Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

BUCKETHEAD Pike 274 - Forneau Cosmique

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

1st album of 2018

Two tracks that clock in at 28:04

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

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

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

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

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

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
I'm sure that I can't have been the only one surprised when German heavy/power metal act Rebellion revealed their eighth studio album. It's not that the band was in a situation where a new album was either unexpected or past due; it'd been three years since the release of Wyrd Bið Ful Aræd – The History of the Saxons (2015), their usual length between albums for a few releases now. No, it was the title. The album was revealed as A Tragedy in Steel Part II: Shakespeare's King Lear (2018). Shakespeare's MacBeth - A Tragedy of Steel (2002) was Rebellion's first album and who could have expected that after sixteen years the group would return to the works of Shakespeare?

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

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

Yes, I think they very much were.

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

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

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

HEAVATAR Opus II - The Annihilation

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Usually going into a new year, I have a pretty good idea of what bands will be in contention for my album of the year, but it seems every few years I’m thrown a curve ball and a band I would have never even thought of comes out and completely blows me away, leaving more anticipated albums far behind them. Obviously, it’s way too early in the year to tell if that’s how things will work out in 2018, but going into the year if anyone were to have told me that after a month my top album for the year would come from German power metal band Heavatar, I likely would have shook my head and said “not in a million years”, but somehow that’s exactly what happened. Heavatar was formed in 2012 by Stefan Schmidt, the mastermind behind a capella metal band Van Canto, who I happen to be quite a big fan of, so naturally when I heard one of their members was starting a new band, with a full metal sound, as well as some added classical music influence, I was excited. For whatever reason, though, Opus I: All My Kingdoms never really grabbed me, aside from a couple standout tracks, and I quickly forgot about the band. They’re now set to release Opus II: The Annihilation, an album which wasn’t even on my radar just a few weeks ago, and yet surprisingly enough it completely blew me away on my first listen, and has only grown on me more ever since, emerging as an early year favorite to possibly end up as my 2018 album of the year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Legendary Years

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

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

OPERATION: MINDCRIME The New Reality

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

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

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 9 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Truly one of the originals of the death metal scene, Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot' from nearly thirty years is still highlighted by many as a classic, and it is incredible to see that three of the guys in that line-up are still here on the tenth studio album. When I heard that this album had been released I was incredibly excited, as I have always thought of Obituary as a band that will always deliver the goods, time after time. But, even though the band is tight, John's vocals are as raw as they have ever been, and they smash through one song after another there was just something missing for me, a spark, that magical item that lifted them out of the ordinary.

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

VARGA Mileage

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

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

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

SAXON Thunderbolt

Album · 2018 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
For many it will always be those early albums like Wheels Of steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim And Leather that define Saxon’s status as one of the UK’s greatest heavy metal bands. In truth though, apart from a few glitches along the way, mainly late 80’s, Saxon have been churning out high quality metal albums all the way with some even matching those early classics like 2015’s Battering Ram.

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

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

NIGHT RANGER Don't Let Up

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

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

PORTAL Ion

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
The stygian band PORTAL has emerged from its secret Australian outpost after a five year gap following their previous release “Vexovoid” (which ironically has already spawned a new band with that name). Following in the footsteps of their extreme surreality that some call avant-garde blackened death metal comes the followup ION which continues the brash brutality fix that they have been known for since the beginning. While their influences may have emerged from Morbid Angel, Beherit and Immolation, PORTAL have long since found their own comfort zone of death metal reality to call their own by becoming one with a parallel musical reality that sounds as if they are somehow trapped between a hyperdrive dimensional shift and in the process something went really, really wrong. Drowned in darkness and delivered in dense undulating waves of sonic fury, ION finds PORTAL churning out their most frenetic and brutal release to date.

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

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

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

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

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 9 ratings
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UMUR
"E" is the 14th full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive black metal act Enslaved. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in October 2017. It´s the successor to "In Times" from 2015 and there´s been one lineup change since the predecessor as keyboard player/(clean) vocalist Herbrand Larsen has left Enslaved and has been replaced by Håkon Vinje. It´s actually the first lineup change since "Isa (2004)" so Enslaved have enjoyed quite a few years and album releases with a steady lineup.

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

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

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

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

HATED Breathless Art

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

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

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

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

EARTH WITCH Out of the Shallow

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Unitron
Now is a perfect time to be a stoner fan, as so many stoner rock and metal bands are popping up like crazy. Being a stoner fan, I'm very happy to see this, and many of them are retaining the old school 70's metal sound that started the whole genre. If you were to ask me who the best of these new stoner bands is though, I would probably have to say Earth Witch.

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

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

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

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

SATYRICON Deep Calleth upon Deep

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Deep Calleth upon Deep" is the 9th full-length studio album by Norwegian extreme metal act Satyricon. The album was released through Napalm Records in September 2017. It´s the successor to the self-titled album from 2013.

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

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

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

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

MACHINE HEAD Catharsis

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 4 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
To say this album is controversial is an understatement. To understand it, you really have to look at the psychology and recent history of the band and it’s frontman, Rob Flynn. When Machine Head first arrived on the scene in the early ’90s with their almost universally loved debut album and its follow up they were the hot new thing. By taking Thrash Metal, slowing it down, adding in lots of groove and Hardcore they ended up creating something unique that genre pedants still can’t agree on (Groove Metal or Post Thrash or just a weird version of Thrash, the arguments are endless). After that, when Nu Metal was popular and still new and exciting, the band who had always been talking about Hip Hop and Rap since their early days introduced Rap and Hip Hop elements into their music and changed the production and guitar styles, in so doing they made something altogether different that garnered both huge success and then huge backlash for their next two albums. After the backlash and all the constant criticism, the band almost broke up and their popularity plummeted drastically, but instead of throwing in the towel, they changed paths again and then released what can only be described as four of the best albums in the entire history of Heavy Metal… their stellar run from their return-to-glory Through The Ashes Of Empires to Bloodstone And Diamonds are four straight up faultless masterpieces, crowned by their beyond-popular The Blackening which is hailed as a classic by more people than there is time to list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MACHINE HEAD Catharsis

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 4 ratings
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Vim Fuego
In the past, Machine Head has soared to mountainous metallic highs, and then plunged deep into despairing sewage filled depths. To say the band’s career has been inconsistent is a massive understatement.

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

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

Um… both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THRESHOLD Legends Of The Shires

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.60 | 8 ratings
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adg211288
Back when I was discovering metal I moved through hearing bands in multiple genres before one genre stood out for me. That genre was progressive metal. That was the first metal genre I could really say I loved. I discovered both big names like Dream Theater, Ayreon and Opeth and lesser known acts such as Anubis Gate and Darkology. One band that I know I became aware of early on in my journey of discovering progressive metal was the UK band Threshold. This would of course have been through the Ayreon connection, as vocalist Damian Wilson guested on multiple releases and other projects of mastermind Arjen Lucassen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANVIL Pounding the Pavement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.37 | 5 ratings
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Italy's Elvenking are pretty much a staple band of the folk metal and power metal genres by this point. While for a long time I've considered their peak to actually be their first album Heathenreel (2001), they've remained an incredible consistent band for me. Their fourth record The Scythe (2007) was one that took a while to appreciate, but most of their work has been easy to enjoy, with the primarily acoustic record Two Tragedy Poets (...and a Caravan of Weird Figures) (2008) also ending up a surprise highlight of their discography. They had a brief period where their releases tended to focus on either the folk or power metal aspect of their music more, but with their last album The Pagan Manifesto (2014) they returned to the fused folk-power metal sound that they started with. This reunification of their elements continues on Secrets of the Magick Grimoire (2017), Elvenking's ninth album.

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

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

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

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

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

RAGE Seasons of the Black

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 6 ratings
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Rage have been kicking around for an eternity releasing their debut album Reign Of Fear back in 1986. They’ve also been on my radar for almost as long with albums like Black in Mind particularly impressing me but for some reason I’ve never actually bought much by them. There’s a few of their albums on my ridiculously long Amazon wishlist but there always seems to be something that takes precedence and there they stay.

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

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

HAMFERÐ Tamsins Likam

Album · 2018 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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I’ve only just discovered Faroese doom metal band Hamferð. Their first album Evst released in 2013 having totally passed me by. Still, better late than never and I’m certainly glad to have caught up with them now as Tamsins Likam is the best album I’ve heard in the doom realm for quite some time.

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

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

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

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

WATAIN Trident Wolf Eclipse

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.45 | 2 ratings
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It’s been five years since Watain last released an album. The Wild Hunt divided opinion with many praising the growth of the band, which to be honest was nothing new and has been an ongoing thing since Rabid Death’s Curse. Others thought it a band aiming for a more accessible sound and losing something along the way. It was certainly epic and sprawling at over an hour in length and a big production sound certainly made it easier on the ears than many black metal albums. Whatever, I think it was the equal of anything they’d previously done in the past and joint contender with Lawless Darkness as my favourite from the band.

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

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

EVILFEAST Elegies of the Stellar Wind

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

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

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

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

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

NIGHT VIPER Exterminator

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.67 | 3 ratings
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Sweden. As far as metal goes it's probably best known for its death metal, a lot of it of the melodic death variety, especially the Gothenburg scene. It's also got a strong heritage in both black metal and doom metal through acts such as Dissection and Katatonia respectively, among others. What it's less known for it's it's output of classic heavy metal bands, especially in the eighties. There's Heavy Load who are likely the best known band unless one counts the more hard rock chart bothering Europe, the neoclassical metal virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen or the relocated Oz (who are Finnish), Swedish heavy metal in the eighties is mostly made up of lesser known acts who you're most likely to have only heard of if you either A) are Swedish or B) have extensively researched the scene.

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

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

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

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

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY No Cross No Crown

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Corrosion Of Conformity have had a lot of different line-ups over the years and a few very distinct career phases. Some of the most notable and best of which are the short-lived Blind era of the very early ’90s, where Pepper Keenan and Karl Angel joined the band and wrote a very dark, yet strangely melodic mixture of Sludge Metal and Groove Metal. Then Karl left, Pepper took over somewhat and they released three brilliant mixtures of Stoner, Southern Rock and good old fashion Metal with a bunch of diverse records that had acoustic sections, interludes, ballads and speedy-ragers all mashed into one record. Their final album in that line-up (well, with a new drummer actually, but close enough…) was very Doom Metal focused. Then Pepper left, and the Trio line-up from before even the Blind era reunited but instead of making Hardcore or Crossover Thrash like they did in the ’80s; they released two Doom albums with raw punky influences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PSYCHEDELIC WITCHCRAFT Sound Of The Wind

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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Although their formerly shared their vocalist Virginia Monti with the doom metal band Dead Witches and the remainder of the band are also involved with hard rockers Magnet, Italians Psychedelic Witchcraft haven't up until this point been a particularly heavy band themselves. This is in spite of also being easily grouped with acts such as Blood Ceremony through the retro rock connection. With their second full-length album Sound of the Wind (2017), they're clearly set out to change this. This one's a real hard rocker!

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

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

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

EARTH WITCH Out of the Shallow

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Metal Music Archives Reviewers' Challenge December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

LEAVES' EYES Sign of the Dragonhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORBID ANGEL Kingdoms Disdained

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Kingdoms Disdained" is the 9th full-length studio album by US death metal act Morbid Angel. The album was released through Silver Lining Music in December 2017. It´s the successor to the much discussed and critizised "Illud Divinum Insanus" from 2011. There have been quite a few lineup changes since the predecessor as lead vocalist/bassist David Vincent has been replaced by Steve Tucker. The latter was also a member of Morbid Angel in the 1997-2001 and 2003-2004 periods and has recorded three albums with the band (the last being "Heretic" from 2003). Drummer Tim Yeung has been replaced by Scott Fuller (Abysmal Dawn, Havok, Annihilated), and guitarist Destructhor has also jumped ship. He hasn´t been replaced here, so guitarist and band leader Trey Azagthoth handles all guitars on "Kingdoms Disdained".

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

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

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

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

IRON MONKEY 9-13

Album · 2017 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Existing in the concrete jungles and unheard of for almost two decades, the Nottingham simians IRON MONKEY swing off their vines and onto the world’s stage once again. Having formed in the 90s when sludge metal was in its infancy, the band followed in the footsteps of Eyehategod, Acid Bath, Buzzov-en and Grief when they finally released their debut album in 1997. The band got their feet wet with their eponymous debut that displayed their primal ability to deliver the sludge metal treatment like the big boys with all the caustic fury and hypnotic distortionfests turned up to 11. After an initial positive response the sludge apes quickly pumped out their second release “Our Problem” which was not only met with critical acclaim but remains one of the hallmarks of late 90s sludge metal. As is too often the case, the band became plagued with personal and music industry disputes and soon the MONKEY go bye-bye leaving a mysterious void in the potential that seemed would never find a second life.

Having been almost forgotten as a mere footnote in the growing annals of metal history, IRON MONKEY has left the thick over-grown jungles and released an album of new material. Despite existing in a rather truncated history in their early stages, IRON MONKEY still had their share of lineup changes and with this resurrection there is no exception. This comeback was orchestrated by two of the original founding members: guitarists Jim Rushby and Steve Watson. This decision is somewhat of a gamble since original hardcore punk inspired vocalist Johnny Morrow surprisingly died in 2002. Also adding to this dubious reformation was that the original drummer John Greaves wasn’t invited to rejoin the new MONKEY spanking club. Undeterred, the band has reemerged as a mere trio with Rushby adding vocal duties to his resume and Watson trading in his guitar for bass. New to the mix and picking up the drumming duties is Scott Briggs who brings his hardcore punk sensibilities to the table from his stint with the crusty punkers Chaos U.K.

One of the most immediate head scratchers for those of us who accumulated IRON MONKEY’s mere two releases and the twofer comp release is that 9-13 uses the exact same album cover artwork as the 2-CD compilation “Our Problem / Iron Monkey” which is obviously going to cause great confusion and could possibly invoke a flurry of cursing in paragraphs for the uninitiated who happen to accidentally order the wrong product unknowingly. The product inside though is quite different than the two albums that precede it. This is the new IRON MONKEY that has grown out of the old. While incorporating the expected template of grinding sludge riffery and adrenaline fueled feedback frenzies all dressed up with misanthropic vocal tantrums, the band has certainly opted out of dirge doom drudgery and added a more hardcore punk infused energetic delivery that ultimately leads back to the days of such early birds like Discharge which is a welcome change since the early albums were lacking that extra ass burning drive that this one seems to have.

In fact, the opener “Crown Of Electrodes” misleads by insinuating that the band has gone hardcore and crust altogether. The following “OmegaMangler” does nothing to dispel that conclusion. Finally on the title track which is third on the queue list, the old IRON MONKEY begins to shine through as the punk infused drive yields to the distant sludgy jungle calls of the past with that unmistakable Sabbath-esque doom shuffle and high octane distortion cranked up for full pyroclastic feedback flows. On “Toadcrucifier - R.I.P.P.E.R” we’re treated to an extraordinary bout of feedback abuse before the energized bluesy sludge shuffle steals the limelight. “Destroyer” tears the roof off the joint as it delivers one of the most unrelenting and uncompromising heaviness of the band’s entire career and one that sounds like the ultimate crowd please in a live setting. Ditto for the following “Mortarhex.” “The Rope” is perhaps my favorite track of the lot as it delivers an instantly evil-as-fuck riff supplemented by Rushby’s more than adequate for the job vocal delivery. In fact, Rushby does an excellent job at replacing Morrow as he has perfect control over the gargling grunge and sludge mood setting management that this style of metal requires. “Doomsday Impulse Multiplier” continues almost by the numbers, the full sludge effect. “Moreland St. Hammervortex” takes a stab at creating a lengthy near ten minute closer guaranteed to leave a caustic acrid taste in your mouth with intended results delivered.

In the end, i understand why IRON MONKEY felt they had to leave the jungle and jump onto the world’s stage once again. As the internet allows older music to be exposed to a wider world audience, their first two albums have gained more recognition than they did at their time of release and there has always been a sense of unfulfilled destiny as the group mysteriously disbanded seemingly forever. Overall, 9-13 provides a platform for the two founders to uncork all that pent up sludgy rage that has been simmering for two decades and unleashes it in full metal fury and for once doesn’t sound overly derivative of early sludge masters Eyehategod or Acid Bath. Here they exude a volcanic explosive energetic release that in some ways blows away their 90s output. However, the whole thing still comes off as rather retro as countless sludge bands have long surpassed IRON MONKEY in their ability to perform their metal jungle gym routine. Despite the recycled album cover that is supplemented by recycled 90s sludge tricks of the past, these guys trimmed down to a trio do a surprisingly excellent performance of a nice modern punk infused retro sludge metal routine.

Although bands like Neurosis and Intronaut, for example, have long ago taken the sludge metal paradigm to more progressive pastures leaving the 1.0 version of the sub sounding a little one dimensional, IRON MONKEY nevertheless exudes a revitalized energy on their latest 9-13 despite not offering a great deal of variation in terms of compositional development. If old school feedback and fuzz coupled with crushing riffs augmented with the classic angry vocal effect is your poison, then 9-13 won’t disappoint but if you don’t exist in an anachronistic bubble of another era, then this one just misses the mark at finding a top tier status under the infinitely more sophisticated bar that modern metal bands have raised so high. In the end, 9-13 will ignite the pistons, grease the spark plugs and rev the engines and produce the full adrenaline effect that only this sort of raw, filthy and primal type of metal can induce, but after 18 years i would have expected some sort of upgrade in compositional development. As it stands 9-13 will have to serve as a decent but not outstanding slice of super heavy sludge metal from one of the underground classics of the 90s. Whether IRON MONKEY deserves a position in the 21st century as a contemporary sludge metal act remains to be seen, but i have to admit that i’m a sucker for this sort of primordial manic outburst of energy without the overly complex layering of effects at times.

THE FACELESS In Becoming a Ghost

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Necrotica
Up until now, my relationship with The Faceless had been a slowly deteriorating one. When I first heard Planetary Duality and Akeldama back in 2009, I thought it was the heaviest, fastest, and most technical shit on the planet. The intricate guitar harmonies, the frenzied drumming, and varied vocal work made it clear to me that we were witnessing a fantastic new beacon for technical death metal. Throw in some progressive rock influences and some creepy sci-fi interludes for good measure, and things just got more interesting. But sadly, Autotheism ruined the good will built up by many fans. It wasn’t an awful album, but it sounded disjointed and undercooked by the band’s standards. And of course, lead guitarist and (I guess) figurehead Michael Keene’s ego seemed to be getting in the way of the band’s future. So it’s pretty safe to say that I was approaching In Becoming a Ghost with much more caution than usual. Luckily, I’m pleased to report that my fears have mostly been erased.

In Becoming a Ghost is largely defined by a more cinematic, progressive identity than its predecessors, and it can be considered the band’s furthest removed from their original sound. But, bizarrely enough, this isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think. The experimentation is wrapped up in song structures and lyrical themes that are both engaging and tight, and the progressive elements serve more to bolster the atmosphere than be an excuse to noodle around. As if the haunting piano part of the intro title track wasn’t cool enough, we get to hear some killer tech-death flute melodies (!) and full-on symphonic passages in its followup “Digging the Grave.” That’s not to say the aggression is absent, though; Abigail Williams vocalist Ken Sorceron is more than enough to fill the shoes of Derek Rydquist with his strong mix of guttural growls and black metal shrieks. The riffs are still quite punishing in parts too, especially in the killer tremolo-picked riff that kicks of “The Spiralling Void.” But the difference between this album and Autotheism is that it seems to have more purpose to it. I get the sense that the band members genuinely put their all into this one, and that they really wanted to experiment around with what they thought was cool. Oftentimes, the framework surrounding the riffs is just as interesting as the riffs themselves, such as the weird staccato bass stabs that dance around the guitar intro of “I Am” or the deranged orchestral breaks in “Shake the Disease.” As for the problems with the album, I only have two major ones. One is, as in Autotheism, that Michael Keene’s voice gets way too much time in the spotlight. Remember when his voice would pop up very sparingly in Planetary Duality to add a little extra atmosphere and variety" Well, he sings in just about every track here. And, simply put, his voice is just boring. His inflections make him sound uninterested with the subject matter, and he draws attention away from the far superior performances of Ken Sorceron. Also, while the band’s technical skills are still impressive, the riffs aren’t the most memorable around. This has been a problem with past Faceless records, but sometimes the band get so caught up in their experimentation and technicality that their riffs don’t really stick with you very well. But maybe that’s because In Becoming a Ghost will need a bit more time to sink in. Regardless, it’s impressive what they accomplished here. It seems as though the band are getting closer to fully realizing their potential as a progressive death metal band; it’s just time that they tightened up their songcraft... and perhaps let Michael Keene stick to just his guitar playing and songwriting.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 16 ratings
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MorniumGoatahl
The UK's Paradise Lost are a band I've always liked despite not being that into the genre that they are most associated with: gothic metal. In a genre that seems flooded with so called beauty and the beast bands, they stand out thanks to Nick Holmes' commanding clean vocals, which depending on the album can have some classic James Hetfield vibes to them. But Paradise Lost started their career as an extreme metal band and were a pioneer of the death-doom metal style and it's this style of their early albums that I've personally always been most fond of, with Gothic being my favourite. The sudden reintroduction of death growling vocals on The Plague Within, didn't change that although that album has risen to become one of my favourites from the band. The band's latest album Medusa though, changes everything about my relationship with the band and has already become my favourite album of theirs.

That's because Medusa is Paradise Lost's first death-doom metal album since the early nineties and thanks to the wonders of modern recording and production equipment and techniques, is the most powerful they've ever sounded when playing this style. Sure, there's a brief resurgence of their gothic metal style (with added growling like on The Plague Within) for a couple of tracks, The Longest Winter and the title track while Blood & Chaos is a bit too upbeat to be considered a doom song, but otherwise they've slowed their tempo right down and Nick Holmes is growling even more than on the previous album and certainly in a more death metal manner than is used on the Shades of God album. I don't thinking they've ever been heavier.

Fearless Sky is the perfect opener for this album. Despite it's slow and crushing sound, there's also a triumphant feel to it, especially in the chorus growls from Holmes. Some clean vocals are used, but it's not until those middle tracks that they ever become dominant on the album and by the time of No Passage For the Dead they've back in the centre stage again. I like Nick as a clean singer and am glad he didn't throw those vocals out completely, but despite years of not using growls in the band he can still deliver them and arguably is even better than ever. His appointment to the death metal band Bloodbath may have something to do with that.

The standard version of Medusa is eight tracks long but it's worth picking up the special edition if you can which will also net you two extra tracks: Shrine and Symbolic Virtue. Which both, especially the latter, feel more like The Plague Within or even earlier material compared to the death-doom of the main album, they're definitely worth having. Symbolic Virtue is a good reminder of why Paradise Lost are one of if not the best gothic metal band despite this return to their roots.

ELECTRIC WIZARD Wizard Bloody Wizard

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
Having produced perhaps their heaviest post-Dopethrone release in the form of Time to Die, for this followup Electric Wizard have gone right back to the other extreme of their sound, incorporating extensive heavy psych influences. They don't go full psych, but the style of metal here is very much sat on the stoner-doom boundary, with a tone reminiscent less of Black Sabbath than it is of the various hard-edged garage rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Naturally, their customary subject matter hasn't changed all that much - "See You In Hell" pretty much sums up the manifesto of the album, and is called back to in a catchy chorus on the closing Mourning of the Magicians.

Certainly, this is a more accessible than average Electric Wizard - it doesn't instantly immerse you in the deepest depths of doom like Dopethrone did, nor has any Electric Wizard release been quite as toe-tappingly catchy as this one. Nonetheless, nobody could accuse this of being an especially commercial sound either. Perhaps it's simply Electric Wizard deigning to notice the wave of 1970s-worshipping horror/fantasy-reading occult rock groups who've grown up in their wake, and taking the chance to beat them at their own game. As far as I'm concerned, it's yet another essential release from them.

MOTHERSHIP High Strangeness

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.17 | 3 ratings
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666sharon666
When the opening title track of Mothership's 2017 third full-length album High Strangeness kicks off, you may just think you put on the wrong album. After all, the US trio is known to be a stoner metal act. But coming out of the speakers on this first track is neither stoner nor metal, but pure, beautiful space rock. Just over three minutes later though and the band start to show their true colours, as Ride the Sun introduces distorted riffs and vocals into the equation. This song is more of a stoner rock number, but the band gradually increases their metallic tendencies as the track does on, including a really heavy doomy bit towards the end before it's closed with a lead bass line. Then with Midnight Express, Mothership really start to deliver what was promised, with heavier, crunchier metallic riffs and more raw vocals alongside melodic singing.

High Strangeness is a varied record that isn't too long either, lasting for only 33:32 minutes, but this plays into its favour well. There's a twist around every corner and all kind of elements are to be found from the heavy and hard rocking to the psychedelic. After Midnight Express we move onto Crown of Lies, which has a really galloping metallic riff but otherwise is like a bridge between the two preceding songs and then it's onto Helter Skelter, which brings a noticeably fuzzier guitar tone to the table. Next, Eternal Trip returns things to a lighter but less spacey psychedelic rock sound, while finally Wise Man and Speed Dealer round the album off with as close to business as usual as the record ever delivers.

Due to the diversions into space and psychedelic rock, High Strangeness comes over as more of a rock record overall despite the band's reputation as a stoner metal act. There's still plenty of more metallic riffs here, in fact I'd say that the core sound is fairly summed up as stoner rock/metal but it's difficult to think of it as a metal album in total. I haven't heard Mothership's previous albums to know if High Strangeness is much of a departure for them, but one thing is for sure, this record is a real winner with its regularly changing yet never forced style shifts, so they've definitely done something right. Great stuff.

JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES The Horse And Other Weird Tales

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
The hard rock/metal scene seems somewhat flooded these days with female fronted bands on the dark side with occult leanings. Blood Ceremony, Avatarium, Devil Electric, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Witch Mountain, Jex Thoth…. The list goes on. All these bands have a strong retro vibe to their sound going back to the late sixties/early seventies period, most worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath to a greater or lesser degree, at least at some point in their career. Jess And The Ancient Ones stand out because they haven’t ever really been there even if earlier material was more riff based than of late, but they still have a strong retro feel to their music – in their case the late sixties.

The Horse And Other Weird Tales is album number three from JATAO and sees them continue to hone their sound to an even more authentic sixties feel. It’s less of a hard rock/ heavy psych sound than their debut, something they seemed to be moving away from on Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes though the psychedelic elements remained. This is no doubt partly down to the fact that they have slimmed from a two guitar line-up, losing Fiend along the way leaving Thomas Corpse as the sole guitarist. This has made room for keyboardist Abrahammond to move to the fore and in fact the keyboards now dominate though Corpse expertly plays off this weaving his guitar runs into the sound. Their music these days seems to bear more resemblance to the likes of Jefferson Airplane aided by Singer Jess displaying a not dissimilar timbre to Grace Slick and both having a powerful set of pipes. In fact she is a better singer than ever with improved phrasing and depth than previously displayed and she was no slouch before.

The songs are noticeably more streamlined these days, mainly around the three minute mark with only You And Eyes and closer Anyway The Minds Flow at eight minutes reaching the longer lengths previously favoured. They also have more immediate melodies but with titles like Your Exploding Heads and Death Is The Doors clearly still retain the quirkiness and darkness of earlier material. Despite overall consistency my album highlight has got to be Anyway The Minds Flow which is a beautifully haunting piece with Jess and keyboardist Abrahammond particularly excelling, a great way to close the album.

I haven’t quite made my mind up yet but this may be my favourite JATAO album so far. Having said that Second Psychedelic Coming was almost twice as long as this and certainly had plenty of moments to match what’s on offer here but for an immediate hit The Horse And Other Weird Tales is pretty hard to beat.

DEVIL ELECTRIC Devil Electric

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 7 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Doom metal is not a genre I'm very experienced with, as I don't even know many of the more famous bands in the genre and in fact, for a long period when first getting into metal, it was a genre I struggled to listen to at all, simply finding it too slow and plodding. However, over time I've come to enjoy two particular styles of it, that being death doom in the style of bands such as Novembers Doom and early Katatonia, as well as the the more recent wave of heavy psych and classic hard rock influenced bands, usually led by female vocalists, such as Blood Ceremony and Avatarium on their first two albums. Falling into the latter category is Australian band Devil Electric, who released a 4 track EP in 2016 called The Gods Below and are now back in 2017 with their self-titled full length debut. Out of all albums I've heard in this style, Devil Electric is definitely one of the best, and is arguably the most doom infused of all.

Unlike other bands that fall into similar territory, Devil Electric clearly allow their doom metal elements to dominate their music most of the time, with some very heavy guitar work, dark atmospheres, and some very groovy rhythms, with some often complex and quite interesting drum patterns. Most tracks on their debut fall into the heavier side of the genre, with the guitars especially being dominant, and there's some very interesting riffs here, often with a sinister tone and the guitars are often used to add to the overall tone of the songs, as well as at times being used for some great melodic solos. While the more doom infused tracks tend to be fairly slow paced, there are some tempo changes at times, as well as some slightly more upbeat hard rock influenced tracks, which have some added energy to them, so there's never a point where the albums drags or I start to lose attention. Of course, the rather short 36 minutes running time also helps with this, though curiously, this release is only about 15 minutes longer than the EP the band released previously, which feels a bit odd, especially when considering one of the tracks from that release appears on this album, keeping the new material at just over 30 minutes. For the most part, heavy psych elements are kept to a minimum, though I do occasionally notice some slight psychedelic tones to the guitar, and one particular track definitely feels like a 70's psych rock inspired track.

While there's some excellent instrumental work throughout the album, the band's biggest star is definitely lead vocalist Pierina O'Brien, who feels like an absolutely perfect fit for this style of music, and she delivers a show stealing performance on every song. She has a fairly deep and very powerful, aggressive voice that works perfectly for the heavier sections, and she also has a certain sinister quality to her voice a lot of the time, which works perfectly with the dark atmosphere of the album. She also has a voice that exudes confidence and energy on every track, and while it doesn't happen very often, most noticeably on “The Dove & the Serpent”, she also has a very beautiful softer voice that helps a lot during the more melodic sections. There's also some occasional male backing vocals, most noticeably on “Lady Velvet”, and these are nicely done and work well in harmony with the lead vocals. All around, this is an amazing album vocally.

The area I tend to be most nervous about when listening to a doom metal album is the songwriting, but Devil Electric has done a nice job here, with every track being enjoyable, some standing out a bit more than others for sure, but there's definitely no filler. Opening track “Monologue (Where You Once Walked” has a nice atmospheric guitar intro, before picking up the pace a bit and turning into a pretty fun track with some heavy riffs and it has a nice tempo to it, as well as some very good drum patterns that have a nice groove to them, and excellent guitar work all around. It's a great introduction to the band, and of course Pierina shines throughout with her excellent vocals, especially sounding great during the slow and powerful chorus. Next is the brief but very memorable “Shadowman”, a heavier track where the guitars give off a very sinister tone, which is enhanced by the vocals, and it's definitely one of the more doom infused tracks on the album.

After that comes the most heavy psych influenced track in “Lady Velvet”, a very melodic, mid paced track where the guitars have a 70's psych rock feel to them, but with just a slight metal edge added, and of course Pierina's rocking vocal manage to fit the style perfectly, and the drum patterns are very interesting and add a nice groove to the track. The vocals get more intense in the second half of the track and this section is incredible and easily the highlight of the album, while the guitar solo near the end is also great, and the track is probably my favorite on the album overall. Following one of the lighter tracks, it of course makes sense that “Acidic Fire” is a slower, more doom infused track, with some heavy riffs, dark tones and more excellent vocals. The song is great all around, but in the second half when the tempo picks up and the vocals get more intense, it reaches a whole new level, with the following guitar solo only making it even better. Definitely another one of my favorites on the album. After that we get the first of two instrumental tracks in “Monolith”, which is the heavier of the two, featuring some great guitar work. It's brief, but quite enjoyable while it lasts.

Next is “The Dove & the Serpent”, another very doom infused track, which starts out heavy and intense, before slowing down for a while, and it's during this softer section where we get some of the best vocal work from Pierina, as she sings a bit more softly than normal, but still adds in a bit of power and still maintains her dark tone throughout. The chorus is very nice, and showcases her voice wonderfully. At the same time, once the tempo picks up and the riffs kick in during the second half, her powerful vocals shows up again and are amazing as always, so overall it's simply an incredible performance from her, and is probably one of the best songs I've heard all year, when it comes to the vocals. Next is the brief but very enjoyable track “Sacred Machine”, a more hard rock infused track with a slight psych rock feel. It has some heavy riffs, but doesn't feel dark as most of the other songs here, and it moves at a nice pace, while of course having great vocals as always. After that is the softer of the two instrumentals, “Lilith”, which feels like an atmospheric interlude, and then we get the excellent closing track “Hypnotica”. This is the longest song on the album and is another slow and heavy doom meta track, with some nice atmosphere, great guitar work and drumming, as well as of course some excellent vocals as always. The instrumental section that closes out the album is especially great, and it's another one of the more memorable tracks on the album, for sure.

Overall, Devil Electric is an excellent debut, which offers up a nice blend of doom metal, hard rock and a bit of heavy pysch, with some excellent guitar work, great drumming, an excellent dark atmosphere, and one of the best vocal performances I've heard all year. It's definitely an impressive release and one of my favorite albums in the genre to date, so it certainly raises expectations for anything the band releases in the future, and I highly recommend it to any fan of this particular style of doom metal, as well as anyone looking to hear an album with some amazing, powerful female vocals.

MASTODON Cold Dark Place

EP · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.77 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Following 2017’s full release album “Emperor Of The Sand,” Atlanta based sludge metal outfit MASTODON gave hardcore fans another slice of their unreleased material on this four track EP titled COLD DARK PLACE which came out in September digitally and on CD but also as a limited edition ten-inch vinyl edition that came out at the end of October 2017.

COLD DARK PLACE is basically the leftover tracks from the band’s last two album session. “North Side Star,” “Blue Walsh” and the title track all date back to 2014 from the “Once More ‘Round The Sun” sessions and “Toe To Toes” comes from the latest “Emperor Of Sand” sessions.

There is nothing on this EP that you wouldn’t expect. Nothing here is experimental or out of the parameters of the band’s established style that was displayed on the retrospective albums that these were initially recorded for. MASTODON has been toning down the heaviness in their music ever since the 2011 album “The Hunter” and COLD DARK PLACE shows the band continuing their journey into less metal territory with more emphasis on progressive rock.

While most tracks are on the borderline of progressive rock and metal, “Toe To Toes” is exceptionally mellow for MASTODON’s overall sound. There are more clean vocals displayed on this EP than on any proper album. Overall i’m not too keen on MASTODON’s direction that they’ve been going.

While metal bands mellowing out and going prog rock isn’t anything new or something i’m against in any way, MASTODON seems to be getting stale with super predictable tunes that cruise on auto pilot. This EP is okay with nothing being offensive but i find it quite boring compared to the greatness they unleashed a decade ago.

ZU Jhator

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The Italian band ZU is one of those bands that is entirely pointless to categorize because throughout their two decade career they have fully embraced their diverse palette with an extra emphasis on experimentalism. For the most part though, this trio of Massimo Farjon Pupillo on bass, guitar, piano, synth, Tomas Järmyr on percussion and Luca T. Mai on baritone sax, electronics and vocals hasn’t strayed too overly far from the amorphous free-form drone compositions with extreme metal clothing that incorporates harsh guitar distortion, heavy percussion and hellish Zorn inspired sax attacks. While totally unique in any regard, ZU share their chameleonesque genre shapeshifting once again as they continue to go Ulver on us and completely throw a curve ball with their 15th release (counting the collaborations) JHATOR which retains the meditative practice that they are famous for but drops the aggressive brutality that typically supports it and opts for a more relaxing and contemplative soundscape.

The title JHATOR is a Tibetan practice of sky burial funeral practice of placing a corpse on top of a mountain to decompose and allow the natural world to reclaim the elements that compose the body. This “excarnation” of allowing a body to be scavenged by carrion birds and natural bacteria is practiced extensively in areas such as Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Mongolia and Bhutan. This album contains two expansive tracks that sound as if they are the soundtrack for such practices as the moods and styles fit the bill perfectly. Unlike the more metal meets jazz oriented albums that ZU is famous for, this one straddles the line of post-rock type sprawling soundscapes that incorporate ambient synthesized atmospheres with experimental electronic simulations of animals, spirits and natural events accompanied by traditional Eastern instruments such as the Japanese koto (21 stringed versions as well as the 17 string bass koto), gongs as well as other unorthodox instrumentation such as a hurdy gurdy, amplified tuba and Flugabone which all requires an extra eight guest musicians to pull off.

It’s almost as if the band members went on a spiritual retreat to the Himalayas somewhere and gained inspiration in the most profound ways as the sprawling meditational tracks perfectly convey the message in pure instrumental form. The first track “Jhator: Sky Burial” opens with gong strikes followed by an electronic insect swarm of some sort that signifies the inevitable return to the Earth and the ultimate recycling of the corporeal being into the natural systems that surround us. The build up of the over 21 minute track is tantamount to the most apocalyptic sounding Godspeed You! Black Emperor material with a dreadful drone effect characterized by the subtle flux of the instruments in tandem. The second track “The Dawning Moon Of The Mind” signifies the decomposition stage and utilizes its twenty minute plus existence with a darkened droning synth background with what sound like distant angelic forces mediating and chanting while the electronic noises sputter around. The exotic instruments break in from time to time to offer ceremonial intermissions as the otherworldly dirge continues.

Despite having been around for two decades and known for not only dipping into the metal, jazz and progressive rock worlds with their cross-genre skipping eclecticism, ZU still remains a bit under the radar as being slightly too off-kilter for the average genre dweller. ZU is far too overreaching to be easily pegged into any of those genres and with JHATOR, they completely reveal completely new aspects of themselves as they effortlessly navigate the expansive narrative soundscapes that convey the message of the ancient Tibetan ritual. This album totally eschews any metal aggressiveness, any jazz syncopation outbursts or progressive rock excesses. JHATOR is exclusively grounded in soundtrack type epic sprawling tracks that simulate post-rock but come off more as deep tribal ambient type music that finds inspiration from ancient wisdom rather than from modern day society. This one is almost like a musical painting where each note is equivalent to a paintbrush stroke that exhibits its effect for an allotted period of time. Strange and hauntingly beautiful, JHATOR is a bizarre experiment from ZU that works out remarkably well.

MORBID ANGEL Kingdoms Disdained

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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Unitron
The Pillars Crumbling...

Death metal pioneers Morbid Angel have finally returned with their first studio album since 2011's ill-received Illud Divinum Insanus. While I think that's a decent album for what it is, many fans didn't like the additions of an industrial sound and thought it was an overall weak effort. Frontman David Vincent has once again been replaced with the return of Steve Tucker, so fans probably didn't know exactly what to expect.

Thankfully, this is largely a return to the classic Morbid Angel sound that every old school death metal fan knows and loves. What you get is an absolute pummeling of brutal yet grooving riffing, constant machine gun drums, chaotic growls, and a couple fantastic new additions to keep it fresh. At times there are some massive syncopated grooves that wouldn't sound out of place on a Meshuggah album, and some classic rock/metal-styled guitar solos. In fact, the contrast between the crushing death metal grooves and almost 70's sounding guitar solos is my favorite part of the album.

"The Pillars Crumbling" is the best example of the aforementioned contrast. After the majority of the song crushes the listeners bones with its main crunching groove, the end of the song switches between pounding drums and kick ass solos that sound right out of a 70's or 80's guitar jam. As much as screeching death metal solos have their place, old school death metal mixes surprisingly well with even more old school guitar solos. Opener "Piles of Little Arms" also has one of these solos at the very end of the song.

Of course, the main focus of the album is absolutely crushing old school death metal of the best variety. Honestly, this is probably Morbid Angel's best album since 1993's Covenant. It's impossible to not headbang to pretty much the entire album, and it simply never lets up. Riff after riff, it's all represented well on the album cover. It's hard to pick highlights apart from "The Pillars Crumbling", which has easily become one of my favorite Morbid Angel tracks. "Garden of Disdain", "Architect and Iconoclast", and "Paradigms Warped" are a few of songs with some of the best and most massive grooves that the band has delivered. The latter especially has some killer bass lines, perfectly placed between walls of guitar sound.

Morbid Angel is back, and with one of the best modern death metal albums. Kingdoms Disdained blends the old school spirit with the brutality of bands like Nile and Meshuggah into a perfect mix. If you're looking for some crushing death metal that remembers what the genre is all about, this is an essential listen. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

VINSTA Vinsta Wiads

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
When I was first getting into metal, one of the very first death metal (or at least death metal influenced) bands I was introduced to was Swedish band Opeth. I first heard their 2005 release Ghost Reveries and was immediately blown away by their unique sound, and checking out some of their earlier albums only led to more excitement. Sadly, the band never again managed to recapture what made some of their best albums work after 2005, as their next album Watershed was a disappointment, and ever since they've switched to more of a retro progressive rock sound, leaving some of their fans disappointed. While I personally find some enjoyment in their newer albums, I've definitely been left wanting to hear something closer to their classics. Well, I've now found one band who's here to help fill the void, that being the Austrian progressive death metal project Vinsta, created by Christian Höll with the help of various guest musicians. His self-titled debut was apparently a non metal folk album, but for his second release, Vinsta Wiads, he has changed to a progressive death metal sound which very much reminds me of classic Opeth, and while it doesn't quite reach the levels of some of their best albums, it's a pretty strong release, and one I can easily recommend to fans looking for something along those lines.

While I have enjoyed other progressive death metal bands since I first discovered Opeth, I've never found another band that can so successfully create the kind of dynamic music the Swedes were capable of in their glory days, so fluidly moving from extreme death metal riffs one minute, to calm, atmospheric progressive music the next. This is some something Vinsta does very well, as all four full length songs on this album range from just under 9 minutes, to over 10 minutes, and they each have various movements and each strike a nice balance between more extreme metal moments, and calmer, atmospheric sections. There's certainly some heavy riffs to be found during the death metal portions, as well as some very intense and technical drumming at points, while during some of the more melodic portions there's some excellent instrumental work, including some nice solos. The production is top notch, not feeling over produced, but feeling polished enough to sound clear and powerful, and everything comes through clearly. While Vinsta's debut was apparently more folk oriented, there are very few moments on this release that I'd described as folk, aside from maybe a couple of the interlude tracks, which have some kind of chanting vocals and some of the softer instrumental portions maybe fall into dark folk or neo folk territory, but I certainly wouldn't expect any flutes or violins or any kind of flashy folk melodies on this release, as instead the songs are all a mix of progressive metal and death metal throughout.

One very important aspect of this kind of album is the vocals, as you need a vocalist capable of both enjoyable death growls, as well as smooth clean vocals. Thankfully, Christian Höll proves himself to be very good at both styles, with his harsh vocals being fairly deep and quite powerful, while his clean vocals are mostly calm and lower pitched, often blending in nicely with the atmosphere of the music. One notable touch is that this album is sung entirely in a regional Austro-Bavarian dialect, so Christian's vocals end up sounding a bit more unique just because of that, and it's a pretty nice touch.

I often struggle with the songwriting on any death metal related albums, as I find many bands in the genre tend to have too many samey sounding songs, with nothing standing out, and so I lose attention easily. This isn't the case with Vinsta, as while every full length song is complex, there are memorable moments on each track, as well as some obvious differences that make each one standout. The opening title track is a perfect indication of what to expect from the album, as following a brief but nice acoustic guitar opening, the heavy riffs and death growls quickly kick in, and it turns into a very classic Opeth sounding track, with the guitars being very heavy, while also managing to have the kind of dark atmosphere fans would expect from this style, and it all works very nicely. The track stays heavy through most of the first half, and then around the midway point we get the first calmer section, where the clean vocals kick in during a more atmospheric section, and then there's a nice melodic guitar solo. After that, the rest of the track alternates between calm and heavy sections, with the death metal elements mostly dominating, though the few calmer sections are all very nice and the melodic guitar work at times is also excellent. It's a great track overall and a great start to the album.

The next track “Gedonknschwa”, is a mostly mid paced track, which starts out pretty heavy, and overall it's definitely one of the more death metal oriented tracks on the album, though it has a really cool section early on where the drums get super intense and the guitars are pretty heavy, but Christian uses his clean vocals on top of this and it makes for a pretty neat effect. The guitar work is again very strong throughout, and is used very effectively to add to the atmosphere of the track. The second half of the track in particular has a nice melodic solo, as well as a great clean vocal section.

Following a brief but nice interlude track, “Bluatlauf” is the slowest paced song on the album, and it's a more melodic and very atmospheric track, with some great clean vocals early on, though it still has some heavy riffs at points, and both vocal styles are used effectively throughout. While it's a fairly calm track for the most part, there's an intense and speedier section near the end, where the growls get more intense, and it's definitely one of the highlights of the album, as is the excellent melodic guitar work that follows. The longest and most folk infused interlude track is next, and this is the one with the weird chanting vocals I mentioned earlier. Following that is the last full length track “Dei Ruaf”, the shortest of the full length songs, though it actually has quite a lot going on, including a really nice guitar solo at the start that immediately sets the tone. The track starts out slowly, but builds up tension as it goes along, and it's actually probably the most death metal oriented track overall, with most of the song being heavy and featuring death growls. The last couple minutes are pretty epic, before the track ends quietly, giving way to acoustic outro track that ends the album.

Overall, Vinsta Wiads is a very high quality progressive death metal album, which strikes a nice balance between heavy extreme metal sections with harsh vocals, as well as calmer, more melodic clean vocal sections, all while maintaining a dark atmosphere throughout. It very much reminds me of early Opeth and I think fans of that band who have been disappointed by their more recent works may find a lot to like on this album. Hopefully this isn't just a one off, as Christian Höll has made a great album here, and I hope to hear more from him in this style in the future.

TCHORNOBOG Tchornobog

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 9 ratings
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Nightfly
Reviewer’s Challenge entry Dec 17.

Markov Soroka clearly likes doing things on his own having released music under various solo projects including Aureole, Slow and Enternium to name a few, none of which I’m familiar with by the way. From a bit of research it’s apparent and not surprising that he has a liking for the more extreme sub-genres of metal from black metal, doom and also death metal. Tchornobog is his latest where he brings in elements of all three.

This self-titled debut album for Tchornobog only contains four tracks but they’re all pretty long, the longest being opener The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods Of Cognitive Dissonance) which breaks the twenty minute barrier. Much of the time death metal takes the driving seat where he enters the realms of Australians Portal with an incredibly dense wall of noise approach. A few plays are required before the riffs reveal themselves, often getting lost in the murk, but at times they’re pretty inventive displaying a pleasing dose of dissonance. Soroka writes and plays everything bar the drums, piano, sax and trumpet (the latter three only briefly appearing) and perhaps therein lays the problem. With a few band members to bounce off he might have had someone to tell him that some of these compositions outstay their welcome and a bit of trimming might have been in order. Being a prog fan as much as metal I’m all for long songs but there needs to be dynamics and plenty of musical twists and turns for it to hold the interest. Here there are light and shade moments amongst the apocalyptic barrage but all too often a part outstays its welcome, even on some of the stronger moments and at times where it wanders a bit aimlessly I found myself losing interest quickly. This is particularly true on Non-Existence’s Warmth (Infinite Natality Psychosis) which seems to take an eternity to get going. There are moments however where it’s pretty good, occasionally very good, particularly on The Vomiting Tchornobog, the best track on offer with a compelling collection of blackened death metal riffs injected with some well-placed doom adding variety. My former criticisms of aimless wandering apply here too though to a lesser extent. As this is the first track though it’s a little disappointing that we’ve already heard the best this album has to offer with another forty minutes plus ahead of us.

So overall then, a good album with each piece having its moments though none are totally satisfying as a whole making it less than essential listening. Having said that Soroka is not without talent at creating extreme metal and I’d certainly be interested in checking out some of his other projects as well as any future Tchornobog releases.

TEMPLE OF VOID Lords of Death

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 4 ratings
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I’m a bit of a fan when death metal and doom collide, especially when the balance is in favour of death metal as the combination of the two seems to provide some of the most crushingly heavy music. Lords Of Death, the second album from USA five piece Temple Of Void proves to be a case in point.

I’ve not had the benefit of hearing the debut album from this Detroit band – something I must put right, but if it’s half as good as this I’m in for a treat. Lords Of Death features eight songs (including a short intro and a mid-album acoustic interlude) of some of the heaviest music I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year. After the short instrumental The Charnel Unearthing, Wretched Banquet kicks things off proper and alternates between a slow grinding riff and a more up tempo one. It’s pretty intense stuff and a strong statement of intent as to what you can expect. A Watery Internment is equally good featuring a slow tempo that also has plenty of groove. A mid song lull of cleaner guitar parts not only add dynamics, but also serves to heighten the drama when all hell breaks loose again. If you’re going to release a short album (34 minutes here) it had better be damn good with no weak moments. Fortunately that’s the case here as each subsequent song keeps the quality high making picking favourites almost pointless.

The key to this albums strength lies in the mighty riffs which are for the most part incredibly strong, placing bludgeon above complexity. They give Incantation a run for their money which in the best possible way completely pulverise the listener with their thick dirgy sound. Aided by a sympathetic production they really crush as does the rhythm section which has a great in your face organic drum sound and bass that has the presence to really cut through. Mike Erdody’s low guttural growl is a perfect partner to all the ferocious instrumental work here.

I’m a bit late getting round to reviewing this one but better late than never I guess as I can’t think of an album of this sort of doom infused death I’ve enjoyed more than this in 2017 and one that’s sure to make my top albums list when we do the end of year poll shortly. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

SOULDRINKER War is Coming

Album · 2017 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
What would it sound like if Mystic Prophecy decided to release an entire album focused largely on slower tracks, removing most of their power metal elements and replacing them with a large amount of groove metal influence? Well, you’d probably end up with something close to War Is Coming, the full-length debut from German heavy metal band Souldrinker. The band was formed by Mystic Prophecy guitarist Markus Pohl and vocalist Iris Boanta, who I had previously heard with The Mystery. They released two EP’s in 2013 and 2014, and now they’re looking to close 2017 out in style with their debut. On my first couple of listens I wasn’t terribly impressed, thinking it often sounded too much like a slowed down version of a certain band, but after cranking the volume up some more on subsequent listens, I found myself really digging the album and I actually find it to be a fresher sounding, higher energy release than anything Markus has done with his main band in quite some time, probably since their 2006 release, Savage Souls.

As expected, this is a very hard hitting album, with the guitars packing quite the punch and some of the riffs here definitely go into thrash territory at times, though I notice more of a groove metal influence here than anything else, due to the more subdued tempos. But yeah, the guitar work is definitely one of the strong points of the album, as it’s crushingly heavy throughout, with many of the songs having a dark feel to them, making it closer to Ravenking than any other Mystic Prophecy album, except the performances all around are much higher energy than on that album, and the songwriting is more consistently excellent here as well. There’s the occasional section where the music is calmer and a bit more atmospheric, allowing for some more melodic vocals, and there’s also a couple speedier tracks with slight power metal elements, but for the most part this is a mid-paced heavy metal album with strong groove metal leanings, especially during the middle portion of the album. Songwriting is very good all around, with every song striking the right balance between heavy sections, excellent and super catchy choruses, and some great solo work.

One big strength of the band is vocalist Iris Boanta. I mentioned hearing her with The Mystery before, on their 2012 release Apocalypse 666, and while I thought she was great on that album, she sounds just as good here, if not even better! She has a very deep voice and can get very animated at times, with a very fierce and powerful delivery that makes her a perfect fit for a more aggressive metal band like Souldrinker, but at the same time she also sounds great during the more melodic and atmospheric portions on tracks like “Promised Land” and “To the Tick”. Her vocals on this album definitely remind me a bit of R.D. Liapakis, though I think she sounds more invested in the songs here than he has sounded on recent albums, making the heavier parts sound all the more fierce and powerful, while making the melodic portions all the more effective and emotional as well.

In the songwriting department, the band doesn’t take long to kick things into high gear, with lead single “Let the King Bleed” is an instant standout. It’s a very heavy track, which is mostly mid-paced, though it moves slightly faster than many of the other tracks here, and is a very fun and immediately engaging track with a very catchy and memorable chorus, excellent vocals from Iris, and an excellent guitar solo in the middle. This song immediately makes it clear that this is the kind of album that needs to be cranked up loud in order to fully appreciate it. Next is the band’s self-titled track, a very groovy mid-paced track, with a nice rhythm to it, and of course some great riffs and vocals as well. This is the first of many tracks that took time for me to open up to, but once I did I loved everything about it, especially the powerful, super catchy chorus. If anything, it’s even harder hitting than the first track, with excellent guitar work all around, and it’s definitely a great indication of what to expect from the album. After that is “ Promised Land”, a slower, more atmospheric track, with more excellent riffs and some slightly calmer, but still powerful vocals from Iris. It’s the most subdued track on this album, but it’s still very enjoyable the whole way through, with another strong chorus.

I initially struggled with the next track, “To the Tick”, another slow track which starts off feeling like it’ll be a piano ballad for the first 45 seconds. I actually liked that part immediately, especially the vocals, but then it gets heavier and I initially found the chorus to be too repetitive and even a bit irritating, but over time it’s grown on me, and the rest of the song is amazing, with some of the most punishing riffs on the album. It’s probably the most groove influenced track here, which could be why it took more time to grow on me, but either way, it’s a great track with excellent guitar work, especially in the second half where they add in some extra melody during the solo section to make it all the more memorable. Next is “Take My Pain”, which picks up the pace a bit and is another pretty heavy track with a super catchy chorus, as well as some very emotional vocals from Iris, which helps make it one of my favorites here.

From that point on, the rest of the album is a nice mix of mid-tempo tracks and slightly speedier tracks, and it’s all excellent. On the slower side, we have “Like Rain”, “Fire Raiser” and “Voices”, all of which have the right mix between heavy, powerful verses, and great melodic choruses, with “Fire Raiser” in particular being super catchy and addictive. The second half of the album also has the two speediest tracks here, the first of those being “Raise the Flag”. This is a nice uptempo track with some nice grooves throughout, as well as some speedy sections during the verses, with more driving guitar work, as well a typically intense and powerful chorus, and a great solo section. It’s definitely the most Mystic Prophecy sounding song here, and it especially sounds like some of their thrashier songs, which tend to be my favorites, so it’s no surprise this track is my favorite on the album. Lastly, we have closing track “Final Stand”, another pretty fast-paced, thrashy track with excellent riffs, and a more melodic chorus, to go along with the expected great riffs.

Overall, War Is Coming is an excellent debut from Souldrinker, offering some very powerful and intense groove influenced heavy metal, that definitely deserves to be played at a high volume. It’s a very a high energy release, with excellent, passionate performances all around, and it’s a consistently entertaining album the whole way through, with nothing but excellent tracks to be found. Hopefully, Markus Pohl can find the time to continue with this band in the future because this is a very promising album and I’d certainly be happy to hear some more albums that combine his guitar work with Iris Boanta’s excellent vocals. Highly recommend for anyone looking for some killer, hard-hitting heavy metal.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/12/02/souldrinker-war-coming-review/

VULTURE The Guillotine

Album · 2017 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
There's something about the appearance of Germany band Vulture's debut full-length album The Guillotine (2017) that just screams old school. It's not an empty promise either, since the music is much the same: speed metal straight out of eighties Germany that is so convincingly replicated in all aspects, especially the production, that you'd be forgiven feeling the need to do a double take and check the album's credentials just to make sure this isn't just some unearthed gem that didn't see the light of day way back when, in the dark ages where the Internet didn't allow music to spread like a wildfire. But no, Vulture have only been around since 2015 and have, to date, a preceding demo and single to their name. The guys in the band are hardly strangers to the speed metal style though, with other band credits between them including acts such as Wifebeater and Bulldozing Bastard.

Compared to those other bands who each mix speed metal with something else such as black metal (Bulldozing Bastard) or crust punk (Wifebeater), Vulture represents a much more 'pure' take on the genre, like the band members took the common element between their other ventures and ran with just that, rarely even delving into more full-on thrash metal. This is to say that the record comes over as one dimensional, but speed metal is the kind of genre that can be gotten away with since out of all metal genres it's actually rarely represented in such a pure form as found on The Guillotine.

Things are kicked off though with some keyboards in what on another album may have been a separated intro track but instead takes up a chunk of the opener Vendetta. The Guillotine reminds a little of the way Blind Guardian's Battalions of Fear (1988) opens in this respect, but unlike with Majesty's quirky circus sounds, Vulture's keys sadly sound a bit naff and the band kind of overdo them here too, going on for over a minute before the guitars finally explode into life. From here the band begin a business as usual kind of approach to their music. Fast and loose sounding riffs that are mostly old school and raw, but with plenty of melodic parts that don't quite push them into the territory of closely related genre power metal. The vocals follow a similar pattern, sometimes rapidly barked and hysterical, sometimes more restrained and sometimes semi-harsh and sometimes with the high register let off its leash. It's a varied performance that comes over as delivered with passion, but I have trouble following the lyrics the singer is spurting.

This goes on until Adrian's Cradle (perhaps a reference to their fellow German's Running Wild and their mascot Captain Adrian?), when the synths return briefly, but then it's back to the usual, at least until the following track, (This Night Belongs) To the Dead, which throws in some acoustic guitars instead. There's a pattern here to how the band diverges from their usual and I don't think it would hurt them to vary their formula up a bit in other ways every so often, since calling The Guillotine a formulaic record overall isn't wrong. Being intentionally old school it's not exactly an original sounding album either, though it makes up for what in lacks in that regard by being packed full of riffs and it does indeed have a kind of nostalgic charm surrounding it that makes it an easy listen for anyone who likes their eighties metal and is sure to put some smiles on faces.

What it doesn't do is surpass those that came before it, but Vulture improving as song-writers will no doubt go a long way to help with that, since individual identity proves the biggest detraction while listening to The Guillotine. It's quite a fun album while it lasts, but afterwards little of it sticks with me. The closing Cry for Death is to my ears the best of the eight songs and the only one I can remember any specific thing about upon conclusion aside from those brief track intro diversions, standing out mainly for its lead melody. In summary The Guillotine is a classic case of needing that extra spark to elevate it to noteworthiness.

MYRKUR Mareridt

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 10 ratings
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MorniumGoatahl
A while ago I reviewed the debut album of Myrkur, M. This was during the build up period for this, her second full-length release, Mareridt. Just to you don't have to double back and read what I said about her in regard to that album allow me to summarize: I'm very much in the middle ground when it comes to this artist, whose work has both received strong praise and been deemed controversial, depending on who you ask. For me, to quote, M was simply an 'OK' album.

I also voiced the opinion that rather than the black metal that she is usually (erroneously in my opinion) associated with that some kind of folk metal wouldn't be a more fitting genre for her to pursue. That view has kind of come to pass on Mareridt. It is more folk than M. But the folk parts are typically used outside of the metal elements, so it instead feels like a half folk album and a half metal album, rather than an actual fusion of the two. The metal songs do have riffs that resemble black metal and like with M this is not the only style Myrkur draws from (doom also being noteworthy) and with her clean vocals now used maybe 98% (maybe even 99%) of the time, I actually find this even harder to think of as a black metal record, even by trendy blackgaze standards. This is one genre association that I believe I am doomed to never understand. Just because an artist/label says that's what they play that doesn't mean it's true!

But with that issue aside, I do have to say that I feel a lot more positive about Mareridt as an album than I have ever done about M. The song-writing has felt stronger right from the first listen. There's an issue of identity though. Mareridt is too metal for folk fans to completely enjoy and also too non-metal to be of complete worth to the average metalhead. It ultimately comes over as the kind of album that was written without the artist sure of exactly what they wanted to make, so it's left sitting dead centre on the line between two worlds. And that's the key problem with it: it's exactly the same problem that I found M to have. To quote my earlier review of M, 'the album gives me the impression that Myrkur isn't really sure where she wants to be musically.' There's obvious growth as a musician to be found on Mareridt, but not enough decision making. This one I'll declare as a step in the right direction though.

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 8 ratings
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MorniumGoatahl
Back in October this year metal fans from all around boarded the hype train for the third full-length album by funeral doom metal act Bell Witch. Entitled Mirror Reaper, I'd personally been aware of the band but never checked them out. Unless you're the type that lives under a rock though it would have been hard to miss that most who were talking about this album seem to think it is a pretty big deal.

My question to them is a simple one. Why?

First a bit of history. Bell Witch is a duo that doesn't use guitars and is instead driven by bass and drums. That's not unheard of but is still atypical in today's metal and heavy rock climate. So that's a point in their favour to make them more interesting than the average funeral doom metal band. They also suffered a tragedy since their last album Four Phantoms was released in 2015 – one of their original founders, who had already left the band at that point, Adrian Guerra, suddenly passed away. I'm not one to speak ill of the dead, but it's no secret in the music industry that death does wonders for one's career and for better or worse Guerra's passing may have played a role in the amount of attention this album has gotten to date, which appears to be considerable more than the aforementioned Four Phantoms.

But enough about that. The music. And back to my question: why?

Why when Mirror Reaper is, in a word, boring. Composed of just one song that lasts for, wait for it, a whole 83:43 minutes, Bell Witch made a record that couldn't even fit on a regular CD album without being forced to snip the track into two parts and two discs. To some, especially listeners of the digital, uncut version, this may not seem like it's a big deal, it's actually the most obvious example of the problem with the entire album/track. The band's unwillingness to cut it down rather than drag it out until it's long outstayed its welcome. Picture this: a few minutes less on a composition of this length isn't going to make any meaningful difference, so why butcher it for those who (I assume) enjoy it and want a physical copy, by making it that few minutes too long to fit on a single disc? Surely that's a more agreeable sacrifice that enforcing a pause during a song, something I personally despise doing regardless of length. Or perhaps that is Bell Witch's way of admitting that they know they dragged this out for far too long any way and may as well offer an ideal place for listeners to go away and have a tea break.

And 'dragged out' is really the only way to describe Mirror Reaper. The long song length itself it's the issue but it's what they do with it. Funeral doom metal is not a lively genre by default but this is ridiculous. The song is long and it doesn't sound as if they really do much during its running time. There's slow and then there's slow and not actually getting anywhere. This is the latter. Fuck, if they were much slower they'd be playing in reverse. For a lot of the time the music on the album is not even metal, but rather slowcore (an indie rock sub-genre), which is basically just droning clean tone bass guitars, organ and bland clean singing. The actual metal parts are not much better. The band shows off a nice heavy sound and the growling vocals are more convincingly performed, but it's still got the same problem of dragging the band's ideas out too much until they become uninteresting and then some, before they eventually deign to change the song up again. This is the pattern that is basically on repeat for the whole duration.

It's funeral doom metal and to complain that a band releases a dirge seems to be missing the point, but this one seems to be an example of taking things way too far. I'm not sure that cutting Mirror Reaper down even by half its current length would have saved it, but the point is I reckon that Bell Witch could easily have covered every actual musical idea in this song in a ten to fifteen minute track and here's a radical thought: written some more songs to make up the rest of the album! We may have had a release worthy of the hype then.

If its meant to be about atmosphere then I for one admit that I do not get it, because Mirror Reaper as an album and song bores me out of my tree long before it's even a quarter of the way through. I've made myself sit through it a few times to try and get it, but I'm failing to see what this is having such a widespread appeal in the metal world. It's not exciting or even technically interesting. It's certainly not innovative. If guitarless bass driven bands interest you then there are much better examples out there than this, both within the doom metal genre and without. It's just an album that takes a few ideas and runs each of them into the ground and is memorable only in the way that an experience that scars you for life is memorable.

And yet somehow Mirror Reaper has quickly become one of if not the most highly talked about and regarded doom metal albums of 2017. If this is what counts as good in doom metal these days then I have to declare the genre dead. And so one final time, though no one is likely to say anything that is going to change my opinion at this point, my question:

WHY?

COMA CLUSTER VOID Thoughts From A Stone

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
After becoming one of underground metal’s most up and coming revered tech death bands of 2016 with their debut album “Mind Cemeteries,” the multi-national COMA CLUSTER VOID unleash their second offering to the world of sonic sadomasochism seekers with THOUGHTS FROM A STONE which while at running length of only 21 minutes and 40 seconds could possibly be thought of as an EP but in reality i haven’t seen any reference to it as such by the band themselves so despite clocking in a roughly half the time span as their debut, i would have to assume that this is in fact their second album. While the time length has been shortened, the number of musical cast members has gone up by two. While the five members on the debut all make a reprise, they have also expanded their roles beyond their retrospective instruments or vocal duties. This meaning that there is more of a classical music approach in the intro and other segments strewn throughout that find bassist Sylvia Hinz also playing recorder and guitarist John Strieder tearing it up on the violoncello. Two guests appear with Alexa Renger on violin and Anthony Lipari adding yet more guttural death growls and other vocal utterances.

Once again COMA CLUSTER VOID are on a mission to create the harshest and most atonal dissonant din there is to be experienced. While mostly centered on the bizarre surreal tech death soundscapes of Gorguts’ “Obscura” for their source of proggy inspiration with flurries of zigzagging math rock time signatures run amok, the heavy bombast also brings the kings of dissonant djent-fueled orotundity, Meshuggah to mind but it’s those slowed down creepy jarring atonal chords and arpeggiations that always point the finger to Deathspell Omega’s most demanding listens. While not quite as murky and layered as bands like Portal and Pyrrhon, the distortion that bleeds to infinity adds an extra layer of tension that only becomes ratcheted up to the ultimate creepy climaxes. While the tech death metal parts are fairly similar to the first album, what really sets this one apart is the use of the chamber rock classical music pieces which start to sound like Kayo Dot’s most experimental earlier albums however it’s the semi-spoken declarative poetic proses uttered by both male and female members that gives it a sense of urgency and unique flavor.

Personally i find THOUGHTS FROM A STONE to expand fairly well from the debut as it takes all the extreme elements set forth and adds new layers of surreality, brutality and technical complexity which all conspire to unleash a startling spine-chilling sonicscape of extremes. Perhaps my favorite is the ending “We Are As Low” which is a jangling distortionfest mess of chords, eerie atmospheric dread and guttural growls trading off with Diamanda Galas-esque types of litanies of horror and anguish. This is the type of complexity that requires acclamation as it is the equivalent of transversing an oxygen-starved environment while climbing Mt Everest. The elements exposed here are built upon the complexities of the high tech arts that preceded and will surely leave the uninitiated into this cult of chaos utterly bereft of any connection to a musical experience whatsoever. Proggy as hell and brutally extreme to the max yet an almost undetectable thread of beauty that stitches the whole thing together. Another winner in my book. COMA CLUSTER VOID is the real deal.

MELVINS A Walk With Love & Death

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Metal Music Archives Reviewers' Challenge December 2017

There are two things you can be certain of when it comes to a Melvins album. The first is that there will be big, fat, warm, fuzzy grooves within. The second is, it’s gonna be a bit fuckin’ weird too. “A Walk With Love and Death” delivers just that. In fact, this is a double album, with the “Love” disc being the soundtrack to Jesse Nieminen’s short film, “A Walk with Love & Death”, just to confuse things a little more. The “Death” disc is a more conventional Melvins album. Well, as conventional as The Melvins ever get, that is.

So… Let’s start with “Death”. “Black Heath” kicks off the album, suitably laid back, with a cool bass line, snappy drums, and a little distortion on the vocals, like a whacked out C.O.C. It is pleasant, and unchallenging, a nice way to start an album, and a nice way to lure you into a false sense of security. “Sober-delic” continues in a similar vein, like King Buzzo and the gang were particularly blissed out when they recorded this. However, the vocals are cleaner and a bit more menacing, and finally someone steps on an effects pedal, and there’s some proper amplified guitars. The pace is still pedestrian, but the song hints at heavier things to come. A dirty echoing solo pulls it all together nicely. Yep, this is sounding like The Melvins.

Third track “Eunthanasia” removes any doubt. It kicks straight in with the famous fuzzy guitar, the understated, yet powerful riffs, and the oblique lyrics. It is still a Mogadon shuffle of a song, but a screaming, discordant lead guitar scythes through it, and destroys any pretence of this being a song to nod out to.

“What’s Wrong With You?” sounds like what a long lost mutant Beatles demo might have sounded like if The Beatles had formed in Seattle in 1986. “Edgar The Elephant” and “Flaming Creature” are both reasonably typical tweaked out stoner tracks, while “Christ Hammer” has a hard edged, Clutch-esque sound with a lush psychedelic chorus as counter-point. The big, fat groove of “Cardboa Negro” ties up all the loose ends, and eventually winds down like a wind-up toy coming to the end of the kinetic energy being released from its spring.

It’s all good mind-bending, warped fun. It’s a THC trip for the non-stoner, or a picture of a hallucination for a mind firmly rooted in reality, and like any really good album, leaves you wanting more.

However, that’s as far as fuzzy grooves go. It’s time for “Love”, which has more of an ambient/incidental/experimental feel. Yes, it’s still weird, like only The Melvins can do weird, but it’s mood music, and after “Death”, the change of mood is not so much jarring as dissatisfying. It’s all well and good, and very creative and clever, but is probably better suited for a separate listening at a different time.

Anyway, how do you describe a movie soundtrack? Well, basically, this paints pictures in your mind. There’s minor confusion (“Aim High”), unsettling menace (“Queen Powder Party”), and tension building to terror (“Street Level St Paul”). Indistinct ghost in the machine voices run through the soundtrack, on the edge of conscious understanding, but remaining subliminal gibberish. “Give It To Me” pops up like a lysergic acid diethylamide version of The Monkees. “Eat Yourself Out” is a less-horrific-Throbbing-Gristle exercise in loops and noise, perhaps leaning toward something like Bastard Noise. “Scooba” is a fucked-up beatnik interlude, with a freaky jazz bassline- hey cats, bring on the reefer, the beret, and the upright double bass!

Large parts of the soundtrack eschew the more traditional instruments, instead throwing in theremin and synths, along with what is described as “assorted noise”, so fuck only knows how those sounds were made. Guitar, bass, and drums occasionally poke through, but often buried under layers of soundscape, or as incidental distortion.

The whole effect of “Love” is disturbing and compelling at the same time, but perhaps most importantly, creates a strong desire to see what the fuck is actually going on and what visuals match these sounds. It is by no means an easy listen, and not necessarily rewarding either. For most listeners, it will not get near as many repeat spins as “Death”. It is probably a good thing “Love” was attached to “Death”, because for all of The Melvin’s past exercises in weirdness and off the wall oddity, “Love” may just have been too much to handle as a stand-alone album.

So there you go. If you thought you had The Melvins nailed down, you may as well have been trying to nail a plate of spaghetti Bolognese to the wall.

CODE Lost Signal

EP · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Lost Signal" is an EP release by UK progressive/avant rock/metal act Code. The EP was released through Agonia Records in January 2017. It´s the successor to the band´s fourth full-length studio album "Mut" from 2015 and features the same lineup as the album does.

"Lost Signal" doesn´t contain any new original material but instead feautures 6 re-recorded and re-arranged tracks from the band´s four preceding studio albums. Three tracks off "Mut (2015)" and one track from each of the other three studio albums "Nouveau Gloaming (2005)", "Resplendent Grotesque (2009)", and "Augur Nox (2013)". The tracks off "Mut (2015)" are given a slightly more raw and gritty treatment, while the three tracks from the first three albums are arranged to sound more like the dark and heavy progressive/avant rock/metal of "Mut (2015)". So the black metal influences of the past are mostly gone from the band´s sound at this point, although the occasional snarling vocal phrase still stubbornly holds on to a minimal extreme metal orientation. "Lost Signal" however predominantly features clean vocals by lead vocalist Wacian.

Code manage to make the listener feel that "Lost Signal" was recorded live, that´s how gritty, authentic, and organic the EP sounds. It´s a perfect sound production for the material. Add to that intriguing songwriting and high level musicianship and you have another high quality release by Code on your hands. One of the great things about Code at this point of their career, is that there´s stylistic development between every release, and as a listener you just know that they aren´t through developing their style yet, and that you can expect more surprises in the future. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.36 | 8 ratings
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Warthur
A composition of a scale that was really only commercially possible in the digital age - physical releases are forced to split it up in various different ways - Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper is to funeral doom metal what Sleep's Dopesmoker is to stoner doom - a massive, sprawling exploration of the genre's basic principles cranked up to 11 and taken to their uttermost limit.

In this case, Bell Witch here offer a vision of funeral doom which takes it about as far as its death-doom-influenced roots as it can get; rather than fat, sick riffs, we are treated to sparse, gothic guitar tones and maudlin, melancholy lyrics. I hadn't heard that it was a tribute to Adrian Guerra, their deceased fellow bandmate, but it is certainly both suitable as a musical monument to a friend and as a distinct piece of art in its own right. Bell Witch take us here on a subdued, slow journey through their personal vale of tears, their grief overshadowing all, and what they have produced may not be the most heavy or extreme metal piece ever - it's almost a guitar-based approach to ambient music at points - but it is a powerful release which, whilst I'd want to be in the correct emotional mood to fully appreciate it, I am extremely glad to own.

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