Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

RUBY THE HATCHET Planetary Space Child

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Usually counted as a stoner rock and/or metal act, US rockers Ruby the Hatchet have clearly set out upon a different, entirely more psychedelic path with their third full-length album Planetary Space Child (2017). While I quite liked the group's first two full-lengths, Ouroboros (2012) and Valley of the Snake (2015), they did little to prepare me for this third album. This one, I literally feel blown away by. I've been launched up into the cosmos, straight into the atmosphere the music creates. Now it won't let me go, even if I wanted it to. Which I don't. Let me tell you why.

The music on Planetary Space Child is still definable as stoner like Ruby the Hatchet's first two albums, but it's better described as a heavy psych album. This blending of two closely related styles isn't an uncommon thing and in fact Planetary Space Child is actually the third such album that fits into this niche that I've listened to from 2017, after Elder's Reflections of a Floating World and Spaceslug's Time Travel Dilemma. While all three of these albums have their own sounds the thing that all three have in common is their creation of atmospheric psychedelic music. Where Elder and Spaceslug's albums could be said to sit at opposite ends of this little spectrum, the latter being the most metal of them, then Ruby the Hatchet's Planetary Space Child is the album that finds the balance between them. This is first and foremost a rock album, but one that isn't restrained in getting its metal on when the music requires a little extra oomph, with both stoner and doom metal touches in evidence.

A balance of rock and metal elements is nice, but it's not what makes Planetary Space Child such a good album. I often find that atmospheric albums, meaning anything from heavy psych/stoner rock albums like this to atmospheric black metal, often aim to take their listener on a journey and as such are all about the big picture. A common occurrence with such albums is that while many succeed at creating something enjoyable the individual songs suffer from anonymity. This is not the case with Ruby the Hatchet's Planetary Space Child, which succeeds in equal measure having that absorbing quality of an atmospheric album and the creation of individual memorable tracks that rock hard, with vocalist Jillian Taylor displaying a voice that melds in with the atmospheric sounds while also delivering lyrical hooks that stick with you long after the album has ended. The songs stand out as just that: songs. Not chapter selection points in a much longer work.

Aside from some great vocals, the instruments themselves produce many instances of memorability throughout too. A common feature is Sean Hur's organ providing the psychedelic contrast behind the hard rock, sometimes metal, guitar of Johnny Scarps, working equally well in the album's softer sections, of which there are quite a few which serve towards building the atmosphere up. I even feel inclined to mention the drumming, played by Owen Stewart, especially in regard to the third track Pagan Ritual. I'm not someone who normally pays much attention to drums. They're the kind of necessity of a rock/metal band that I would miss if they were not there but take for granted otherwise. In this track though, they really are impossible to ignore, especially in its later stages, bringing beats that really live up to the track's name. And it's trippy as hell.

And that's just scratching the surface as to why I'm so blown away by Planetary Space Child. Another reason is that it proves such a compelling album that giving it many repeat spins is easy, with no risk of boredom or over-familiarity setting in. I myself have listened to it no less than nine times just putting this review together, and expect there'll be many more to come long after this is posted. Ruby the Hatchet have an album here that has that seemingly rare combination of a great atmosphere and memorable songs. For my money I'd say others will struggle to produce a better hard rock album in 2017 than this one.

ARGUS From Fields of Fire

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
My introduction to Argus came with their second album, Boldly Stride The Doomed, an album that received such universal praise it was impossible to not want to check it out. My initial impressions were good but it was to take a few plays before it really hit home with its combination of doom and old school metal. After a while though I couldn’t leave it alone and it became a firm favourite in my collection. Its follow up, Beyond The Martyrs arrived in 2013 and listening to that after BSTD I have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, it was good, sometimes very good but they’d reduced the doom element which might have been part of the reason but overall some of the songs lacked that killer punch, only occasionally reaching the greatness of its predecessor.

Roll on to 2017 and From Fields Of Fire arrives on my doorstep. See, I still had enough faith to buy it without hearing first and I’m very happy to say that I don’t regret it. After the short acoustic instrumental Into The Fields Of Fire, Devils Of Your Time is a good omen of what’s to come. The old school metal vibe of past work is retained as it moves along at a fair pace, rolling double kick drums pushing it along overlaid by compelling staccato riffing and a well thought out solo, i.e., not just a blur of fast notes. Brian ‘Butch’ Balich’s vocals are the icing on the cake, an excellent singer in the classic 80’s metal mould of which there aren’t enough of these days. This is epic stuff! The galloping As A Thousand Thieves is more of the same, maintaining the momentum and only marginally missing the mark set by Devils Of Your Time. As the album progresses it becomes clear that the doom element that added greatly to Boldly Stride The Doomed has been pretty much ditched, but this time it’s not missed as they’ve really upped their game on the strength of the compositions as one after another the hook laden songs keep coming. By today’s standards this is not particularly heavy when you compare it to the more extreme metal that’s prevalent. This album screams 1980’s in style and delivery and if it had come out then it would have seemed heavier and they’d have been massive. However, there’s not too many bands doing this stuff, particularly so well, at the moment so it’s like a breath of fresh air with an organic production in keeping with the vibe.

This album beats Beyond The Martyrs, not only because the songs are better but also with its sheer consistency, with no weak tracks to speak of. As with most albums though it has its highlights. One of these comes mid album with the eleven minute plus Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors which has plenty in common with Iron Maiden in their more epic moments – the Maiden comparisons being nothing new to this band. This dynamic and dual guitar work of Dave Watson and Jason Mucio is key to this and indeed the whole albums overall success. Another highlight is the slow build of No Right To Grieve, the only time anything approaching doom appears. For the most part its slow and melancholic and whilst it throws in a few doomy power chords it’s not doom per se.

Argus have really excelled expectations here. I never doubted it would be good but with From Fields Of Fire they’ve made an album at least the equal of Boldly Stride The Doomed. Some may even think it better. For me, I’m on the fence.

ACCEPT The Rise of Chaos

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Accept’s last album, ‘Blind Rage’, reached #1 in Germany and Finland, as well as several top 10 positions; Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and last but not least, the US. For a band that released their debut back in the Seventies, and have been following a fairly uncompromising path ever since, that is quite an achievement. So why change something that obviously works? This is straight forward basic heavy metal that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1983’s ‘Balls To The Wall’, but they know what their audience wants. One thing I have always liked about Accept is that one knows exactly what the album is going to sound like when the CD gets into the player, and by using Andy Sneap as producer one is also guaranteed that the production quality is going to be of the very highest order.

If you like Accept then you’ll enjoy this, and if you haven’t come across them before as you have been residing down a hobbit hole, then basic HM doesn’t get any better than this. Good and solid without being essential.

SEPTICFLESH Codex Omega

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
As the Greek economy continues to crumble into the eternal fires of Hades threatening to take down the entire European Union in its wake, a few signs of life still resonate from the fertile Hellenic soils amongst the olive stomping ceremonies and the esoteric speeches of Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis explaining in great detail how in vivid detail of how we’re all just plain fucked. There is no doubt that extreme metal bands were ahead of this umpteenth wave of eternal doom and pessimism on the nature of humanity’s utter stupidity and some such as Greek’s own SEPTICFLESH have constructed a soundtrack or two in its honor even in the most remote nooks and crannies of this here global village.

Although the list of symphonic death metal bands isn’t huge ( i think the list only includes Aeternam, Arch Of Hell, Atrocity, Brymir, Dark Lunacy, Dawn Of Tears, Depressed Mode, Dissonance In Majesty, Dominia, Empyrean, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, Ex Duo, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Gorgon, Hollenthon, Inactive Messiah, Irreversible Mechanism, Kalisia, Karlahan, Mayan, Meadow’s End, Mechina, Odes Of Ecstasy, Ouroboros, Persefone, Red Descending, The Monolith Deathcult, SEPTICFLESH, Serenity In Murder, Shade Empire, Sidious, Skyfire, Waltari, Whispered, Whorlion, Wintersun, Vesania, Xerath ) because of the short time it has had to branch off of its parent death metal world, SEPTICFLESH was well ahead of this game in the field of having incorporated symphonic touches to their extreme metal passions all the way back on their second album “Έσοπτρον” in 1995.

Since then the band has dipped in and out of the symphonic atmospheric world of metal and opted for death doom or Gothic metal at times but starting with 2003’s “Sumerian Daemons,” the band latched onto a symphonic death metal sound all their own. Whereas some of the aforementioned bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse for example went for a brutal death metal approach with a philharmonic aggressiveness to back it up, SEPTICFLESH went for a more traditional death metal sound with an orchestra to primarily add atmospheric touches. Following three years after their tenacious symphonic taste of bombast “Titan,” the Greeksters conjure up another dose of high octane fueled death metal meets a full orchestra on their 10th studio album CODEX OMEGA which pretty much continues down the path of full return without much to add, however when the elements of impending doom lifted so gracefully by the Czech Republic’s FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague, gosh the apocalypse just doesn’t seem so bad!

SEPTICFLESH are masters of codifying the opposing forces of bombastic death metal and lush symphonic classical music into allies which united somehow bring a form of musical harmony to the universe. Stylistically CODEX EFFECT isn’t much different than the previous offering “Titan.” Both contain exquisitely hideous cover art, death metal bombast punctuated by the charismatic growls (and clean vocal declarations) of Spiros Antoniou and death metal riffing and percussive blastbeats that could conjure up ALLLL the mosh pitting demons of the world. They also contain the most sensual atmospheric symphonic effects possible even accompanied by a complete choir that despite existing on polar opposites of the musical spectrum somehow perform the great dance together although both musical realities are in reality subordinate to the nexus of Antoniou’s beastly and charismatic domination.

However, despite the similarities between CODEX EFFECT and “Titan,” there remains one fundamental difference. That being that despite everything “Titan” had going for it, it was lacking in the most basic prerequisite of all, namely interesting compositions. Apparently the band got the memo about this trivial little faux pas and decided to correct the matter in the three year gap and succeeds in creating a very listenable album indeed.

One of my main gripes with SEPTICFLESH is that they produce outstanding music that culminates on the first side of the album and then slowly fizzles out into generic forgetfulness. They seem to be the symphonic death metal version of Soundgarden who suffered a similar fate. On CODEX EFFECT, the band seems to have paid attention to the pacing of the myriad elements involved in the project in order to make an easier to follow album’s length of material. I find the material on CODEX EFFECT to be some of the best the band has ever conjured up and granted that they are merely perfecting their style rather than adding any new experimental touches, i find this to be a satisfying listen from beginning to end unlike the majority of the prior canon.

At this point SEPTICFLESH is an institutional force in the death metal world having been around for well over a quarter of a century and while some band’s peak and fizzle out and fade away into obscurity, SEPTICFLESH on the other hand takes notes on their past mistakes and opts to learn from them rather than ignoring that they existed. CODEX EFFECT shows the band on top of their game with not only some of their best death metal hooks laid down to digital form but likewise construct some of the most conducive philharmonic shadow effects that perfectly gel with the greater groove. CODEX EFFECT is a great return to form after a rather lopsided “Titan” and a series of albums that while great initially seem to run on autopilot after several tracks in. I’m finding this to be a great comeback and a reality check in realizing the shortcomings of previous works and how they could have been better.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION BCC IV

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
I absolutely loved Black Country Communion and was gutted when they split up. Their music was so fresh, vibrant and energetic despite its obvious homage to the past and they really were just about the best Hard Rock band doing the whole ’70s-worship sound of recent years. All three of their albums from before their split have at least five songs that are among my favorite ever songs and which are better than just about any of the classic ’70s band’s modern output for my personal taste.

How happy was I then, when I heard they were getting back together. I remember reading on Blabbermouth all around the time of their split (and yet again when California Breed, a band with some of the same members, formed) about how lead guitarist and occasional singer Joe Bonamasa was too famous and busy in his own right to give Black Country Communion the time, as his schedule simply wouldn’t allow it. I remember hoping for the day he’d have the time again. Well, thank goodness its all sorted and we have more from this band. You can see the phoenix on the cover illustrating the band’s reformation.

There’s a certain magic when Glen Hughes, Jason Bonham, Derik Sherinian and Joe Bonamasa get together, (only heightened by ‘fifth member of the band,’ producer Keven Shirley). The bass and drums match styles perfectly, the keys accentuate the vocals so well, the guitar and key solos fit well together, both vocalist’s styles gel, the guitar works so well with the rhythm section. Its all so perfectly balanced, and thanks to the roomy production it all sounds so big and warm.

Basically; this reunion record has a lot of expectations to live up to. On first listen its nice to hear they are keeping up the same style of music and doing the same sort of thing. Its not suddenly taken a rap or electronic turn, they haven’t chucked it all away and went pop or something. Its exactly what you’d hope for, stylstically.

There’s plenty of depth, characther and a fair bit of variety. A lot of the tracks stretch out a bit, many lasting seven or eight minutes. There’s a nice balance of slow and fast, of hard and soft, of thoughtful and of instantaneous. There’s moments that lean a bit more into each of the member’s individual territories and there’s moments when its a mixture of all.

After knocking you over the head (no pun intended) with two mid paced Hard Rockers, for example, they drop a very interesting folky number. If you liked ‘The Battle Hadrian’s Wall’ then you are sure to dig ‘The Last Song for My Resting Place.’ If you like things a bit slower, sexier and well, blusier then at the album’s midway point they drop ‘The Cove’ which has some seriosuly good guitar and very atmospheric keys. Eight-minute album closer ‘When The Morning Comes’ starts out on a slow and sombre note before kicking off.

If you like the band at their faster and heavier however (think ‘The Outsider’ or ‘Confessor’) then they’ve got that here too, on ‘Sway.’ ‘The Crow’ does it too, sounding initially like a rip-off of RATM’s ‘Bulls On Parade’ before hitting the gas and running away with the speed.

I think my favourite track has to be either ‘Over My Head’ with its fun stop-start verses and its catchy ‘yeah-e-eah’ hook, or else ‘Awake’ which doesn’t really sound like anything they’ve done before, it starts off jaunty and almost indie rock but has a kind of ‘Achilles’ Last Stand‘ vibe in the verses and then goes into a full-on Yes meets Dream Theater solo-trade-off.

Overall; BCCIV had a lot of high expectations to meet, and luckily it holds up really well. They do what they do best, they try some new things, they balance all the different shades of their sound well and present an entertaining record that keeps you guessing but that fits together into a stylish hour long journey. The quality of the material is damn strong, the musicianship is exemplary, the production job is of course perfect and even though I’m biased and just glad to have the band back, I’d say this is absolutely good enough to sit alongside their previous work. I’d recommend checking it out if you’ve ever been a fan!

MYRKUR Mareridt

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 6 ratings
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It's fair to say the M (2015), the debut full-length album by Danish atmospheric black metal/dark folk solo project Myrkur, the moniker of musician Amalie Brunn, made quite a splash in the metal scene when it was released, albeit one that resulted in a decidedly mixed reaction. While M was nothing if not a divisive album, it's obvious that a lot of the criticism it received got well out of hand, to the point that some of the album's detractors even launched personal attacks on Brunn as a musician and as a person. Fortunately Brunn seems to have been quite thick skinned to it and rather than be perturbed she's now back with her second full-length album, Mareridt (2017).

Mareridt is in some ways similar in M, but it's also very different once you get into it. The biggest change has to be that Myrkur has used a lot more pure folk elements this time around to the point that I'd even say these make up around half the album, what with full folk songs like Crown included and the influence cropping up in at least a small way in almost every track. There's still enough metal here to think of Mareridt as a metal album though. Most of the metal songs use atmospheric black metal rhythms, though that actually only means that four of them do; Måneblôt, Elleskudt, Ulvinde and Gladiatrix, as Mareridt, Crown, De Tre Piker and Ketteren are all pure folk songs, which leaves only three further tracks on the album that don't belong primarily to either genre. The atmospheric black metal parts, when present, feel much more honed and focussed this time, making them easier to recognise even with Myrkur's atypical use of clean vocals as her primary singing style.

The metal parts on Mareridt are more varied compared to M though thanks to a greater presence of doom metal influences, something I detected only ever so slightly on M. They're much more pronounced here, particularly on the tracks The Serpent and Funeral, the latter of which proves aptly named for its style as it seems closer to funeral doom metal to me than anything. Slow, heavy, subdued and sombre work and easily the darkest sounding song on the album. It also features Chelsea Wolfe on vocals and guitars. It's a short song, as are all the songs on Mareridt, lasting only three minutes, but it's enough to show that the two ladies work well together. One can only hope this will one day lead to a proper collaboration between the two. It's just screaming to happen with this track, which barely scratches the surface of what may be possible if they joined forces for a whole album.

Regarding the vocals, there are actually less growls on Mareridt than ever before in Myrkur's music, only really being used in a major way on singles Måneblôt and Ulvinde (with a little bit in the background on Gladiatrix). With those two tracks released first it was actually really surprising how growl-free the rest of Mareridt is, but maybe that is for the best. Myrkur does decent growls, particularly the ones on Måneblôt are easily the best and fiercest she's ever done, but clean singing is where she excels. Her ethereal voice works equally well with her folk music tracks, but also against the atmospheric black metal guitars. She's proof, if any was needed by this point, that it's perfectly possible for at least the atmospheric branch of this particular genre to exist without the traditional vocal style. With that said, the growled parts do really add some extra punch and if there's a criticism to be had it's that the album could do with a couple more of these moments. But only a couple more.

While the lower amount of metal may lessen Mareridt's appeal to the metal crowd, the album flows between its soft and heavy parts incredibly well, feeling natural and not forced. While I regard M highly, Mareridt certainly feels a lot more refined and ultimately comes across as the stronger release. While there are individual track highlights to be had, namely Måneblôt, Elleskudt, Funeral and Ulvinde, the overall short running time makes it a very easy album to experience in one sitting and that's the only way to do it if you want to hear all the elements work just right. The only real eyebrow raising moment is it's finale, Børnehjem, which features a voice over that sounds like a demonic little girl. It's basically an outro fortunately, but it makes me feel as if the audio track of a cheesy horror film got mixed in by mistake. I don't think it sounds bad, more like out of place with the rest of the release. Still, I can't hold the final 2:22 minutes against Myrkur when the rest of Mareridt is such quality work. It probably won't win over her most fervent haters, but those who enjoyed the self-titled EP (2014) and M, as well as acoustic live release Mausoleum (2016), are sure to find much to enjoy here.

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.88 | 11 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Metal’s artisan of ambitiousness Arjen Anthony Lucassen returns with his project AYREON taking time off from his other musical projects Star One, Guilt Machine and The Gentle Storm to embark on yet another sonic journey into the world of science fiction, where he unleashes yet another concept album that is a prequel to 2008’s “01011001” laid out in his usual monstrosity of a double album with an army of guest vocalists and musicians to play the proper roles in his larger than life metal operas. As a prequel, THE SOURCE tells the origins of the Forever which is an alien race that is a key force in the overall storyline. The two discs are separated into four Chronicles with each telling different timelines in the story. The are broken down into - Chronicle 1: The Frame, Chronicle 2: The Aligning Of The Ten, Chronicle 3: The Transmigration and Chronicle 4: The Rebirth and the album is graced with beautiful artwork, extensive liner notes and an overall packaging that goes above and beyond the call of duty for any dedicated artist. Lucassen has really been upping the bar with each and every release and shows no signs of releasing his feet from the gas pedal. His passions are ablaze and THE SOURCE displays it all in full regalia.

While AYREON is accustomed to mostly new cast members changing things up on any given album, THE SOURCE makes use of plenty of returning performers which include James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), and Russell Allen (Symphony X), together with newcomers such as Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), which makes a whopping total of eleven main vocalists. Add to that the extraordinary musicians involved which include Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) – grand piano and electric piano Mark Kelly (Marillion) – synthesizer solo on "The Dream Dissolves"Maaike Peterse (Kingfisher Sky) – cello, Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) – guitar solo on "Star of Sirrah,” Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, ex-Asia) – guitar solo on "Planet Y Is Alive!,”Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged) – guitar solo on "The Dream Dissolves,” Ed Warby – drums, Ben Mathot – violin, Jeroen Goossens (ex-Pater Moeskroen) – flute, wind instruments, and of course, Arjen Anthony Lucassen himself on electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings, all other instruments. I just had to list all these performers to let it sink in, the monstrosity that this beautiful album is!

THE SOURCE incorporates more aspects of the metal world than the usual AYREON project. While most indulge in heavy doses of folk rotation with the same recurring female vocalist, an aspect that has left me a little cold in the past, this album on the other hand keeps the musical jukebox flowing and never lets one style dominate for too long. While the folk influences are ever present, the retrospective styles of the performers are in full effect with much emphasis on progressive, power and classic metal with even some excellent to Queen harmonies and some extreme metal touches as well in the excellent “Everybody Dies” that is straight out of the progressive rock playbook with classic 70s Wakeman-esque keyboards, Freddie Mercury spots and time signature breakouts run amok (amongst tons of other styles and influences). It really seems like every little detail was cogitated upon before the final release was allowed to see the light of day. The only complaint i have about this fine album is that some of the tracks on the second track outstay their welcome a however it’s a minor quibble indeed. THE SOURCE is one to be experienced as words cannot convey the sheer magnitude of its accomplishments. The works are not only a rock and metal encyclopedia in scope and style but a testament to how to write, arrange and produce an album.

It seems that Lucassen’s talents caught up to his grandiose ambitions starting with “01011001” and progressively have been becoming more refined ever since. THE SOURCE not only displays the AYREON project having tightened up all the loose ends that have always bugged me but shows a maturing and steps away from the more progressive rock world and ups the energy level by keeping the album more in heavy rock mode. THE SOURCE is the first AYREON album on the Mascot Label Group and the digital release of the albums will follow. THE SOURCE is yet another modern day AYREON album that clearly demonstrates what made the early albums so weak in comparison as one track is crafted into the next and all cast members roles are cleverly placed in the perfect sequence of things. It’s no wonder the such staunch fans are as excited for a new AYREON release as are fans foaming at the mouth for a new season of Game Of Thrones! THE SOURCE is truly a brilliantly complex yet completely accessible metal opera that eschews the long drawn out filler pieces of the band’s earlier moments. At this stage i have been indoctrinated into the AYREON fan club and look forward to the next chapter of metal sci-fi digest - AYREON style!

DARKHER Realms

Album · 2016 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.48 | 3 ratings
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Necrotica
One thing I've always loved about album art is how it reflects the music within. Of course the music should also speak for itself, but album covers can still give a taste of what's to come when done correctly. So, reader, I make this request: just look at the art for Darkher's debut album Realms. A woman with a black cloak looks down, as if in grief or simply melancholy, as she's enveloped in different shades of gray encompassing both the sky and the ground. A mass of storm clouds can be seen up above, and there's an aura of bleakness to the overall picture. After giving Realms repeated listens, I can certainly say that it lives up to its album cover in every way.

To clarify things, here's the deal: Darkher is considered the alias of a singer-songwriter known as Jayn Wissenberg, hailing from Yorkshire, England. In actuality, Darkher are currently a trio, the other members being guitarist Martin Wissenberg and drummer Shaun "Winter" Taylor-Steels (according to Facebook, at least). However, Jayn is definitely the heart and soul of this project; she's the vocalist, the primary guitarist, the producer, and the lyricist, so it's fair to say that she's the driving force. When you get to the music itself, Realms is a gothic experience with elements of doom metal, folk, post-metal, and ambient music; the atmosphere ranges from deeply melancholic to eerily unsettling, and there never seems to be an uplifting moment to be found. By far, the best aspect of the record is Jayn herself. Her vocals are simply wonderful, with a haunting and almost operatic quality to them, and they're layered over the music with a large amount of reverb. This works especially well in songs like "Hollow Veil" and "Wars," in which her evocative voice clashes with the metallic doom-laden guitars just perfectly.

Despite a consistently dark and grim atmosphere, there's still variety and genre-bending to be found. Realms happens to be one of those records in which the metal elements don't necessarily outweigh the softer moments. In fact, the intro "Spirit Waker" and the interlude "Buried Pt. 1" rely entirely on dark ambient instrumentation to establish the desired atmosphere; the latter is especially effective because of how Wissenberg's drawn-out vocals meld with the dreary soundscapes. Needless to say, it's a great fit for a song called "Buried." Of course, there's also "Buried Pt. 2," which builds on its predecessor with more frequent dynamic shifts and murky electric guitar riffing mired in incredibly slow tempos. But unfortunately, the one big problem I have with Realms has to do with the tempos in general. As much as the slow riffing and long instrumental buildups assist in enveloping the listener in the album's world, it also causes the record to be slightly homogeneous after a while. For instance, "Foregone" mostly relies on one particular motif as it builds and builds into a clangorous climax of pounding guitars and drums, but the sluggishly paced buildup feels a bit tedious and dull. At the very least, the track probably shouldn't have been the longest on the album at over 7 minutes. Regardless, the record still ends on a strong note with the fittingly-titled "Lament." It's one of the strongest pieces on the album because of its softer dynamics, and the acoustic guitar balladry is beautifully combined with Jayn's droning vocal performance. Ending Realms with something more somber and folk-influenced was a nice change in pace after the doom/post-metal material preceding it.

Honestly, as a debut, this is extremely impressive. It's gorgeous, intense, doomy-as-hell, and it takes pride in engulfing your ears in incredibly thick layers of darkness. Again, much of the album's quality comes from Jayn Wissenberg's sheer talent and charisma, especially behind the mic. Between her hypnotic vocal performances and the post-metal-oriented instrumental work, Darkher have proven that establishing a strong atmosphere and focusing on subtle songwriting shifts are among their strongest talents. The downtrodden beauty is really something to behold, and it'll be interesting to hear how they follow it up next time around.

NOCTURNAL RITES Phoenix

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes a band will release an album that at the time upsets their fans so much they want nothing to do with the band anymore, only for those same people to end up badly missing the band over time, hoping desperately that they will one day return with a triumphant comeback album. The latest band to fit into this description is Swedish power metal band Nocturnal Rites, who I was introduced to with their 2007 release, The 8th Sin, an album I actually enjoyed, but many of their longtime fan loathed it and criticized the band for falling into a more commercialized sound. After the release of that album, the band went quiet for several years, making fans think that could be the end. But now in 2017, they have finally returned, ready to release their ninth full-length album, Phoenix, but can they rise from the ashes, or should they have just stayed buried? I’ll go into full details below, but suffice to say, there isn’t a really clear cut answer for that one.

Nocturnal Rites actually started out as a death metal band in their very early days, releasing a couple of demos in that style before changing to a classic power metal sound with their full-length debut, In a Time of Blood and Fire, and they stuck with that sound for three albums, until current singer Jonny Lindqvist joined the band for their 2001 release, Afterlife, and they switched to a more aggressive, somewhat thrashy power metal sound. That album had a fairly mixed reception, but I personally consider it to be one of their best, but again they switched to a more melodic sound for their next few albums, with their 2004 release New World Messiah, in particular, standing out as a career high point. But again, they changed their sound in 2007 for The 8th Sin and that’s when everything seemed to come apart, as while the album still had some power metal elements, it had a much more modernized, very commercial sound that upset a lot of fans and while the songwriting was fun and catchy, it’s not hard to see why many folks felt betrayed by the band.

Which brings us to Phoenix, an album that largely continues with the more modern sound of The 8th Sin, but it comes across as a bit more metal sounding and does have small traces of their old sound. The band went through a couple different lead guitarists in between albums, before bringing in Per Nilsson, best known for his work with melodic death metal band Scar Symmetry. As soon as I heard he was brought into the band I was very interested in hearing what Phoenix would sound like, as while he’s an excellent guitarist, I wasn’t sure if his style would fit this particular band very well. It turns out, I was right to be concerned, because while he certainly does some great work on this album, including some incredible solos, there are many points where he resorts to modern sounding chugs which would fit in great with a band like Scar Symmetry, but they really feel out of place on a Nocturnal Rites album, and bring some of the tracks down.

Stylistically, Phoenix is a very modern sounding album, and I’d describe it more as melodic metal than anything else, as most of the tracks are slow to mid paced, and rely on huge vocal melodies above everything else. The chugs mostly come in quick bursts and most songs are fairly laid back throughout, with occasional heavy sections and bursts of speed, to remind fans they are listening to a metal album, but it’s clear the band has settled into a much more accessible, more radio friendly sound. There’s definitely still traces of power metal left in the music, and I generally find the heavier, speedier sections to be the highlights of the album, but the majority of the time the music is fairly slow paced and very melodic, just as the three pre-release singles would suggest.

I mentioned that the vocals were a huge focus on this album, so obviously the band requires a great singer, and thankfully they have one in Jonny Lindqvist. He has a rather animated voice that I’d describe as an odd sounding mix between Tobias Sammet and Chris Jericho (seriously, that may sound like a bizarre combination, but that’s what I think of every time I hear him,) and he does an excellent job of carrying some of the less interesting songs on the album. He may not be the best singer technically, but what he really excels at is singing with emotion. He always sounds very energetic in his delivery and it’s always easy to tell he’s very passionate about the lyrics, as he puts a ton of emotion into everything he sings, and he is definitely the band’s biggest asset at this point.

With the most positive aspect of the album out of the way, unfortunately, it’s time for a more problematic area, that being the songwriting. Things get off to a rocky start with “A Heart as Black as Coal”, a slow paced slog of a track which has some ugly modern sounding chugs throughout the verses, as well as vocal melodies that give it a strong pop feel, kinda like “Never Again” from The 8th Sin, except that while its chorus is decent, it’s nowhere near as fun or catchy as that song was, instead just kinda feeling like it exists and not doing anything beyond that. The track does have an excellent solo from Per, but that’s the one highlight on an otherwise forgettable track, and one I definitely don’t think works well as either a single to sell an album or as an opening track. Next is the first single, “Before We Waste Away”, another slow paced track, though it has some great melodies throughout and effectively builds to an excellent chorus that instantly got me excited for the album the first time I heard it. Again, Per delivers an excellent solo in the middle and overall this track is a great single and one that really set my expectations high for the album, so it’s a bit of a shame the entire album isn’t on the same level. The third, and so far last, single is “Repent My Sins” another slower track, but again it has some nice melodies and a very passionate vocal performance from Jonny, so while it doesn’t quite hit me as hard as “Before We Waste Away” it’s a pretty great track on its own.

In between that two track is “The Poisonous Seed”, the first real heavy track on the album, and one that offers brief glimpses of the band’s power metal roots. This track has some heavy riffs throughout and has a very dark feel, as well as feeling like a modernized take on their power metal sound, being much harder hitting than anything on The 8th Sin, while still sounding far more modern than any of their prior albums. It also has some light symphonic elements, which are used on a couple other tracks for some extra flavor, and it’s an all around excellent track, where Per really gets to shine with some great riffs and an excellent solo. I kinda wish there were more tracks like this on the album, as his style fits a heavier track like this perfectly, where on some of the slower tracks his chugs just don’t quite feel right. The only other consistently fast songs on the album are the closing track “Welcome to the End” and the bonus track “Used to Be God”. Out of those two, “Welcome to the End” is a very fast, heavy track which effectively uses some symphonic elements, and is definitely a highlight, but “Used to Be God” is actually even better, as it has by far the best riffs on the album, as well as an excellent solo section and an incredible chorus. However, I can see why they chose to make it a bonus track, as it has a thrashy sound to it which doesn’t quite fit the tone of the album on the whole, so if anything it just makes me even more disappointed about the direction they chose to go with many songs on the album, as I’d definitely be excited to hear the band do a full album in the style of this song and “Welcome to the End”, yet I realize that’s totally not what they were going for overall, so it’s obvious me and the band are not on the same page.

In between those tracks and “Repent My Sins”, we get a bunch of tracks that are solid but none of them do a whole lot for me, and they mostly blend together to just become forgettable. Tracks like “A Song For You” and “The Ghost Inside Me” do a nice job of mixing brief faster sections with mid paced verses and solid choruses, but neither track blows me away, while slower tracks like “What’s Killing Me” and “Nothing Can Break Me” feel like weaker versions of tracks from The 8th Sin, with the latter in particular having some modern sounding keys which are oddly distracting and give the track a slight pop feel. Lastly, we have “Flames”, a decent ballad where Jonny delivers some excellent vocals, but musically the track just does nothing for me at all. It has a nice chorus, but throughout the rest of the song, I just get bored, as the symphonic elements and vocals are far more interesting than the basic chugs and anything else that’s going on. Another track where Per doesn’t really fit in for me.

Overall, Phoenix is a pretty frustrating release for me, as there are brief moments where it teases at a modernized power metal sound that I could see working out great for the band, but there are far too many slower tracks where Per Nillson’s chugs don’t really fit the sound, and if not for Jonny’s excellent vocals, I’d probably be getting bored to death. For fans of Nocturnal Rites, this album is tough to judge, as it does have a few excellent tracks that feel fresh enough to stand out, while having some familiar elements, but anyone disappointed with The 8th Sin will also likely struggle with many of the lighter tracks on this album, and I don’t expect many pure power metal fans to be too thrilled, either. Fans of melodic metal who look for excellent vocals and melodies above all else are recommended to give this album a listen, and anyone else should try the singles to see if they have any interest, but again I have to point out for power metal fans, that all three of the tracks most likely to impress is hidden away, with one of them even being a bonus track. For me, personally, Phoenix is a solid album, maybe slightly behind The 8th Sin, but it definitely doesn’t come close to the band’s best works. So, it’s not a total disappointment, but it’s also not really the triumphant return I was hoping for, either. It just kinda exists.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/09/09/nocturnal-rites-phoenix-review/

SWANS The Glowing Man

Album · 2016 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Warthur
A solid followup to To Be Kind, and a substantial improvement on it. Swans' post-rock sound here remains strongly influenced by other artists in this realm - substantial sections of The Cloud of Unknowing in particular make me think of this incarnation of the group as Godspeed You Black Swans! - but the musical twists and turns into other styles feel better judged and the material is less padded out. At points they go to places you never expected to visit with Swans; in particular, at one point The World Looks Red/The World Looks Back shifts gears and starts sounding booty-shakingly funky, but it somehow works within the wider context of the composition.

ARCH ENEMY Will to Power

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.49 | 6 ratings
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Nightfly
When Angela Gossow left Arch Enemy in 2014 it could have quite easily been the end of the band but in came Alissa White-Gluz and stamped her mark on the War Eternal album with an impressive and professional performance as if she’d been there all along, such was the seamless transition. War Eternal whilst having a few weaker moments robbing it of greatness was nevertheless a solid melodic death metal album with a plentiful supply of hooks and strong riffs. Shortly after War Eternal was released former Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis joined the band and I was eager to hear what the first studio album to feature him would be like as he never failed to impress me with his incredible playing in Nevermore.

Will To Power will not hold any surprises (well there may be one) for fans of the band as for the most part it’s pretty much business as usual. Loomis as expected proves to be a great addition with plenty of jaw dropping shredding. Musically it’s a similar mix of melodic death/power metal as War Eternal and equally good. After the short intro Set Flame To The Night, The Race comes in firing on all cylinders featuring compelling riffing and a fantastic Loomis solo proving immediately what a great addition he is and is a good omen of great things to come hopefully. Like War Eternal however there are one or two less than stellar moments. I’d already heard The World Is Yours and the first thing that struck me about it was how much better it would have worked with clean melodic vocals on the chorus. A bone of contention I sometimes have with melodic death metal, at least when it really ups the melody quotient is how much better it could sometimes be with clean vocals. Of course some melodic death metal bands already mix it up and do it but I know it could be sacrilege to some fans of the band. Well what do you know, on the semi-ballad Reason To Believe White-Gluz sings cleanly and bugger me, she’s really good too. Maybe they didn’t want to over-do it and risk alienating a sizeable part of their audience but a bit more of this could have raised the bar on a couple of the songs. As a song it’s not one of the best but the vocals save it. The Eagle Flies Alone is merely an ordinary piece of mid-paced melodic metal. If a strong vocal melody had been added it could have been so much more. Now don’t get me wrong, Ms White-Gluz is a perfectly able growler and it works fine on the more balls out stuff and I’m not suggesting that all death metal bands should go and get a more traditional singer, as I said I’m just talking about the particularly melodic stuff.

Anyway enough controversy and back to the album. Overall I’d say the second half is the strongest – Murder Scene kicks ass and I always enjoy a galloping kick drum pattern as used on First Day In Hell. In fact there’s no shortage of good songs with strong hooks on side two of my vinyl copy with no weak moments to speak of. My Shadow And I is particularly impressive with drummer Daniel Erlandsson putting in a particularly fine performance. Album closer A Fight I Must Win is another highpoint with its memorable riffing and groove and the brief addition of strings to the intro and outro add some colour.

Hats off to Arch Enemy for not being afraid to use clean vocals then. If I was them I’d expand on this next time as they’re a strong and welcome addition. Not essential then, but nevertheless Will To Power is another very good album that whilst unlikely to be the favourite of most people who’ve followed the band shouldn’t disappoint either. I’m still waiting though for the masterpiece that I know they have in them.

MAYHEM De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive

Live album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


There is no doubt that ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ is one of the most important black metal albums ever released, and was awarded the #40 spot on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time, where it stated “…Mysteriis… remains a singularly potent document, its expressions of alienation and nihilism lent an icy severity by Aarseth’s lacerating guitar buzz, session vocalist Attila Csihar’s arcane croak and presentation of Dead’s lyrical gothic terror and the pummelling drums of Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg).”

Captured in Norrköping, Sweden in 2015 during the band’s headlining set at the Black Christmass Festival, the show marked Mayhem’s first time ever playing ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ in full, and luckily even if we weren’t there we can now share the experience. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Tore Stjerna and NBS Audio and produced by vocalist Attila Csihar and guitarist Teloch. I was lucky enough to catch Mayhem at their first ever NZ gig a few years ago, and Attila has lost none of his power to shock and control an audience, and that is very much in evidence here. The album has not been over-produced, so it is still full of the raw and bleak sound that has made them so many fans. Available in digital and streaming formats as well as vinyl, this is a truly essential release for any fans of the genre.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Ever since the early days of death metal when Suffocation introduced an unthinkable brutal assault to the adolescent ears of the metal world, such so called brutal death metal bands have been hard pressed to keep their form of sonic assault from becoming one-dimensional in scope. Some bands such as Behemoth kept a large part of their black metal roots, some such as Nile incorporated exotic musical scales and themes to separate themselves from the pack and some such as Maryland’s DYING FETUS chose to keep their old school death metal sound as their template and not only up the brutality but add elements of technical guitar wizardry and slamming deathgrind elements as well. While many brutal death metal bands struggle to find new sources of inspiration, DYING FETUS effortlessly continues to hone their sound well into the 21st century more than a quarter of a century after their formation. On their eighth studio album this band proves that maturity doesn’t necessarily equate a single shred of compromise or stagnation. In fact despite being firmly fixed into the signature sound that the band has been evolving since the beginning, WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH is one of their most varied and deliberately in your face albums just dripping in attitudinal blood like freshly slaughtered convents of forcefully raped nuns.

The fiery opener “Fixated On Devastation” is ferociously fueled and chomping at the bit to unleash the most headache inducing music possible which perfectly demonstrates the modern DYING FETUS in full fucking glory. Utilizing the neoclassical guitar wankery as introduced by Necrophagist into the death metal world, guitarist and vocalist John Gallagher deftly sets the fretboard on fire with finger breaking face melters that would seem more at home on an Yngwie Malmsteem recording but seamlessly melds them into the chunky down-tuned death metal riffing that trigger the incredible bass plucking skills of Sean Beasley to match his beyond caffeinated march into the sonic battlefields of ararchic distortion disciplined into groove metal oscillations and pummeling frenetic time signature freakouts. Of course, the true star of this show is from the extradorinaiy energetic and beyond human skin abuse of drummer Trey Williams who is the prime mover and shaker who has lifted DYING FETUS into a new level of drum abuse and brutality in this latter phase of their career. His amazingly blast beats, double kicks and drum roll changes at a million miles per second leave me to wonder how many drum sticks and other equipment were sacrificed in the recording process!

While some bands are all about experimentation and evolving their sounds to new levels of progressiveness, DYING FETUS is happy to only subtly change their sound on any given album in effect sticking to what they know best and what they perform with ease, namely some of the most wickedly brutal death metal that the world has to offer. While some DYING FETUS albums leave me leaving a little meh by the time i get to the end of an album 9even the shorter ones), WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH delivers a plethora of satisfying hook-laden compositions that incorporate the expected frenetic slam riffing, ferocious breakdowns complete with all those pig squeal guitar licks not to mention the neoclassical lightning guitar wizardry guitar solos that are used judiciously and erupt without notice. In addition, Gallagher’s vocals have never sounded more tortured like a sodomized with ice picks Cookie Monster and spews out some of the most vile political disdain the band has ever regurgitated all wrapped up with groove, attitude and in full fucking ferocious monstrosity.

Personally i much prefer the newer releases of DYING FETUS as they take all the band’s history and compile it into a much more satisfying unit not only offering a taste of the old school death metal world from whence they emerged but effortlessly ups the ante not only in the school of skill set and musical maestrohood but engages the most modern production techniques to create a crisp and clean sound without sounding overproduced and sanitized in any way shape or form. WRONG ONE TO FUCK WITH is an excellent brutal death metal album that while clocking in at nearly an hour’s length making it the band’s longest to date never gets fucking boring for one bit. Not to mention it doesn’t resort to any sort of energetic slowdown. This is adrenaline fueled brutal death metal from start to finish. Like all music from this band, it revs me up and makes me wanna abort a thousand fetuses and grind them up into sausage and sell it as sustainably raised happy meat at the farmer’s market, but instead after listening to a whole hour of this i’m simply content to listen to the ringing in my ears after the pummeling punishment that this bloodthirsty and barbarous beast has beset upon my ears.

ASPHYX Incoming Death

Album · 2016 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Newsweek, April 28, 1991 - "The jazz trombonist Ray Anderson noticed some years back that when he sang at certain pitches, his voice split in two. His vocal cords produced one note, and the skin outside the larynx produced a second. The first is a cartoonish Satchmo styling; its shadow sounds like Satchmo through an aerosol can. Together, vying their way through a standard like Duke Ellington's 'I'm Just a Lucky So and So,' they're as queerly beautiful and weird a voice as you're likely to hear."

My trombonist friend let me hear Ray Anderson's unique vocal style back in the early nineties, and I bring it up here because I have never heard anyone sing that way since until now. Well, alright, Anderson sings and Asphyx's vocalist Martin van Drunen does whatever it is death vocalists do: growl, bellow, roar, vociferate. But van Drunen does so with a maniacal-sounding second tone that seems to come from projecting his voice into the far back of his nasal passages, giving his vocal style quality unique to death metal vocal styles. It may give you chills, drive you mad, make you wince, or elicit a bout of uncontrollable laughter. In any case, this vocal sound is not going to be for everyone.

This was not my first choice for an Asphyx purchase. "The Rack", "Last One on Earth" (creepy cover!), or the latest release sounded better from the previews, or rather pre-listens I had. But if I was going to bring home as many new bands to my collection as possible then I had to go for albums under ¥1,000. I chose "Incoming Death".

This is not altogether speedy or technical death metal. The doom elements are strong in the riffs and tempo. The overall sound is really heavy and sometimes it feels like the audio equivalent of lying face down flat on the street while a 500kg weight is dragged back and forth over your body. The only reprieve we get is a solemn acoustic guitar outro to "The Grand Denial" and a similarly forlorn piano outro to "Subterra Incognito". Otherwise it's just absolute unrelenting heaviness to mash your brain to a quivering pulp.

Though much of the album stays fairly Black Sabbath-esque mid-tempo, there are pulverizing moments of slow and thunderous power chords as well as charged speed burners. The title track is a mere 1:56 and has all the grace and subtlety of a nuclear-powered locomotive exploding through the caverns of Hell. The opening track "Candiru", about a fish in the Amazon that enters its prey through the anal orifice and proceeds to eat the delicate innards from the inside, is a perfectly brutal beast to kick off the album. "Wardroid" has one of those crushing riffs that astound because I can't help but be awed by the fact that after 65 years of guitar riff-based music people are still coming up with simple but highly exciting and evocative riffs.

The overall album leaves a favourable impression; however, not every track is a thriller. Personally I find some like "It Came from the Skies" or "The Grand Denial" to be moments where the excitement dips a little. But what keeps me interested are the lyrical topics. Van Drunen's vocals are often clear enough to pick out the lyrics and there's a theme of innocents becoming victims of evil deliberate or initiated through other actions. "The Feeder" had me puzzled at first because it seemed the "feeder" was a woman who lures a man into a romantic relationship where he spends lots of money on her and eventually letting her move in, thus giving her control over his life to her wicked satisfaction. Not very death metal. But the story ends with him murdering her and eating her corpse, revealing the feeder to be the man who lured the woman!

I can't say if this is the best album in Asphyx's discography but I am suitably impressed enough to take a look at ordering one of their older releases, perhaps "Last One on Earth". For really heavy death / doom, Asphyx would be a good band to check out.

CONTRARIAN To Perceive Is To Suffer

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Any album that features George Kollias on drums is always going to pique my interest. One such album is this, To Perceive Is To Suffer, the second full length album from progressive/technical death metallers Contrarian.

Despite the death metal tag to call them that would be over simplifying things. This is not surprisingly really complex stuff indeed and contains elements of jazz rock/fusion amongst the more extreme metal traits. The sound is surprisingly sparse with each instrument clear as a bell, much of the guitar work is relatively cleanly played underpinned by a toppy bass sound and of course George Kollias’s relentless drumming onslaught. Imagine Watchtower if they’d been a death metal band, throw in some latter day Death and you won’t be a million miles away. With Kollias taking on vocals as well, as expected they’re of the death growl persuasion most of the time. The exception being At Fate’s Hands which is cleanly though somewhat weakly sung. Each musician excels in his chosen field with plenty of jaw dropping instrumental work from all with constantly shifting rhythmic structures and blistering lead work. The only problem, as is the case with much of this sort of stuff is lack of memorability. Sure, you can’t reasonably expect an immediate hit from music this complex but it’s an album I admire rather than love, even after a number of plays. Still there’s no denying the skill involved in putting together compositions of this nature and it’s largely for that reason and the excellent musicianship that it warrants 3 ½ stars, ½ a star more than I originally was feeling it deserved.

VALLENFYRE Fear Those Who Fear Him

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Fear Those Who Fear Him" is the 3rd full-length studio album by UK death metal act Vallenfyre. The album was released through Century Media Records in June 2017. It´s the successor to "Splinters" from 2014 and features a couple of lineup changes as bassist Scoot has left Vallenfyre. He hasn´t been replaced which means that the bass parts were recorded by guitarist Hamish Hamilton Glencross. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson has been replaced by Waltteri Väyrynen (B>Paradise Lost, Hypothesis, Abhorrence). The last member of the three-piece lineup is vocalist/guitarist Gregor Mackintosh.

Vallenfyre was specifically formed as an outlet for the band members old school death metal ideas, which their day job bands couldn´t incorporate. And brutal and sinister old school death metal it is. Ranging from fast-paced, D-beat hardcore punked, mid-paced and heavy, to ultra brutal and doomy, "Fear Those Who Fear Him" has it all when it comes to old school death metal traits. Mackintosh has a brutal yet intelligible growling vocal style, which suits the darkness of the music well and paired with the rawness of the sound production (the guitars have what I´d characterize as an early 90s Swedish death metal tone), the album comes off as one of the more successful contemporary retro sounding death metal releases.

The change in pace and rhythm style are some of the great assets of the band´s music. Fast-paced tracks like "Messiah" and "Nihilist", are paired with the mid-paced brutal grooves of tracks like "Degeneration" and "Amongst the Filth", and the slow brutal death/doom of tracks like "An Apathetic Grave" and "Cursed from the Womb". And it all sounds pretty natural too. Nothing contrived about it. It just feels like the band have composed exactly what they wanted, when and how they wanted. When you play a music style like this these days, no one expects your music to be of a groundbreaking character, because the whole idea behind playing this type of music is to have a derivative approach to composing your material, but that doesn´t mean you can´t still try to forge a personal sound, to set yourself apart from the pack. Vallenfyre are relatively successful in doing that. At least to a certain extent.

The real asset on "Fear Those Who Fear Him" is how well performed the material is though. These are some really well playing guys, and there are tons of conviction and passion behind the delivery. There´s a great raw and organic touch to the way the music is played, which is greatly charming, and ultimately suiting the old school death metal material perfectly. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Although the UK's Paradise Lost may have started as a death-doom metal band and arguably were the originators of that particular fusion, after a few albums they ventured deeper into the territory of gothic metal and it's for this genre that they are no doubt most famous for now, with Draconian Times (1995) and Icon (1993) usually counted as their best releases and pillars of the entire gothic metal genre. They turned away from metal briefly on the album Host (1999) but were quick to return to it on Believe in Nothing (2001). Mostly sticking to the gothic metal genre ever since, they've gradually been reintroducing doom metal elements to their music and on The Plague Within (2015) took things a step further back towards their roots with the reintroduction of death growling vocals. This has paved the way for Medusa (2017), the band's fifteenth studio album and their first album to fully embraced death-doom metal since Shades of God (1992).

I say fully, but what I really mean is that Paradise Lost have made death-doom metal the main focus of their music on Medusa. They also retain some more regular doom metal parts with clean vocals and an influence of the gothic metal style they've played throughout most of their career, but it's now taken a back seat in terms of their playing style, particularly in the guitars. Lead single The Longest Winter would suggest that not much has changed in camp Paradise Lost, being one of the more gothic songs with primarily clean vocals from Nick Holmes, but this is an illusion that is quickly dispelled when you start the album from the very beginning when the band serve up the album's longest track Fearless Sky. This one is quite the opposite affair, with growling vocals taking centre stage, which is the same case with the following Gods of Ancient and is subsequently shown to be the theme of the album.

While Holmes still uses plenty of clean singing - in fact after a back to back listen my impression is that there may even be a little more on Medusa than The Plague Within had - there are certainly more growls and an overall focus on extreme metal. The key difference to its predecessor that sets the two albums apart is the instrumental shift back to a doom metal dominant sound and an increase in general heaviness, though the music isn't as menacing or outright malevolent as some death-doom metal can be. If I was to choose any word to describe it I'd have to say modern. It's definitely more accessible than a lot of groups of this style are. That's what ultimately helps to make it a memorable release though, with tracks such as Fearless Sky, From the Gallows, Blood and Chaos and Until the Grave staying with me long after the album's conclusion.

If you're mainly a fan of the band's early days, this album can only be good news and perhaps even something you'd never have imagined possible, even after the growl heavy The Plague Within which was still musically more of a gothic metal album. If you prefer their fully clean sung gothic metal work though then Medusa may spell disappointment for you. That's the inherent trouble with a band that has changed their sound more than once. Hopefully most fans can appreciate both of Paradise Lost's core styles of metal and will embrace Medusa as an excellent throwback album that still has enough of their gothic metal style to retain at least some interest from gothic metal fans, though I would say gothic fans have more for them on the special editions of the album that include two bonus tracks that lean more this way; Shrines and Symbolic Virtue, which add almost a further ten minutes to Medusa's total playing time and go a long way towards evening out the doom and gothic metal elements on offer.

For my money though the base eight track album alone is an exceptional release from Paradise Lost. 2017 is certainly shaping up to be a great year for the doom metal genre, with many great and inventive albums released already, but Paradise Lost striking back to reclaim the death-doom throne they vacated twenty-five years ago may just be the doom metal event of the year.

INCANTATION Profane Nexus

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
2017 has been a great year for New York death metal. We’ve had brilliant albums from Immolation and Suffocation and now comes Profane Nexus from Incantation. Arguably between them they are the three most important and best death metal bands to come from the region.

What can I say about Incantation that hasn’t already been said? Not a lot really. There’s no sudden shift of style or sound here, just Incantation doing their thing. These guys are just so fucking heavy with a sound so thick and dark if it was treacle you’d be sucked under unable to move a muscle. Like their two other New York contemporary’s mentioned above they have rarely put a foot wrong, consistency being the key word. Profane Nexus is the latest in a line of great albums and where it sits in terms of favourites will be down to the individual. There’s the usual mix of blast beat driven sometimes blackened death metal riffs with the slower doomier moments never less than crushingly heavy capped by John McEntee’s low guttural growl. I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of death growls when they get this low and unintelligible but there’s no denying they suit the dark depths the music takes you too. On a musical level though I have few complaints. Kyle Severn’s inventive drumming is definitely worth a mention and McEnfee is joined on guitar by the welcome addition (though he always does a great job on his own) of lead guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi. The bottom end is kept suitably heavy by Chuck Sherwood’s pummelling bass work. The only weak moment comes with Incorporeal Despair which is one of their slow doom based songs but down to the sparse sound is not as crushingly heavy as I like my Incantation and drags somewhat. Apart from that, highlights? Take your pick but for diversity Visceral Hexahedron encapsulates everything that’s great about this band.

Profane Nexus is another winner from Incantation and after getting on for thirty years these guys are still on top of their game which takes some doing. In a year with many excellent death metal albums Incantation are up there with the best of them.

THRESHOLD Legends Of The Shires

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.76 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
I’ve followed Threshold for most of their career and during that time they’ve released some truly excellent albums. There have also been a few treading water moments that were always at least solid but they’ve never released a bad album for sure. Pick of the bunch for me would be 2001’s Hypothetical and March Of Progress from 2012. It was on these that they got the balance just right between the progressive and metal elements as well as some damn fine songs that as well as packing considerable punch contained strong melodies. Now of course melodic progressive metal has always been these guy’s style but I found 2014’s For The Journey, whilst not a disaster by any means, a little ordinary after March Of Progress. It also marked the last album to feature vocalist Damian Wilson. To most bands this would be a major blow but fortunately they were able to recruit former Threshold vocalist from the Psychedelicatessen (I spelt that without checking – impressive hey!) era Glynn Morgan. That was another excellent piece of work from the band and probably their least prog album. Ironically Morgan has returned for their most progressive album yet and I’m pleased to say it joins that elite club of Threshold favourites for me.

Legends Of The Shires is a long album – a double no less stretching to over an hour and twenty minutes. It could have gone pear shaped but fortunately Threshold mainstays Karl Groom and Richard West have crafted some of the best songs of their career. Bassist Steve Anderson also gets a look in composing On The Edge, one of the less proggy moments, but a good driving piece of metal nonetheless. An album of this length needs diversity, dynamics plenty of time/tempo changes to keep the listeners attention for this long and they’re in no shortage here. One of the albums strengths is the inventive use of melody with sometimes clever twists and turns taking the song in an unexpected direction. This happens both vocally and musically with some excellent solos from West and Groom, his searing guitar work impressive as always. Morgan proves to be an inspired choice and a more than worthy replacement for Wilson. He’s nearer to sadly deceased former singer Andrew “Mac” McDermott in style and able to deliver a strong melody with plenty of power. The material ranges from the acoustic intro of The Shire (Part 1), the obligatory ballad in State Of Independence to the heavier Threshold metal like Small Dark Lines and Superior Machine. Much of the material as is the way with more progressive songs contains elements of all the above, no better exemplified than in the two longest compositions – The Man Who Saw Through Time and Lost In Translation. Both are album highlights, the latter in particular blowing me away, but there’s still no shortage of diversity in some of the relatively shorter pieces with some compelling twists driven by the excellent drumming of Johanne James.

By upping the prog quotient this is not one of the heavier Threshold albums which is not a problem at all for me, especially with melodies this strong. There’s not a weak moment on the entire album – okay The Shire (Part 3) is a bit throwaway but it only lasts just over a minute. Anyone who has a liking for Threshold should love this. The only problem is how they are going to top it next time.

ENSIFERUM Two Paths

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.93 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
With some bands, it’s hard for me not to be at least a bit nervous every time they put out a new album, whether it’s being worried they’ll do a misguided experiment that goes horribly wrong or just produce something that sounds so samey it comes across as a pointless retread. Then there are other bands, like Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum, where every time I hear they’re coming out with a new album, I feel nothing but extreme excitement, because every time they release a new album they manage to prove themselves as being the absolute best in their genre, sticking to tried and true elements while managing to add in a little something special each time, so that each album stands out from the pack. While their previous release, One Man Army, came across as a little familiar sounding compared to their past releases, it was still an excellent album with enough standout moments to make me confident they could keep their impressive run going, and now with their seventh full-length release, Two Paths, the band sounds more energized than ever and they’ve produced yet another album that contains all the expected elements, while managing to feel fresh and exciting at the same time.

Ensiferum’s lineup has remained very stable over the past several years, so it was a rare case when keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen left the band shortly after the release of One Man Army. Her replacement on tour was Netta Skog, who has gone on to officially join the band for Two Paths. Interestingly, Netta plays a digital accordion, which can be used to effectively recreate the kinds of keyboard sounds Emmi was using on the past three albums, while at the same time she can also use it as a normal accordion, which adds extra folk flavor to the music, something the band has done very effectively on this album. In fact, while albums like From Afar and One Man Army were pushing the band pretty far into a symphonic metal direction at times, on this album they have dialed those elements back a bit, and instead the majority of the album is dominated by folk melodies, with the accordion, in particular, being used very effectively to lead the way on many tracks, and there’s also the occasional use of violins and other folk instruments. Obviously, folk elements have always been a large part of Ensiferum’s music, but on this album, I notice them even more so than on their previous few releases, and they add extra flavor and energy to some already impressive music. While the folk elements dominate more than ever, though, there are still some very epic symphonic arrangements on a couple tracks, as well as the expected melodic death metal elements, which while again not as dominant as on some albums, are still very much present and are used as well as ever. The majority of the album is very fast paced and energetic, with most of the songs being written in such a way as to be extremely catchy and addictive, so fans hoping for some of the more complex and lengthy tracks found on the past few albums may be disappointed, as nothing here even approaches 5 and a half minutes. Instead, the songs are all simple, but extremely catchy and fun, which I personally don’t mind as a change of pace, since it allows the album to flow beautifully from one highlight to another, and it’s certainly an easy album to listen to several times in a row.

The band has always been known to use various different vocal deliveries on their albums, and Two Paths is certainly no exception to this rule. As always, harsh vocals are an important part of the music, and Petri Lindroos sounds as epic and powerful with his growls as ever. Also, as usual, the clean male vocals from bassist Sami Hinkka and guitarist Markus Toivonen are quite varied, sometimes even sounding a bit different from past albums, as they occasionally sound a bit more wild than usual, which fits in well on some of the more folk flavored tracks. Gang vocals and choirs are also used on many tracks, as always, and are as epic as ever, adding extra flavor to the music, and helping to make some already awesome choruses even better. Lastly, the band has used various different female vocalists throughout their past few albums, and this continues on this album. I’m not sure if the female vocals here are done by a guest or by Netta Skog, but either way they’re very impressive, sounding just a bit wild but also very pleasant and they add even more of a folk flavor to the music, whenever they appear, which mostly happens in short bursts as supporting vocals, but they do show up as lead vocals a couple times and are quite nice.

Songwriting is an area where Ensiferum has always excelled, so it’s no surprise that Two Paths is a consistently amazing album from start to finish, with none of the songs being anywhere near less than perfect. The album begins with an intro, which makes nice use of folk melodies and symphonic arrangements, while also having nice female vocals early on before we get the main melody that we’ll be hearing a couple more times on the album. In fact, while this intro track is very heroic and epic sounding, there’s also an outro track which feels like the reverse, as it uses the same main melody but it’s slowed down and sounds a lot sadder, which serves as a nice contrast. But those aren’t the only two times that melody appears, as it’s actually taken straight from the lead single and proper opener “For Those About to Fight for Metal”. In case anyone is like me and instantly thinks of AC/DC when seeing that name, it actually does feel like an intentional reference, as the chorus has a line that certainly reminds me of a famous track from that band and even the extended guitar intro is a little bit similar. Once the song gets going, though, it’s pure Ensiferum through and through, moving at a very high tempo throughout, with some explosive riffs, epic choirs, symphonic arrangements, folk melodies and an extremely epic chorus, dominated by choir vocals. It basically feels like a full representation of their sound and it definitely gives listeners an idea of what to expect, from the super energetic, more straightforward songwriting found throughout the album. It also has an awesome instrumental section in the middle where the guitars lead the way for a while, and then suddenly Netta takes over with her accordion and it gets really epic from there. Definitely an exciting opening track, but surprisingly not even one of my favorites on the album, as awesome as it is.

Next is “Way of the Warrior”, another explosive, fast paced track with an awesome chorus. This track uses more traditional keyboard sounds, but the actual melodies definitely have a folk feel to them, and it actually reminds me a little bit of “One Magic Potion” from Victory Songs, which was always a favorite of mine. In fact, while this album definitely has elements of all the band’s albums with Petri Lindroos, if I were to compare it most to one album in particular, I’d go with Victory Songs, due to the heavy focus on folk elements and also due to some of the gang vocal arrangements sounding quite similar to songs from that album. The title track follows and is the most folk infused of the first few tracks, with the accordion playing a very prominent role throughout and sounding quite impressive, and I also hear some violins during the verses, which adds extra flavor. Meanwhile, we get some very wild clean vocals throughout the track, especially during the chorus, and while it took a couple listens for me to get used to how they sound, I now think they fit the track very well, and it’s definitely a catchy and very fun track, which actually feels very fresh, as while it is fast paced, it isn’t overly heavy and has a more traditional folk feel to it at times. After that is a track which comes from the opposite spectrum, that being the super explosive “King of Storms”, a very heavy, super bombastic track which very much feels like it would have fit perfectly on From Afar or One Man Army. It’s the kind of epic, symphonic flavored melodic death metal that dominated those two albums, and on this track, it’s pulled off as effectively as ever, with some explosive verses, insanely epic symphonic arrangements and a huge chorus as always. It’s also one of the tracks where Petri most gets to dominate with his harsh vocals, though the very deep clean vocals during the chorus are also impressive.

And of course, the track right after that has to once again serve as a contrast to the track preceding it, as “Feast of Valkyries” is a more laid back, very folk infused track. Right from the start, the accordion dominates on this track, and it sounds very nice. While it’s still a fairly upbeat track musically, it isn’t as fast or as heavy as most other tracks on the album, instead of being more relaxed and very melodic. During the verses, we get some rather unique sounding female vocals, which lead the way through the track, before giving way to some epic gang vocals during the insanely epic and catchy chorus, which again brings back fond memories of Victory Songs. What we get next is a slight surprise, as “Don’t You Say” has more of a folk rock feel to it, being very upbeat but rather light and not at all heavy compared to most songs on the album. In fact, everything from the more simplistic drum patterns to the super catchy chorus, makes it feel like a more accessible, almost radio friendly track by Ensiferum standards. The track has no harsh vocals and is sung almost entirely by one singer, who does an excellent job and his voice fits the folk flavor of the track perfectly (the one exception is a brief use of female vocals as support right near the end.) I can see some fans being disappointed by this track, but I personally love it, as it serves as a nice change of pace from some of the heavier songs and the folk melodies are beautiful, especially the use of a violin throughout, while the chorus is an absolutely killer and super addictive. In fact, it’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album, even if it is by far the least metal.

Heading towards the end, “I Shall Never Kneel” is another standout, which again has strong folk elements throughout, though it’s a heavier track, with varied tempos throughout. Its main riff is fast paced, and there are some explosive moments throughout, but the verses and chorus are more mid paced, and there’s also a very beautiful slower section in the middle where the keyboards take over and we get some nice female vocals. On the whole, it’s a very fun track and uses the full range of vocals fans can expect from the band, all in one track, which is cool. After that we get another very folk flavored track in “God is Dead”, which actually has my favorite use of the accordion on the entire album, as the lead melody is absolutely beautiful and adds a ton of folk flavor to the music, while the track overall is fast paced and is simply a wild, good time, with an insanely epic chorus, wild but awesome sounding clean vocals, and it’s simply one of the most wildly fun and addictive tracks I’ve heard all year, even if I’m not overly fond of the lyrics. This track is one case where the music and songwriting are simply so awesome, it wins out over the lyrics. Lastly, “Hail to the Victor” is the slowest track on the album, leading off with a nice guitar melody, before settling down and turning into a slow but epic melodic death metal track with strong symphonic elements, It has an amazing chorus, where clean vocals show up, but while the first half is very good, the track gets much better around halfway through, as the guitar tone suddenly changes, becoming more epic, and we get some huge symphonic arrangements, in a section that very much reminds me of the album Unsung Heroes and especially the track “Burning Leaves”, except dialed up to an 11. From there, we get some incredibly epic choir vocals, and the track ends in epic fashion. While that is the last proper song on the album, followed by the outro I mentioned earlier, the band also elected to provide alternate versions of the tracks “Don’t You Say” and “God is Dead”, with these versions featuring harsh vocals throughout. While some folks may prefer one version over the other, I personally think both songs work equally well with either clean or harsh vocal, as both are simply so incredibly fun and well written, they’ll work for me in either form, so having these alternate versions is certainly a nice treat, and I always listen to both versions of each track every time I play the album.

At this point, I never expect anything less than greatness from Ensiferum, and I’m never disappointed. Two Paths is once again no exception, as it’s yet another masterful album that has all the elements fans of the band have come to expect, while also having stronger folk elements than the band has had in a long time, as well as being one of their most energetic albums ever. It’s certainly yet another highlight in their impressive career and is easily my favorite folk metal album since at the very least Unsung Heroes, possibly even eclipsing that and going back to From Afar, which stands as my favorite from the band. Either way, though, I highly recommend it to all fans of folk, symphonic and melodic death metal, as it’s certainly a must hear, and one of my top three albums of 2017 so far.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/09/02/ensiferum-two-paths-review/

DEVIL ELECTRIC Devil Electric

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Following their debut EP The Gods Below (2016), Australian band Devil Electric have wasted no time in upgrading to the full-length album format. Devil Electric (2017) is their self-titled debut album. Of the EP's trackd The Dove & The Serpent has been carried over but the remainder of the nine track album is new material.

The music on Devil Electric flits between some very heavy hard rock and even heavier doom metal. The doom metal parts, which were the more dominant feature of The Gods Below EP, have a very old school quality to them and it's easy to think of the early pioneers of the metal genre like Black Sabbath when listening to the music. For me, the doom parts are the bigger draw to the band, but the hard rock side of the album is equally expertly executed and provides a great contrast of sounds and riff ideas and ultimately helps create a stronger album. Though Devil Electric are to my ears the heavier band and don't flirt with psych influences as much (I'd say there's the lightest of touches of it here) it's also easy to put this debut in the same ballpark as the early work of Blood Ceremony, at least regarding their mix of hard rock and doom metal elements. Very different bands beyond that. Devil Electric also display the occasional bluesy touch, especially with the lead guitar parts.

While the heavy music played by the trio of instrumentalists, guitarist Christos Athanasias, bassist Tom Hulse and drummer Mark van de Beek, is incredibly satisfying on its own, I have to say that it's singer Pierina O'Brien who absolutely steals this show. Demonstrating a voice that has a power capable of withstanding the heavy music behind her and also seeming to be in complete control of it, she's equally effective during lively hard rock or subdued doom metal parts that the album serves up. It's her commanding performance that makes the album an absorbing experience and makes it very easy to listen to the whole thing a second time as soon as you've finished it.

Of course it's not actually that long of a record at 36:13 minutes, but we're definitely dealing with a work that is a proponent of quality over quantity. There are a couple of shorter instrumentals that serve more as interludes, albeit substantial ones, Monolith and Lilith, but otherwise Devil Electric deliver excellent hard rock/doom metal tracks. Monologue (Where You Once Walked), Lady Velvet and The Dove & The Serpent are quick to stand out as highlights.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the album is that Devil Electric have carried over The Dove & The Serpent from The Gods Below EP but not the other equally excellent tracks, which haven't to date seen a release on CD format, only digital and a limited run of 7” vinyls (as The Gods Below Vol. I and The Gods Below Vol. 2). Devil's Bells, the first song from the EP, definitely has its absence on this full-length debut felt. Of course bands aren't obligated to tack on their prior EP tracks to a full-length but if you're going to do it for one of them...

That minor quibble aside, it's impossible to come away from Devil Electric not feeling very enthusiastic about it as an album and them as a band. It may be the case that on future releases they settle with either the hard rock or doom metal side that this one displays but no matter what they do they've set the groundwork here for it to be something even more spectacular. The spirit of heavy rock and metal is very much alive here.

DARKHER Realms

Album · 2016 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.48 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
Darkher is the name used by Yorkshire based musician/songwriter Jayn H Wissenberg in partnership with her husband/guitarist Martin T Wissenberg. Whilst sounding totally unique if you were looking for a reference I guess you could include Darkher in that group of female songwiters/musicians like Chelsea Wolfe and Julie Christmas who whilst not metal per se manage to transcend boundaries and are sometimes of interest to metal audiences because of the heavier elements introduced.

I’ve lived with Realms, the debut album from Darkher for quite a while now, since last year in fact and been meaning to review it for some time. Even after repeated plays it still manages to surprise me with its captivating unearthly songs brimming with stark beauty. Musically it ranges from sparse minimalism like the ethereal drone on Spirit Waker and Burried Pt I to heavier doom laden guitars like on Hollow Veil and Burried Pt II. Drums are present, supplied by a number of drummers, but are kept simple and under strict control with no room or necessity for fancy fills. Guitars range from the afore-mentioned doomier riffs, cleaner sounding parts too, but also for effect with ambient textures, Foregone being a prime example. Acoustic guitars add a folk feel at times as well. The icing on the cake though is Jayn’s vocals. The evocative album sleeve shows Jayn stood ghost-like in the middle of the moors conjuring up images of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – they’re both from the same part of the Country incidentally, giving an indication of what to expect. Her voice has a haunting melancholic beauty perfect for the stark autumnal atmosphere pervading the album. Lament, which closes things, is the perfect vehicle for this and a suitably memorable ending to a remarkable album.

Realms is a stunning piece of work. As already said this is not a metal album but if your musical taste’s stretch to include the likes of Myrkur then I strongly recommend checking out this incredible album and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

CRIMFALL Amain

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are many metal bands right now who can fluidly blend together elements of genres such as folk, symphonic and melodic death metal all in one package, so any band trying to pull off that kind of sound has their work cut out for them, trying to find a way to stand out. One band, I tried a few years ago but wasn’t overly impressed by, was Finnish band Crimfall. I barely remember anything about their second release, The Writ of Sword, except that I thought it had some good moments but wasn’t too enjoyable overall, so a new release for them wasn’t exactly on my radar. But now they’re back with their third full-length release, Amain, and I have to say, this time around they have definitely impressed me!

The band released their first two albums with two different labels, and have again changed labels this time, being picked up by Metal Blade, who of course also have Ensiferum in their lineup. I mention this, because the two bands definitely have some stylistic similarities, with both blending elements of folk, symphonic metal, and melodic death metal, using varying amounts of all those elements throughout their songs, and also mixing in varying amounts of harsh vocals, clean vocals, and choirs. However, the biggest difference between Crimfall and any similar band is that while they certainly do have their epic moments, at least on Amain I find their music to be a bit more complex at times, as many tracks on this release are a lot calmer and take more time to build up than one would expect from this style of music. Obviously, there are some huge instant winners like the two singles “The Last of Stands” and “Mother of Unbelievers”, where the music goes full out epic, with some explosive guitar work, epic orchestras, and some folk elements, but there are many extended quieter sections on this album, and many tracks take a few listens to fully click.

Vocally, the band offers the kind of approach one would expect from this mix of genres. Which is to say, there are the expected harsh vocals, which are done very well by Mikko Häkkinen, who has a very powerful voice that would work perfectly on a pure Melo-death album, as well as some epic choir vocals during choruses. And of course there are the clean vocals, which are handled by Helena Haaparanta, who mostly stays in a lower register, and has a very powerful voice that works great on the louder, more epic passages, but she also excels during the many softer sections, as her voice is very smooth and very beautiful at times. There are also some clean male vocals, most notably on “It’s a Long Road”. I’m not sure who does them, but they’re very good, slightly animated and pretty emotional, really adding to the feel of that particular track.

Moving on to songwriting, the album gets off to an excellent start. After a brief intro track, which has some voice overs, listeners are treated to the explosive opening track “The Last of Stands”, which opens up with a brief folk infused section where Helena delivers some beautiful vocals before the guitars kick in and we get our first taste of the epic growls. From there the track picks up the pace, leading to a section with epic vocals from Helena and then eventually a stunning chorus, sung by choirs. This is a very fast paced and explosive track which has some of the best guitar work on the album, and certainly gives listeners a taste of the band’s cinematic style, while also being possibly the most instantly enjoyable track on the album.

After that, the album takes a surprising turn, as we get the four part epic “Ten Winters Apart”, which feels like one song split into four tracks. Obviously, these tracks all flow into each other perfectly, and together they form a narrative, with the occasional use of voiceovers, though I find they add to the experience and aren’t distracting. Overall, the first two tracks are mostly fairly calm for the most part, with the occasional explosive growl section, but it’s mostly Helena dominating the vocal passages, especially on Pt. 2, where it turns into a ballad. Pt. 3 is the darkest, most explosive track, and has an exciting folk passage near the end, while Pt. 4 is probably the most upbeat track. On the whole, it’s a great sequence, though it does feel a bit odd to place it so early on the album, especially coming off such an explosive opening track.

Next is another standout in “Mother of Unbelievers”, which opens up with an extended folk passage, before giving way to the heaviest guitar riffs on the album, and the opening verse is very intense, with some powerful growls from Mikko, though the highlight of the track is the chorus, where Helena delivers some very epic and powerful vocals, probably her best work on the entire album. After that is another calmer track in “It’s a Long Road”, which starts off as a ballad, with some pretty solid clean male vocals early on, and going into the chorus, but the track builds up tension as it goes along, with growls kicking in around halfway through, and from there the track gets heavier and becomes pretty epic as it goes along. This track took a few listens to click for me, but once it did it ended up being one of my favorites. The following track “Wayward Verities” is probably the most folk infused track on the album, starting off with some epic group chants, before the growls kick in and then as the track gets heavier it certainly reminds me a lot of some Ensiferum tracks, though Helena’s vocals help it to stand out, and she does a great job as always. It’s definitely a fun, catchy song and one of the more instantly entertaining tracks on the album. Lastly, we have “Until Falls the Rain”, the longest individual track on the album. This track is mostly fairly calm and has some great melodies, as well as some excellent vocals, but I find musically there isn’t much to it and there aren’t really enough memorable moments to justify the near 8-minute running time. The epic vocals and voice overs help, but overall I find it to be the weakest track on the album.

Overall, Amain is an excellent release, which has a nice blend of folk, symphonic and melodic death metal elements, as well as a nice mix of heavier, more immediately satisfying tracks, and some calmer, slower building tracks. The closing track doesn’t do much for me, but everything else is excellent, and it’s an album I can easily recommend to fans of any of the genres I mentioned, as well as obviously fans of the band’s prior releases. Hopefully, Crimfall takes less time to release a fourth album and hopefully they can build on this release and produce something even better in the future.

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/08/26/crimfall-amain-review/

BUCKETHEAD Pike 272 - Coniunctio

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 272 - Coninctio / 29th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains only one track / Clocks in at 28 minutes 25 seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead 3: >

As 2017 rolls along, the chicken lover named BUCKETHEAD continues to unleash one new edition of his PIKE series after another. While the majority of these have been based in rock, funk or metal, his dipping into electronic and ambient territory has been rather limited since 2015’s Countdown To Halloween run. However on “Pike 270 - A3” BH reminded his insatiable fans that he is quite the brilliant composer of dark electronic outside of his guitar playing prowess.

PIKE 272 - CONIUNCTIO delivers a similar electronic based palette of moods and sonic textures that all unfurl within the context of one single almost half hour track. What we get here is a long (and i mean long) uninterrupted series of what sounds like processed violins (although i’m sure they’re most likely synthesizers) with classically infused melodies that plod along on valium. Every little sound echoes a bit into infinity while the following notes properly fall into place.

I’m quite the fan of BH’s ambient line of entertainment but i find this one to be a little lackluster as it’s almost impossible to keep my focus. If there is some brilliance embedded within it’s lengthy run i’m failing to locate it. To me this sounds like any old ambient music that pretty much anyone with some recording skills could pull off with little effort.

I would qualify this one as decent background music, a soundtrack for an activity of choice and perhaps not even a bad meditation or yoga routine track but there is not a lot going on. There are no guitars, bass or drums but rather an incessant flow of synthesized swirls that simulate a nascent melody that never really develops wings and soars.

WINTERSUN The Forest Seasons

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 2.07 | 2 ratings
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Necrotica
The forest is teeming with darkness.

I love the four seasons and the way they can change our understanding of the world. Every time they shift, it’s as if our moods and perceptions are shifting with them. And as such, they can each bring out a beautiful variety of emotions and vivid imagery in their wake. That’s why baroque violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi had such great success with his famous composition The Four Seasons. With every season, certain stylistic deviations were introduced to signify its characteristics; for instance, the sprightly and festive feel of the legendary “Spring” movement of the piece. Now, before I go any further, I’m not against someone in 2017 presenting us with a modern-day update of a timeless classic with a timeless theme. But when I heard that one of metal’s premier musicians and procrastinators Jari Maenpaa was behind the project with his primary project Wintersun, my eyebrow was more than raised… and not in a good way, really. I once loved Wintersun, a band whose first album was among my favorite modern metal debuts and provided a glimpse to a once-promising future for the band. But between the gradual dip in quality and the waiting time between albums, Jari seemed to be an artist who could only answer high expectations with false promises. But I’m always ready to keep my mind open and think positively, so I’m ready to dive into this new piece with open ears. Let’s go season by season, shall we?

Spring - The Season of Genre Cliches

We plunge into Spring, a bright and colorful season. But in the world of Wintersun, the skies remain as gray as ever. The cheap keyboards give a mood of cheap dollar-store melancholy, and the shameful production values seal the deal before the experience gets off the ground. I don’t even want to hear the rest, but I press on. The season of spring is apparently devoid of its usual life, and its generic cookie-cutter riffs are as recycled as they were on the last album. The percussion sounds like the drumset was wrapped in a giant paper bag to siphon it of all its power, then beaten senselessly over and over in the same two or three tempos. There are some “creepy” (I use this word hilariously lightly, hence the quotation marks) spoken word parts, I suppose in an attempt to enhance the atmosphere. But it’s remarkable how little Jari’s evolved as a singer, pretty much using his most familiar cleans and growls in the most predictable ways. The more I dig into the band’s discography, it seems ever more evident that Wintersun are only capable of conveying the season of their namesake (even then, not in very interesting ways). I only hear cold, distant, passionless blandness. If this is the sound of spring, I want to skip the season altogether.

Summer - The Season in Which Experimentation Meets Redundancy

At least there’s a bit more effort as we approach the season of Summer. There’s a decent acoustic guitar buildup in the intro, even though it bears a bit too much resemblance to “Sadness and Hate” in the notation and guitar tone. The tempo is more Opeth-like and the anthemic clean singing is neat, but there’s not enough to differentiate this season from the one preceding it. That is, except for the admittedly nice folk interlude in which folk and sitar sounds are integrated to add some atmosphere. Still, there isn’t nearly enough of a “wow” factor to any of this to excuse a 12-minute running time, and that’s a criticism seems to run through the entire recording. For the record, the lyrics are also a load of garbage. Check this out:

"In the dark ruin the grey mountains sing A sad song of winter and the howling wind Visions of the past in the haunting dreams Under the dead sky, under the withered trees"

If that cliched nonsense is Jari’s idea of high art, then my high school alternative rock band was full of Shakespearian poetry.

Autumn - The Season of Brooding, Brooding, and More Brooding… and Dark Riffs!

We kick off Autumn with some dark tremolo riffs to give an evil, black metal-oriented sound… spooky! Too bad the thin production makes the blast beats sound like trash. Beyond that, the mixing is so horrible that the drums overpower any of the riffing or other guitar licks we’re supposed to make out. I’m glad we’re finally listening to a song that comes a little closer to representing the weather and feel of its chosen season, but I’d like to actually hear the songwriting too! Granted, it’s nothing special. The keyboards are still bland and gimmicky, and the melodic death metal-inspired riffs are just as meandering and unengaging as ever. Somewhere around the middle, Jari uses a deep spoken word vocal style that makes him sound like Dani Filth… it’s somewhat interesting, but mostly seems like a means of distracting us from the boring 6/8-time riff and its directionless lead guitar work. The solo that follows is just some generic shredding too, so it’s really not very interesting. Just trust me: Autumn may try to sound sinister, but Jari’s not inspired enough to convey this properly.

Winter - The Season Wintersun Knows

We finally come to our final season, the season of Winter. And, lo and behold, this is actually the best piece in the collection. There’s some nice buildup in the icy synths, generating a mood both eerie and depressing. The actual title of the track is “Loneliness,” and the doomy tempo is a fine demonstration of such an emotion. The vocals are a bit melodramatic at times, but at least I’m hearing something other than the bland growls that have dominated the other seasons. Jari sounds more anguished and desperate here, fitting the theme of the composition and its blustery vibe like a glove. Alas, not everything is perfect here either. The tune seems to stick to the same tempo for most of its duration, making it a slog to sit through to the end. As usual, there’s not enough experimentation or new instrumental perspective on this season to justify a 13-minute closer to an already-overlong mess of an album. Also, the production is still pretty atrocious, but now I’m sounding like a broken record.

The forest is teeming with dread.

The four seasons can be open to such fruitful depictions and fantastic musical avenues, but Wintersun manages only to produce a small handful of these. Whenever I hear The Forest Seasons, I don’t hear the sound of fresh ground being broken. I don’t hear an exciting new aural adventure of both aggression and beauty. I don’t hear a band displaying a new or interesting take on a promising concept. I hear the sound of dread. I hear a project that has long passed its expiration date even after just three albums.

Most distressingly, I hear thousands of loyal Indiegogo funders being fucked by one egotistical Finn.

PORKY VAGINA Astroschwein

Album · 2017 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Extreme metal is far harder to penetrate than mainstream musical genres, but there are often gateway albums which open a genre for the innocent novice, before snaring them with something far more potent and addictive.

The gateway into thrash metal is often Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”. Death metal has Death’s “Leprosy”, or perhaps Carcass’ “Heartwork” for the more melodic end of the genre. Even grindcore has Brutal Truth’s “Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses” and Napalm Death’s “Harmony Corruption”.

Pornogrind though, has always been impenetrable to all but the most adventurous or most deviant of fans. Whether it’s the sado-sophistication of Cock and Ball Torture, the brutalized fuck tales of Spasm, or the puke-inducing pornographic barbarity of Necrocannibalistic Vomitorium’s artwork, pornogrind isn’t exactly inviting to the uninitiated.

But now, Porky Vagina has done the music world a great favour and released “Astroschwein”. Yes, the porky Polish pig pervs are back, and they have created an album which combines symphonies of sexual sickness with a plethora of tangential musical styles, while managing to infuse it with an accessibility usually unheard of in any musical genre with the syllable “grind” anywhere in its name.

The album kicks off with “Chlew i Honor”, a song with a revved up Spaghetti Western theme intro, which morphs into some good old gory grind, complete with machine gun programmed drums. There’s some odd carnival-type instrumentation thrown into the mix. And this is what you are going to get for the next 36 minutes. A lot of it doesn’t make a huge lot of sense, but the boys in the band are having a hell of a good time doing it. For example, “Cebulator” featured an interlude from Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”, and also segues into Soviet era martial theme.

Now, perhaps you enjoy blasting, relentless grind with phlegm-bubbling vocals from bloody start to gory finish. That’s all well and good. This is not the album for you. However, if you think musically Mr. Bungle was a bit fucking lightweight, and Mike Patton could have gargled and pig squealed a bit more, then this will be an aural orgasm.

Pornogrind, and most grindcore subgenres for that matter, are often derided for showing off little to no musical talent, sacrificing skill for brutality. These guys aren’t fucking about any more. Bukkake John, Pig Fucker and Pussy Pomper have some serious musical chops, constructing schizoid songs heavy enough to smash your skull in.

This is not a full-on pornogrind album by the strictest definition of the genre, but most fans of grind, death metal, or even just the extreme end of the bizarre and unusual will find something to latch on to here. It may open up the diseased world of pornogrind to some, or it may send others running for the safety of their Dream Theater collection. There’s only one way to find out. Give it a listen.

DECAPITATED Anticult

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Anticult" is the 7th full-length studio album by Polish metal act Decapitated. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in July 2017. It´s the successor to "Blood Mantra" from 2014 and features one lineup change as bassist Paweł Pasek has been replaced by Hubert Więcek.

Stylistically the material on the 8 track, 37:49 minutes long album continue the technical extreme metal style of it´s two direct predecessors. It´s a combination of death and heavy groove/thrash metal, with aggressive screaming "core" tinged vocals. There are audible references to artists like Meshuggah, Machine Head, and Gojira, at various points throughout the album (especially "Earth Scar" features a clear Gojira influence), but Decapitated still manage to produce something which doesn´t sound like a clone of any of the mentioned artists.

The technical level of playing is high. Tempo changes, heavy grooves, fast precision drumming, aggressive vocals, and sharp riffs, are some of the elements which make up the band´s music. Everything is delivered with great conviction and passion, and it´s a great joy listening to a band as skilled as Decapitated perform their music. They also manage to put atmospheric parts on the album (predominantly created by effect laden lead guitar parts), which provide the music with some variation. Not that "Anticult" is a one-dimensional release by any means. It only takes a few listens to remember all tracks, and the material are generally pretty catchy. A good example is "Kill the Cult", which features a killer groove laden riff, and a punchy hook laden chorus.

"Anticult" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which isn´t especially organic, but isn´t sterile either, and ultimately the production suits the material featured on the album perfectly. "Blood Mantra (2014)" was a great quality album by Decapitated, but "Anticult" ultimately comes off just a bit more focused and memorable. Vogg´s crushing precision riffing is as always the greatest asset of the band´s music, but there are many high level performances on the album. I could have wished for a more personal vocal style, but Rafał Piotrowski arguably does what he does with great conviction and passion. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BEASTMAKER Inside the Skull

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
USA doom/stoner metal band Beastmaker impressed me with last years Lusus Naturae. Their Black Sabbath infused retro metal was on heavy rotation in my house quite a while. Sure, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking but what matters the most with this sort of stuff is how good the riffs are right? There it scored pretty highly with me.

Inside The Skull is a quick follow up by today’s standards. History is littered with rushed second albums that have fallen flat in an attempt to capitalize on the any momentum built up by the first. Well fortunately that’s not the case with Beastmaker as they’ve released an album at least as good as Lusus Naturae, quite possibly better. There’s not much in the way of musical growth, the band adopting the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it ethos, but the new songs display more confidence and maturity. The sound is brighter but the riffs are still as crushing as ever but there’s still room for some melody. Pick of the bunch is opener Evil One, Heaven To Hell, Now Howls The Beast and Inside The Skull simply for having the best riffs but to be honest there’s very little to choose between most of the album. Give Me A Sign is more dynamic with the heavier chorus riffs being preceded by the cleaner guitar tones of the verse adding some welcome colour. Trevor William Church’s mournful Ozzy style vocals are perfect for this sort of stuff and he’s also responsible for the solid guitar work. Equally solid is the rhythm section of Andres Alejandro Saldate IV and John Michael Tucker who largely keep things simple but add enough variation with syncopated rhythms to keep things interesting.

There are loads of bands out there doing this sort of stuff but Beastmaker are one of the better examples. If you enjoy the likes of Sabbath, Cathedral and Pentagram these guys are for you.

LOCUST LEAVES A Subtler Kind of Light

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
A brief burst of dark progressive metal - I'd even call it blackened progressive metal at points considering the influence it takes from the atmospheric black metal subgenre - Locust Leaves' debut album finds them tackling extremes of moods. Vocalist Nick K. varies between clean and harsher vocals to match the varying styles of the album, which hit a peak of aggression on the death metal-influenced Fall (Ptosi), but instrumentalist Helm is the MVP here, with the six minute ambient outro Flight (Ptisi) being an all-instrumental last word. It's an interesting and novel style and it makes me hope to hear more from the project.

ELDER Reflections of a Floating World

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.76 | 7 ratings
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Unitron
Reviewer's Challenge Selection: August 2017

What's worse than bad? I didn't know before, but this album answers that question.

Some people will say that a boring album is worse than a bad one, which I personally disagree with. I'd rather listen to a really boring album than a flat out terrible one, but guess what? This album manages to somehow be both boring AND awful, and how do you ask? Well join me on this masochistic journey, through the seas of mediocrity.

Mastodon's new album mostly rested on the lame side, and Coheed and Cambria has some pretty mediocre stuff too. So take that, and make it worse. Add in some generic ambiance that does nothing but act as filler to justify the long song lengths, making the listener ask where the actual music is, and you've just about got it. Guess what though? The music isn't any better than the droning ambient parts, so you may as well just turn it off and stare at a blank wall. Most of the songs sound pretty much the exact same and follow the same pattern. Synthetic rock riff, emo-esque vocals, droning ambiance, then repeat. It just all sounds so soulless, and doesn't have any riff, melody, hook, or anything that gets me into the music or brings out any emotions. There is one song that stands out though among the boring stuff. That is "The Falling Veil", and it stands out it all the wrong ways.

Why is it so bad? First of all, it takes like two minutes for the actual song to start playing, but when it starts, you'd rather go back to the ambiance. The riff sounds like some sickening happy melody for the newest summer pop hit. It sounds way too flowery for an what an album like this is trying to do. For a little while it goes away, so you just get some more boring riffs and vocals, but it comes back. Oh yeah, this is the main riff, so be prepared to wish that you are falling with that veil and falling right off a cliff. Coupled with a stale polished production, this is not what I look for in a supposedly "hard rock/stoner rock" album. Also, every song is way too long. If you can make it work, go ahead and make an album with all songs being 8+ minutes. However, when you make the listener need to cleanse their ears within two minutes, it's clearly just not working.

There is little music that annoys as much as this album, but when I listen to this album I just feel depressed. Usually I listen to depressing and sad albums when I feel the same to make me feel better. This does the opposite, I was in a pretty good mood before listening to this. Now I just feel annoyed, but maybe it's because this album doesn't sound like what was advertised. This album is considered stoner rock, but it's really not. The only brief moment that is stoner in anyway and sounds decent is a 30 second riff around the 3 minute mark of "Blind". Besides that, it's a pretentious indie/prog rock album that's trying to disguise itself as a stoner rock album. If you want real stoner rock, check out some Clutch or Fu Manchu. Unless you want the Top 10 indie rock hits but made overly long, I would avoid this album.

RENDERED HELPLESS Entities of Transdimensional Emergence

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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666sharon666
MMA Reviewer's Challenge August 2017 – Randomly selected previously unreviewed 2017 release.

Brutal death metal is a genre designed to push the death metal sound to its most extreme. I've always been under the impression that doing that this is the easy part. The hard part would be doing it in such a way that an album stands out in some way. One man act of Alexander Paul (Organectomy), Rendered Helpless, from New Zealand, is back with his second album under the name, Entities of Transdimensional Emergence, which shows a lot of promise for this young artist in the genre.

The album contains nine tracks and only lasts a total of 28:20 minutes. We're talking short tracks that waste no time, just do their business, and then they're over, so in that sense the structure of the album is fairly typical of the genre. Speaking of which, Entities of Transdimensional Emergence is technically more of a slam death metal album and this is the main feature of the music. The style is bit monotonous on the surface, but I found that I had little trouble listening to the whole album in one go, though it's definitely in its favour to have such a short length. Regardless being able to listen to the whole thing in one go is the first hurdle crossed when it comes to genres like brutal/slam death metal, so in my book that puts Rendered Helpless that much closer to the head of the pack. Also working in this album's favour is that there are a few other influences that can be picked up on in music if you listen past the slams, notably a bit of death-doom metal in the slower parts.

This album isn't my typical thing by any means, so it isn't the easiest of albums for me to write about. The most positive thing I can say in its favour is that it's an album from a genre that, while I don't completely dislike it, largely find uninteresting and I actually do quite like this one, though it's not something I'd revisit very often.

VENENUM Trance of Death

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Reviewer’s Challenge Selection.

The best thing about these Reviewer’s Challenges is that you often get directed towards an album you may not have otherwise heard. Some of them have been good, occasionally great and of course some not so. As I try to check out all things death metal from the yearly additions here on Metal Music Archives I would have probably got around to Venenum eventually but this has certainly sped up my association with the band. I’m very grateful for it too as this has got to be the best album I’ve heard in a Reviewer’s Challenge from a band I don’t know so far.

Trance Of Death is Venenum’s debut album (though an E.P. was released six years back) and a remarkably mature piece of work considering. Okay the band have previous experience in playing extreme metal in bands such as Abhorrot, Immured and Delirium Tremens (none I’m familiar with) to name just a few but that takes nothing away from the fact that Trance Of Death is an ambitious and skilfully executed album. It obviously hasn’t been rushed, taking as much time as they needed to make the best album possible judging by the lapse since the E.P. The four members, all going by initials, draw on their no doubt considerable experience and have produced a death metal album that isn’t restrained by genre boundaries incorporating most notably black and progressive elements.

The album opens with the instrumental Entrance, a mournful piece dominated by cello. It’s not long though before all hell breaks loose as Merging Nebular Drapes kicks in. Blackened death overlaid with F.S.A’s raspy growl leaning more towards a black than death metal style. The music exudes a haunting menace with dark melodies infused with atmospherics. It’s pretty long at over eight minutes but musical twists and turns and injected with light and shade it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The Nature Of The Ground and Cold Threat are no less compelling following similar lines.

Most of the attention though is bound to be on the three part title track where they really let loose. Between them they add up to over twenty six minutes of the album so it needs to be more than good. Fortunately it is. The first part, Relections hits hard, driven by driving riffs with the now familiar pattern of changes but still has space for a suitably impressive instrumental break. It’s all aided by the production which is powerful, at times cavernous and laced with atmosphere – perfect for this type of stuff. Most surprising is part two, Metanola Journey which is heavily laden with clean guitars and organ. Along with heartfelt guitar soloing and time changes it shows Venenum at their most progressive. Awesome indeed! Just when you think it can’t get any better along comes Part Three, There Are Other Worlds… and is the longest track at just over fourteen minutes. Dynamics are the key here alternating between brutal riffs, cleaner arpeggios and tremolo picked guitar parts with some excellent solos. Much of it is instrumental but interest never is allowed to wander as it constantly shifts through a myriad of changes.

To put it bluntly I’m stunned. Totally blown away by how great this album is. Due to the diversity of influences it’s likely to appeal to fans of most forms of extreme metal as well as prog listeners who don’t mind venturing into heavier territory. Do yourself a big favour and check these guys out soon, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Exuvia

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 4 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Elevator music is much scorned, and for good reason. It is generally bland, soulless crap which is so inoffensive it is offensive. It is music so stripped of vitality and life it can be, and usually is, ignored. Occasionally, if your thoroughly bored mind wanders far enough, you might find yourself whistling along to “Hammond Organ Hits of the Swinging Sixties” or “Pan Flute Prairie Party”, entirely without meaning to. It is your unconscious mind trying to wake you from your blank-eyed stare.

‘Exuvia’ by The Ruins of Beverast seems to start off in the vein of black metal elevator music, featuring an ancient sounding Native American chant, and a ringing guitar tone, eventually underscored by a subdued black metal beat, and it seems like this album is destined for droning atmospheric black metal dullness, coming soon to an elevator near you.

To assume this and stop paying close attention is a mistake. Before you know it, ‘Exuvia’ has you trapped in a sticky spiders web, hypnotically entranced by the sheer depth and breadth of this work. This album covers so many bases. It has long, almost ambient drones, crushing doom/death sections, black metal both atmospheric and raw, devastating sludge passages, and compelling samples. Like a savage dog, straining on its chain, you know when it gets loose it’s going to hurt you, but you’re still surprised as you feel the canines sinking into pliant human flesh.

This whole lengthy album seems it should be the work of a modern day metallic orchestra, yet it is all the creation of just one man. Alexander von Meilenwald composed and played almost the entirety of this album himself (there are two guest keyboard players listed in the credits) and it makes for an incredibly cohesive album, despite the plethora of sub-genres explored.

Don’t take this too lightly. It might not seem like much at first, but when it has crawled up your trousers and taken bloody chunks from your genitalia like a rabid ferret, you will definitely take notice. Approach ‘Exuvia’ as a single massive multi-faceted work, like a modern symphony.

END OF GREEN Void

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


End of Green have been deploying their own styles of Goth, Doom, Metal, doleful Alternative metal for some twenty-five years, and with their ninth full-length album they are still desperate to find hope: based on this, I don’t think they’re going to find it any time soon, although they’re not going to give up hope just yet. Michelle Darkness sings touching and intimate dirges about aging, loss and loneliness, and on “Darkside of the Sun” he comes across so much like Pete Steele that I had to look to see if it was a Type O number. This is dark music, with a sense of bleakness permeating every note, yet Michelle is also trying to be optimistic as he says in “Unseen”, "Together, we are less alone.”

What is apparent throughout this album is that it is packed full of quality and thoughtfulness, this isn’t something that has been rushed, but instead each lyric has had the sweat poured over it, and then the music has been polished to ensure that it is all working together at its optimum. It is gothic, it is dark, yet there is that slight tinge of light that makes one think that although the band are inhabiting a very dark place indeed, there may be some light for them the other day of the cellar door. I wouldn’t recommend playing this album under the influence of anything, as this is music that needs to be played in the light of day, yet “Crossroads” shows that they can be lighter when they want to be. Commercial, yet never compromising this is a mature album that shows that even though they have been around for quarter of a century they are showing no sign whatsoever of slowing down yet.

DYSCARNATE With All Their Might

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


This is the third full-length for UK death metal trio Dyscarnate, and their first on Unique Leader. Since they released their debut EP back in 2008 the guys have been steadily gaining much critical acclaim with their debut album getting them named “best new death metal band in the UK, without question” by none less than Terrorizer magazine, while the second saw Metal Hammer crowning the band, “the new kings of UK death”. It has been five years since that release, during which time they have been honing their craft onstage, playing gigs with the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Fear Factory, Gojira, and Decapitated, but at long last they are back.

With Matt Unsworth keeping everything solid at the back, it is down to Tom Whitty (guitar, vocals) and Al Llewellyn (bass, vocals) to demonstrate that they are still one of the best bands around when it comes to true brutal death metal, and this they do with aplomb. Having two singers, both in the death style but different from each other, gives the band an edge, while the number of hours they have played together comes through in that they are so tight. Bass and guitar is often as one, driving the sound into the cerebral cortex. Death metal in its truest form rarely gets much better than this.

DAWN OF DISEASE Ascension Gate

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


When it comes to death metal, most bands either seem to get heavier as their career progresses, stay the same, or go off and do something completely different that is either a major success (Opeth) or disaster (At The Gates). So, it is interesting to hear German band Dawn of Disease trying to do something just a little different. They have been around since 2003, but only really started becoming a solid cohesive unit in 2009, and this is their fourth album. Singer Tomasz Wisniewski is convinced that he is still fronting the same band he always has, and his gruff vocals are very much a trademark, but musically here is a group that in many ways are far removed from what many would consider to be death metal yet also still staying true to the cause.

Yes, there are blastbeats, and yes there are quick passages, but there are also many more that are slow in terms of the genre, and packed full of melody. These guys have been listening more to the likes of Iron Maiden than they have to Cannibal Corpse, and the album is all the better for it. As a whole, this is still incredibly heavy, but with plenty of great tunes and the feeling that here is a band that isn’t afraid to go out on a limb and stretch the genre. They have created an album that will be of interest to those into death metal and also to those who many not normally listen to the genre. True, there are times when they go firmly back to where people may expect them to be (“Akephalos”), but this in itself only reinforces what they are doing on the rest of the album. Overall this is a heavy, melodic, really enjoyable album.

MASTODON Emperor Of Sand

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 11 ratings
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UMUR
"Emperor Of Sand" is the 7th full-length studio album by US metal act Mastodon. The album was released through Reprise Records in March 2017. It´s the successor to "Once More 'Round the Sun" from 2014. The band have created a conceptual piece which deals with mortality/fatal illness (the band members have revealed in interviews that the cancer illness of friends and family have served as inspiration), but on a metaphorical level telling the story of a desert wanderer who has been sentenced to death.

Stylistically the material on "Emperor Of Sand" continue the more accessible melodic direction of "Once More 'Round the Sun (2014)". It´s still unmistakably the sound of Mastodon, featuring their relatively unique riffing style, heavy bass, Brann Dailor´s energetic drumming, and the different vocal styles, ranging from raw to various clean vocal styles. It´s heavy music, but although the occasional sludgy moment occurs, the music is sometimes closer to heavy rock than it is to metal. It´s safe to say Mastodon have changed a lot since their early progressive sludge metal days. It should be noted though that the music is still occasionally progressive in structure and style. The closing "Jaguar God" (which is one of the highlights of the album) is an example of that.

The music features a nice organic tone which is further backed by the warm organic sound production. The material is well written and in most cases the tracks are relatively catchy and memorable too. Mastodon still make their audience work though, and although there are a couple of pretty accessible melodic tracks featured on the album (the melody to "Show Yourself" is stuck in my head), there are also some which require more than one listen to sink in.

So upon conclusion "Emperor Of Sand" is another quality release by Mastodon, and the only real issue I can come up with, is that there is little on this album, the band haven´t already tried and done on the predecessors. So it´s not exactly a groundbreaking release as far as their discography goes. Less will do though, and "Emperor Of Sand" is still a damn solid release deserving a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 271 - The Squaring Of The Circle

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 271 - The Squaring Of The Circle / 28th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 6 tracks / Clocks in at 29 minutes 27 seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead 3: >

“The Squaring of the Circle” (7:29) begins with clean echoey guitar and then quickly bursts into distorted guitar with bass and a lazy subordinate drumbeat. Hmmmm…. i think i’ve heard this before like a million times by now. This is basically one of those by-the-numbers generic BH tracks that repeats a few chords over and over. Adds a bluesy solo that crescendoes and alternates a few slow echoey parts. Been here. Done this. Yawn

“Osirion" (4:31) ups the tempo a bit with heavier riffs but offers a more off-kilter approach. The riffs are slightly weirdly timed with a jazzy drum beat to back them up. The bass is subordinate this time. A much more interesting track even though the tones and timbres are identical to the first track thus displaying a perfect example of it works / it don’t work that BH can often delight / frustrate within the span of a single track’s difference. It really boils down to the melodic construct as the chords aren’t quite as repetitive and this one offers a few more elements to amuse the alert

“Scalp Assail” (6:14) with an amusing title like this one would expect something a bit bizarre. Well………………………………………………………………………………………………it is a bit. Not OMG weird but the track is a bit schizofrenetic and meanders all over the place like a rollercoaster in BUCKETHEADLAND. Despite the twists and turns it’s not one of those bizarre detachments from all musical history rather it’s a ride through alternative metal riffage, progressive metal adventurism and slower parts that use that echo guitar sequence. This is a very cool track that employs all the metal mojo BH is known for with the ability to layer different time sigs in a polyphonic orchestral way despite being limited to guitar, bass and drums

“Fork” (3:03) almost sounds like an AC/DC anthem at first with power chords providing the melody but…………………………………………………………..it forkin’ turns into a forkin’ BH type riff and then forkin’ add some weird forkin’ elements such as forkin’ for fork’s sake. Rather tame by BH standards but yet has a nice forkin’ charm that captivates me. I forkin’ like it ! ¡ !

“Mosaic Silk” (4:10) is a rather mundane distorted hard rocker that has a generic riff, some chord changes and not much else. This is another one that is not very exciting and seems to have been simplified for those who don’t have a large musical vocabulary. OK but not unyawnable

“Decake" (4:00) is different as it sounds like a mystery theme. It has a bouncy theme show type riff that once joined by the metal riffs has a bizarre echoey persona. While the track structure is fairly simple it more than makes up for it with a heavy distorted palette of guitar effects. Many trademark BH riffs are here as well as effects but the overall impressive is a dark and murky mix of heavy alternative mud that exists in an alternative metal universe. Pretty cool

This one has interesting tracks except the first one. I’m constantly amazed at the chicken lover’s ridiculously large palette of musical ideas however something undetectable keeps this from being considered OMG excellent in my book. The cool elements aren’t enough to make this a great PIKE. Oh well, there’s enough here to selective check out though :o

XAVLEGBMAOFFFASSSSITIMIWOAMNDUTROABCWAPWAEIIPPOHFFFX Gore

EP · 2016 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Yet another band that caught my attention merely because of its ridiculously long name. This band is actually known as Acidic Vaginal Liquid Explosion Generated by Mass Amounts of Filthy Fecal Fisting and Sadistic Septic Syphilic Sodomy Inside the Infected Maggot Infested Womb of a Molested Nun Dying Under the Roof of a Burning Church While a Priest Watches and Ejaculates In Immense Perverse Pleasure Over His First Fresh Fetus but simply goes by XAVLEGBMAOFFFASSSSITIMIWOAMNDUTROABCWAPWAEIIPPO for short. They released their debut EP in 2016 and its titled GORE and they come from Durban, South Africa.

GORE is a short but brutally sweet 12 minute EP of headache music that mixes slam death metal and deathgrind with good old fashioned grindcore with some melodic death metal touches here and there. This is chaotic, heavy and unrelenting punk infused energy with heavily distorted guitars and bass, blastbeat drum aggression and snarling shouted vocals with a touch of pig squealing. The unrelenting pace is fast and in yer face. Surprisingly the four tracks stand out a bit and some of it reminds me of the Japanese zeuhl metal band Ruins with the noise rock type constructs. Despite a somewhat more diverse palette than more grind type acts, ultimately this one comes off as fairly average in its delivery but a worthy delivery of concentrated aggressive metal outbursts. Not bad but not memorable either.

Satisfying if you want brief spastic pyroclastic flows of metal bombast in full decibalage but not very satisfying if you seek thoughtful constructs of compositional brilliance. Beyond grindcore 101 but not quite 2.0 either. I have no idea where the silly ass name came from. This is basically a less than serious side project of Duncan Bentley (vocals) of Vulvodynia. Other noisemakers include Kris Xenopoulos and Lord Necrotic Gore Bong. LOL

JOHN FRUM A Stirring in the Noos

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Technical death metal is one of those genres I can't say I'm an expert on or anything, but it is a genre I've had some good times with in recent years, with a few different bands such as Allegaeon, The Faceless and Fleshgod Apocalypse impressing me, for different reasons. At the same time, it's one of those genres I tend to be a bit picky with, as there's a certain balance I'm always looking for, between ultra technical musicianship, which is obviously a must for the genre, and creative and memorable songwriting, which is something I require for albums in the genre to hook me in. Some bands manage to hit that sweet spot and blow me away, while others fail to hit it and end up going forgotten rather quickly, Which brings me to American tech death band, John Frum, a kind of supergroup formed in 2011, though it took until May of 2017 for them to release their debut full length, A Stirring in the Noos. I'll admit, this album is a bit of unique case, as usually with this kind of music I can form an opinion rather quickly, where this time around I never reached a conclusion until after several listens, and I'll explain the conclusion I reached in detail below.

Looking at the lineup, all members are metal veterans, with vocalist Derek Rydquist in particular being the former vocalist of tech death band The Faceless, while bassist Liam Wilson was with mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan for 17 years. Obviously, one would expect high quality stuff from those two, and on a technical level I'd say the music on A Stirring in the Noos is definitely top notch. The riffs are very aggressive and powerful sounding, with the production striking a nice balance between sounding professional and well done, but not being over produced to the point of taking away any of the force from the instruments. There's some very technical musicianship at times, as expected, with some very complicated drum patterns, as well as some pretty complicated arrangements, with many tempo changes throughout, especially on the shorter tracks, and from a pure technical standpoint, this is a very strong release.

Vocally, Derek Rydqist is obviously very talented, as one would expect having come from a well established act like The Faceless. His main vocal style is traditional death growls, using a very deep and powerful voice which fits the music perfectly, though at times he adds in some more animated, higher pitched growls, which are also effective and fit in nicely. However, there are some points where I find he gets a bit carried way, with some very over the top screams that detract from the music a bit and can be rather distracting. This doesn't happen terribly often, but it can be rather irritating when it does happen.

Moving on to songwriting then, which ended up being the deciding factor on my enjoyment of this album. It gets off to a pretty strong start, with opener “Presage of Emptiness” being the kind of explosive, hard hitting track I can easily enjoy from this genre. The drums are absolutely crazy throughout, and stand out as the biggest highlight, along with Derek's impressive death growls, but overall it's just a very impressive and fun opener, which has several memorable moments throughout, including an awesome guitar solo near the end. If anything, “Pining Light” is even better, having tons of tempo changes throughout and being surprisingly complex and eventful, considering it clocks in at under 4 minutes. There's obviously some insane musicianship going on here, but at the same time the songwriting is very good and everything seems to work here, aside from a couple points where Derek gets just a little too over the top for my tastes.

After this point, we get the first really long track of the album in “Memory Palace”, which clocks in at over 9 minutes. The track is very dark and has some atmospheric guitar work throughout, with the opening section being entirely instrumental and not getting heavy until around the 2 and a half minute mark. I actually really enjoy this soft opening, as it serves as a nice change of pace, but as the song picks up in heaviness, it quickly falls apart, and the weaknesses of the album start to show. Where the shorter tracks have a lot going on musically, this track and other lengthy tracks on the album, tend to stay slow throughout and are surprisingly uneventful, with this one in particular dragging badly and getting boring well before it ends. It's a case where musically everything is well done, but between some over the top vocals, extreme repetition in the chords and a simple lack of hooks or anything to grab onto, it simply drags on and on and is a trial to sit through. The other really lengthy track, “Assumption of Form”, has a bit more going on, but still drags a bit, and has possibly the worst vocals on the album towards the end, during a really slow section that ends the track in a horrible way.

The rest of the album never sinks as low as those two tracks, but it also never quite reaches the heights of the first two tracks, either, and in general I find myself a bit worn out towards the end, despite the relatively short 43 minute run time. Tracks like “Through Sand and Spirit”, “Lacustre Divination” and closer “Wasting Subtle Body” each have their share of memorable moments, but fail to keep my attention the whole way through, with the latter in particular again having some annoying vocals. The one track I do thoroughly enjoy in the second half is the instrumental “He Come”, which starts out with a basic tune that gets more and more complex as it goes on, adding more elements into it, and is generally quite an impressive display of great musicianship.

On the whole, A Stirring in the Noos is a tough album for me to review, because technically everything is well done, and aside from some sections where the vocals bother me a bit, there isn't a whole lot to criticize. However, from a songwriting perspective, there are two many tracks that either drag on at a slow tempo far too long to be enjoyable for me, or go all over the place without enough memorable moments or anything to hook me in, which makes this a challenging listen. Overall, it's competent and fairly enjoyable tech death, but nothing special and not something I plan on listening to again in the near future. I do think fans of the genre should give it a try though, as it is a fairly well made album, with great production, but those who aren't overly fond of the genre probably won't find anything here to change their mind.

VÖLUR Ancestors

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
The Canadian trio known as Völur are not your typical metal group. With a line-up that features Blood Ceremony's Lucas Gadke (bass, vocals, double bass, keyboards) and is completed by Laura Bates (violin, vocals, effects) and Jimmy P Lightning (drums), you'll notice the conspicuous absence of one of the genre's core instruments: the guitar. Ancestors (2017) is the group's second album following Disir (2016) and is part of a four album series on the old Germanic spiritual world. The album is typically presented as four long, multi-part songs, but some versions (at least the iTunes and Spotify ones) split these up into multiple tracks, bringing the album up to seventeen. Due to the following together nature of each full composition I have to recommend that the split up version be avoided where possible.

With no guitars the roll they usually fill has been split between the bass and the violin, which proves an effective approach, especially concerning the violin which takes over the lead melody lines. There are many times when you could be easily forgiven thinking that there really are guitars used on the album, they are made up for so well that they really aren't missed. You realise the truth when you pay close attention to the fine details, which is also the point where you start to notice the little things that make Ancestors such an unusual sounding release.

The actual style of the album is best described as doom metal meets a kind of dark folk, with some Nordic influence such as in Breaker of Skulls, where there's a passage of music where it sounds like Fejd suddenly popped in for a jam session. There is also an element of black metal in the album, especially during the Svart movement of final track Breaker of Famine. The experimental nature of the band is obvious in their writing as much as their atypical guitarless instrumentation approach and is actually more all over the place in terms of chops and changes than the typical progressive metal album is, with each track having between three and six distinct parts. Compared to the previous album Disir Ancestors feels a lot more extreme, with many vocals being growled.

Völur's sound isn't always metallic and in fact it does take a little while before opener Breaker of Silence gets anywhere close to metal, but when the trio want to be heavy, they are really fucking heavy. No guitars required; the bass is all they need. Neither in fact is metal a requirement for the album to sound doomy. That slow bass line in Breaker of Silence provokes a feeling of unease and dread all by itself. The violin parts can also come across as really sinister sounding, especially during Breaker of Oaths. The rarer black metal parts sound downright evil. Völur have captured a lot of negative emotions in their music, but man is it good.

Experimental music like Ancestors is, by its very nature, always going to be considered hit and miss by different listeners. While some will no doubt find the album enthralling others may consider it a mess of thrown together ideas. I think that's just a fact of a life for this kind of group. I can't promise anyone reading this review that they'll enjoy it as much as I have, but I've come to consider Ancestors to offer a real esoteric kind of pleasure. It's an album for those who seek the unusual. If that's you, then check this out at once!

WORMWOOD Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
Wormwood, who are not to be confused with no less than four other metal bands who have used the same name (all from the US) is a fairly new Swedish melodic black metal act. Formed in 2014 and featuring two members, vocalist Nine and guitarist Nox, of the black metal act Withershin, they previously released the EP The Void: Stories from the Whispering Well (2015). Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth (2017) is their debut full-length studio album.

The music on Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth (which I'm going to refer to as simply Ghostlands from herein) is, for the most part, an example of a fairly standard melodic black metal sound. That means aside from there being plenty of melody the production is extremely well polished for the black metal genre with absolutely no trace of cold rawness and the songwriting favours directness over any kind of atmosphere. Given the near one hour, twelve track running time of the album were this all the album did it would most certainly outstay its welcome as while Wormwood show themselves competent musicians, whose ear for melody is noteworthy, there wouldn't be all that much variation in their approach. Fortunately they find that much needed variation by also including an influence of folk metal, which changes up the feel of their songs considerably when it comes into play.

While this makes Ghostlands a more interesting album, it also acts as something of a double edged sword as the more folk metal based songs also show off how much stronger an album Ghostlands could have been if Wormwood had made it their focus, as these certainly are the best tracks on the release. There just isn't enough of a folk influence here for Ghostlands to be considered a true folk/black metal hybrid even though the influence is used on a regular basis and the only non-standard instrument in use is the fiddle. One track that stands out in particular is Tidh ok Ödhe (and by extension the shorter Silverdimmans Återsken that acts as something of a lead-in to it), which features guest female vocalist Alexandra 'Lalla' Moqvist, whose clean singing provides vocal interplay with the growls and adds another dimension to the music that instantly makes it the most memorable song Wormwood have here. It actually strikes me as a melodic black metal version of some of power metal band Falconer's folksier tracks, especially those that have featured a guest female voice as well.

Ghostlands ultimately stands as an enjoyable first major release for Wormwood, but an overall lack of memorability means that come its conclusion I'm struggling to recall the individual tracks even after giving the complete album several listens. This drags down the likelihood of my returning to it too often, except of course for that one really exceptional track Tidh ok Ödhe where everything just fell together and showed what the band were really capable of. If they can manage more tracks of that calibre in the future then they can definitely expect a much more enthusiastic review from this writer.

ARDUINI/BALICH Dawn of Ages

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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adg211288
Following the short-lived return to the metal scene of Fates Warning co-founder Victor Arduini in the form of the heavy metal act Freedoms Reign, who released a self-titled debut and only album in 2013 before calling it a day, the guitarist wasn't done. Teaming up with Argus/Molasses Barge vocalist Brian 'Butch' Balich, the pair set out to create music together, the project known as Arduini/Balich being the result of that. Despite the name, former Freedoms Reign bandmate Chris Judge (drums) is considered a fully fledged third member of the band. Dawn of Ages (2017) is their debut album.

With Victor Arduini coming from a band who were an early example of the progressive metal genre (despite being more heavy metal and us power metal based at the time of Arduini's exit in the mid-eighties) and Brian Balich being known for doom metal acts (which aside from the aforementioned acts previously also included Penance), it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that their collaboration together sets out to combine elements of both of these genres, achieving a sound that the band label as 'doom laden progressive walls of metal'. In simpler terms what that really means is progressive doom metal: heavy, invoking a sense of foreboding guitar work, but with an adventurous attitude that sees the trio breaking doom's conventions and also generally producing some pretty long tracks, including the 17:26 minute long Beyond the Barricade, one of the album's most outright progressive metal compositions. My thoughts are that the album is out its strongest when at its most doom metal based though, opener The Fallen being a great example and in general I do find that the first two thirds of the release are stronger than its closing stages.

His early Fates Warning exit has meant that although Victor Arduini will be remembered, mostly by Fates Warning fans, as a co-founder of the classic band, his name hasn't been as notable in the metal scene as other members of that band, such as Jim Matheos or even John Arch (who only did one more studio album than Arduini) which meant that his Freedoms Reign project didn't actually make all that many ripples back in 2013, and it took a while after its release for me to become aware of Arduini/Balich's Dawn of Ages, unlike the similarly named collaboration between the aforementioned Arch/Matheos whose album Sympathetic Resonance (2011) often seems more well loved than anything Fates Warning has done in over fifteen years. I personally liked the Freedoms Reign album for what it was, but Arduini/Balich certainly represents a step up for him in terms of song-writing. It's more interesting, adventurous and most of all more powerful.

Dawn of Ages is a solid start for Arduini/Balich (and Judge) and I hope that this album doesn't end up being a one off time for them working together. It's clear that despite all the years away from the metal scene Victor Arduini still has a lot to offer, while Balich's powerhouse voice is a welcome addition to any band (Dawn of Ages actually represents the first of a triple dose of new albums featuring his voice in 2017, with Molasses Barge and Argus also releasing albums). With all respect to Arduini's performance in Freedoms Reign I definitely like Balich's vocals more than Arduini's Ozzy Osbourne like voice. Unlike Freedoms Reign, this band/album is recommendable as much more than 'the new band of a Fates Warning founder'.

THE LURKING FEAR Out Of The Voiceless Grave

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
I don’t know where Adrian Erlandsson, drummer with The Lurking Fear finds the time. He always seems to have something on the go – At The Gates (naturally), The Haunted, Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre to name just a few bands he’s played with and now this. He’s joined by At The Gates/ former Lock Up vocalist Tomas Lindberg, guitarists Jonas Stalhammar and Fredrik Wallenberg and bassist Andreas Axellsson who between them have played in the ranks of Edge Of Sanity, The Crown, Skitsystem, Disfear and Tormented. I guess this makes them some kind of supergroup. Sadly supergroups don’t always add up to the sum of their parts and can be disappointing. Fortunately that’s not the case here and The Lurking Fear, named after an H.P. Lovecraft short story, have delivered a class album of old school style death metal. This was their self-imposed remit, the band saying they wanted to create an album inspired by the likes of early Death, Morbid Angel, Autopsy and Possessed to name a few. It’s to the bands credit that it hasn’t come across as sounding contrived with these self-imposed limitations, but then these guys are all experienced players with years spent in the extreme metal arena.

The list of bands above should give you a clue that this isn’t going to sound like At The Gates style melodic death metal. Instead of the Gothenburg sound it has far more in common with what came out of the other side of Sweden from Stockholm. That is dirty, crushingly heavy punk infused old school death metal. The sympathetic production is perfect – thick, powerful and organic but with enough clarity to hear those killer riffs which are not in short supply. The songs are short and to the point but still have room to develop ideas and changes of tempo from blast beats to slower doom infused riffs, though in the main the pace is kept fast. Vortex Spawn and The Starving Gods Of Old, which open the album after the short instrumental title track, are as good an example as any as what you’re in for here. Straight to the point and packing considerable punch with tons of energy and the riffs to match. Fortunately they keep coming one after another with barely a weak moment throughout the entire album. In fact if anything it gets better, The Cold Jaws of Death being another highlight. Song titles like this and Tentacles Of Blackened Horror are in keeping with the Lovecraftian imagery the band clearly want to convey. Winged Death kicks off like Judas Priest’s Exciter but there the similarities end. No disrespect to Priest who I love greatly, but they have never released anything sounding this evil or dirty – a suitable sense of dread and foreboding doom intact throughout brought to an effectively slower conclusion on closer Beneath Menacing Sands. Great stuff!

I really hope that Out Of The Voiceless Grave doesn’t turn out to be a one off. Sure, I’m looking forward to the next At The Gates album but at the moment I’m more than happy to have The Lurking Fear to be going on with. I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t make my top 10 at the end of the year.

MADROST The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 5 ratings
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adg211288
It was only last year that the metal world was hit by storm by the technical thrash metal tour de force that was the third Vektor album Terminal Redux (2016). Now their US countrymen Madrost seem to be hankering for a bit of that kind of action, if the pulling out all the stops approach of their own third album The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh (2017) is anything to judge these things by. It's been a few years since Madrost released Into The Aquatic Sector (2014), an instrumentally accomplished but not full-on technical death-thrash metal album, but a few years and a 50% new line-up later they've really evolved into something much more complex. I'm sure most thrash metal listeners will be sceptical over any band being able to touch Vektor, who are of course absolutely insanely talented musicians who undoubtedly deserve the praise they have gotten to date, but here's the thing for me:

The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh is a much better metal album than Terminal Redux.

I didn't want to make this review all about Madrost verses Vektor, especially since technical thrash metal is hardly a field unique to the two of them, but it's simply too good a comparison to play with when describing how Madrost's music sounds, since I'm sure most people reading this have at least sampled the Vektor album, seeing as it was basically treated like the metal event of the decade last year. If you haven't then I'd guess that you either don't like thrash metal (in which case why are you reading this?) or have been living under a rock.

When considering how both The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh and Terminal Redux exist in the same genre and even play with similar influences beyond thrash metal, yet come across differently, I find that the phrase 'less is more' really seems appropriate. Terminal Redux is a massive release featuring about 73 minutes of music while with The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh you can flip those two digits around. The more precise running time if 37:39 (that's about ten minutes longer than Into the Aquatic Sector ran for). There are three less tracks than Vektor's album (giving this album seven) and all are written in a much more 'to the point' kind of way, though can still pass the six minute mark, as is the case with No Future and Dimensions. There is less music here in terms of tracks and length, yet it leaves a stronger impression in no small part because of that. The shorter total running time means that when the album concludes I think about playing it again much sooner, where Vektor's lengthy opus can easily be seen as overwhelming.

Madrost favour a raw and unadulterated aggression when it comes to their music, which is enhanced perfectly by the production which is professional yet not overly slick and polished. There is some melody to be found, but its used quite subtly. Their style retains the death metal element of albums past but they are certainly a case where the thrash metal elements are considerable more prominent than the death metal ones. While The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh can even get a little bit progressive as well as technical Madrost don't mess around with fancy frills and unexpected influences and just get the job done, happily kicking arse along the way via the occasional softer atmospheric 'breather' section, which really only serve to further highlight the intensity of the album when Madrost shift things back into fifth gear. It is, needless to say, a hard hitting and powerful album with insane musicianship that's technically proficient but never self-indulgent and that's exactly why it works so well. If I had to pick a few favourites from it I'd have to name Abstractions, Dimensions and Eyes of the Deceit but the remaining four certainly aren't lesser tracks in any way.

Madrost are obviously not anywhere near as well known as Vektor, yet, but if there is any justice in this world then The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh will be the album that changes that. Even if you ultimately disagree with my assessment that they have one upped Vektor with this album (something I would repeat even if you held a gun to my head), there's no doubt in my mind that at the very least Madrost have delivered 2017's response to Terminal Redux and perhaps even the best thrash metal album of the year.

STUCK MOJO Here Come the Infidels

Album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Eight years after their last studio album and Stuck Mojo are back to breathe new life into the rap metal genre which they helped pioneer in the early 90's. While I loved 2007's 'Southern Born Killers' and even 2008's 'The Great Revival', the more hip-hop oriented rapper Lord Nelson and the commercially tinted songs (full of gospel and pop influences) put off a lot of fans.

However, a 2014 reunion show which saw the return of classic Mojo vocalist Bonz had the band once again retracing their metal roots. And while the newly revived classic line-up wouldn't last, it did plant the seeds for a new album which would take the band back into a more heavier direction.

And heavy, it is!

With new vocalist Robbie J. Fonts, Stuck Mojo have truly released a beast of an album that takes them right back to their 'Pigwalk' days. Brutal, unrelenting and uncompromising, 'Here Come the Infidels' is a great record that perfectly blends metal and hip hop whilst trying to give the genre the integrity it deserves. Rich Wards guitar riffs are as killer as ever (check that guitar tone!), and long-gone are the lyrics about friendships and "mom's favourite song", we're back to the anti-political, anti-social, anti-everything Stuck Mojo that we all know and love.

And it is glorious!

The album starts off with some of the bands best material, however, towards the end it does start to slowly creep back into that commercial rock territory. While songs like 'Tambourine' and 'Blasphemy' aren't bad by any stretch, they kind of feel a bit out of place on a release that started off as an all-out metal return to form.

Still, with that said, 'Verbal Combat', 'Rape Whistle', 'Charles Bronson', 'The Business of Hate' and the title track, 'Here Come the Infidels', are all some of Stuck Mojo's best songs, and are all perfect examples of why rap metal crossovers shouldn't be so casually disregarded. And if nothing else, surely this makes up for 'The Great Revival'... right?

FIRESPAWN The Reprobate

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"The Reprobate" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Firespawn. The album was released through Century Media Records in April 2017. Firespawn is a project band featuring several rather prolific Swedish musicians in lead vocalist LG Petrov (Entombed/Entombed A.D.), guitarist Victor Brandt (Entombed/Entombed A.D.), guitarist Fredrik Folklare (Necrophobic, Unleashed), bassist Alex Friberg (Necrophobic), and drummer Matte Modin (Defleshed, Dark Funeral). There have been no lineup changes since the release of the band´s debut full-length studio album "Shadow Realms (2015)".

Stylistically "The Reprobate" is pretty much a continuation of the death metal style introduced on "Shadow Realms (2015)". It´s old school at it´s core, but it´s not too derivative of past glories. With LG Petrov helming the project (and Brandt on guitars) an Entombed influence is inevitable, but he is predominantly a bit more growling and brutal when singing for Firespawn than he is when singing for his main act (and unfortunately also a bit one-dimensional and monotone in his delivery). The instrumental part of the music generally doesn´t sound like any particular Swedish or foreign country death metal act, but it´s not the most original sounding death metal style either (the main riff on the title track for example loans heavily from Morbid Angel). While the music is varied enough with great rhythmic changes, powerful riffs, and great melodic lead guitar work, you probably won´t come away from the album feeling like you´ve heard something you haven´t listened to before.

It´s not a major issue though, and one of the main reasons for that is the high level musicianship. Considering the involved parties, that´s not a huge surprise, but it deserves to be mentioned that these guys are incredibly well playing and deliver their music with great passion and conviction. "The Reprobate" is well produced too, and upon conclusion it´s a good quality death metal release. It may not shake the foundation of the death metal genre, but it´s another proof of how great the Swedes generally are when it comes to playing the style. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ULVER The Assassination Of Julius Caesar

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
You'd think that by this point in their career, after all the twists and turns they've taken us down, the prospect of Ulver trying out a radically different genre from their former work would be utterly unsurprising - I mean, this is the same band which bounced from kvlt black metal to dark folk across their first two albums, after all.

And yet, somehow The Assassination of Julius Caesar manages to be another whiplash-inducing swerve from Ulver, shifting into the realm of honest-to-goodness synthpop. The secret to it, which makes it perhaps my favourite Ulver release ever, is that this is a style of gothy synthpop which feels distinctly Ulver, particularly in terms of their electronic and ambient works of their post-metal era.

After all, Dressed In Black on Blood Inside verged on the electro-gothic, so this isn't an evolution entirely without precedent, and whilst 80s nostalgia synthwave stuff is in vogue at the time, Ulver are able to artfully defy expectations by making the most 80s-tastic cut on here a tribute to 1969. Moreover, just because they've gone synthpop doesn't mean they've gone simplistic with it; there's complex, ornate passages here which reveal hidden depths to their sound, and I'd urge anyone turned off by the synthpop approach to at least give cuts like Rolling Stone or Coming Home a chance before writing off this album out of hand.

Is this what we wanted or expected from the next Ulver album? Almost certainly not, but by this point we'd be fools to expect Ulver to do what we want or expect - better to simply let them do their thing, and celebrate it when that results in creative masterstrokes like this.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 270 - A3

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 270 - A3 / 267th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 2 tracks / Clocks in at 28 minutes 50 seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead 3: >

While the artist known as BUCKETHEAD is primarily known for his experimental rock and metal styles that transcend boundaries and push limits of what human fingers are capable of performing, the chicken lover has also proven himself a master of creating some of the most horrific and creepy dark ambient soundtracks throughout his PIKE series with the bulk having been released in 2015 with the chilling countdown to Halloween PIKEs where a new album was released everyday. Since then those types of murky overcasts of demented dread have been fairly absent in the incessant releases that never cease but on PIKE 270 - A3 the chicken lover delivers yet another mystic chimera of sound that dishes out two long drawn out tracks that just miss the half hour mark

The title track “A3” is a slow and descending sonic drift into the recesses of the darkest corners of the human soul with no melody to be heard, no rhythms to keep time and no discernible rhyme and reason to the extended bouts with darkness that slowly pulsate through the sonic underworld like bioluminescent jellyfish at the mercy of the high-pressure induced currents of the oceanic abyss. So is the feel of “A3” with a dungeon synth flow of atmospheric dread followed by echoey guitar vibrato in free form plunging ever deeper into the a lightless trench with occasional energetic outbursts of vibrato run amok

“Liquid Mirror” continues the journey into strange unearthly sound fields where dark ambient synths slowly modulate in smooth yet jarring manners of articulation designed to evoke the horrors of being plunged into a dark world haunted by phantasms and poltergeists that can only be sensed but not seen. The fluidity of the pulsating flow of sound emanates from the chasms of unnerving alien auras that evoke otherworldly encounters where all relativity with reality are completely void where hitherto unthinkable forms of chemistry and physics dominate. So utterly and incomprehensible that sheer logic crumbles like sand castles under construction in a hurricane. “Liquid Mirror” is even more extreme in its utterly formlessness with eerie dripping, echoey distant guitar vibrato and haunted synth swirls that go for the jugular in ratcheting up the fear factor. Perhaps the perfect soundtrack for a stroll down an unexplored planet in another star system as strange life forms evolved in every different way possible and where every nanosecond is fraught with apprehension and trepidation

PIKE 270 - A3 is an outstanding accomplishment of dark ambient and is guaranteed to appeal to aficionados of Lustmord, Deathprod or Bohren & Der Club Of Gore. Do not listen to this alone and in the dark before you go to bed

VEKTOR Terminal Redux

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 17 ratings
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The Crow
A brutal travel through space and death!

Hearing Terminal Redux is like being propelled through light years of heinous wars, apocalyptic starship crashes and obscure mythologies. The concept of the album is obtuse and difficult to understand, but also an adventure to discover, just like the music of Vektor. They proudly carry the banner of technical death metal today. And they deserve it!

The production of the album is also very solid, leaving space for every instrument. I would mention the guitars, which sound piercing and pristine, and also the powerful drums. Maybe the bass is a bit low for my taste, but that's usual in thrash and death metal anyway. But let's talk about the songs!

Charging the Void introduces us in a very powerful way in the style of the album. A very technical and fierce death metal but with tons of epic melodies, really catchy for adventurous listeners. The DiSanto vocals are pure black metal nevertheless, and they are accompanied in this song by splendid clean female choirs. A very solid, progressive and surprising song!

Cygnus Terminal is a bit more melancholic and melodic, but also powerful and it contains incredible drumming from Blake Anderson. LCD is even faster, with brutal lyrics with helps to define the concept of the record. And then comes Mountains Above the sun, a very wise track which introduces variety while being just an introduction for Ultimate Artificer, a song which is a bit more classic death metal, but it contains some of the best riffs of the album.

But hey... The second half of the CD is even better! Pteropticon is one of the most complete songs of the album with its devilish speed and brutal melodies. Is one of the best written tracks. Psycotropia increases the craziness level and it contains one hell of a bass solo. And Pillars of Sand follow the more straightforward line of Ultimate Artificer... At this point we start to feel again the album needs a change.

And then we find Collapse! A semi-acoustic and beautiful track with clean vocals which increases its intensity progressively bringing a beautiful moment when clean vocals and growls unite, making a very original and catchy section. The final part of the song is a bit more conventional, but also great. Another marvelous bass playing from Frank Chin!

Recharging the Void... If I had to introduce Vektor to someone, this would be the chosen song to do that. Over 13 minutes of epic melodies, haunting clean choirs, brutal guitars and incredible riffs. It's arguably the best song of the album and one of the highlights in Vektor's career. Just a must hearing song for every prog metal lover! Just like the rest of the album.

Conclusion: Terminal Redux has a pair of not so brilliant moments where the music can be a bit repetitive. But as a whole is just one of the best metal albums of this decade. Superb songwriting, cryptic concept and impressive instrumental skill which recalls the best technical death metal moments of the 90's while it achieves to sound different and very actual. If you are not scared by extreme metal and black metal vocals, you should give Terminal Redux a chance. It's a very impressive release from which confirms that Vektor are not the future of metal anymore. They are the present!

Thank you for this great experience, guys.

Best Tracks: Charging the Void, Pteropticon, Psycotropia, Collapse, Recharging the Void.

My rating: ****1/2

This review was originally written for ProgArchives.com

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