like a ballad, with Simone going very low with his voice for a nice atmospheric section, and this carries on for a while before the guitars kick in and the tracks get heavier for a mid-paced section which leads into the closest thing the song has to a chorus. As the song continues on, there are several tempo changes throughout as well some great instrumental passages, with the highlight being a brief speedy section in the middle. This track does an excellent job of showing the band moving into more of a prog direction, while still maintaining some of the band’s power metal elements, and it’s definitely a highlight, though one that may take listeners a few listens to fully appreciate, due to how much is going on. After that is “Godless”, more of a mid paced track, which is full of some very heavy guitar work and is again a very progressive track, with some of Simone’s most powerful vocals on the album, and it has a very nice chorus.

Next, we have a group of more straight-forward tracks, starting with “Seed of Violence”, which is probably my favorite on the album. It starts off with a complex instrumental section, which gives way to a very heavy, super speedy first verse, and on the whole, this is a very accessible, super fast track with great lead riffs and a great chorus. This track feels like a more straight-forward power metal track, while still having some of the heaviness and prog elements of the rest of the album and it’s definitely a great pick for the first single. Similarly, “Frozen Graves” might be the heaviest on the album, with some pretty thrashy riffs, and it’s another super fast paced, fairly accessible track with an excellent chorus and some great instrumental work. In between those is “Flame of Knowledge”, a slightly calmer, more mid-paced track that still moves at a pretty good pace throughout, and is certainly the most keyboard driven track on the album. It still has some great guitar riffs though and still has a slight Symphony X feel at points during its instrumental sections, while the chorus has Simone singing some of the highest notes he sings on the entire album, and he does an excellent job as always. All three of these songs are very catchy and I think placing together like this in the middle of the album is a smart move, as it gives listeners a bit of a break in between the two complex tracks that come before them, as well as the more progressive closing track, “A Lesson Before Ascending”.

Speaking of which, that track is the most symphonic track on the album, using some orchestral elements throughout to help give it an epic feel, and it begins with an epic instrumental section, before giving way to another softer section that sounds a bit like a ballad, though this time Simone’s vocals aren’t nearly low as they are on “Seven”. It’s a mostly mid-paced track throughout, with more great instrumental passages and some excellent arrangements as always, and it has an excellent chorus as well as an excellent instrumental section near the end, which leads to a calm closing section where the orchestral elements become the main focus. It’s an excellent track overall and a great way to end the album, for sure.

Overall, Descending: A Devilish Comedy is an excellent album which takes the melodic power metal sound Altair had established on their debut and adds in some extra heaviness and a more progressive direction, to help set itself apart more from the competition. It’s a big improvement over the band’s solid debut, and has a great mix of more accessible songs and complicated songs, and is sure to please fans of prog and power metal looking for something a bit heavier and more guitar driven than the norm. I’m definitely excited to hear anything else the band does in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/06/30/altair-descending-devilish-comedy-review/

ORDEN OGAN Gunmen

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes a band can change their sound in such a subtle way, that it only truly becomes noticeable over a long period, and multiple albums later. For example, when I first heard Ravenhead, the fifth full-length album from German power metal band Orden Ogan, I thought it felt like a direct continuation of their previous album To the End, and yet found myself a bit surprised to realize I was liking it slightly less. Over time, the album actually grew on me a little bit, but at the same time I came to realize that the band’s sound had indeed changed in ways that took time to notice, that I had briefly hinted at in my own review of the album two years ago, but listening to the band’s latest effort, Gunmen, due for release in July of 2017, has helped confirm that the little changes I had been noticing were indeed not my imagination, but signs of the band moving in a slightly different direction, while still keeping most of their classic elements intact. The result is another album I wouldn’t quite put up there with my all-time favorite, To the End, but it’s definitely another excellent album in a long line of them, and I think fans of Ravenhead, in particular, are going to absolutely love it.

First off, yes Gunmen is still largely the same kind of epic power metal Orden Ogan has always played, with a huge emphasis on vocal melodies, insanely epic choruses, and symphonic arrangements, so fans don’t have to worry about any major changes to the sound. In fact, I’d describe the album as falling somewhere in between the more complex sound of Easton Hope and the more straight-forward approach of Ravenhead, as it certainly has songs that are longer and more complicated than anything on the latter, but at the same time it’s also much catchier and more accessible than the former. Where the changes come in, though, more has to do with the intensity level. This is something I was noticing on Ravenhead, that at the time I had hoped would only be a temporary thing, but basically while that album still had a few of the classic, driving riffs found on albums like To the End and Easton Hope, I found that overall the tempos were a bit more restrained and the riffs weren’t hitting as hard as normal, with the band instead often relying more on mid-paced chugs that simply lacked the same power. Well, with Gunmen the band has taken this even further, as the majority of the songs here are more mid-paced throughout, mostly alternating between melodic leads, rhythm guitars and those chugging riffs, with truly killer lead riffs being few and far between. There certainly are bursts of speed on some tracks, but for the most part, the verses are rather uneventful this time around and move along at a rather plodding pace compared to some of the band’s past albums. As a result, while I love the choruses on every song, as well as the huge symphonic arrangements, choir vocals, and killer melodies, only a couple songs manage to keep me excited the whole way through, the way the band is capable of doing when they’re at their absolute best. At the same time, I can definitely understand what the band is doing here, as it feels like they’ve gone all in with the melodies and epic feel of their music, while toning down the intensity a bit, so I think it may even sound more distinct than past releases, but I guess it’s just a matter of preference, as I personally do miss the speedier tracks and higher intensity level found on To the End.

One area where the band thankfully hasn’t changed at all is the vocals. Needless to say, Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann’s singing has always been one of my favorite aspects of the band’s sound, as he has a very deep and powerful voice that stands out among power metal singers, while at the same time he’s amazing at adding in a bit of touch and pulling off some of the most melodic and epic sounding choruses ever written. Obviously, the band’s biggest strength throughout their entire career has been their ability to write some of the best choruses ever, and Seeb is a master at pulling these off. As always, there are some excellent choir vocals used throughout the album, as well as one memorable guest appearance, which I will talk about in more detail a bit later in the review.

Songwriting is the one area where I mentioned having some slight issues with the album, so let’s get to it. First up, we have the title track, which is actually a perfect opener and a much better title track than Ravenhead. It’s a western themed track which opens up with some huge orchestral arrangements, before the guitars kick in and the track speeds up, moving along at a brisk pace throughout the verses and keeping the intensity going with some great riffs, while of course the slowed down chorus is the best part, and is one of the most epic choruses the band has ever written, which is obviously saying a lot. The solo section is also really good, and overall it’s simply an amazing song that really raised my expectations for the album. The other song that really impresses me the way through is “Come With Me to the Other Side”, which opens up with a soft acoustic section featuring the beautiful voice of guest vocalist Liv Kristine, and while at first it feels like a ballad, something the band has always been great at, it quickly speeds up and becomes the fastest song on the album, with very speedy and fun verses, as well as probably the single best choruses on the entire album. Even the solo section feels particularly inspired, and overall it’s easily my favorite song on the album.

Compared to those two tracks, the rest of the album is still solid, but I find most of the other tracks to be lacking a bit in the energy department. The second single from the album, “Fields of Sorrow” is a great indication of what to expect from the album, as right from the start it opens up with some mid paced chugs, which dominate most of the track, as it’s a more restrained track that’s more about the epic feel of the music than it is about being fast or heavy. The chorus is absolutely stunning, though, and it’s a nice track overall. Likewise, tracks like “Forlorn and Forsaken”, “Ashen Rain”, and “One Last Chance” are fairly plodding during their verses, but once the huge arrangements and choruses take over, they become a ton of fun. I will single out “Ashen Rain” in particular, for being a track where I really struggle with the chugging during the verses as it can get really repetitive and boring in a hurry, yet at the same time, I really can’t fault the track become of how damn brilliant that chorus is! Really, my biggest complaint about this album is that the band just can’t quite put enough full songs together that works for me, the way they were able to on To the End and in the middle of Ravenhead and this frustrates me to no end, because I know they’re capable of doing it, but it’s like they just chose not to for some reason. The biggest example of this is the near 9 minute closing track “Finis Coronat Opus”, which starts off slow and remains mostly plodding throughout the first half, before opening up with a beautiful soft vocal section towards the end, and between this and the opening of “Come With Me to the Other Side”, I can’t help but feel the album could have used a ballad to break up some of the tedium between all these mid-paced tracks. Overall, though, the song, like the rest of the album, is solid but definitely not as strong as the band is capable of.

Moving back to the positives, “Face of Silence” is fairly fast and fun during its verses, and while I wouldn’t quite put it on the same level as the two best on the album, it’s an excellent track overall with another unforgettable chorus. Likewise, “Down Here” is a fairly paced track, with another memorable chorus, though at just over 3 minutes it does feel like it ends a bit too early. One last highlight is “Vampire in Ghost Town”, another track which stays mid-paced throughout its verses, though I find this one a bit more fun than the rest and once it speeds up for its epic chorus, it becomes a favorite. Again, not quite as strong as my two favorites on the album, but still an excellent, incredibly addictive track, and if the whole album was even as strong as that one, ignoring those two masterpiece songs, I’d be very happy.

Overall, Gunmen is probably the weakest of the last few Orden Ogan releases for me, as it has too many mid-paced tracks where I struggle to find excitement during the verses, and I miss the faster, heavier riffs of past albums like To the End and Easton Hope, but it’s still a great release overall and is sure to please fans of the band. The symphonic arrangements and choruses are as awesome as ever and the production and performances are as strong as always, so despite my complaints about the songwriting, I’d still say it’s a very high-quality release. To be honest, this is a case where if it was a different band I’d probably be more positive, but just knowing how good the band can be I feel the need to be a bit harsh, especially in a case like this where there are two songs that show the band at their absolute best, and then the rest just can’t quite measure up to those two. Still, an easy recommendation for any power metal fan looking for some great melodies and some truly spectacular choruses.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/06/22/orden-ogan-gunmen-review/

WHITE WARD Futility Report

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
I've said it before, but Futility Report (2017), the debut full-length album by Ukrainian atmospheric black metal/blackgaze act White Ward, gives me need to say it again: out of all the various styles of metal music, the only one that still manages to surprise me on a regular basis is black metal. These guys have been around since 2012 and their early work is said to have had depressive black metal qualities to it, but they've since evolved their music into something a lot more experimental.

The six track album starts off with Deviant Shapes, which for a short length suggests the band to be following the fairly typical blackgaze style of atmospheric black metal, but then the band suddenly turn their music into jazz and any notions of Futility Report being a generic record are instantly dispelled. A quick check reveals in fact that White Ward, much like Japan's Sigh, actually have a full-time saxophone player in their line-up in addition to the usual roles of vocals, guitars, bass and drums.

Now, jazz isn't exactly an unheard of ingredient in metal, but I'm normally used to hearing the influence crop up in genres other than black metal, even if saxophone's have seen use to some extent by bands such as Winterhorde, Aenaon and of course the aforementioned Sigh, though their work tends to look more towards the avant-garde since Dr. Mikannibal joined in 2007. I find jazz more likely something to be heard in avant-garde metal acts like Akphaezya and progressive metal acts like To-Mera. But even when it does feature in metal through groups like those it isn't usually as prominent as it is on White Ward's Futility Report. This record goes some way towards realising something I've long been surprised hasn't already become more of a thing: a true fusion of jazz and metal. It isn't exactly how I expected such a thing to sound of course, but maybe that's a good thing.

This is not, on paper at least, the most obvious pairing of influences, but there's something else I've said before which I believe I read in an interview with, as it happens, Sigh (presumably it was Mirai Kawashima, but as I point out every time I refer to this I'm only going on memory and it was in an old issue of Metal Hammer UK that I've long since thrown out, so I could be mistaken despite being 99% sure): that anything can be done with black metal. That's in turn why this is the genre that still manages to surprise me, as Futility Report has done. What White Ward have created simply works, offering up a unique take on the atmospheric black metal template that in some tracks such as Stillborn Knowledge also offers up the odd progressive touch in the metal side of the music, which for me suggest that White Ward could be producing even more interesting material in the future if they can hone those influences a bit while keeping their atmospheric black metal/jazz thing they have going for them intact.

I'm not sure exactly what you'd call an album such as Futility Report. I kind of want to call it 'atmospheric blackjazz' but I can't really do that without thinking of the Norwegian jazz turned avant-garde/industrial metal band Shinning, who don't really have a lot if anything to do with black metal, and blackened jazzgaze downplays the role of black metal in the album. One thing is for sure: whatever this is, it works really smoothly. Note the name White Ward. It's one to watch.

KALMANKANTAJA Demonwoods

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Finland's Kalmankantaja may have only released their debut album Kuolonsäkeet in 2013 but the group, which currently consists of instrumentalist Grim666 and vocalist Tyrant, are, as of the release of Demonwoods (2017), already on their tenth studio album. Known up until this point as part of the depressive black metal scene, the band's last few albums, which include two albums released in 2016, Waldeinsamkeit and Tyhjyys, have also displayed atmospheric black metal elements. It's this territory that Demonwoods now finds the duo fully engaged in.

Demonwoods is just three tracks long, with the middle of those, Sorrow, serving more as an interlude between the other two, which are lengthy compositions at 15:18 for opener The Wanderer in Eternity and 17:16 for the closing title track. The total running time of the release is 35:32, which is a fairly average time for a black metal release, only made notable by most of it being taken up by just two tracks. The style of these tracks is fairly typical atmospheric black metal fare and overall the album does come across as perhaps a bit less interesting style-wise than the prior album Tyhjyys where Kalmankantaja had elements of both the atmospheric and the depressive black metal styles, as well as pure ambient music in its final track.

What Demonwoods is though is very engaging from start to finish, with a fairly well polished production job that allows every detail to be conveyed to its full potential. The two long tracks, rather than droning on and outstaying their welcome feature many shifts in style and mood. Some parts are soft, almost post-rocky and some parts are metal. Most of the vocal parts are traditionally growled with the odd cleanly sung section. Some of the music is driven by the guitars, while some has added synths. Gone from Kalmankantaja's sound though is anything that would remotely still tie them to depressive black metal. This is, overall, a fairly peaceful, pleasant atmospheric black metal experience despite the rather grim cover artwork the album carries and it's a pleasure to spend the thirty-five minutes just soaking it all up.

CRYSTAL FAIRY Crystal Fairy

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Crystal Fairy" is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US heavy/hard rock act Crystal Fairy. The album was released through Ipecac Recordings in February 2017. Crystal Fairy was formed in 2016 by guitarist Buzz Osborne (Melvins), drummer Dale Crover (Melvins), bassist/guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (At the Drive-In, The Mars Volta), and lead vocalist Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes).

Stylistically the material on the 11 track, 40:15 minutes long album is heavy rock with the occasional nod towards sludge and alternative rock. The Melvins involvement is clearly heard throughout the album, and the instrumental part of the album could just as well have been the instrumental part of a Melvins album. The vocals by Teri Gender Bender make Crystal Fairy a very different sounding beast to Melvins though. She has a strong voice and a passionate and varied vocal style, which adds a lot to the music. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez normally has a very unique playing style, but I don´t hear much of his influence on the album. This has Melvins featuring Teri Gender Bender written all over it.

Not surprisingly the atmosphere of the music is often a little twisted and quirky, but overall the tracks are relatively accessible featuring regular vers/chorus structures and hooks. It´s predominantly Teri Gender Bender who is the focus of the music, but there are also some pretty great instrumental performances and Crystal Fairy are a tight yet organic playing unit. The brick heavy riffs and organic powerful drumming by the two Melvins guys push the music forward in a great hard rocking way, while Teri Gender Bender moans, wails, and sings her lungs out on top.

"Crystal Fairy" is well produced, and features a raw, powerful, and organic sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. Upon conclusion I wouldn´t exactly call the album a revelation, but it´s a greatly entertaining release while it plays. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MESHUGGAH The Violent Sleep of Reason

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 9 ratings
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Kev Rowland


When one buys a Meshuggah album one knows exactly what to expect, and this 2016 is no different to the ones that have come before. What we have here boys and girls is djent, but in a complex downtuned and aggressive form like none other. It is just not possible to state how brutal this album is, from the very first crunch to the last. Singer Jens Kidman has a great deal of work to do to make himself heard, as the rest of the guys are just so tight, so precise, that it is incredible that he manages to find a melody line at all. This is complex stuff, and no-one does this style of music better than the Swedes. True, they are somewhat lacking when it comes to dynamics, as there isn’t a great deal of light to play against the shade, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for them as they just paint the shade somewhat darker. Polyrhythmic is the only way to describe a band who haven’t worked out that 4/4 is often thought to be a valid time signature in metal. Why do that when they can groove in 5/8 instead?

There really is no other band like them, and that they continue to tour the world (they even turned up down here not long ago!) and release albums (this is their ninth) shows that while this may not be to everyone’s tastes, there is simply no-one who can do this any better. Meshuggah, djent, metal, intense, superb.

VINTERSORG Till fjälls, del II

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


This is quite a special album in many ways, as it not only looks back to the debut from 1998 both in title and style, but even includes music from before the very first EP. As bandleader Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming) says, “To write a sequel to the first Vintersorg “Till Fjälls” album was something that many people wanted me to do after its release. The second album “Ödemakens Son” was in the same direction but still something different. So, throughout the years that same mantra was often mentioned again and again “you need to do another album like Till Fjälls”. As an artist I’ve always followed my heart much more than my mind, so inspiration and passion has taken us on a journey through different atmospheres and different musical spheres. From the very folk- music-drenched metal in the beginning, to more progressive and complex textures and structures. As time passed by I just started to write more folk music oriented music again, just out of that same inspiration and passion. On the last three or four albums, we’ve in a way spiraled back to the starting origin, but with new experiences and a different stronghold to rest our art upon. So, I wrote some music and it came over me that it was somewhat “Till Fjälls del II” (part II) and after that fire was lit in our hearts it was a very easy choice to put it in that perspective. It’s not an attempt to do a classic sequel, much more like a lost twin finds its other half after many years. They’re connected to each other but with different experiences and perspectives. The included EP “Tillbaka till källorna” (Back to the Sources) is an attempt to portray the time before Vintersorg was Vintersorg. The songs are written in that transition period when Vargatron was put to rest and Vintersorg was given life. Still, these songs didn’t make it to the first EP “Hedniskhjärtad” due to different reasons but has survived in the back of my head, and on some worn-out tapes. When we decided to do the part II of “Till Fjälls” it came to me that it would be nice to really do a new take on these songs, trying to keep the basis of them but just put them into the Vintersorg perspective.”

Joining Andreas was Mattias Marklund (guitars), who joined not long after the debut, and Simon Lundström (bass), who has only been there a few years. This is classic folk/Viking metal, with strong riffs and walls of sound, although they do also bring in some black metal influences here and there. The result is an album that is incredibly powerful, and although I would much prefer a ‘live’ drummer (as they use when they gig), even I must admit that the programming has been done well and isn’t too painful to listen to. They remind me more of classic Dimmu Borgir than Amon Amarth, but that isn’t a bad thing in my book, as this just screams class from start to end. That one man is responsible for all the writing and much of the instrumentation is quite something, and by singing everything in Swedish they add some mystique. They can be emotional and ambient, or powerful and in your face, often within the same song, and it is the use of dynamics which really make this album stand out from the rest.

It has been three years since their last release, but it has been time well spent, and this is an album that any metalhead could do well to discover.

42 DECIBEL Overloaded

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


This is the third album from Argentinian quartet 42 Decibel, who currently comprise Junior Figueroa (vocals, guitar), Nicko Cambiasso (drums), Billy Bob Riley (rhythm & slide Guitar) and Matt Fraga (bass). This is classic AC/DC with some slide guitar, nothing more, nothing less. Junior sounds uncannily like Bon Scott, and their approach to music is the same as the Aussies were doing some forty years ago. True, when they bring some slide guitar into the mix it does give them a different edge, but for most the time they are channeling music and times from the past. Personally, I’d rather hear the real thing, but given that Bon left us many years ago, and AC/DC have finally given up the ghost as well, this could well be worth investigating by any diehard fans, especially when Junior can also do an Alex Harvey impression.

AVATARIUM Hurricanes and Halos

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.09 | 9 ratings
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Nightfly
By today’s standards Avatarium are pretty prolific being onto their third album in four years. Founder member and main songwriter Leaf Edling, suffering from ill health in recent years, is taking more of a backseat roll these days handing over bass duties to new guy Mats Rydström. He has however written most of the songs.

If The Girl With The Raven Mask saw the band taking a step away from the more pure doom direction of the first album then Hurricanes and Halos sees them almost abandoning it entirely. This may not come as good news to some people but Avatarium have still delivered a quality piece of work. Whilst it was already there on the last album the sound is much more retro 70’s hard rock no better demonstrated on opener Into The Fire/Into The Storm. Fans of Deep Purple should lap it up with impressive organ work from Rickard Nilsson. There’s plenty of diversity on the eight compositions with the band also injecting blues and pysch elements with no shortage of melody. The two songs not written by Edling, Road To Jerusalem and When Breath Turns To Air, certainly aren’t inferior in any way and not out of place, showing the band can have a future without him, the former being particularly impressive. Medusa Child might slightly outstay its welcome dragged out with a slow build at the end but overall weak moments are few and far between. The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea gallops along nicely with a Uriah Heep Easy Livin’ vibe and When Breath Turns To Air is at the opposite end of the spectrum being a slow blues piece. A Kiss (From The End Of The World also has a Uriah Heep feel and probably the albums heaviest moment with its slow insistent riff.

As always, the playing is of a high standard, the newer direction perhaps lending itself better to the expressive and soulful vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith. Marcus Jidell once again shows what a class guitarist he is both on rhythm and lead abandoning the crushingly heavy riffing of the debut for a fuzzier retro sound.

As good as Hurricanes And Halos is I still find it the weakest of their three albums so far but this is no reflection on the quality here, simply a mark of the strength of the first two. However, anyone not happy with the direction the band are heading in these days and wanting more doom can always go and check out Leif Edling’s latest project The Doomsday Kingdom.

DESTRUCTOR Decibel Casualties

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
The Life and Death of Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene 1

TREBONIUS: There is no fear in him; let him not die; For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter.

Clock strikes

BRUTUS: Peace! count the clock.

CASSIUS: The clock hath stricken three.

TREBONIUS: 'Tis time to part.

CASSIUS:…

TREBONIUS: I said, “’Tis time to part!”

CASSIUS:…

BRUTUS: Cassius, thou crusty botch of nature, he said “’Tis time to part!”

CASSIUS:…

BRUTUS & TREBONIUS (Shouting): Cassius!

CASSIUS (Removes something from his ears, a little surprised) : What?

BRUTUS: He said “’Tis time to part!”

CASSIUS (Angry): Thou cullionly rump-fed hedge-pigs! I was listening to Destructor on my iPod! Go yourselves, give unto Caesar that which is his, a ruddy great knife right in the squishy bits! I’m busy enjoying my anachronisms!

Cassius reinserts his earphones and walks away, gently banging his head and playing air guitar… _____________________________________________________

Apologies to the long since departed Mr Shakespeare, but he was quite fond of the odd anachronism, this being his most famous. For anyone who hasn’t quite figured it out yet, an anachronism is something which is not just out of place, but also out of time. Like Shakespeare’s infamous clock, Destructor is a band out of their correct time, and long may it stay that way.

Showing a lot of promise, Destructor’s 1985 debut album ‘Maximum Destruction’ was a tour de force of hard-hitting, gnarly mid-80s thrash. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against the band. Bass player Dave Holocaust (real name Dave Iannicca) was murdered, and the band was passed over by the ever-clueless Island Records. Destructor seemed doomed. Founding members Pat Rabid and Dave Overkill kept things going as long as possible, but the shifting musical climate meant an incomplete second album stayed unfinished, and Destructor finally split in 1992.

For many years, ‘Maximum Destruction’ was one of those much beloved footnotes in history, which long time metalheads delight in pointing out to those who missed out, usually with the comment “they don’t make metal like this any more”. Well, now they do.

Luckily for us, Destructor reunited in 1999. German magazine Snake Pit interviewed Dave Overkill, and Overkill realised there was still interest in the band. Destructor was resurrected, and has been performing and recording ever since.

‘Decibel Casualties’ is Destructor’s fourth studio album. Showing a glorious and blatant disregard for fashion and the passage of decades, little has changed in the Destructor camp since the heady days of 1985. The studs and chains are a little rusty, but the band members still have goofy pseudonyms, and the music is still magnificently metallic. However, a few things have changed around Destructor. Production techniques and technology have advanced infinitely since 1985. Back then, the sound of metal albums often sounded shrill and brittle, or were swamped and muffled. No longer. ‘Decibel Casualties’ is razor sharp and crystal clear.

Destructor still performs exactly what thrash fans loved about the band in the first place- thrash metal. This might sound like stating the painfully obvious, but it is true. Where bands like Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocaust, and Gama Bomb have tried hard to recreate that old school spirit, Destructor ooze it from every pore. Take almost any track from the album, like “Keep the Faith” as an example, and you will find that driving “quicker-than-it-seems” rhythm, powered by massive riffs and double kick-drum devastation, overlaid with lead guitar duels and Dave Overkill’s raspy yet melodic vocals. It is not of this time, but feels timeless. It is what teenage thrash metal fans fell in love with three decades ago.

And that is basically the formula for the whole album, and Destructor’s whole career. Any attempt at probing for a deeper meaning to this music is futile. Take it at face value, because that is all there is to it. These are songs by metalheads, written for metalheads, about metal. If you don’t get it, you aren’t supposed to.

If this sounds like it will have you banging your balding head, raising your arthritic horns, and pulling muscles rather than riffs from your air guitar, then you too are a decibel casualty. Old school thrash metal does not need to be an anachronism or a nostalgia trip.

In Destructor, the old school is still here.

IRON FIRE Among the Dead

Album · 2016 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, even a long anticipated album will sneak up on you from out of nowhere. The latest case of this is Among the Dead, the eighth full length album by Danish power metal band Iron Fire. I loved their previous release, Voyage of the Damned and had been looking forward to a follow up for a long time, but aside from the occasional update, I knew little about the album (not even its final name) or when it was coming, so when I checked my promos one day and saw the release there, I was shocked and excited, to say the least. Better yet, as soon as I heard the album I was instantly satisfied, and it has only grown me more since then. While it doesn't quite match its predecessor for me, I'd still rank it ahead of all prior Iron Fire releases, and it's certainly a great example of how to modernize power metal in a way that actually works.

Iron Fire started out as a rather typical Euro power metal band, with releases like Thunderstorm and Revenge representing some great, mostly fast paced power metal with fun choruses and epic songwriting, and vocalist Martin Steene had a rather typical voice for the genre, except he sounded a bit more animated than usual at times. By the time their fifth album To the Grave was released, the band had mastered their classic sound and were at a point where they were consistently producing great album after great album. So it was a bit surprising that with their next album Metalmorphosized, they started adding in some modern elements, giving their music a bit of an edge and Martin started doing some death growls. That album was my introduction to the band and at the time I didn't like it much, but I've since realized that it was somewhat of a transitional album, moving away from their old sound and into something new. The band only evolved further with Voyage of the Damned, where their usual guitar dominated sound was somewhat dialed back to allow for the inclusion of keyboards, which managed to fit in well with the Sci-Fi concept of the album, and between that, a more extensive use of symphonic elements, and even a bit of prog, especially on the title track, it ended up being their most ambitious album to date and by far my favorite. Sadly, the album wasn't particularly well received, and so the band went through a bit of an overhaul, and have since returned as a three man band.

After Voyage of the Damned proved to be a rather divisive album, I was expecting some kind of return to the roots with Among the Dead, but suffice to say, that's not what what happened. While the new album lacks the experimentation found on the previous album, it's still very modern sounding compared to their first 5 albums, and it's also much rougher. In fact, this is by far the darkest and heaviest Iron Fire release to date. Which makes sense, as this time around the concept centers around the ever popular theme of a world being overrun by zombies. While not the most original concept, it's executed pretty well here, with a cool and rather entertaining voice over filled intro track, and the lyrics fit in well with the music. Getting back to the music, it's a much more aggressive sound than the band has had in the past, with the keyboards from Voyage removed completely, and now some of the riffs have a bit of a thrashy feel to them. If anything, the growls and metalcore screams from the previous two albums are even more prominent this time around. In fact, Martin's delivery all around is a lot rougher, with a much deeper and more gruff voice than he's displayed in the past. He remains the band's biggest asset, though, and shines throughout the album, as always.

One area where the band somewhat toned it down this time is the songwriting. Listeners won't find the kind of experimental tracks found on the previous two albums. Instead, most songs here are fast, furious and straight to the point. After that rather enjoyable intro, the title track kicks things off and right away the more aggressive, modern riffs are on full display, and the song charges ahead at a fast paced, with Martin mixing clean and harsh vocals effectively. The chorus is very good, and overall it's an excellent start to the album. Next is “Hammer of the Gods”, a slower track that still has a lot of energy to it, and again the riffs are very strong and the harsh vocals are used effectively. The rest of the album doesn't stray too far from these two tracks, though there are some amazing moments throughout.

My favorite song on the album is “Tornado of Sickness”, a very speedy track which has the best chorus on the album, and it's a very aggressive track with a ton of energy. Other highlights include the more melodic but still rough up tempo track “Higher Ground”, the fast but largely more melodic “Last Survivor”, which alternates between clean and harsh vocals in an awesome way during its chorus, “Iron Eagle”, where the guitar lead sounds like something from a classic Iron Maiden album, and “No Sign of Life”, which has the thrashiest riffs on the album, with even the chorus feeling like it would have fit well on an 80's thrash album. “Made to Suffer” is a very good fast paced song, while “Ghost from the Past” is a slower track and probably my least favorite on the album, but it's still fairly enjoyable, if not one of the band's more memorable efforts. One last song to mention is the closing track “When the Lights Go Out”, a nice ballad where Martin's vocals really shine. I usually don't like when albums end with a ballad, but this is a very well written track and after the intensity that precedes it, it feels like a nice way to end the album. Lastly, the band has included as a bonus track, a cover of the classic Metallica song “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, which fits their sound surprisingly well, and Martin's harsh vocals add a new element to the song that makes it a pretty interesting cover.

While I don't see Iron Fire ever making another album that's so in line with my musical tastes as Voyage of the Damned was, Among the Dead isn't too far behind and it's definitely a great, aggressive and more straight-forward release that demonstrates how a band can effectively add in modern elements to the genre and make it work. I can see it being another divisive release for the band, but I'd recommend that fans of their previous works at least give it a try, and I'd strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a power metal album with more of an edge to it, and especially to anyone who won't be scared off by all the harsh vocals.

PROGENIE TERRESTRE PURA oltreLuna

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 6 ratings
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adg211288
A few years ago I received a promo for the debut album of a relatively new Italian band who at that point only had a single prior demo to their name. I hadn't heard of them before, but that first album, while it wasn't an immediate thing, has in the years that followed gone on to become one of my most highly regarded black metal albums, especially within the category of debut albums. The band was Progenie Terrestre Pura and the debut album was U.M.A. (2013). It was on the strength of this release that as soon as I knew the second album oltreLuna (2017) was finally on the way, inspired me to pre-order myself a physical copy without having heard a single note of it.

Much has actually changed in the Progenie Terrestre Pura camp in the intervening years. Originally a rather enigmatic duo consisting of Eon[0] and Nex[1], they next released the EP Asteroidi (2014), which intentionally abandoned their core black metal sound in favour of pure ambient/electronic work. That was the last they were heard from until the build up to the release of oltreLuna, where we now find that Nex[1] is out of the picture and that Eon[0] is now using his real name Davide Colladon to perform with the group, who have extended themselves to a trio. Emanuele Prandoni is the new vocalist while Fabrizio Sanna has joined on bass. There is still no drummer, so those are programmed primarily by Colladon, with some assistance from Prandoni. The lack of a real drummer may be seen as a detriment by some (especially considering Prandoni actually does drum for groups such as Grind Zero, Simulacro and Vultur), but it does actually make a kind of sense for such an electronically influenced group as Progenie Terrestre Pura, so I'd recommend potential listeners look past this.

Despite the changes in line-up and the direction of their previous release, oltreLuna marks a return to the atmospheric black metal based sound of the debut album U.M.A. There are some similarities between the two records, but a lot more differences. Where U.M.A. was a rather relaxed sounding record with plenty of ambience, oltreLuna is marked for it's heavier and more direct approach. This is also true of the vocals as much as the music, with Emanuele Prandoni bringing a much more forceful performance to the group compared to that of Nex[1], whose style was quite understated, becoming a part of the atmosphere of the U.M.A. album. That's still true to an extent with Emanuele Prandoni's performance, but if you've heard the previous album it will be impossible not to notice the difference as soon as the vocals start on oltreLuna's opening track [.Pianeta.Zero.].

The differences between the two albums don't end there of course. I consider U.M.A. to be a rather unique entry in the directory of atmospheric black metal albums, but the band have built upon what it started rather than rehashed it, so I'd say the same is true of oltreLuna. Familiar elements such as progressive tendencies and psybient influences can easily be heard, but there's new stuff too. For a band who put across such a spacey vibe in both their music and artwork it's quite surprising how tribal and ethnic some of oltreLuna sounds, especially in the percussion in the first and middle tracks [.Pianeta.Zero.] and [.oltreLuna.], the latter of which also features a burst of dubstep that even with the abundant influences of electronic music seems to come out of nowhere. I wouldn't normally touch the dubstep genre with a bargepole, but I have to admit, that part of the song is especially great. It's used again, in a less direct manner, during the final song [.Proxima:B.].

Five tracks in total with each composition being longer than the previous, oltreLuna seems to be an album designed to outdo itself with each track it serves up. Even bring the massive fan of U.M.A. that I am I was floored by the album as early as [.Pianeta.Zero.], which in my mind means that oltreLuna is a much more immediate album than U.M.A. which required a few years to earn the regard I now have for it. That regard remains high and nothing could change that now, but there's absolutely no way I can't say that the band haven't bettered the album in every possible way with oltreLuna. It all builds up to [.Proxima:B.], a track that at 15:19 minutes long is the band's longest track to date and easily their crowning achievement so far as well. Move over Fen, there's a new trio of atmospheric black metal kings holding the crown for the best atmospheric black metal album of 2017 now.

SUFFOCATION ...Of The Dark Light

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.71 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
Like fellow New Yorkers Immolation, who’s latest album Atonement is the best album of 2017 as far as I’m concerned, Suffocation can always be relied on to deliver the goods. Their brutal death metal laden with complex and crushing riffs never fails to hit the spot. … Of The Dark Light is the latest in a run of strong albums since their reformation in 2003.

A couple of line-up changes seem to have done the band no harm. New drummer Eric Morotti (Killitorous) is a more than able replacement for the short lived Dave Culross who only stuck around long enough to play on one album. In also comes second guitarist Charlie Errigo, who wasn’t even born when Effigy Of The Forgotten was released, but has the necessary chops to play alongside the legendary Terrance Hobbs. Of course Vocalist Frank Mullen is still here supplying his guttural growl, though this time aided by Kevin Muller, as is bassist since the reformation Derek Boyer.

If you know Suffocation then you know what to expect here. Nine songs in total of the sort of complex brutal death metal Suffocation are famous for. The songs constantly shifting in time and tempo, twisting and turning with stop/start accenting punctuating the precise staccato riffing. There may not be a lot of variety from one track to the next but that’s mainly down to the fact that they pack so much into each short-ish song. This makes picking favourites a bit of a pointless exercise but The Warmth Within The Dark is one of the many highlights. If you’re looking for melody look elsewhere though as the only time it appears is occasionally in a guitar solo. As expected the standard of playing is second to none and the production whilst more clinical these days is powerful and balanced with plenty of bottom end cutting through so no complaints there.

Where …Of The Dark Light sits in terms of favourite Suffocation album is difficult to say, with only one or two relatively speaking weaker records, such is the consistency of this legendary band. I’m certainly more than happy with it and whilst it may not be better it can comfortably sit alongside their strongest work.

SUFFOCATION ...Of The Dark Light

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.71 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Suffocation have been creating a storm for the best part of thirty years now, and show no signs of slowing down just yet. This is brutal technical death metal at its very finest: it just doesn’t get any better than this. Singer Frank Mullen has been there since the very beginning, and keeps being persuaded to turn out for just one album and tour, but with a family he can’t commit as much as he used to, so his successor, contributing vocalist Kevin Muller (The Merciless Concept / ex-Pyrexia) is also involved on this one. Of course, guitarist and songwriter Terrence Hobbs has been there since 1990, and bassist and lyricist Derek Boyer since 2004, so they know exactly what needs to be done to keep the band true to the Suffocation sound. It has been four years since the last album, due mostly to the band being on tour so much, but there are also a couple of new boys in guitarist Charlie Errigo (also in The Merciless Concept) and drummer Eric Morotti. Together they have linked in and created another monstrous sound, while Chris “Zeuss” Harris mixed and mastered the album and has created something that is powerful, delicate, and full of rage.

I was a big fan of their last album, ‘Pinnacle of Bedlam’, but this one is better. Whatever one wants from a technical death metal album is here in spades. Brutal, over the top, this is amazing.

POWER TRIP Nightmare Logic

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.24 | 5 ratings
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Unitron
Is it 1988?

Power Trip takes the listener back to the days when extreme metal still had all of its crushing fury, there was no such thing as an overproduced extreme metal album, mosh pits were still chaotic, and knew that complexity meant nothing if you couldn't still rip out the listener's guts and shove them down their throat. There's no sterile modern tech death/grind/core drumming here, no overproduced modern Kreator-choruses, and no bullshit. This is pure fucking thrash metal.

Taking the heaviness of riffage from Ride the Lightning, slow destructive dirges from South of Heaven, the pure rapid aggression and screeching solos from Razor's Violent Restitution, and the grooves of Vulgar Display of Power, Power Trip is completely old school. The album opens ominously with the thunder and static of "Soul Sacrifice" before crushing every one of the listeners bones with a crunching riff that has the force of a slab of concrete. Soon the guitar turns from slow and crunching to razor-sharp and traps the listener into a tornado of rapid-fire aggression.

That song is just the beginning, as Nightmare Logic is the modern Reign in Blood. It's only about 33 minutes long, but it's 33 minutes of skin-tearing riff after riff. "Firing Squad" sounds just like the title, the guitars and drums rain down upon the listener like a multitude of bullets. There's also some groovy hooks and blistering solos throughout the whole album. The title track brings to mind the masterful riffing of Slayer and the groove in the middle of "Crucifixion" would not sound out of place on a Pantera record. Pretty much every song features guitar solos that will destroy everything in their path, and are like speeding cars on a raceway ready to spill some blood.

Riley Gale roars and screams on every song, where usually only the title of the song is audible in the lyrics. His voice is filled with so much rage and anger, that you can't help but get pumped and want to thrash and mosh. His vocal fury combined with the shredding instrumentation just makes for one wild ride into the pit.

If you're sick of all the overproduced and derivative extreme metal albums that plague today's metal scene, give Power Trip a listen to be reminded of what extreme really means. This is all old school and ready for moshing, get ready to thrash! Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

COLOTYPHUS Остання подорож зневіреної душі (Spiritual Journey of a Forlorn Soul)

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Colotyphus is a fairly new black metal act out of Ukraine and Остання подорож зневіреної душі (Spiritual Journey of a Forlorn Soul) (2017), which I'm going to refer to solely by its English title from here on in, is their debut studio album. The band was previously the solo project of their vocalist/guitarist Gennadiy 'Monolith' Kovrizhnykh and released its previous releases, a single and EP as his solo project, but they have expanded to a trio of musicians by the time of this album: Roman 'Morvudd' Sapozhnikov on bass and Katerina 'Todestrieb' Katharsis on keyboards, who also takes over lyrical duties. There is no mention of a drummer anywhere, so I presume those are programmed. The album contains seven original songs and cover versions of Drudkh's Summoning the Rain and Glare of Autumn re-done as one long track which closes the album.

The music on Spiritual Journey of a Forlorn Soul is atmospheric black metal with some occasional light symphonic touches, such as in the first track Ruthless Time. The band's sound is characterised by a reasonably well polished production job, by black metal standards that is. We're not talking an excessively raw and/or cold sounding atmospheric black metal fare here. Another notable feature to my ears is Kovrizhnykh's vocals, which are a growl of a deeper variety than is typically heard in the black metal genre, being closer to those of death metal. With that said there are no musical diversions into death metal present on this release, so I don't think this is intentional on Colotyphus' part, but rather that's simply how Kovrizhnykh's growl sounds.

The band's compositions tend towards a mid to long length, resulting in Spiritual Journey of a Forlorn Soul being quite the substantial debut album for the band. Solidly played and composed, their style isn't the most groundbreaking out there but it's professionally done and powerfully delivered. Getting through the over an hour total duration in one go certainly isn't an issue, though listeners may not come away feeling like each individual track made much of an impact. This long journey though, taken as a whole, proves to be very effective which keeps my regard for the release quite high.

SECRET SPHERE The Nature of Time

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Some twenty years after their debut, Italian melodic symphonic act Secret Sphere are back with their ninth studio album. Very much at their heart is founder guitarist Aldo Lonobile, but with singer Michele Luppi (also currently serving as keyboardist and background vocalist for Whitesnake) coming on board in time for their 2012 release ‘Portrait Of A Dying Heart’, the band have changed so that there are also now some more progressive elements to their sound. Italy seems to produce many strong melodic rock bands, and Secret Sphere are very much in case point. This release highlights their skill in composing highly orchestrated songs and introducing their foray into a new age of heavy rock and metal music. High class songs with amazing choruses, big vocals, majestic orchestral arrangements, and amazing, mind-blowing, guitar heroics are the order of the day. ‘The Nature Of Time’ explores the "back to life" concept, an inward looking search of the self that can positively impact everyone's everyday life.

It is polished, and produced to within an inch of its life, and that is possibly the only really flaw for me, in that the band never breaks out of the self-imposed constraints, so that the spark is often missing. That can’t take away from some great performance and some wonderful songs with superb vocals, but it needs some additional vitality and forcefulness. Some will probably view this as a masterpiece, but I could do with something a little more raw.

GENOCIDE GENERATOR III

Album · 2017 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
At its heart, grindcore is really a very uncomplicated, honest form of music. Take an idea and some instruments, smash them together as hard as you can, and record the carnage. All too often, the result is a dreadful, tuneless sludge, as evidenced by the mountainous slagheap of unloved and unlovable demos polluting the grind scene. Yes, good on the bands for having a go and getting something out there, but some quality control would be nice.

Every so often though, the crushing weight of carbon black detritus produces a diamond. Bavarian band Genocide Generator is one such gem. ‘III’ is a fairly simple album. The bug-eyed hand-drawn zebra on the cover of this album is a welcome change from the usual grind standards of mangled internal organs and copro-perversity. This album features two guys with a singular vision, creating razor sharp, slightly metallic grindcore. The duo squeezes in the odd industrial and electronic element to churn out their self-named “grindustrial” music. Unlike many bands, these guys don’t rely on their machines for their extremity or brutality, but merely to enhance their sound, like The Berzerker minus the silly masks and most blatant death metal elements.

It all seems quite straight forward. Two Germans playing hard, fast, loud music. Grind away for a couple of minutes, finish, repeat. But just be a little careful, because these guys have a few tricks just to stop the listener getting too settled. ‘III’ is actually Genocide Generator’s second album. In keeping with the industrial theme, there are no song titles on the album. Instead, each has a two digit number. There is no human meaning to it, the numbers being the anti-musical machine’s code. But really, do individual songs matter? This is an album to be listened to in its entirety. It’s not a huge stretch, at just over 18 minutes, but it’s like an intense rollercoaster which only ever hurtles downward. It spirals and loops, without ever slowing. A drum machine gets thrown into the terminal velocity plunge, but gets left behind. There are other machines of loving gracelessness thrown in too, but where they end and the cyborg musicians begin is lost in the maelstrom.

This is sharp grind with a clear cutting sound, like Wormrot at their razorblade best. Unlike Wormrot though, there is enough of a metallic tinge for curious metal fans too. There are heavier albums, and there are faster paced albums, but many of those are to be endured rather than enjoyed. ‘III’ is one of those rare finds where it satisfies the base desire for brutality, but leaves you wanting just a little more.

NICKELBACK Feed the Machine

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
I’m going to confront the elephant in the room head-on: no, this is not a grand reinvention of Nickelback’s tried-and-true style.

As much as many people want to see that (and seem to be expecting it), it might be too much to ask a band with such a recognizable comfort zone to immediately pull a 180-degree turn into new territory. But before you walk away from this review, keep listening. Feed the Machine, while pulling the same old stops for a Nickelback album, is easily the band’s most refined and energized product since their breakthrough hit Silver Side Up. Yep, after a whole 16 years of nonstop mockery and hate mail, Chad Kroeger and his band of post-grungers have decided to give us something a bit more dignified and well-written. And, all things considered, this is not a bad album by any means. If anything, it’s a somewhat solid mainstream rock offering with strong hints of alternative metal strewn about. One wishes the band’s potential could have been touched upon years ago, but you know the old saying: “better late than never.”

The oddest thing about Feed the Machine, and the reason that it ultimately falls short of greatness, is that it straddles multiple styles in a seriously imbalanced way. Hearing the heavy downtuned - and even surprisingly progressive - metal anthem “The Betrayal (Act III)” coupled with bland ballads like “Every Time We’re Together” and “Song on Fire” might end up causing rifts in Nickelback’s already-polarized fanbase, just as the varied levels of lyrical quality could as well. That said, the variety is still fun once in a while. The intro to the cheesy rocker “Must Be Nice,” while pretty standard for Nickelback’s typical cock-rock fare, is so groovy and bluesy that the flaws are much less noticeable by comparison. The heavier moments found on songs like the title track and “Coin for the Ferryman” are aggressive as hell in this outing, and they occasionally contrast well with the sappy balladry that causes the album’s tonal imbalance. The band have also upped their game on the musicianship front; while famed Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt has to carry the solo duties on “For the River,” Chad Kroeger and Ryan Peake are able to bust out some decent solos and melodies in their own right. While the rhythm section is as boring as it’s always been, the increased chemistry and personality of the guitar work were a neat surprise.

The truth is, the best moments on Feed the Machine are the ones in which the band throw their old mainstream shackles away and just embrace metal. The ballads here sound both tired and dated, and simply don’t suffice in a discography that’s already drenched in tired ballads. In fact, I swear the chorus of “After the Rain” rips off the main melody to “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida. And as I mentioned, some of these songs sound ridiculously dated. The uptempo power ballad “Silent Majority,” while at least exuding some energy, sounds like it came straight from an old post-grunge edition of Now That’s What I Call Music that would have been popular in the mid-2000s. It offers nothing new or interesting, and just results in another skippable tune for the listener to filter out. With this in mind, I must still admit that some of the experiments on the album result in highly rewarding payoffs. The two biggest here are the chunky, aggressive riffing of “Coin for the Ferryman” and the progressive metal stylings of “The Betrayal (Act III).” These songs completely abandon the band’s old cliches to deliver something that’s honest-to-god fun and steeped in genuine effort. They’re heavy, they have memorable riffs, and they present the true stylistic stepping stones in this experience.

For the first time in quite a while, I didn’t really know what rating I’d give Feed the Machine or whether to recommend it. This is a classic case of Nickelback giving us really nice songwriting and concepts before shooting themselves in the foot for making stupid decisions at the cusp of greatness. I will say that the positive aspects of Feed the Machine are some of the best things I’ve ever heard from this band, but they really need to decide whether to move forward with these changes or to replant themselves in the past. This half-and-half deal isn’t quite going to cut it, and it might end up warding off more of their fanbase than the usual Nickelback record because of it. But, because of those positives, I think Feed the Machine deserves a slight recommendation at the end of the day. It may not sway ardent haters, but those who are genuinely interested in hearing the band touch up their sound and try some new things might find something they enjoy.

ICED EARTH Incorruptible

Album · 2017 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 6 ratings
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adg211288
With their last album Plagues of Babylon (2014) having, let's be fair, a rather lukewarm reception (especially following the praise heaped on Dystopia (2011), current vocalist Stu Block's debut with the band), a lot is riding on US power/heavy/thrash metal act Iced Earth to really hit one out of the park with Incorruptible (2017), their twelfth main studio album. Four singles have been released prior to the full album, each showing the band in a bit of a different light. Seven Headed Whore was an immediate thrashy headbanger. Raven Wing was initially a disappointment but turned out to be one of those slow burn type of tracks. Great Heathen Army proved to be highly addictive, with this reviewer streaming the song off of Spotify about two dozen times in the run up to Incorruptible's release. Finally Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862) turned out to be long, fast, epic and catchy piece that it was impossible not to be instantly won over by.

Four tracks out of a total of ten from the album. Had Iced Earth showed their hand too early and served up all the album's best cuts as singles? Well, yeah, they kinda did, but I guess that's one way to sell your album. The rest of the material here has been a bit like Raven Wing in respect to the tracks being slow burners, requiring a few listens to open up before they can really be appreciated. There's a few of the remaining tracks that have come to stand out over the others, such as Black Flag, which could easily be a Running Wild song thanks to its pirate theme, and also Defiance, but the trinity of Great Heathen Army, Seven Headed Whore and Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862) have remained untouchable. These three are Iced Earth gold.

Incorruptible is a very balanced album from Iced Earth with several faster and hard hitting USPM tracks and some more mid-paced and melodic heavy metal orientated material. Seven Headed Whore is the only really thrashy number, though Great Heathen Army also hits bloody hard and fast. The production on such tracks is really beefy and heavy in the riffs and it sounds really pummelling. The lead guitar work from new guy Jake Dreyer is crystal clear though and sounds excellent. Iced Earth have found a great addition to the group in him. His solos really stand out across the whole release. Stu Block is also on great vocal form, delivering a mix of aggressive clean vocals and high register notes. The opening scream of 'Valhalla' in Great Heathen Army is absolutely insane.

Incorruptible is overall an extremely solid Iced Earth album. It could probably do with another really hard hitting USPM track to really knock some socks off, but even with the whole slow burn thing taken into consideration I'd judge this to be the band's best album since Stu Block took over as lead vocalist. Unlike Plagues of Babylon there's no loss of steam in the second half and I think it even edges one up on Dystopia, though that's a real close call.

DARKESTRAH Turan

Album · 2016 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Kyrgyzstan isn't a country exactly well known for its metal bands. A quick online search for example reveals under a dozen ever known to have released anything. Best known of these bands is black metal act Darkestrah, who have been around since 1990 and have released six full-length albums, the latest being this one, Turan (2016). With long-time vocalist Kriegtalith now out of the picture, the band recorded the album with a session vocalist, Merkith, who now seems to have become their permanent replacement.

The music on Turan is atmospheric based pagan black metal. The use of synths and cello gives the album some lightly symphonic touches, though nothing up to the level associated with actual symphonic (black) metal. Some folk influences show themselves every now and then and when they do they err towards what I assume must be the traditional music of Kyrgyzstan, which gives Turan some unique flavours, heard prominently in tracks such as Erlik-Khan. Some of the additional instruments used alongside the traditional metal setup and cello are the mandolin and temir-komuz, the latter of which is a new one on me and I had to look up what it was. Apparently it's a Kyrgyz jaw harp. The band's style isn't always so overt as on Erlik-Khan and other tracks require a focussed listen to make out the fine details that give each track its identity.

Turan is a six track album with a total playing time of 52:24 minutes, with the shortest composition being Gleaming Madness at 6:59 minutes. The longest the album gets up to is its opener One with the Grey Spirit (10:22), however this track's first half basically serves as a really quite drawn out introduction for the release, the kind other bands may have made a separate track on the album, so once the whole band actually get going it doesn't seem to be such a long song after all. To my ears it's a little too long to wait for things to really kick off. It's one of those cases where it makes me want to yell at the band to get on with it.

The long introduction aside, Turan is still a very substantial album from Darkestrah. Solidly written and performed while also offering up some ideas that I've not heard a metal band doing before (this also being my first experience of Darkestrah's music – it won't be the last). The real issue holding the release back is that the music does tend towards a mid-paced tempo which coupled with the long track durations does make some of them, such as the 9:46 Bird of Prey, seem a bit elongated and could either do with a few minutes shaved off, with perhaps an extra track or two then substituted to make up the total time, or some additional experimentation with the traditional instruments, because those parts are certainly the most interesting aspects of the album that sets the band apart from the crowd.

MUNICIPAL WASTE Slime and Punishment

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


I’m not sure just how long I’ve been a fan of these guys, but it’s been a while. In some ways, they remind me of Tankard, in that people only see the humour and fun they have, and forget that behind it all there is a damn good band who know exactly what they are about and what they want to achieve. It has been quite a while since their last album, but they’ve still been on the road and have also added an additional guitarist to their ranks to provide them with an even harder and punchy sound. They are still playing thrash/speed metal with a large nod to hardcore, and I have no problem with that at all. To me they always sound as if they have straight out of NYC, even though they’re from Richmond, Virginia, as they have the same sort of feel as many of the bands from that city.

The recording process was different this time around, in that bassist Phil Hall engineered it so the band could record the album themselves before sending it off to Bill Metoyer (known for his work with Slayer, W.A.S.P., Lizzy Borden and Dark Angel) to be mixed. They certainly sound tight, and the result is an album that may not be driving any new boundaries, or even be fashionable any more, but when it comes to recreating the scene of the late Eighties the n few do it much better than this. Turn it up.

IN FLAMES Sounds from the Heart of Gothenburg

Live album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Like many metalheads I’ve always had a soft spot for the melodic death metal of Swedish band In Flames. They have built a massive reputation over the years, and their live shows are renowned for their intensity. But, due to living at the end of the world, and not having easy access to music magazines, I don’t always keep up with the scene as I should, and it has been a while since I last heard any of their material. What we have here is a live album, released in 2016, of a 2015 concert from their hometown, so I settled down, plugged in my headphones and turned it up.

A few songs in and I started searching the web to see what other people were saying about this album, and everyone seemed to be agreed that this is just a tad short of awesome, and mighty fine on so many levels. This means that I must be the only one who thinks the guitars are too low in the mix, and that the drums and vocals are taking too much prominence, and that the material simply wasn’t what I was personally expecting. Much of this is from the latest albums, which admittedly I hadn’t hard, but I swear there are times when they morphed into a heavy version of My Chemical Romance, which isn’t what I was expecting at all! Of course, they aren’t the first band to change since they first started, and they have been around for a long time (and have released a couple of other live albums to boot), but this isn’t an album I could get into and enjoy. Looks like I’m in the minority, won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. For fans only.

TANKARD One Foot in the Grave

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1982, four longhaired metal maniacs from Frankfurt, Germany, decided to found a band, and as they weren’t going to be around for very long they also created a new form of music, Alcoholic Metal! Some thirty-five years later they are still going strong, and kicking up a storm with thrash metal, and have just released their seventeenth studio album. Unlike some, the line-up has been incredibly stable, with singer Gerre and bassist Frank Thorwarth there since the beginning, drummer Olaf Zissel since 1994, and guitarist Andy Gutjahr since 1998, and they’re not showing any sign of slowing down yet.

It is easy to dismiss Tankard as a comedy act, because of their innate sense of humour, and fondness of beer, but behind all that there is a band here that know what they’re doing, and see no point in changing now. This is thrash metal that could have come out of the scene back when it was starting, furious and over the top with riffing guitars and a drummer that refuses to quit, and vocals that are gruff and totally fitting. True, there aren’t many blistering guitar solos, but they have a style that has worked for them for a very long time, so why change it now?

If you have never partaken of the joys of Tankard, yet enjoy thrash, then now could not be a better time to put aside any preconceived ideas and raise a glass.

SECRET SPHERE The Nature of Time

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 3 ratings
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DippoMagoo
As much as I enjoy reviewing music, there are times where I initially struggle with an album and wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying and see if it will open up for me, or if I should just give up on it. Often times, situations like this can ultimately be rewarding, though, as albums I usually wouldn’t have the patience for if I wasn’t committed to reviewing them can often end up winning me over in the long run, and such is the case with The Nature of Time, the eighth full-length release from Italian progressive power metal band Secret Sphere. I’ve had some experience with the band in the past, being immediately blown away by their 2010 release Archetype, which ended up being the last album with their original vocalist Roberto Messina, and being fairly disappointed by their 2012 release Portrait of a Dying Heart, which marked the beginning of a new era for the band. Between being disappointed with that album, being unimpressed with the samples I checked for 2015 re-recording of their 2002 album A Time Never Come and initially being fairly bored with this new release, I was just about ready to give up on the band for good. And then it suddenly clicked on the third listen, completely out of nowhere!

Portrait of a Dying Heart was quite the change in sound for the band, as earlier releases like Mistress of the Shadowlight and A Time Never Come featured more of a classic power metal sound, while Archetype was their most modern sounding, hardest hitting blend of prog and power metal to date, with some very aggressive riffs at points, where Portrait of a Dying Heart was a much more laid back album, with the prog albums taking on more of a melodic prog style compared to their past releases. This approach has only continued further on The Nature of Time, as this is very much a stripped down, less explosive album than anything they’ve done in the past, which is probably part of the reason for why it initially didn’t impress me much. The one lineup change on this album was the departure of guitarist Marco Pastorino, and I wonder if that affected the music in a big way, because the guitars are certainly less punchy on this release, even compared to its immediate predecessor, and instead the leads are mostly very melodic and guitars are used more to set the tone than to be particularly heavy, aside from on a couple tracks. One thing that hasn’t been reduced is the use of symphonic elements, which are quite prevalent throughout the album, both on softer tracks like “The Calling” and more speedy tracks like “Courage”.

Speaking of which, this release is a concept album, which seems to be about dealing with your inner feelings. Just by looking at the track listing, you can see 8 of the 11 tracks have to deal with positive emotions and personality traits, such as “Love”, “Courage”, “Honesty” and “Commitment”, and so lyrically it’s no surprise that this is a very emotional album and one that impresses more with its overall feel than it does with exciting musical passages. Indeed, there are quite a few tracks here that are fairly tame for the genre, as well as probably more balladry than the typical power metal fan is willing to put up with, which again is a reason I struggled with the album at first. At the same time, once you get a bit deeper into the album there are a few more upbeat and catchier tracks, and the power metal elements are very much still an important part of the music, even if they aren’t as dominant as on past releases.

Another aspect I wasn’t too impressed by at first is vocalist Michele Luppi. In fact, I’ll be honest here: I’ve heard some of his work with Vision Divine as well as obviously his previous work with Secret Sphere, and for some reason, I just never cared much for his voice. He’s definitely a great singer, with a very impressive range, able to hit all kinds of high and low notes with seemingly little challenge at all, and he can be very emotive at times, but for some reason there’s just something about his voice that prevents me from liking him as much as I should and I can’t figure out what it is. With that being said, I definitely enjoy his vocals more on this release than I have on anything else I’ve heard him on, and I do think he sounds terrific throughout, whether it’s on the more powerful, speedier tracks like “Courage”, “Faith” and “Reliance” or slower, lighter tracks like “Love”, “Kindness” and “The New Beginning”.

Moving onto songwriting, things get off to a rather slow start. Contrary to what its name would suggest, “Intermission” is, in fact, the beginning of the album, and is a fairly typical orchestral opener, with some nice piano parts in the middle, and a very brief voiceover at the end. One thing I will say right away, while this album uses narration throughout, it’s done rather tastefully, usually at the beginning or end of tracks and doesn’t really get in the way like it does on some albums, but instead just adds a bit of context to the overall concept, so this is one case where I can actually appreciate it. The first full song is “The Calling”, a rather slow paced track which has some nice melodic leads, including a nice guitar section at the beginning, before the orchestral elements take over, and it settles down into a fairly nice melodic prog track. The verses are a bit tame for my tastes, but the chorus is excellent and showcases Michele’s voice nicely, and I love the more emotional vocal section that comes towards the end and how it sets up the excellent guitar solo and epic final run through the chorus that closes out the track. Basically, it’s a track that starts out kinda boring but gets better as it goes along, and by the end, it’s really good.

After that, though, things slow down further with “Love”, a ballad mostly dominated by light keyboards and vocals. It’s a nice enough song, and the symphonic elements are again effective, but it’s not exactly the most exciting track and doesn’t really do much to help the momentum of the album early on. Thankfully, things pick up big time with “Courage”, the first speedy track on the album, and one of the best. While not quite as intense as anything on Archetype, this track is very fast paced and has some solid riffs, moving along at a great pace throughout, and delivering another huge chorus, as well as excellent instrumental second in the second half, and then the final run through the chorus is simply incredible. Easily the best song on the first half of the album. As expected, “Kindness” is another ballad, roughly on par with “Love”, meaning another solid, but unspectacular track, with some decent vocal melodies, but nothing really special. The first oddball of the album is next, that being “Honesty”. Right out of the gate it has some very modern sounding riffs, mixed in with epic orchestral arrangements, making for quite the weird contrast. This track took some time for me to get used to, as initially, the chugging riffs were bothering me, but over time I’ve come to appreciate them and how they contrast nicely with the very melodic and uplifting chorus, which is definitely the highlight of the track. There’s an epic instrumental section, later on, enhances both of these elements further, and the second half of the track is pretty amazing on the whole. Excellent track, overall, though it definitely requires a few listens to fully appreciate it.

Moving towards the final stretch, “Faith” is another fairly straightforward power metal track, with some solid riffs and a big, epic chorus. Definitely one the more fun and upbeat tracks on the album. Next is “Reliance”, another fairly uptempo track, though this one is much harder hitting than the others, with some pretty explosive riffs as well as a nice use of epic symphonic elements. The chorus is slower and brings in some of the prog elements, while later on, we get some pretty intense instrumental sections. This track is a bit all over the place, but it’s all very well done and it certainly makes for one of the more exciting and complex tracks on the album. After that, we have the fairly calm instrumental “Commitment”, which starts off with some heavy riffs, but quickly turns into a more melodic track, with some great keyboard work as well as some nice melodic solos throughout. It’s a pretty solid instrumental and serves as a nice lead-in to the climax of the album.

That climax comes in the form of a near 9-minute epic, titled “The Awakening”, which starts off with some epic orchestral arrangements during the first minute before the guitars kick in and it speeds up and turns into another epic, fast paced power metal track. I find this track takes all the elements found throughout the rest of the album and kicks it all up a notch, leading for one of the fastest tracks on the album, as well as easily the most epic and most memorable. Michele is also at his absolute best on this track, delivering easily the best performance I’ve ever heard from him, and there’s some great instrumental passages throughout, as well as a catchy chorus. Easily the highlight of the album, and along with “Courage”, and “Faith”, I’d say it’s one of a few tracks should leave listeners impressed right from the first listen. Lastly, “The New Beginning” is another ballad, but it steps things up a bit, by reusing lyrics from previous tracks but in a more emotional way, and again Michele delivers some great vocals, making it a nice way to end the album.

Overall, The Nature of Time is a great release, which shows Secret Sphere continuing to move towards more of a melodic prog sound, without sacrificing their power metal elements entirely. It’s an album that likely won’t blow many people away on first listen, but given some time it should open up and prove itself to be a very rewarding release, with some great tracks and some excellent vocals. I still prefer the more aggressive approach of albums such as Archetype, but I will admit this release has won me over in the end and has made me want to revisit its predecessor, as well as making me excited for any future releases the band puts out. Recommend for fans of power metal and melodic prog, and especially for those who like concept albums that are more about the lyrics and overall feel than about individual tracks.

originally written for myglobalmind.com (http://myglobalmind.com/2017/06/10/secret-sphere-nature-time-review/)

BODY COUNT Bloodlust

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.02 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Bloodlust" is the 6th full-length studio album by US metal act Body Count. The album was released through Century Media Records in March 2017. It´s the successor to "Manslaughter" from 2014 and features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor. "Manslaughter (2014)" was the band´s first album in 8 years, but this time around Body Count have kept busy with touring, and writing and recording "Bloodlust".

After a couple of relatively mediocre albums "Manslaughter (2014)" was a nice comeback for Body Count and it signaled a slight change towards a more metal oriented sound. That´s nothing against what the listener is treated to on "Bloodlust" though, as this is easily the band´s most hard edged metal oriented release up until now. Razor sharp riffs, pounding heavy beats, and an Ice-T in top vocal form. He has never sounded this aggressive and raw before, and it suits him well. Lyrically we´re as always treated to subjects like corrupt politicians, social issues (especially the US black/white issues), bad cops, and ghetto and gang violence. As such nothing unusual for Body Count, but Ice-T as usual has a lot to say about those subjects. Agree with him or not, he successfully adresses the issues in a direct and outspoken manner. There´s no smooth politician talk here, just an angry man talking about the despair and corruption of the world, as seen by him.

The material on the 11 track, 41:00 minutes long album are generally well written and quite catchy. Highlights include "Civil War", "This is Why We Ride", and "Black Hoodie" but there is not a single sub par track featured on the album. Body Count even deliver a decent cover of "Raining In Blood / Postmortem 2017" by Slayer. "Bloodlust" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which further enhances the feeling that "Bloodlust" is the heaviest Body Count album to date. Upon conclusion "Bloodlust" shows a positive development of sound, although at least one naughty/humourous track could have been nice, but it´s obvious that Body Count have aimed for a more serious and aggressive sound on "Bloodlust", and they succeed well with that mission. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SATURNDUST RLC

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Hailing from Brazil, doom/sludge metal act Saturndust are back following their 2015 self-titled debut album with their second full-length album RLC (2017). I'd not heard of the band prior to this release, but it's eye-catching cover quickly drew my attention this time around and made me want to see what sort of music they played. It only took one track after that for the music to make me stay and listen to the whole thing.

RLC is something of a mash-up of a few different genres. At its heart the album is doom metal, featuring heavily distorted, prolonged guitar stabs and rapid trills straight out of the book of Black Sabbath, but there are also sludge metal elements in the parts where the band up the tempo a bit and take on more of a hardcore approach, using harsher vocals. But the real mash-up and what ultimately makes the album interesting actually comes from Saturndust's softer sections, most of which I would describe as space rock influences, with a bit of ambient on the side.

Prominent synths and atmospheric guitars one minute, crushing doom/sludge metal the next, RLC is quite the trip through the cosmos. While the softer sections of the album such as the first part of the title track conjure up impressions of the majesty of space, the kind you'll see portrayed on Hubble photographs of nebulae and other celestial wonders, one must never forget that Saturndust's main game is doom and that space, despite the wonders it offers is actually quite an inhospitable place. A key feature in point of this is the way that Felipe Dalam's harsh but non-growled vocals absolutely ooze real despair. It's an effective contrast of atmospheres for a subject matter that black metal bands have seemed to have the monopoly on lately and it sounds really fresh to me. Doom metal isn't my most familiar genre, but I haven't heard any other band who does it quite like this before.

What makes RLC a really great album though as opposed to simply being a different one is that Saturndust have not only come up with a winning formula for themselves, but they also have one that gives each of their tracks its own identity. Each one on the album is able to assert itself in a different way and even though all except for Titan are long compositions (with three of the six over eleven minutes) they never feel like they should have been cut down to something more manageable. The title track for instance has those lengthy soft passages of music that are some of the most out and out spacey stuff on the album. Titan is shorter and to the point, yet just as jam-packed with goodness and Saturn 12.C is instrumental (except for voice-overs) and heavily atmospheric. I've little doubt in my mind in fact that RLC should be considered the standard setting album for doom metal in 2017. This will, at least, be the one I'll be looking at others to beat in any future doom metal reviews I do this year.

ACCEPT Restless & Live

Movie · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.02 | 3 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Restless & Live is a concert release from the veteran German Heavy Metal legends Accept. It was released on Nuclear Blast Records in 2017 on several formats; such as a CD set with tracks taken from different concerts across the touring cycle for Blind Rage (their third studio album since being reinvigorated by the joining of new singer Mark Tornillo). It was also released as a Blu Ray of a single entire performance at 2015’s Bang Your Head Festival. If you’ve got a bit more money to splash out you can get a set with the Blu Ray and CD versions, or if you prefer DVDs that’s also an option.

My personal preference for concert movies or albums is that they come from on single concert not a mix of shows, and if available preferably on Blu Ray, so for me this was the version I went for and am most happy with. (which this review will be focusing on).

In terms of specs: The Blu Ray version is in 1080p with PCM Stereo and DTS HD Master 5.1 options, Region:All. There aren’t any bonus features. There’s a booklet with some photos but no linear notes.

So the main reason you are buying this disc is for the concert; which is about an hour and forty-five minutes of blistering classic Heavy Metal. The 18-song tracklisting is pretty heavily focused on the three Tornillo-era albums, with a few of the classic ’80s crowdpleasing tunes added in as well. So if you’ve already got the DVD that came with Blind Rage its still worth checking this out for the different tracklisting and higher production values. (The CD version of Restless & Wild contains 27 songs and more of a mix of material).

The tracklisting is: 1. Stampede 2. Stalingrad 3. London Leatherboys 4. Restless & Wild 5. Dying Breed 6. Final Journey 7. Shadow Soldiers 8. Losers & Winners 9. 200 Years 10. Midnite Mover 11. No Shelter 12. Princess Of The Dawn 14. Pandemic 15. Fast As A Shark 16. Metal Heart 17. Teutonic Terror 18. Balls To The Wall

The performance is tight and professional but still has that ‘live’ feeling and energy, it isn’t all sterile but it isn’t loose and sloppy either, its just right. They all give it gusto and look pretty into it. There’s no complaints on vocals, musicianship or song selection for me. Wolf Hoffman’s guitar solos are as entertaining as you would expect and there’s a fun bass versus guitar trade off section at one point. The camera work, editing, sound and mix are all solid. Nothing jarring or out of place, no sync issues, all instruments audible and in correct balance. The songs sound clear and yet muscular.

Its a pretty simple and honest affair. There’s no gimmicks here; no big show with giant robot crabs on stage or band members catching fire or shooting lazers out of their eyes, and there’s no life changing documentary, no animations weaved into the concert or anything… but if you want to buy an Accept live concert and watch songs like ‘Fast As A Shark’ and ‘Balls To The Wall’ played well by the new line-up and competently captured and prepared for home viewing then it is an absolutely fine product and I highly recommend it to fans of the band, especially to fans of the newer three albums. For me, watching songs like ‘No Shelter,’ ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Pandemic’ belted out enthusiastically are worth the money.

If you are new to the band, this is a very strong starting place, (if not entirely representative of the overall discography) and if you are a fan already its a worthy addition to your collection.

FOGALORD Masters of War

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
It's been five years since the Italian act Fogalord served up their debut album A Legend to Believe In (2012) and asserted themselves as worthy heirs to Italy's symphonic power metal crown. It's a surprisingly long gap for a new band, but finally they're ready to follow their impressive debut album up. Masters of War (2017) marks the introduction of a new rhythm section to the band but despite that there wasn't much cause to expect any drastic changes with the band's direction.

And I suppose that's true of the end result, but that doesn't mean that Masters of War doesn't have a different feel to it compared to A Legend to Believe In. It's much less symphonic for a start, even though the keyboards of Daniele Bisi are still there in the music consistently. To compensate it uses a lot more folksy melodies than its predecessor. This is nice, but overall the band's music does feel like it's a bit less epic and cinematic. It's still characteristically Fogalord thanks in no small part to the distinctive sounding voice of Daniele Bisi, but compared to the high energy of the debut Masters of War actually seems comparatively subdued, a feeling that even the speedy power metal rhythms can't seem to do much about.

This does mean that even though the album is roughly the same length as A Legend to Believe In it really starts to flounder in its second half as the music starts to wear thin, a problem that the former didn't have. Fogalord's keeping of the epic length track The Sword's Will for last is something of a saving grace since it brings the symphonic elements back prominently but it still suffers from the key problem I'm finding the album as a whole to have: it's rather forgettable. An enjoyable enough album while you're actually listening to it, but try recalling any specific song a little while after the event. Power metal like this should have infectious, catchy choruses that really stick with you. The band's first album did because it doesn't take much for me to recall tracks like At the Gates of the Silent Storm or The Scream of the Thunder but with Masters of War I struggle to even remember the early tracks such as Rising Through the Mist of Time and Daughter of the Morning Light before I've even finished The Sword's Will!

Unfortunately not one of those albums that only opens up after repeated spins, Masters of War has to go down in my mind as a disappointing follow-up from Fogalord. It's something of a double blow considering how long we had to wait to hear more from them. I thought their debut was excellent. This one not so much. It's one of those albums where there's little reason to listen to it again so long as the first one exists.

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