Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

ARCHITECTS All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us

Album · 2016 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us was the critically acclaimed 2016 album from British Metalcore champions Architects. It is their seventh full-length release, their most successful to date, and their final album to feature Tom Searle before his untimely and tragic passing. It was produced by Fredrik Nordstrom (Arch Enemy, At The Gates, In Flames) and released on Epitaph records.

Architects fans generally fall into three categories; people who only like the incredibly brash and technical Dillinger Escape Plan-influenced early days. People who worship their breakthrough album Hollow Crown above all else, and people who favour their newest three albums. Me, I’m in the latter camp. My favourite of all their albums is Lost Forever // Lost Together.

My second favourite of all their albums is this. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is a real achievement. It is arguably their finest and most diverse record to date and when you take personal favouritism out of it, objectively their best. Their electronic side is fleshed out the best here. Sam’s voice is the strongest its ever been here. The balance between their heavy and contemplative sides is at its most harmonious here. Its got their best lyrics to date in my opinion. The production job is utterly perfect, the twinkling electronics float and the crunchy riffs really crunch.

The musical style comes close to Djent a lot at times especially with the balance of progressive metal style clean beautiful vocals, floating electronics and crunchy rhythmic, awkward riffing. They don’t fully immerse themselves in that one style but fans of it would love this album. Its one colour in their bigger picture. They also look in some more commercial directions here too, and luckily they have the tact and taste not to sound like they’re selling out or anything, again its just one part of a bigger whole. Its a very natural evolution of the style they’ve been refining since 2012’s Daybreaker.

Highlights include the punishing opener ‘Nihilist’ (which is the sort-of title track), as well as the rhythmic single ‘A Match Made In Heaven’ and the touching Anathema-esque closer ‘Memento Mori.’ It fittingly tells us to be mindful of death.

Overall; this is a stunning, tasteful, diverse and beautiful album that lives in a mathy, techy, heavy world too. It is expertly written, played, produced and has some fantastic lyrics. Its one of the band’s better if not best albums and if you like the band you’d be mad to miss it (unless you really only like the earliest stuff only). If you like bands like Tesseract, Circles or Monuments I’d also highly recommend this one to you to try.

FLESHKILLER Awaken

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
Awaken is the debut album from Norwegian extreme metal band Fleshkiller. New band yes, but not lacking experience as it features guitarist/vocalist Ole Børud of Extol fame and previously Schaliach. Also present is guitarist/vocalist Elisha Mullins who’s also a member of The Burial and ex- A Hill To Die Upon, bassist Ole Vistnes from Tristania, ex- Zerozonic and drummer Andreas Skorpe Sjøen.

Of the past bands these guys have played with above the only one I have any experience of is Extol and Fleshkiller don’t sound too dissimilar playing a blend of prog metal injected with more extreme elements, in this case melodic death metal with a touch of thrash thrown in. It sounds generally heavier and more complex than later day Extol to my ears though I know their earlier work less, at times reminding of technical death thrashers Revocation with added melody. The vocal harmonies are still in place and if anything have an even more melodic edge and integral to the sound alongside the harsher more extreme vocal work. Musically it’s pretty complex stuff with each song rarely sitting still for too long before throwing in another complex series of shapes, licks and intricate riffs. These songs are full of strong hooks with inventive progressions that often go off in unexpected directions. In fact it’s a strong emphasis on melody that really help mark these songs as something special and not just a vehicle for displaying exceptional musical chops. The guitar solos have an equally melodic edge too.

Not surprisingly, these guys play really well – a pre-requisite for this sort of complex material. I’ve already mentioned the vocal harmonies but it’s worth emphasising their importance to the overall sound and certainly makes them stand out in extreme metal circles. Like Extol the songs have a Christian leaning. I’ve always felt that Christianity and death metal make unlikely bedfellows but then again why not and it doesn’t come across as incongruous. The production is powerful and with everyone cutting through clearly in the mix displaying the intricacies of the songs effectively. Not a single moment is wasted with every song earning its place making it compelling listening from start to finish, but it doesn’t get any better than the first two tracks, Parallel Kingdom and Salt Of The Earth being perhaps my pick of the bunch for the interplay between vocal melodies and inventive guitar hooks.

2017 has been a great year for death metal and Awaken can now be added to the list of best albums for this year, it really is that good. It also comes recommended to Prog metal fans who don’t normally venture into extreme metal territory who may also find much to enjoy.

AMBERIAN DAWN Darkness of Eternity

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
Finnish symphonic power metal band Amberian Dawn has long been one of my favorites in the genre, but at the same time, I’ve always felt they had potential to be even better than they are if they could just be a bit more consistent with their songwriting quality. They’ve released some excellent albums in the past, to be sure, with 2009’s The Clouds of Northland Thunder, 2011’s Circus Black and 2015’s Innuendo being my personal favorites. However, I find even their best albums always manage to fit in one or two tracks that don’t quite do it for me, as the band often goes for some oddball tracks, some of which deliver big time and end up as major highlights, while others fall flat and end up stalling momentum on their respective albums. I’ve said all this to say, out of every album Amberian Dawn has released so far, Darkness of Eternity, their seventh full-length release, and one I was highly anticipating, is easily their most frustrating, inconsistent release to date, with some tracks that match their career highlights, while others simply feel odd and out of place on a metal album, and it all makes for a release where you can have songs placed together that conflict with each other and are so strikingly different, it feels like you suddenly switched to a different album. With all that being said, the high points of the album are good enough to make it easily worth enduring the low points, and it’s still a quality album overall, but it’s also incredibly frustrating.

Every Amberian Dawn album to date has a had a mix of different styles, ranging from speedy symphonic power metal with excellent guitar riffs and epic keyboard solos, to slower, more theatrical tracks, all while mixing in some classical flavoring throughout. All of this is true on Darkness of Eternity, however, while the speedy power metal portions are still intact on a few tracks here, a couple of which can be considered among the band’s best work to date, I find some of the slower songs here to be a bit off-putting and not really in line with what I want from the band. Obviously, they’ve never been the heaviest, most guitar-driven band in the world, as keyboards and orchestras have always been the most dominant elements of their music, however, some of the tracks here fall into straight up 80’s pop territory. Again, this is something they’ve briefly hinted at on past albums, with “The Court of Mirror Hall” from Innuendo being perhaps the most obvious example, but even a track like that felt more metal and more epic than a few of the tracks on this album. Take, for example, the second track, “Sky Is Falling”, a track dominated by bouncy vocal hooks, cheesy, pop-inspired keyboard lines and a catchy, overly pop-infused chorus. There’s absolutely nothing in that track I consider metal in any form, and even the brief flashes of guitar work sound so light as to have no effect, plus I don’t even notice any symphonic elements at all, effectively making the track feel more like a dance-pop track than anything else. I will admit, it’s a decent track in its own right, but I really don’t think it belongs on a metal album, even coming from a band that tends to stay on the lighter side of the genre most of the time. The song especially feels out of place when coming after such a classic sounding power metal track like “I’m the One”, and it’s the first sign that band leader Tuomas Seppälä is perhaps overreaching a bit in his attempts to be creative and ambitious.

Moving onto the biggest positive element of the album, Capri’s vocals remain as strong as they’ve been since she first took over vocal duties on the excellent re-recordings compilation Re-Evolution in 2013. As always, her voice is very powerful and deeper than many other female vocalists in symphonic bands, and she sounds as impressive as ever, be it during the heavier tracks like “I’m the One” and “Dragonflies”, or the lighter, more pop-infused tracks, all while sounding as varied in her approach as ever. In fact, she briefly does some semi-operatic vocals on “I’m the One”, making it an instant highlight. She’s also very effective on the two ballads, as expected, and her vocals are definitely the band’s biggest strength at this point.

Unfortunately, the area where the album struggles the most is in perhaps the most important area of all, that being the songwriting. The band at least gets things off to an exciting start with “I’m the One”, a very speedy, classic sounding symphonic power metal track with some excellent guitar leads, epic symphonic arrangements, a huge, catchy chorus with awesome operatic vocals, and an amazing keyboard solo. For all the flaws in the songwriting department, the band still displays some great musicianship throughout the album and this track is certainly one of the best examples of that. It’s also extremely catchy, while still sounding metal and it would definitely feel right at home on one of the band’s earlier albums. While that song is probably my personal favorite here, “Dragonflies” isn’t too far behind. It has some pretty heavy guitar work throughout, with a darker feel than many of the other tracks, though Capri’s vocals still help add a lighter tone to the track, and she excels throughout as always. It has incredible instrumental sections, with some very chunky guitar riffs and epic orchestras accompanying an excellent keyboard solo, and of course, the chorus is spectacular as well. From a purely instrumental standpoint, I think this is probably the best track on the album, and I love how the guitar manages to have come excellent neoclassical flavoring while still being very heavy. Also in the speedier category, are“Golden Coins” and “Abyss”, with the former again having a very classic Amberian Dawn vibe throughout, with epic keyboards and some very impressive, classical flavored melodies, while the latter is brief but very fun and perhaps the speediest track on the album, with some more excellent keyboard work and vocals.

On the slower side of things, we start with the previously mentioned “Sky is Falling”. I’ve already mentioned why I’m not so fond of it, with the biggest reason being that it really throws off the pacing, being thrown in there right next to such epic speedy tracks as “I’m the One” and “Dragonflies”. Well, I wish I could say it was one-speed bump and that the album fully recovered afterward, but sadly that would be a lie. Two tracks later, we get lead single “Maybe”, another very pop inspired track, with some cheesy keyboards, bouncy vocal lines, a catchy chorus and a general lack of anything resembling metal. Again, I know the band has done tracks like this in the past, but this feels very pop like even by their standards, and while I do slightly notice symphonic elements on this track, they aren’t enough to prevent it from having an “Abba with guitars” feel, and the thing is, if I wanted to hear dance pop, I’d listen to dance pop, not a symphonic power metal album. Even worse, the track feels like it’s cut off at the end, as the keyboard lines simply fade out instead of actually reaching a conclusion. I’ll admit it’s certainly a catchy and well-written track, but it simply isn’t what I want from the band, and that ending does come across as a bit sloppy.

Moving into the second half, there are two ballads and two tracks which feel like a blend between the two dominant styles on the album. Firstly, “Luna My Darling” is a pretty solid track, starting with an epic vocal section before moving onto some bouncy, pop-infused melodies during the verses, which give way to a slightly heavier, more epic chorus. The highlight of the track is in the second half when the music speeds up and we get epic dueling guitar/keyboard solos. See, if I’m going to get obvious pop elements in my symphonic metal, I prefer it to be done in this way, as at least this track has a nice blend of both pop and power metal, and is a nice track overall. Similarly, “Ghostwoman” is a speedy track, which also has a power metal feel to it, though it sounds a lot bouncier than the other up-tempo tracks on the album, especially during the verses, and even the chorus is pretty pop like as well. It’s a fun track, and the chorus is very catchy, though not really one of my favorites. The highlight is the epic guitar solo in the second half.

Lastly, we have the two ballads which close out the album. Yes, just in case the overall flow of the album wasn’t already completely out of whack, the band decided to end with not one ballad, but two ballads! First is “Breathe Again” which starts out slowly and calmly, serving as an excellent showcase for Capri’s vocals, before the music picks up in the second half, with some epic orchestral arrangements and some heavier guitar work at points. It’s an excellent track overall and probably the better of the two ballads. After that, we have the closing title track, which also happens to be the second part of “Symphony Nr.1”, the epic sequence the band started on Innuendo. Where part 1 was an epic, complex symphonic metal track, with many twists and turns, this track is a pure ballad throughout, with some nice classical piano serving as the main focus, though there are also some nice orchestral elements in the background. Capri does a wonderful job as always, and it’s a nice track overall, but because part 1 was so epic and especially because this one serves as a title track, I was expecting a bit more from the track overall.

And that about sums up my feelings towards Darkness of Eternity on the whole: It’s a nice enough album, which at times has some big standout moments that equal some of the band’s best works, but overall it’s simply a messy, inconsistent album that left me wanting a whole lot more. Power metal fans, in particular, are likely to have mixed feelings, as “I’m the One” and “Dragonflies” are sure to get them excited, while many of the more pop-infused tracks are likely to frustrate them just like they frustrate me, and the overall focus on bouncy keyboards over epic symphonic arrangements on many tracks here is a rather puzzling choice, as is the decision to end an already oddly paced album with two ballads. Overall, longtime fans are sure to find some songs here to be satisfying, but I consider this to be Amberian Dawn’s weakest album to date, and I have a hard time recommending it to my fellow metal fans.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/11/12/amberian-dawn-darkness-eternity-review/

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
US funeral doom metal duo had released just two full-length albums, Longing (2012) and Four Phantoms (2015), when their line-up was split in two following drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra's departure. Bands change line-up all the time but this change was tragically made all the more profound when a year later, in 2016, Adrian Guerra passed away. Mirror Reaper (2017) is the group's, which now consists of Dylan Desmond (bass, vocals) and new member Jesse Shreibman (drums, vocals), first new recording since then. The monolithic, eighty-three minute long single song album can be seen as a eulogy to their fallen comrade, whose presence is still felt by the insertion of some vocals recorded before his untimely death at the age of just 35, credited under 'the words of the dead'.

Because Mirror Reaper is so long, physical versions of it have to split the song into multiple parts. The CD version has two discs with the track split into two (titled As Above and So Below) while the vinyl is also a double, with the track split into four parts. It's worth pointing out at this point that at least in the case of the CD version the physical pressing does NOT come with a download code so buyers can also obtain the full uninterrupted version of the album. Without confirmation, I'd assume that the vinyl is the same. This, while I won't allow it to affect my rating in this review, is a considerable omission to make in my view, making Mirror Reaper one of the extremely rare cases where the physical version can be deemed inferior to the digital (more so because the digipak packaging is one of the most shoddily made I've ever encountered).

In any form Mirror Reaper is a daunting journey, one that I'm certain most potential listeners will want to think hard about whether they even want to try taking it. Those that do will definitely need to find themselves in the right frame of mind, and set aside enough time to take the whole composition in during a single sitting regardless of whether you're listening to the seamless digital version or the four part vinyl version. A piece like this loses its impact if you decide to take a break of any length and while at least in the case of the CD version the split between the As Above part and the So Below part does make sense, So Below doesn't work near so well as a stand alone track.

Funeral doom metal is known for its plodding pace and atmosphere of misery and that's exactly what is delivered on Mirror Reaper, via some quite extended length non-metal sections, especially during the So Below part of the song. No idea is treated like a flash in the pan thing, but is drawn out for ages. The vocals range from growling to hypnotic chant to subdued singing. Despite the growls, there's no forays into actual death-doom like the works of Evoken or Esoteric, so it's pretty much a dirge from start to finish. In that sense, Mirror Reaper may just be an example of funeral doom metal at its most pure, though since there are no guitars and it's all done on bass the sound is a little difference to the average band. At least it's a pure funeral doom metal sound until one of the non-metal passages hits, then it's something else, yet still very much funeral and very much doom, just without the metal.

Mirror Reaper is not, understandably, an easy album. I expect that many who give it a go will find it to be too much in one way or another. To many, this will be far too long than any one song has a right to be. For others the length in itself won't be an issue but the snail's pace tempo will be. For more still it will be how it actually sounds. Mirror Reaper is certainly a dreary affair, even depressing at times, but that's hardly surprising given the genre and backstory and the death of Adrian Guerra. It's true that the point, musically speaking, could likely be accomplished in a much shorter yet still lengthy composition and that to some ears it may have been better for it. Those people will be entitled to their opinion, while I will remain steadfast in mine that they just don't get it. All things considered it seems highly appropriate that Bell Witch went all out with Mirror Reaper and produced something that will stand tall as a monumental work of what funeral doom metal is all about. This is their tribute to their fallen bandmate and it's certainly not found wanting. Even being so long there's definitely a coherence to the whole composition so that despite all the pitfalls it could fall into it never actually feels aimless.

Mirror Reaper will not go down as an album that will grace my speakers with any kind of regularity, but it's one I'm pleased to have taken the plunge on for when the mood strikes. Bell Witch have crafted a quality, well thought out work here.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
I’ve always viewed the development of Opeth and Enslaved as running parallel with each other. Both started as extreme metal bands, death metal for Opeth, black metal for Enslaved and both even at an early stage displaying progressive influences. As they have developed the progressive elements have come to more to the fore. One of the areas where they differ though is whilst Opeth these days bear no traces of death metal Enslaved have never entirely lost touch with their roots. Sure, they’re much more of a prog metal band these days but their black metal roots can still be heard.

E is Enslaved’s fourteenth studio album, drawn as a Latin rune which is why it appears as M on the cover meaning Horse. The albums not about Horses per se but is symbolic of the partnership of co-operation and trust between them and man. 2015’s In Times was their most progressive album yet but still managed inject some pretty harsh black metal moments. E whilst maintaining the prog quotient is less reliant on extreme metal though it’s still there and Grutle Kjellson harsh rasp vocal work is still in place. In Times was the last album to feature keyboard player/clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen and I expected a major shift in dynamics and sound with his loss. New guy Hakon Vinje slips easily into his shoes and has a similar clean vocal style so E just seems like a natural development which could and probably would have happened even if Larsen hadn’t left.

The music on E is epic and grandiose shifting through a myriad of changes no better demonstrated than on opener Storm Son, at almost eleven minutes giving them ample opportunity to stretch out. Clean vocals dominate over harsh here and their sound is a lot smoother than the Enslaved of old but they can still pack a punch. Kjellson’s rasp is still present and more to the front on other songs though like on The River’s Mouth that has a spacey outro that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hawkwind album.

Sacred Horse might just be the albums best track where more extreme metal elements come to the fore but includes a Hammond organ solo that Opeth would be proud of. Light and shade are present but largely it drives along at a fair pace. That said E has no weak moments and shows a band on top of their game with no sign of running out of ideas. The musical interplay between band members is strong as always and like most great bands Enslaved aren’t afraid to experiment – they even use saxophone on album closer Hiindsiight, but still retain enough of their original identity to keep older fans happy.

E just keeps getting better and better with each play as more subtle melodies come to the fore and whilst it probably won’t end up being my favourite Enslaved album it not lacking in any way. It’s great to see this excellent band still on top of their game after all these years.

TRIVIUM The Sin And The Sentence

Album · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.11 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Let me say this quickly before you stop reading. This album is a fucking masterpiece. A gigantic game-changing triumph we didn’t expect! This is hands-down the best album of their career and a new high for the subgenre. An almost from out of nowhere about-face turn, skyrocketing them from diminishing returns to champions. No, I wasn’t expecting it either, but go with me on this…

Right, still reading? Ok, with that out of the way. Lets do the review.

Trivium have had a funny old career. Their output has been really varied. They’ve done some really heavy and some really melodic stuff. They’ve done some technical progressive stuff and some simplistic groovy stuff. They’ve gone brash and brutal and they’ve gone mature and commercial. Not only has their music been really varied but so have the reactions from both their fan-base and the critics for every album. Every new album seems to sees them pick up new fans they’ve never had before and lose diehards who hate the new material or direction. Critics in one territory or from one background may hate the early stuff and love the mid career stuff and its vice versa with critics from another territory or background. Some albums are beloved in Germany but forgotten in the UK. Some are cult classics in America but underrated gems in Europe.

Me, I’ve liked every single one of the bands albums. A few of them I’ve loved. Like the majority of fans I’d say the best three are Shogun, In Waves and Ascendancy. I also have a huge soft spot for Silence In The Snow too due to its Classic Metal and Power Metal vibes but I understand how some fans of the heavier or techier stuff aren’t into that one.

This album, even with all that said, is just straight up and unarguably in another damn league. The energy in the performances; the fantastic satisfying crunchy production, the best and most diverse vocals of their career, the best drummer they’ve ever had hands-down… these are all factors that elevate this album above the rest of their discography. As are the songs themselves.

The songs are some of the most diverse, inventive and interesting songs they’ve written musically and structurally to date. They mix a vast array of styles that the band have dipped their toes into over the years and a lot of new stuff to. They have some of the band’s most interesting and memorable riffs and solos to date. They take twists and turns you don’t expect and catch you off guard. They showcase all of the musician’s talents at times but leave space for the lyrics and vocals to take center stage at other times. Sometimes they’re haunting and beautiful and sometimes they’re furious and heavy as balls, just riffing the fuck out of a big groovy riff.

Do you remember back when Machine Head were new and they were the cool new thing, and then they altered their style and tried new vocal techniques and production styles and lots of fans jumped ship but then The Blackening came out, all full of energy and anger and just plain amazing songs and suddenly tore everyone’s heads off and now Machine Head are bone-fide legends? This album is Trivium’s equivalent of The Blackening. It doesn’t sound anything like it, but that step-up in quality and energy and absolute revitalization of their career? That’s the same!

A lot of people online and in print have been going nuts over The Sin And The Sentence and justly so. In a recent interview Trivium mainman Matt Heafy said that the band decided they would have to write the best album of their career or else give up because they are always second guessing themselves and changing their styles and going through as many drummers as Spinal Tap. Well, Trivium ‘aint giving up now, because this is unequivocally their best ever work. Maybe its because Paolo is writing more of the songs than Matt. Maybe its because they are letting some of their Black Metal and Skate Punk influences mix into things instead of trying to purely do a mix of Groove Metal, Thrash Metal and Classic Metal like their original mission statement. Maybe new drummer Alex Bent just injected a new lease of life into them like Todd La Torre did to Queensryche. I don’t know why, but this thing is just on a whole other level.

Its quite a diverse album that really doesn’t sit in any one space for too long. ‘Betrayer’ mixes Ascendancy-era brutality with Pennywise style Punk and a happy Power Metal lead guitar sheen, but ends up with blast beats in the middle. ‘Thrown Into The Fire’ is the darkest and heaviest thing they’ve ever done at times and has undertones of Dimmu Borgir, but then at other times is just an absolute riff and solo school that…ok maybe this one does sound a bit like The Blackening actually. ‘The Wretchedness Inside’ is the kind of thing they were doing on the heavier deep-cuts from In Waves mixed with some jaunty Prong-style disco beats and a guitar effect than almost recalls Damageplan on their weirder songs like ‘Blunt Force Trauma’ or ‘Explode,’ it also has a strange midsection that remind’s me of Slipknot’s ‘Custer’ but then it has one of the most satisfying and heavy riff-out moments like Messuggah or something and that transitions into really pretty, clean Maiden-esque guitar lines. ‘The Heart From Your Hate’ is probably the most conventional song on the album, and it mixes their ‘In Waves’ and ‘Brave This Storm’ style staccato riffing with their ‘And Sadness Will Sear’ style mature The Black Album-worshiping stuff.

For fans of the band’s heavier side ‘Sever The Hand’ pretty much alternates between especially crushing groove metal riffing and pissed off Thrash Metal sections throughout. Fans of the band’s cleaner more commercial side won’t be disappointed either. Although this is one of the band’s heaviest and most progressive and technical albums yet, there’s still some stuff to get into if you prefer the heart-throb-Heafy stuff they previously showcased on ‘Dying In Your Arms’ and the like. ‘Endless Night’ for example lives in that sort of territory. Its just got a hell of a lot more energy, verve and attitude to it. The drums and background guitars give it a cool sort of Coheed & Cambria quality rather than just radio rock.

I’d try to pick out highlights but the album doesn’t sit in any one place long enough (hell the songs don’t either) to really establish a good version of it. I wouldn’t cut a single track and I’d like to see each of them live. Its all great. Its all interesting and diverse. That’s “diverse,” yet really cleverly constructed and naturally flowing though, not wacky-“diverse” were stuff that doesn’t fit is just smashed together. This is an album you can listen to over and over again and find new depths, new nooks and crannies. ‘Oh hey I didn’t notice that cool drum fill before’ sort of stuff. Not “why are they playing a bassoon over old-school Tampa Death Metal riffs during their Lady GaGa cover?” sort of stuff.

Its hard to hand out a man of the match award either. Matt’s voice is so much better than its ever been (check out ‘Beauty In The Sorrow’). Paolo’s songwriting is so much better than its ever been. Corey’s guitar solos are just as good if not better than they were on the glorious guitar-line fueled Silence In The Snow. Oh yeah, and there’s Alex Bent, whose drumming absolutely makes the album. More than the cherry on top its almost the whole goddamn cake.

Overall, the Sin And The Sentence is an utter masterpiece. If you like Trivium do not miss out on this at all. If you used to like them and stopped, don’t you dare miss out on this one either, this is the one to get back into them on, seriously. If you’ve never listened to them I strongly urge you to change that. I’d even go as far as to say “If you only get one Trivium album, make it this.” This isn’t just a good Trivium album, or a good album, this is a game-changer.

BLACK STAR RIDERS Heavy Fire

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.27 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Heavy Fire" is the 3rd full-length studio album by UK hard rock act Black Star Riders. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2017, almost exactly two years after the release of "The Killer Instinct (2015)". "Heavy Fire" features the exact same lineup who recorded "The Killer Instinct (2015)". Ricky Warwick (vocals, guitar), Scott Gorham (guitar), Damon Johnson (guitar), Robbie Crane (bass), and Jimmy DeGrasso (drums).

Stylistically there aren´t many surprises either. This is unmistakably the sound of Black Star Riders continuing the proud legacy of guitarist Scott Gorham´s past in Thin Lizzy. So while no one really sounds like Black Star Riders, they themselves sound a lot like Thin Lizzy. Lead vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick isn´t no where near as charismatic and distinct sounding as the late Phil Lynott, but he has a decent raw rock voice and gets the job done fine here. The riffs are hard rocking, the solos and harmony parts melodic and well played, and the rhythm section deliver a great organic backbone. The musicianship is on a high level on all positions, and it´s hard not to be impressed by the skill and mutual understanding of band dynamics between the players involved. They sound like they love what they do, and they deliver their music with great passion.

"Heavy Fire" features 10 tracks and a full playing time of 40:02 minutes, which is perfect for this type of music. The material are both powerful and catchy, and I caught myself singing along several times during the playing time. It´s melodic hard rock at its best. The album also features an organic and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, so upon conclusion "Heavy Fire" is another high quality hard rock release by Black Star Riders. They may never get rid of the Thin Lizzy comparisons, but who cares when they write such infectiously cathy tunes and perform them with this kind of passion and conviction...a 4 star (80%) rating is well deserved.

BURNING WITCHES Burning Witches

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.26 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
Classic heavy metal is not a genre I've listened to much in recent years, outside of personal favorites like the legendary Iron Maiden and the last three releases from Dark Forest, but I can still enjoy new releases in the genre from time to time. The latest such release to win me over is the self-titled debut from Swiss all female band Burning Witches. I had listened to a couple songs earlier in the year and was already impressed, but never got around to giving the album a full listen until recently, and I have to say, I'm very glad I did, because this is some enjoyable classic heavy metal, with quite a bit of power metal mixed in, as well as occasional melodic death metal influences.

Stylistically, Burning Witches play a very aggressive, fairly old-school brand of heavy metal for the most part. One can certainly notice similarities to the likes of Judas Priest at times, with many tracks having some rather raw sounding and heavy riffs, and musically I'd say the album is very high energy throughout. There's a nice mix of speedy and mid tempo tracks on the album, and as mentioned above, I hear some power metal elements at times, though this mostly falls on the rougher side of the genre, with some of the riffs reminding me of the likes of Grave Digger and Primal Fear. There are also places where I detect some melodic death metal elements, with some of the guitar work having a more modern and more extreme sound at times, while there are also some occasional harsh vocals, though these are mostly used in quick bursts and are mixed in with clean vocals. I also notice a fairly dark tone to the music on many of the tracks, especially on some of the slower songs, and this helps add extra flavor to the music. Regardless of what kind of song the band is playing, the instrumental work is quite solid throughout, with some very good riffs on every track as well as some nice solo work, and the production is top notch as well.

Vocally, the album is also very strong, with lead vocalist. Seraina Tell proving herself to be a very capable singer. I had actually heard her before with melodic metal band Rizon, but she sounds so different here at times, I never even noticed it was her until I looked it up. I'd say she's definitely improved over the years, though, as her performance here is both much smoother and much more varied than what I remember hearing from her in the past. When she sings normally, she has a very deep and powerful, yet also very smooth voice that especially shines during the choruses and softer moments, though she tends to be pretty animated at times, occasionally mixing in some death growls and classic heavy metal wails. The former are quite good, while the latter took some time for me to get used to, but are done decently enough.

An album can't be considered fully enjoyable if the songs are no good, but thankfully that isn't the case with Burning Witches. Right away, the band brings it with opening track “Black Widow”, a speedy track with some heavy riffs and some very animated screams from Seraina during the verses, though she uses her normal voice during the chorus to bring some melody into the song, and does a great job of it. The guitar solo in the second half is very good, and overall it's an explosive, very fun track that serves as a pretty good indication of what to expect from the album. Next is the self-titled track, another fairly up tempo track with some more classic heavy metal riffs and more slightly over the top vocals, though once again, the chorus is more melodic and quite catchy. There's a slightly sinister tone to the guitar throughout the track, and this carries on throughout much of the album.

Also on the speedier side, “Dark Companion” is the first track on the album where death growls appear, and it has very aggressive riffs, which certainly give a melodic death metal feel, and the mix of clean and harsh vocals is done very nicely, making it an immediately engaging track, and certainly one of the standouts on the album. The melodic death metal riffing continues on “Metal Demons”, another speedy track, though the vocals are clean throughout that track, and the chorus is very melodic and quite catchy. The most traditional power metal track on the album is “Creatures of the Night”, which has slower moments during the verses where the riffs give it more of a heavy metal feel, but the chorus is very speedy and sounds like classic German power metal, while the vocals there are very clear and melodic, and the guitar work is generally very melodic throughout, aside from a couple points. Another speedier track is “Deathlist”, the last of the original tracks, here, and it's another fun track, with a mix of very heavy verses, a melodic chorues, and some nice melodic guitar work at times, and a very nice extended guitar solo in the second half.

On the slower side of things, “Bloody Rose” a hard hitting track, with a very dark tone to the guitar work, and the vocals are very deep and powerful on that track, with one particular repeated phrase coming across as very intense, though the chorus is still nice and melodic, as usual. One song that took me a while to open up to is “We Eat Your Children”, which aside from having an off putting name, also opens with some really over the top wails that initially annoyed me, though I've grown used to them by now. Otherwise, it's a slow and heavy track, with some very punishing riffs, and another pretty solid chorus. It's probably my least favorite song here, but it's still pretty enjoyable. In a similar vein is “Creator of Hell”, probably the slowest out of the heavier songs here, and it has some very mean sounding riffs, as well as some very intense vocals, and the music has a very dark and sinister tone throughout. It's a quality track overall, with a very strong chorus. Lastly, we have “Save Me”, the one ballad on the album. It's a very nice track, with some nice melodic guitar work throughout, that helps set the mood, while Seraina uses her softest vocals of the album during the opening verse, before opening up more as the song goes on, and she gives by far her most powerful and emotional performance of the album on this track, making it an obvious standout. There's also a very memorable guitar solo in the second half, and overall it's definitely one of my favorites on the album.

For the closing track, the band decided to include a cover of the classic Judas Priest track “Jawbreaker”, which proves to be a great fit for their sound. Their version is very faithful to the original, with everything from the main riff to the chorus being instantly recognizable, though I think I actually prefer Seraina's smoother vocals, as well the much more polished production. It's definitely a very strong cover, that doesn't lose any of the intensity of the original.

Overall, Burning Witches is a very strong debut from the Swiss all female band, with a great mix of classic heavy metal and power metal, as well as occasional flashes of melodic death metal. It's a very heavy album, with one exception, and it features strong performances all around, as well some consistently good songwriting. Fans of classic heavy metal are especially recommended to check this out, while power metal fans should also find much of it to be to their liking. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from the band in the future.

INSIDE THE SOUND Wizard's Eyes

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
Although the Ukrainian band INSIDE THE SOUND began merely as a side project of guitarist / keyboardist Max Velychko (most notably from Modern Rock Ensemble as well as Karfagen, Sunchild and Hoggwash) and bassist Dmitry Trifonov while working on other projects, the promise of fusing all the love of their disparate genres of music proved too tempting not to engage in a fully realized development of the band’s potential. While sort of put on the shelf for a few years with only sporadic recordings emerging, they found enough quality material to release a debut titled “Time Z” in 2010. What may have seemed like a one shot release as the years slowly sputtered by, it turns out that Velychko and Trifonov were simply taking their sweet time to carefully craft the perfecting qualities that took the template laid out on “Time Z” and further expand into unthinkable arenas. The result is that finally in the year 2017, INSIDE THE SOUND has finally released the second long awaited album in the form of WIZARD’S EYES and although i wasn’t aware of this band at the time of their debut, i have to say that for fan’s who were holding their breath for a new release can finally exhale and take in an exhilarating new inhalation of some of the most pleasing progressive symphonic prog meets metal i’ve encountered in a while.

While “Time Z” laid down the foundations of an Allan Holdsworth type of instrumental progressive rock sound complete with heavy rocking guitar laced with jazz-fusion compositional styles, WIZARD’S EYES takes everything that came before and perfects them and then adds a plethora of new ideas and sounds to the mix. The core trio remains the same with Velychko performing exquisite guitar workouts and atmospheric keyboard nuances while Dmitry Trifonov returns for bass duties as does Max Didenko on drums. New to the band is Dmitry Yeryomin who contributes an expanded role on the keyboards and adds a whole new layer of intensity to the band’s symphonic and atmospheric touches that the debut album only hinted upon. Also new to the band’s sound is the inclusion of four guest musicians, each offering a unique stamp on the band’s already established and accomplished sound. The biggest contributors are Indranila who adds his Indo-raga charms on acoustic sitar and Vedic chanting as well as Nila Goal who supplies a nice touch of tabla that is interspersed judiciously throughout the album. The track “Friends” receives the royal treatment with two more guests in the form of Antony Kalugin on extra keys and Daniel Ilyin on electric violin. The combo effect of all these musicians in tandem creates some of the most divinely pleasing melodic progressive metal that while does include some steaming hot metal outbursts, more often than not tends to merely simmer in progressive rock stews.

While the album is touted as a prog metal journey into instrumental fantasy worlds of epic proportions, WIZARD’S EYES is far more varied and magical than that mere title insinuates. Graced with superior production techniques and intricate compositional flows, the album begins quite nicely with an almost soundtrack type of orchestration that slowly but surely ratchets up the the drive and intensity that finally erupts into a more heightened tension as it bursts into a heavier form of rock with great care paid to every detail. The opening track “Intro: A Secret Journey” truly sounds like a jazz-fusion project of the great Allan Holdsworth only on a higher energy level with a Steve Vai sort of prog metal infusion that at times reminds me of some of the more adventurous antics on his “Passion and Warfare” album. While the jazz meets metal thing is the underpinning of it all, the music is laced with intricate symphonic polyrhythms and counterpoints that add smooth atmospheric suavity to the metallic guitar riffs and jarring time signature workouts. “Dreaming Deja Vue” ratchets up these very attributes of the music with exquisite instrumental interchanges and driving dynamic shifts. “Fantasia” is more of a jazzy ballad with sensual piano lines providing the melodic underpinning while the guitar solos are the most reminiscent of Vai on the album.

“Friends” is a quirky number that provides a smooth jazz sort of feel that veers off into more spacey territory and delivers outstanding key and violin solos. “Empire V” reveals a subdued influence of Eastern European folk music as the melodic developments hint of the virtuoso guitar compositions of Serbia’s Borislav Mitic however Velychko displays some of his most creative guitar soloing on this track that successfully creates a lighter than a feather weightlessness to the sound. “Haribol” is the most exotic sounding track with the inclusion of the sitar and Vedic chanting that offer a taste of musical curry and naan. “Horizon” delivers yet another midrange rocker while the title track provides the album’s most scorching hot metal track complete with rapid fire guitar riffing and percussive overdrive as well as interesting counterpoints delivered by the exotic flair of the keyboard approaches. It also offers some of the most intense progressive time signature workouts making it one of the most daring tracks to be heard. For me the weaker tracks on the album arise at the end as “To The Sky,” “Outro” and “The Cold Spring (which is considered a bonus track) seem to run on auto pilot where the album needs to go out on a bang but instead finds a comfort zone.

INSIDE THE SOUND has crafted a beautifully manufactured product on WIZARD’S EYES that displays all the details and loving touches that all the years of creation incur. The musicians are of top calibre and meld their respective talents together in a seamless fashion with strong compositions to boot. The production is crystal clear and offers a plethora of subtle touches that make blasting this on full decibelage a true delight. While this is almost a perfect product for me as a huge lover of both Allan Holdsworth and Steve Vai, i have to admit that sometimes the influences are a wee bit too strong in their direction despite the compositions maintaining a fierce independence streak that gives the album a unique charisma. Overall an impressive sophomore offering from the Ukraine with only a few tracks at the end fizzling out the excitement of hearing these dedicated musicians hard at work. WIZARD’S EYES is indeed a magnificent display of intricate musicianship that shows a true depth in musical tastes. The term progressive metal will surely be misleading because while the progressive term remains a constant throughout the album’s 51 minute and 44 second run, the metal part does not partake as much with the majority of the album falling somewhere in the orchestrated ambient rock universe with the metal riffing and soloing only emerging part time. While personally i would prefer a few more heavy hitting numbers, i have to admit that the skills displayed on this album make me think of what i wanted the Liquid Tension Experiment albums to sound like because the care and scrutiny of every detail is impressive indeed. A worthy and heavier companion piece to the Modern Rock Ensemble project. Excellent.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.56 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
Formed in 1988 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Paradise Lost are not only known as one of the most distinctive acts in metal - their music arguably defined the gothic subgenre and raised doom metal to a new level - they are also considered pioneers of an entire musical generation. Never ones to hesitate to explore undiscovered paths, they have encompassed many genres during their career - from their death metal beginnings to the more mainstream electronic dark-pop album ‘Host’, electronic influences on ‘Symbol Of Life’ alongside majestic gothic moments. Vocalist Nick Holmes, guitarists Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy, along with bassist Steve Edmondson have never ceased to follow their own vision. The quartet has been an inseparable unit since its inception, with only the drummer's position changing hands several times. The latest incumbent, Waltteri Väyrynen, is only 22 years old, while the band have now been in existence for nearly 30!

With their last album, they showed that they were starting to return to their roots, and that has journey has progressed with ‘Medusa’, which is certainly one of, if not the, heaviest album they have ever released. Here we have doom and gothic metal hitting head on and being brought to live with vocals that owe more to the death scene than any other. There is a quality here that is hard to define, as they bring all the misery of Northern England to bear in 43 minutes of depressing, intense, music. Here is a band that is refusing to rest on their considerable laurels, but instead continue to push boundaries, and to my ears this is easily the most complete work they have ever produced. The drum and bass are crushing, the riffs are solid slabs of lead, while the solos are uplifting and almost cathartic while Nick Holmes shows no sign at all of mellowing in his middle age. I discovered that the more I listened to the album, the more I kept turning up the volume, until the neighbours the other side of the neighbours could share it as well. This is certainly one of the finest metal albums to come out of the UK this year.

KADAVAR Rough Times

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland


Two years on and the trio are back proving that they fully understand their niche and feel no need whatsoever to move away from it. The slight change in the sound is that the bass has been given more prominence and a far richer sound, but apart from that it is another album straight from the Kadavar playbook, namely doom, psyche and hard rock with major influenced from the likes of Sabbath, Cream and Atomic Rooster. Somehow, they always manage to imbue the music with a vitality, a real energy, and it is this that really makes them standout from others following a similar musical journey. This album has moved them more into classic Sabbath territory than ‘Berlin’, but for someone who grew up cutting his teeth on those albums that’s never going to be a bad thing. But whereas many bands appear to emphasise the doom-laden riffs of that group, Kadavar never forget the need for balance, and this album comes across as refined and polished, as well as raw and grungy all at the same time.

This is their fourth studio album, and they continue to mine a rich vein of material, and although it may never be the most fashionable forms of metal, they are experts at what they do and it is of little surprise that their third release gained some chart success on both Germany and the States, and this one will do the same I’m sure. There is much here for any fan of the genre to really get their teeth and ears into.

XIBALBA Diablo, Con Amor​.​. Adios.

EP · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
Reviewers Challenge Nov 17.

This three track E.P. is my first taste of Xibalba as I only occasionally venture into metalcore/deathcore territory. Doing a bit of homework and checking out some previous releases from this USA band they seem to have gone for a simpler approach than on their last album, 2015’s Tierra Y Libertad which I have to say I found more involving and prefer to this.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with this release though. At just over two minutes Diablo kicks things off and the sound is raw, the tempo slow, blending death metal, metalcore and doom. Con Amor is more up tempo, at least initially before they bring it down for a slow grinding breakdown. Adios is the longest of the tracks at over five minutes and probably the most interesting of the three. Whilst it maintains the traits of the first two songs the riffs are more compelling and they throw in more tempo changes. The standard of musicianship is good and the vocals a cross between a shout and a death growl which do the job but nothing more.

All in all this is the kind of release that I quite enjoy whilst listening to it but with so much other great music out there am unlikely to return to in a hurry. That said I’m tempted to go back to Tierra Y Libertad for another blast.

ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
Being a huge power metal fan, and someone who likes it equally when in its purest form and when mixed with other genres, one of my absolute favorite genre combinations is power/folk metal, a style which has sadly not been done a lot in recent years, but the best band in the style continues to go strong. Of course, I’m talking about Italian band Elvenking, who stormed onto the scene with their incredible debut Heathenreel in 2001, and they haven’t let up ever since. The band has managed to come up with a very diverse sound while sticking with their two main genres, and they’ve certainly surprised folks throughout their career, sometimes going for a more aggressive, almost metalcore sound, sometimes completely toning down the power metal in favor of pure folk, and sometimes striking a near perfect balance between the two. Their previous release, The Pagan Manifesto felt like their best and most perfectly balanced release to date, serving as a perfect summary of everything the band is capable of, so I had high expectations for their next release. Three and a half years later, they’re back with their ninth full-length album Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, and if its predecessor felt like a mission statement, this release feels like the band continuing to execute that mission to near perfection.

Compared to past releases, Secret of the Magick Grimoire doesn’t feel like a big departure from previous albums. Many times in their career, just when it seemed like their fans had them figured out, Elvenking would manage to surprise them, with no release sounding very similar to the previous release. However, after The Pagan Manifesto managed to be such a perfect blend of everything the band had done before, it really felt like they didn’t have much room to develop their sound further, and so it’s no surprise this album feels like a direct continuation. What this means is, anyone who loved the previous album is almost certainly going to love this album as well, as the band has once again struck the perfect balance between speedy power metal, epic folk melodies, huge choruses, heavy riffs, occasional sections with harsh vocals and huge symphonic arrangements at times. Basically, everything the band has done on previous albums is here in full force and executed just as brilliant as always. I thought the songwriting on The Pagan Manifesto was both extremely varied yet consistently perfect, and aside from a couple tracks in the middle that don’t quite seem up to par with the rest, Secrets of the Magic Grimoire follows suit. There’s a nice mix of more straight-forward power metal, more relaxing tracks that put extra emphasis on the folk elements, tracks that strike a perfect blend between the two, alternating between heavy, fast-paced sections and calmer, more folk-infused sections, and even a couple full symphonic power metal epics where the band dials everything up to 11. As with the previous album, the band has struck a nice balance between having a polished sound, and some excellent musicianship, including some excellent solos, while also having a raw energy to the music, with very high energy performances all around.

Another area where the band has always excelled is the vocals, and of course, Damna is as great here as he’s ever been. As always, he has a unique delivery that sounds a bit rawer and a bit more wild compared to a typical power metal vocalist, and he brings a certain kind of passion and intensity to the songs that fit the music perfectly. He uses some surprisingly deep and creepy sounding vocals on this album at times, as well as the occasional softer vocals, as usual. There’s also the occasional use of harsh vocals. These are very good and are used quite a few times, though they’re often kept in the background, adding extra flavor to the songs without getting in the way of Damna’s always stellar lead vocals.

In the songwriting department, while I wouldn’t quite put this album on the same level as its predecessor, it’s still a consistently satisfying release, with several songs that do reach the masterpiece status of the band’s career high point, while even the couple exceptions are still excellent tracks in their own right, which simply don’t quite blow me away as much as the others. The album gets off to an amazing start with “Invoking the Woodland Spirit”, a track which only clocks in at a little over 6 minutes, but it definitely feels like an epic, as orchestral elements are in full effect, and it’s a very fast-paced, super epic symphonic power metal track with slight folk leanings. It’s definitely on par with some of the band’s absolute best work to date, with the verses being fast-paced and very engaging, while the chorus is absolutely phenomenal, and the guitar solo in the second half is very melodic and very impressive as well. Overall, it’s the kind of track where it feels like the band went all out and delivered one of their absolute best songs to date. Following that incredible opener is the lead single “Draugen’s Maelstrom”, another fairly speedy track, which has an excellent lead guitar melody and again has fun, energetic verses to go along with an insanely catchy chorus, where some death growls are used nicely in support of Damna’s lead vocals, and it makes for a pretty cool effect. The instrumental section gets really speedy and intense and is a definite high point of the album. Overall, another instant winner, and of the band’s best singles, for sure.

Following such an impressive opening, the remainder of the album mostly follows suit, with other early highlights including “The One We Shall Follow”, a slower track with some excellent melodies, more symphonic elements, epic choir vocals and another fantastic chorus, as well as the second single “The Horned Ghost and the Sorcerer”, a mid-paced, folk-infused track which again has some incredible melodies, fun verses and perhaps the catchiest chorus on the album. It definitely brings to mind “Pagan Revolution” from the previous album and is almost as fun and catchy as that song, with the folk melodies perhaps being even better than on that track, and it’s definitely another excellent choice for a single. It has an excellent softer section in the middle where the band uses some tribal drums as well as some epic acoustic folk instrumentation for a bit, and it’s definitely one of the highlights of the album. After those two, we have “A Grain of Truth” a track which has some slower paced, heavier verses, mixes with a speedy chorus where the harsh vocals lead the way. I think the excellent, melodic pre-chorus section is my favorite part of this track, though the chorus is nice as well, and overall it’s one of those tracks that doesn’t quite impress me as much as some of the best on the album, but it’s still very good overall. Rounding out the first half is “The Wolves Will Be Howling Your Name”, a track which blends power and folk metal elements seamlessly and is a fantastic track. It starts off with some epic folk elements and has a nice use of violins throughout. The verses alternate between slow and speedy passages, while the chorus is slow and calm, with some of Damna’s best vocals on the album. The track has some amazing folk melodies throughout and is definitely another highlight.

The second half begins with two very good, but not quite outstanding tracks in “3 Ways to Magick” and “Straight Inside Your Winter”. The former again has a nice blend of power and folk elements and the chorus is amazing, but it feels like it loses focus at times, trying to fit a bit too much into it’s 4 and a half minute runtime, so it ends up not being as memorable as some of the other tracks on the album, while the latter is the slowest full-length song on the album and it has some nice folk melodies and a nice chorus, but it simply doesn’t quite reach the heights many of the other songs reach.

The remainder of the second half, though is perfect and very much represents some of the best music found on the album. First up is “The Voynich Manuscript”, a near 6 and a half minute track, which has a perfect blend between speedy power metal passages and calm folk passages, as well as one of the best choruses on the album, some of the most energetic and exciting verses, and a ton of memorable moments. The music gets darker and more epic in the second half, and from there the song just gets insanely good, with the ending sequence having some of the best harsh vocals on the entire album. Next is “Summon the Dawnlight”, the shortest and most relaxed of the final three full songs, though it’s still fairly fast paced and has some excellent lead guitar melodies and some verses which, while not overly speedy, move along at a nice enough pace and are very fun, while the chorus is simply fantastic as always, and the instrumental section is perhaps the best on the album. The last full song is “At the Courst of the Wild Hunt”, which starts off with a very folk-infused section, featuring some dark and kinda creepy vocals, performed by guest Snowy Shaw, before the track speeds up and turns into another very epic, symphonic power metal track, with another excellent chorus, extremely energetic verses, an amazing middle section where the folk elements appear again, and some nice surprises in the second half. It definitely feels like the band packed a lot into this track, but everything works perfectly and it’s up there with “Invoking the Woodland Spirit” as one of my two favorite songs on the album. Lastly, we have “A Cloak of Dusk”, an acoustic outro which features some nice violin melodies, as well as some of the softest vocals ever performed by Damna. It’s a nice little track which ends the album effectively.

Overall, Secrets of the Magic Grimoire is another outstanding album from Elvenking, which builds off the momentum they gained from their career high point The Pagan Manifesto, and at times even reaches the same level of perfection. I wouldn’t quite put it on the same level as that release on the whole, but it has its moments for sure, and overall it’s another fantastic blend of power and folk metal, with occasional symphonic elements and harsh vocals, as usual. Fans of past Elvenking albums are sure to enjoy this one, especially those who loved the previous release, while anyone looking for a nice blend of power, folk and symphonic metal is highly recommended to give this album a try.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/11/01/elvenking-secrets-magic-grimoire-review/

WODE Servants of the Countercosmos

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Black metal may have got its true start in Norway, but in recent years the United Kingdom, metal's birthplace, has become it's own little hotbed of quality acts making names for themselves. A few notable names being A Forest of Stars, Fen, Wodensthrone (sadly now defunct) and Winterfylleth. The latest band who are set to follow in their footsteps is Wode, who, like A Forest of Stars and Winterfylleth, hail from Manchester. Although their debut album, the self-titled Wode (2016), was released only a little over a year prior, this young act has wasted no time in delivering a follow-up. With their line-up expanded to four members, Servants of the Countercosmos (2017) has been unleashed and with it, Wode really make their mark.

The first thing anyone who picked up on these guys with their debut will notice is, before they've even started the music up, that even though Servants of the Countercosmos features the exact same amount of tracks as its predecessor (six), that the running time of the album is actually considerably shorter. We're talking a total time of 31:24 opposed to Wode's 47:51. The rather more atmospheric influenced debut was mainly made up of mostly long songs while for this second effort, Wode have trimmed up their writing style, leaving only one long track among Servants of the Countercosmos' number, Chaosspell, which is effectively the finale not counting the acoustic outro piece Undoing, which to me sounds as if it's actually part of the same song with an unnecessary track divider.

While the self-titled debut was a very good effort, I have to say that Servants of the Countercosmos makes for a much more instantly compelling release from Wode. The more concise writing certainly helps in that regard, but it's the more aggressive playing style the band has employed that really does it. The music is largely lacking the more atmospheric black metal elements of the debut, favouring the direct approach in every aspect. Far from a one trick pony release despite the fairly traditional style they play, Wode more than make up for the lack of additional influences this time by jam packing the album with hard hitting riffs and songs that use them to quickly establish themselves as distinct compositions. The lead growling vocals are also delivered with a similar power as the riffs, coming across like an oppressive presence that commands the sounds of blackened brutality. Though not exactly polished to melodic black metal standards, the album certainly benefits from a decent production job that avoids the excessively raw and/or cold sounds associated with the style, which really allows the guitar riffs to stand out and make their mark.

It's an experience that is over all too soon of course, but that also makes Servants of the Countercosmos a very easy album to keep going back to, one that also stands out for me as one of 2017's best traditional black metal offerings. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from Wode, because if their evolution so far is anything to judge by, album number three will be a real monster.

SPECTRAL VOICE Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Vim Fuego
Once upon a time, someone hit upon the great idea of pulling together death metal’s distorted heavy guitars and gargled vocals with doom metal’s pedestrian pace to create one of metal’s most vital and creative, but simultaneously depressing and gloomy, genres. As with all things metal, there could be more than one answer as to who came up with the idea first, but it matters not. What matters is the legacy of this momentous combination, from its earliest tentative steps through to today.

Paradise Lost’s debut album, the rather unimaginatively named “Lost Paradise” was one of the first examples of the genre to actually gain a wide release. It took death metal tunings and vocals, and played them at doom metal speeds. The band really hit their straps with the more gothic sounding “Gothic” (hmm, is that a pattern forming?) which also introduced the element of clean sung female vocals, and less of the deathly side of things. The band’s third album “Shades of God” saw the doom starting to dominate, as the death metal influences started to disappear.

There were also Paradise Lost’s great buddies from the north of England My Dying Bride and Anathema. Just about every early release by My Dying Bride was an exercise in soul crushing despair, with wonderful titles like “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium” and “The Angel and the Dark River”. With less of a death metal sound than Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride were still crushingly heavy. Were? They still fucking are!

Anathema were just as despairingly heavy as the other two, although they lost their death metal influence a lot sooner. No matter, their later works like “A Natural Disaster”, “Judgement”, or “A Fine Day to Exit” are far more subtle exercises in desperation.

Skin Chamber threw an industrial element into the mix. Although inspired by Napalm Death, Skin Chamber came out sounding like Godflesh raping The Swans (ooh, The Swans! I forgot the fucking Swans!). Created by Paul Lemos, and Chris Moriarty of experimental band Controlled Bleeding, the original intention was to produce short, sharp sonic blasts, like Napalm Death was doing, under the name Fat Hacker. However, given time, a recording budget, and the aforementioned Swans’ album “COP” on heavy rotation, the result was two legendary albums of industrial doom-death which have rarely been emulated since. The project was put to bed after just the two albums, but was about to be resurrected in 2008 when Moriarty’s untimely death put paid to it.

Disembowelment er, or diSEMBOWELMENT, as they spelled it, was an Australian band formed in 1989 from the ashes of grindcore band Bacteria. The band became famous for their funereal tempos interspersed with occasional bursts of speed. Their only album “Transcendence into the Peripheral” is still regarded as an essential album of its kind today. In 1993, band members Renato Gallina and Matthew Skarajew formed the highly respected ambient/fusion/world music outfit Trial of the Bow. All in all, this was quite some achievement for a band which only existed for four years and never performed live.

Closer to home, (well, my home anyway) there was Sinistrous Diabolus from Christchurch, New Zealand. The three piece band produced an absolutely stunning demo in 1993 named “Opus One”. The three tracks were far beyond the realm of what any other band in New Zealand was doing at the time, combining doom and death metal with anti-Christian black metal imagery. Like many a great band at the time, if Sinistrous Diabolus had been based in Europe or the US, they would have snagged a record deal, but New Zealand was and still is too far from the rest of the world. The band lay dormant for many years, but was revived in the 2010s, and has been emitting occasional slabs of filthy doom-death ever since.

So why a mention of all these excellent albums of days gone by when this is supposed to be a review of Spectral Voice’s “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing”? Because “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” is unbelievably tedious, and all the previous selections mentioned are better examples of doom-death metal.

All the ingredients for a good sound are there. Spectral Voice are undeniably heavy. The sound is utterly crushing and extreme. Somehow, it still doesn't work.

There is so little inspiration or effort in the music its surprising even the musicians themselves don’t get bored with it. Yes, it is supposed to be slow and heavy. Yes, it is decently executed doom/death. Yes, the band members in Spectral Voice are highly skilled musicians. These things are not what’s at fault here. The biggest problem is it is unoriginal, predictable, interchangeable, and ultimately dull.

This album has had a lot of praise from social media, but it seems like another case of hype building up the mediocre to a status far beyond that it deserves. Music is supposed to inspire some sort of strong reaction in a listener. “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” inspires apathy.

That’s not to say “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” is a total loss. While slow-paced plodding gets a bit monotonous, when the band uses a bit of tempo things improve. “Dissolution” blasts into life after a dreary opening passage, but this is over 40 minutes into the album. There is little to offer which has not been done before. While near faultlessly performed, “Eroded Corridors of Unbeing” has no character or vitality, and is just not an essential release.

ATHEIST The Best of Atheist

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
aglasshouse
Ever wanted to own a major chunk of Atheist's discography without needing to purchase 2005's The Collection for upwards of $60? Fear not, a solution is here!

After seven long years following Atheist's last studio album Jupiter, the band finally decided to digitally release their first ever compilation album to date- and what a compilation it is! In true-to-form fashion Atheist grab the most sonically insane and cosmic songs from their studio albums (as well as a live version of 'Mother Man' from Live At Wacken 2009) in a massive 22-track corpus. Forthright this puts The Best Of leagues ahead of other death metal contemporaries' works like Death's Best Of in '92 or Nile's Legacy of the Catacombs in '07, granted both rather good releases, simply from the vastness of the song selection. Especially considering Atheist's relatively small discography, 90 minutes of pure action may seem a bit hefty at first, but for only $10 (roughly €8.50 for you Europeans) from Bandcamp it is a fairly free-and-easy deal compared to another compilation that would front you the same price but with half the content.

This album is a perfect introductory release for beginners and also a good pickup for familiars. The only gripes I have with it are the fact that there's no physical release, because I prefer lending actual tangible material to a hypothetical beginner depending on the circumstances, and the fact that my favorite song 'Why Bother?' from Piece of Time is not present. Maybe they took the title a bit too literally?

MISS LAVA Sonic Debris

Album · 2016 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
ElNapalmo
"Sonic Debris" is the third studio album of Portuguese rockers Miss Lava. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to listen to "Red Supergiant", so I can not compare and comment on musical evolution. However the sound seems to have changed a little since the 2009 debut "Blues For The Dangerous Miles" and the evolution is notorious. The new sound of Miss Lava is spontaneous, strong and above all, more appealing. The influences are still there, but the band has managed to create their own identity and, although the disc is heterogeneous enough to keep the listener interested, it is perfectly cohesive. "Sonic Debris" was produced by Fernando Matias along with the band itself, mixed by Benny Grotto (Slapshot, Sasquatch, Lo Pan) in Boston, and mastered by Chris Goosman (Greenleaf, Acid King, Wo Fat, Night Stalker), in Chicago. In total there are 10 tracks that sum up to 50 minutes. It will surely please fans of Kyuss, Corrosion Of Conformity, Monster Magnet, Soundgarden, Clutch or Fu Manchu. Rock is alive in Portugal and it is recommended.

ARGUS From Fields of Fire

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
I'm sure that most metal fans, like myself, when they think of the genre's base sound, traditional heavy metal, their first thoughts are drawn to the classic acts from the seventies and eighties. Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Judas Priest. Accept. Motörhead. The list could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. If you go on music rating websites and call up a chart of traditional heavy metal releases it'll be the rare album that is newer than being from 2000 and most that are will be by the long established groups. Newer traditional metal acts may obtain a small but loyal following, but seem to be doomed to forever sit in the shadow of their forebears. As good as the classics are this is a shame, because there's quite a few bands formed this side of the year 2000 that proudly fly the flag for unmodernised traditional heavy metal and play the style convincingly. The latest of these to make my shortlist for being the 'real deal' is US act Argus, whose fourth album From Fields of Fire (2017) is ready to assert them as one of the contenders to be heir to this classic genre's crown.

I first became aware of Argus with their second album Boldly Stride the Doomed (2011). Back then, they had a sound that was more of a blend of heavy metal and traditional doom metal, leaning more on the latter to my ears. But with their next album Beyond the Martyrs (2013) the group focussed more on their heavy metal side. Rather than being the kind of coincidental writing fluke that can happen with acts who blend two genres more or less equally it looks like the change was intentional, since From Fields of Fire features a similar approach; occasionally doomy traditional heavy metal played with distinctive, meaty guitar riffs and topped by powerful vocals from Brain 'Butch' Balich.

After a brief intro instrumental, the first full song Devils of Your Time starts up and it's an instant winner that sets the tone for the album. Argus must have been recording in these fields they keep harping on about because they really are on fire here! This is classic sounding heavy metal done with such strength and conviction that had Argus been around in the eighties they'd surely have been a major name today alongside the other eighties greats. And it continues through another seven songs, including the eleven minute epic Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors without skipping a beat, finally drawing to a close with a similar instrumental to what it opened with. Though very classic in style, the album does benefit from modern production standards, which makes it sound all that more potent.

While I didn't like the predecessor Beyond the Martyrs quite as much, I have to say that From Fields of Fire certainly represents a step up for Argus and while it hasn't topped Boldly Stride the Doom as the band's best album for me, it certainly provides ample proof that Argus has a future playing this semi-doomy style of heavy metal and also elevates the band in my regards in relation to other newer heavy metal acts such as Dark Forest (the UK band) and A Sound of Thunder. Undoubtedly this album is the best heavy metal album I've heard from 2017 so far or am likely to for the remainder.

CRADLE OF FILTH Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay

Album · 2017 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland


It is hard to believe that Cradle of Filth have now been making a nuisance of themselves for more than 25 years, but here they are back with their 12th album, their second for Nuclear Blast. True, they have been through one or two musicians during that period (okay, so it’s the best part of 30, but who’s counting?), and while Dani has been there since the very beginning, only drummer Marthus can also claim to have been with the band for more than five years. Somehow it never seems to matter, as Dani has a very strong view on what the band should sound like, and the image they should portray, and to my ears it seems like all the travails and efforts have been leading to this point as to my poor abused ears this is the finest thing they have ever done.

For me there has always been a fine line with CoF as to whether they really mean it, or if they are in danger of becoming a parody of the very thing they are trying to represent, but here their blend of symphonic gothic black metal hits every mark, every time. I just can’t fault this album, as from beginning to end I found myself deep inside the dark world of Dani’s creation, where the drums pummel when they need to, the guitars are clean and melodic or distorted and riffing as the need arises, the symphonic histrionics are just right, the female vocals create just the right amount of balance (congratulations to Lindsay Schoolcraft who has large shoes to fill – I was always a huge fan of Sarah Jezebel Deva – but here she gets it spot on) and then there is Dani. Now solidly into his forties, young(ish) Mr. Filth has created an album that takes the bands to new heights, and while I have always had a soft spot for ‘Dusk...And Her Embrace’, I know this has taken the #1 slot for me. If you love CoF then rush out and get this now, as it is everything you have ever enjoyed about the band, just taken to the next level. If you have never been too sure, then now is the time to give them another try.

SERENITY Lionheart

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
At this point, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of symphonic power metal, and it’s also no secret that out of all bands to play that style of music, Austrian band Serenity is easily my all-time favorite. Ever since I heard their third album Death & Legacy for the first time, I’ve been absolutely in love with their brand of epic, cinematic symphonic metal mixed with speedy power metal, and everything they’ve done before and after that album has left me almost as impressed as that release did. Their previous release Codex Atlanticus was perhaps their weakest release since their second album Fallen Sanctuary, which came before their current sound had fully developed, yet it still kept me thoroughly entertained, so obviously I was excited when I heard the band was planning on releasing their sixth full-length album, Lionheart, less than two years later. Well, that release is now almost here, and I can say once again the band has delivered in a big way! In fact, this time I’d say they’ve stepped up their game once again, delivering a more consistently impressive album than Codex Atlanticus, and even perhaps matching Death & Legacy (only time will tell on that one.)

One thing working in the band’s favor this time around is that Lionheart is actually their first release since Fallen Sanctuary to not feature any lineup changes, which has allowed more time for the current members to work together and build off what they had going on their previous release. In particular, guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer showed a lot of potential on Codex Atlanticus, throwing in some heavier riffs than expected at times, and also including some very nice solos, but throughout most of the tracks, it felt as if he was being limited a bit. This time around, while the orchestras and vocals are obviously still as important to the music as ever and remain the main focus, Chris has been given a ton of room to work with on most of the tracks, and he uses a thicker, more modernized guitar sound at times, which adds an extra edge to the music, and some of the riffs here are quite aggressive but they fit in with the songs perfectly, while his solo work is very beautiful and melodic, like it was on the previous album, except even better. It does make sense that the guitar work would be a bit heavier and have a more expanded role on this album, as the overall theme of the album tells the tale of Richard 1 (often known as Richard the Lionheart) and so a lot of the songs talk about epic battles and achievements, which allows room for the heavy guitars to come in, while the orchestras and vocal melodies are still as epic and ever, and also very much fit in with the tone of the lyrics.

Of course, this being a Serenity album, there’s also a softer side to the music, which comes through on many of the tracks, and there are some very emotional lyrics at times, especially on tracks like the ballad “Heaven”, the sort of power ballad “My Fantasy” and the epic closer “The Final Crusade”. These are all tracks where the vocals take the leading role, and of course, Georg Neuhauser delivers the goods as always. He has a warm, beautiful tone to his voice that works perfectly on the softer tracks, allowing the melodies to really shine through, and as always he sounds like a much calmer, smoother singing version of Tony Kakko. At the same time, he can put in a bit of extra power to fit in well during the heavier passages, and as always he does a fantastic job on the epic choruses, which are very much in full supply on this album. As always, though, he also gets a bit of extra help on a few tracks, both from bassist Fabio D’Amore, whose more aggressive, animated vocals fit in well on the heavier track “Stand and Fight”, as well as from two female guest vocalists, who both work very well with Georg and help provide some of the biggest highlights of the album.

As expected, the album kicks off with a brief but epic orchestral intro, which very much feels like it would fit in perfectly as part of a film score, with epic choir vocals used to add extra flavor. This feel carries over to the start of the opening song “United”, which opens softly with orchestras and keys, before the lead guitar kicks in with some nice melodic leads, and the album officially gets underway. Like some of Serenity’s classic openers, this is a more mid-paced affair, though the presence of heavy guitars during the verses helps add an extra layer to the music, to go along with the orchestras and Georg’s vocals, which are both as epic and amazing as ever. The heavy verses give way to the chorus, which is of course insanely epic and well sung as always, as well as being engaging and very catchy. The guitars actually get even heavier during the second verse and Georg sings a bit deeper and with more power than usual, which is pretty awesome. Towards the end of the track there’s an epic guitar solo, which really shows Chris’s skills off, and then we get an incredible final run through the chorus. All in all, it’s a perfect album opener, which at times brings back memories of when I first heard “New Horizon” from Death & Legacy, and was immediately blown away.

In case that song didn’t already set the bar high, the title track comes next and is an absolute masterpiece! It comes flying out of the gate with some nice folk melodies, and the verses keep the momentum going, charging along at a very fast pace, and overall it’s a track that very much feels like classic Euro power metal, complete with an epic, very speedy chorus that is of course as insanely catchy as one would expect from a Serenity single. Georg is in top form as always, the choir vocals are epic, and the guitar work is again heavy in bursts, and Chris once again delivers an excellent melodic solo in the middle. The end of the track is also a highlight, as the folk melodies return and we even get some epic marching drums to close out the track. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, though things hardly go downhill afterward. Next is “Hero”, another track where the guitar work really stands out. It kicks off with easily some of heaviest, most brutal sounding riffs I’ve ever heard on a Serenity album, and after a brief calmer section where Georg steals the show, the song continues moving at a fast pace, and is another instantly memorable track, where the orchestra, guitars, and vocals blend together to create something truly special. The chorus is once again a highlight, and the heavy riffs are used pretty much constantly throughout, especially in the middle right before giving way to an extended softer passage where the orchestra and vocals take over. After that is yet another speedy track in “Rising High”, though on this track the guitars are a bit softer and have more of a classic power metal sound. It’s another fast-paced track with energetic verses, complete with one of the catchiest choruses on the album, and another excellent guitar solo in the second half.

Things settle down for a bit after that track, with the only full ballad on the album, “Heaven”. It’s the kind of epic, folk-infused ballad the band always does well, with some nice folk melodies throughout, which blend in well with the piano and orchestra, and of course, Georg’s beautiful vocals feel right at home on this kind of song. The chorus is again excellent, very catchy and very beautiful at the same time. There’s a nice guitar solo in between verses, before we get the first guest appearance on the album from Faun vocalist Katja Moslehner, who has a very soft and lovely voice that carries the second verse and chorus for a while, though the song gets, even more, epic when Georg comes back in and the two sing together for the final chorus. Serenity is always excellent at delivering ballads, and if anything this is one of their very best efforts to date. The following track may disappoint some folks, as the title “King’s Landing” is sure to make fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones excited, with that being the name of one of the show’s main settings, but in fact the song has nothing to do with that series at all, and is instead a simple, but very beautiful piano interlude that offers a slowed down take on some of the melodies found on the next track.

Which takes us into the second half, where “Eternal Victory” kicks things off at a high tempo once again, following another nice folk section at the beginning. It’s another very speedy track, with some excellent guitar leads to go along with the epic orchestras, and it has another fantastic, super catchy chorus, which uses choir vocals effectively, as well as some very fun verses, and another great guitar solo. The final run through the chorus dials the choir vocals up to an 11 and is simply incredible. Next, is “Stand and Fight”, perhaps the catchiest song on the entire album, and yet another speedy track that delivers the goods. It begins with a brief tease at the chorus before the guitars kick in and we get some heavy riffs during the verses, to go along with some very animated vocals performed by Fabio, before Georg takes over just in time for the chorus, and sings along with some epic choirs. The instrumental section is again brilliant, as first, we get an extended orchestral section where the symphonic elements are used in full force, and then we get another amazing guitar solo. Overall, it’s yet another major standout track and for sure one of my favorites on the album.

After that the track, the pace slows down a bit for the final four tracks, though the quality doesn’t let up at all. Next is “The Fortress (of Blood and Sand)”, the kind of hard-hitting mid-paced track the band had a ton of on their earlier albums, and here it’s done very effectively, with the verses offering a nice contrast between aggressive guitars and Georg’s soft vocals, while the chorus is melodic and very catchy as always, and of course the solo section gets heavier again and is pretty awesome. The following track “Empire” is slightly speedier and more melodic, though it’s still more mid-paced than many of the earlier tracks. It has some very epic vocal melodies as always and features another one of the stronger choruses on the album, especially the final run through. Though it’s a softer track, Chris is again given room to showcase his skills during the middle section, with some heavy riffs, and as always he adds an extra guitar presence that I felt was missing a bit from the previous three albums.

Things go softer again as we head towards the end, with “My Fantasy” starting off feeling like a ballad, with some nice piano work and soft male vocals. I can’t tell if these are performed by Fabio or someone else, but they”re definitely not done by Georg, as they sound different from him. Whoever is singing there, they do a nice job of setting the tone for the song, before the guitars kick in and the track turns into more of a power ballad, with Georg leading the way as always, providing some of his best vocals during the chorus. As always, there’s some great guitar work, later on, this time with a very emotional guitar solo, which leads the way to the final run through of the chorus, and ends the song on a high note. Last, but certainly not least, we have the epic closing track “The Final Crusade”. This is a lot calmer than most Serenity closing tracks, opening with some nice acoustic guitar work before settling into a mid-paced groove, and it stays at this tempo the whole way through, with some relaxing but fairly engaging verses, which give way to the most surprising section on the album, that being a brief extreme metal passage where some harsh vocals are included. The growls sound pretty cool and add extra flavor to the track, leading into a very emotional and exciting chorus, where Georg delivers some of the most powerful vocals I’ve ever heard from him. It’s a beautiful song the whole way through, but the highlight of the track, and perhaps even the entire album, comes in the final two minutes, as Sleeping Romance vocalist Federica Lanna comes in at first during a beautiful piano section, then sings with Georg during the chorus, and she closes out the album with an absolutely beautiful final run through of the chorus, along with some amazing guitar work in the background. Serenity has always delivered some amazing closing tracks, but I think this one may be their very best yet.

I always have very high expectations when I listen to a Serenity album, as they’re far and away my favorite symphonic power metal band in the world, and that happens to be my favorite genre of all, but once again the band has managed to blow me away with Lionheart, delivering one of their very best albums to date. It contains the kind of epic, orchestral symphonic metal fans of the band have come to expect, with some very melodic and emotional tracks, enhanced by excellent female vocals on a couple tracks, and it, of course, has the epic mid-paced tracks the band has always excelled at, but it also has some of their best speedier tracks to date, as well as an increased use of heavy guitar work to further enhance the songs. It’s easily the best album of its kind I’ve heard since Death & Legacy, even surpassing the two previous efforts from the band, Codex Atlanticus and War of Ages. Longtime fans of the band are sure to love it, and I’d highly recommend it to any fans of symphonic power metal as well, as the genre doesn’t get any better than this!

originally written for myglobalmind.com (https://myglobalmind.com/2017/10/25/serenity-lionheart-review/)

NECROMANDUS Necromandus

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Although it's become somewhat prevalent for bands of the seventies and eighties who never really made it while they were young to make a comeback years down the line, one group that it probably wouldn't have been expected of is UK hard rockers Necromandus. After all, most of the band's original line-up is now deceased, with only drummer Frank Hall still around. Necromandus were only active between 1970 and 1973 and the lone album they recorded was released posthumously in various forms, originally without the band's permission or even knowledge until after the event. Hall has been quoted as being 'staggered' to discover the recordings on the market (having been told by his mother) and being 'happy and annoyed at the same time'.

It probably shouldn't have been that way. In the early seventies hard rock/heavy metal scene they had just about the best endorsement that a band could get having been taken under the wing of none other than Tony Iommi, who managed them and had them open for Black Sabbath, but things were not meant to be. Guitarist Barry Dunnery quit the band in 1973, which resulted in a rapid downward spiral that saw record label Vertigo drop them and the debut album shelved.

Revived in 2016 by Frank Hall with the aim to record a new album based off of the old material from the seventies, the new Necromandus line-up was born, including the son of late vocalist Bill Branch, John Branch, filling his father's role in the band. Necromandus (2017) is the result of their labours. At least some songs will be familiar to those who heard one of the various versions of the original debut, even if the titles aren't: opener Don't Look Down Frank was Nightjar on those releases (Don't Look Down Frank being the actual title that would have been used had the album been released in the seventies, apparently).

Though newly recorded, the music on Necromandus remains faithful to the seventies style of hard rock and even in some places actual heavy metal, often with a progressive twist. Despite the ties to Iommi and Black Sabbath back in the seventies I'm reminded more of Budgie during the heavier and more metallic parts of the album. The guitar riffs have an excellent sound with plenty of bite, though there are also plenty of softer and melodic parts. There are also heavy psych elements to be found, especially in the parts of the album where the keyboards are more prominent. They never actually had a keyboardist back during their original career, this new line-up being a five-piece rather than a four, but they certainly fit in well and offer up additional variety in the album, of which there is plenty of to begin with: the songs have no issue with individual identity.

The songs themselves are both hard rocking and catchy, with Hymn To Her, The Warriors and the closer And She Smiles in particular sticking in my head for ages after the event, while other highlights are the opening duo of Don't Look Down Frank and Alauna. The vocals from John Branch are crystal clear and his voice is very similar to his father's from what I've heard of older Necromandus recordings. It definitely feels right that he is singing on this record and not someone else and in fact this album is in itself a fitting tribute by Frank Hall to his original bandmates. It's like both the album that should have been finally seeing the light of day (despite those various versions of the original debut) and the beginning of a new chapter. It remains to be seen of course whether this will go down as one last hurrah for the Necromandus name or if, like others before them such as eighties NWoBHM act Hell, they'll continue to produce new material. I hope so, because this one is a keeper.

CANNIBAL CORPSE Red Before Black

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Vim Fuego
With a band like Cannibal Corpse, it would be entirely reasonable to expect to find a body buried in the back yard, or a disfigured sibling kept locked in the attic, but it just hasn’t happened. Despite the themes of murder, mutilation, cannibalism, tracing back to the band’s earliest days, there are no true life horrors like "St. Anger", "Cold Lake", or "Risk" lurking anywhere in their back catalogue. The days of a tour de force like "Butchered At Birth" or "Tomb of the Mutilated" seem to be a long time ago, but “Red Before Black” proves that the same band which recorded those slabs of maggot riddled carrion still exists today.

Metal has evolved since the heady days of the early 1990s, and Cannibal Corpse have also evolved, while still keeping the essence and vitality which made them unique. This is a band which started out playing death metal and is determined to keep playing it until the bloody end.

“Only One Will Die” blasts off, no horror movie or acoustic intros needed, and it’s death metal bliss. Ah, fuck, you know what it’s like. Hammer smashed face drums, monolithic bass, hatchet to the head guitars, and vomit the soul vocals, and the aural horror show is back for another instalment. “Code of the Slashers” is one of those songs which should become a live favourite, with an impending doom crushing opening riff, followed by Corpsegrinder’s bestial vocals, and then a fast section kicks in. It’s uncompromising as fuck. It’s hard to imagine five guys all aged around 50 are still making such fucking brutal, complex, crushing, unearthly, thunderous music, but they are.

“Remaimed” is, if anything, heavier than “Code of the Slashers”. Once again, it seems Cannibal Corpse are going to sacrifice speed for the sake of heavy, but the song changes gears effortlessly between the two. And that’s one of Cannibal Corpse’s great strengths. They make this seem easy, when it’s anything but. Screaming “head shovelled off!” at the top of your voice along with Corpsegrinder is great fun, and that is exactly what “Red Before Black” is all about, albeit a dark sort of amusement. There are still plenty of elitists out there who wrote off Cannibal Corpse a long time ago, and can’t or won’t change their opinion. The band’s crime? Becoming too popular through their controversial artwork and lyrics, and even popping up as “thrasher band Cannibal Corpses” in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. That’s like judging a beer by the bottle and not what’s inside. Fuck ‘em. They are the ones missing out on some of the finest crafted death metal there is, and the band’s longevity has proved beyond doubt that any hint of gimmickry is long gone. Cannibal Corpse is no longer the most brutal and vicious band around (and fuck off once again to the elitists who say they never were) but fucking hell, how many bands are still creating such killing riffs 14 albums and nearly 30 years into a career? And look at the regularity of those albums too. There are no half decade gaps anywhere in the discography. This is a band that lives, breathes, and shits death metal. “Red Before Black” is for the fans who do the same.

SPECTRAL VOICE Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
666sharon666
The fusion of doom metal and death metal can result in a number of vastly different sounding albums all being branded under the same 'death-doom metal' banner. From more melodic and gothic stuff like the recent (and early) Paradise Lost outings to slowed to a snail's pace crossovers with the funeral doom metal style and even something like Exuvia by The Ruins of Beverast that throws in all kinds of unusual influences like tribal ambient. Then you get an album like Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, the 2017 debut full-length by US act Spectral Voice, which instead of feeling like a doom metal album with death metal influences like a lot of death-doom metal can be described as, is more like a true fusion of the two: in some ways it's a death-doom metal album, in others it's a doom-death metal album.

I say this because there's plenty of instances during the album where Spectral Voice's music is much more death metal based than it is in doom metal, especially during tracks like Lurking Gloom where they pick up the tempo and go beyond what is normally considered acceptable for doom metal, even the more heavy metal influenced so called 'traditional' style. Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise when most of the band's line-up also belongs to the death metal act Blood Incantation, so they're hardly greenhorns (Spectral Voice themselves have also previously released no less than five demos and two splits) in the genre.

Yes, more often the music on Eroded Corridors of Unbeing is slow to mid-paced, but it certainly equally has the sound of a death metal album in terms of riffing style. And it sounds like a particularly filthy death metal album at that. There's no modern squeaky clean polished production work been done here and the band show everything they can do offer perfectly without it. Through it all though the album builds an atmosphere of oppressive menace, which is in no way mitigated by the inclusion of melodic guitar lines and notes and ambient sound effects during the brief moments the album allows you to come up for air. I can't understand the vocals, but in this case I don't need to: they function perfectly as an extra instrument, adding an extra layer to the evil cacophony of guitars, bass and drums.

Eroded Corridors of Unbeing is a mid-length album, containing five songs. I find that some death-doom metal albums can end up seeming like they've been drawn out for too long, but there's no danger of that impression forming here. These five songs are packed to the brim with quality riffs, and though it sure doesn't sound pretty the unpolished production gives the album a certain kind of charm that has me instantly hooked in Spectral Voice's style. I really think this one is a special album. It's quickly become my new personal favourite doom and death metal album of the year. Play it loud and often.

MONOLORD Rust

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Monolord's Rust (2017) has a simple yet eye-catching cover: two up-ended cars against a cloudy sky with, aptly, a great deal of rust in evidence. It looks not unlike like something you might run across when playing post-apocalyptic video game series Fallout (in fact, google Fallout 4's carhenge to see something that could easily be an extension of this album cover). What does that have in common with rust? Decay. Something that's past its prime, left to rot or simply put out to pasture. Despite it's name, Rust, which is this Swedish band's third album, is certainly not music that can be accused of such things and is actually some pretty compelling and heavy doom metal work that nevertheless displays a subdued vibe that fits with such themes.

The music on Rust is built on the simple premise that its listener is going to want to hear fuzzy guitar riffs that are heavy on the bass and then delivers them in abundance. Also containing elements of stoner metal and even a little bit of psychedelic rock, this doom metal record keeps the pace slow and the guitar tones heavy for most of its duration, but doesn't lack for melody either. The record can get a little samey at times, though in a hypnotic kind of manner, but is certainly engrossing at its finest moments such as early highlight Dear Lucifer, which is definitely one that will stick in many heads once they hear it.

Decent through it's first four tracks, Monolord then really hit their stride with a pair of long tracks to close the album, Forgotten Lands and At Niceae, which take up a little over half the running time between them. The band are clearly skilled at making the long track format work, but there is an unfortunate side-effect here where most of what came before, except Dear Lucifer whose title line will still be repeating in your head at that point, is eclipsed by them. It would be wrong to call Rust a patchy release since it's solid work all the way through, but it does feel like one that's clasping at but never grabbing true greatness.

I haven't heard Monolord's earlier albums Empress Rising (2014) and Vænir (2015) to say how well Rust compares, but I do know that despite some minor issues I enjoyed this one quite a lot and any who appreciate the more fuzz-drenched acts of the doom genre will certainly find something to love here.

CALIGULA'S HORSE In Contact

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Australian band Caligula's Horse are a group I've often heard good things said about, but more from the progressive rock crowd than the metal crowd, despite the group's equal association as a progressive metal act. Indeed, when I recently spotted their latest album (their fourth) In Contact (2017) in a music store, it was filed in the Rock & Pop section. This led me to believe that, much like groups such as Enchant, that they were the kind of band who applied a metal edge to an otherwise progressive rock sound. So upon deciding that I'm in the mood to see what progressive rock can offer me in 2017 and choosing Caligula's Horse's In Contact as the first album to check out, I have to say that I've completely misjudged them. Though the band also offer up plenty of softer sections of music/tracks to provide contrasting sounds more often than not they're as heavy and metallic as non-extreme progressive metal gets. What is the point this introduction is making you ask? Well, it just seems to me that there's been less association between the band and metal, when In Contact is an album that fans of progressive metal shouldn't be overlooking.

The vocals by Jim Grey may be exceptionally melodic (I've very much reminded of Haken's Ross Jennings), but the riffs from Sam Vallen and new member Adrian Goleby are heavy and punchy. Sometimes it's in a classic way à la the Dream Theater school, in others it's in a noticeably modern way, even pushing djent at one point. At another there's even a speedy power metal section. The band's instrumentalists certainly don't skimp on the progressive technicalities and intricacies the way some so called modern progressive metal bands do either. Unlike many which get saddled with this overused label, In Contact actually deserves the description. The album is like the perfect fusion of both the progressive rock and heavy metal worlds, offering up the kind of merger that will hold appeal to fans of both crowds without either feeling that it's made a little more for the other.

For the last few years I've found a lot of progressive metal, especially of the more traditional kind like this, to be completely stale, so it shouldn't be understated how quickly this album manages to impress. I'm hooked long before the opening track Dream the Dead is concluded. There's only one track on In Contact that I really don't care for, which is Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall. This one is a spoken word theatrical piece that serves as little more than an interlude. Though convincingly performed, with it running for almost three minutes I'd ready for Caligula's Horse to start up the music that they're so good at before even a third of it is through. It's a disruption to what is otherwise an album that flows together excellently, with the songs quickly asserting their own identities through use of great riffs and equally strong melodic parts. The opening trio of Dream the Dead, Will's Song (Let the Colours Run) and The Hands are the Hardest are especially good, as is the 15:31 long epic closer Graves.

I'm certainly going to have to backtrack and check out Caligula's Horse's earlier albums now, because if they are half as good as In Contact I've been missing out on one of modern progressive metal's best bands. A highlight for their genre in 2017 without a doubt.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Wrong One to Fuck With" is the 8th full-length studio album by US, Maryland based death metal act Dying Fetus. The album was released through Relapse Records in June 2017. It´s the successor to "Reign Supreme" from 2012 and features the same three-piece lineup as the predecessor: John Gallagher (guitars, vocals), Sean Beasley (bass, vocals), and Trey Williams (drums). In fact Dying Fetus has featured this trio lineup since "Descend into Depravity (2009)", and it finally looks like the endless lineup changes of the past are behind them. A stable lineup for three albums in a row is definitely some sort of a record for the band.

Stylistically almost nothing has changed since the inception of Dying Fetus in the early 90s despite of the many lineup changes throughout the band´s history. Band leader/guitarist/vocalist John Gallagher has steered the ship through various storms with a clear musical vision of playing the most crushingly brutal and groove laden death metal he could possibly produce and has for the most part succeeded in doing just that. Every release up until now has been high quality death metal, although some albums stand out more than others. That trend is continued on "Wrong One to Fuck With", which is another example of how one of the elite artists of the genre deliver brutal and technical well played death metal on a level that only few similar styled contemporary artists can dream of reaching.

No compromise is the first thing I think when listening to "Wrong One to Fuck With", which is a vicious attack on the ears. Given a few listens, hooks begin to appear and there are definitely some pretty catchy moments here and there on the album, but initially you´ll probably be blown to pieces by the ultra brutal music and uncompromising nature of the material. Dying Fetus are not the type of band to cater to accessibility and you´ll be hard pressed to find anything resembling a melody on the album (which of course is a bit of an exaggeration, because there are actually brief hints of melody featured on the album). Fast blasting, sharp riffs and rhythms, and those trademark ultra brutal groove laden breakdowns, paired with the brutal growling vocals of Gallagher and Beasley (who compliment each other with a deep unintelligible growling type and a slightly more intelligible aggressive growling type), are the basis of the band´s music.

It´s not album where it makes much sense to mention one track over another, because all tracks on the album are consistent in quality and style. It´s both a strength and a weakness. A strength because you know that you´ll be exposed to high quality brutal death metal played with great technical skill for the duration of the album, but a weakness because the album is a bit of a one-dimensional listen. It´s more or less the premise of this particular style of death metal though, and it´s a matter of locking on to the brutal hypnotic grooves and enjoying the sharp riffs and precision drumming, rather than expecting stylistic variation and development.

"Wrong One to Fuck With" is a well produced album. It´s raw, powerful, and detailed, and the sound production suits the material perfectly. The triggered bass drums are maybe a bit too "thin" and "clicky" sounding, but it´s not a major issue, and overall the album sounds great. So upon conclusion "Wrong One to Fuck With" is yet another high quality brutal death metal release by Dying Fetus. They are still one of the elite artists of the genre, and prove it once more here. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ELDER Reflections of a Floating World

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.76 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Active for a little over a decade now and US band Elder have certainly changed along the way. Starting life as a stoner/doom metal band and releasing the self-titled debut album Elder (2008) in this style, they've become increasingly more based in psychedelic and progressive sounds, which is the flavour of the day on the group's fourth full-length album, Reflections of a Floating World (2017).

Much like their last album Lore (2015), Reflections of a Floating World is a lengthy album made up of a short track list. Six tracks, each lasting for extended durations where the shortest offering is 8:39 long, with most surpassing ten minutes. The title track of Lore was longer than any of these here, but overall Reflections of a Floating World stands as Elder's longest record to date. With long running times like these it's obvious that the band wasn't writing with catchy tracks in mind, but something more atmospheric and intricate that requires the teeth to be sunk into and given several listens before it can really be appreciated.

Some elements of the band's earlier metal sound is still in evidence on the album, such as during opener Sanctuary, which starts off in such a way that you'd be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed since the debut, but mostly Elder have moved away from metal at this point and are better described as a heavy psych group with strong progressive rock influences in the structure of their compositions. They're still pretty heavy though. Plenty of vocals are used, but quite often there are extended instrumental sections, which prove to be the most interesting aspect of the band's music. Quite the range of different sounds can be heard within the same song from keyboard parts, clean tone guitars and metallic riffs. When the vocals are featured it's of note that frontman Nicholas DiSalvo's singing style has changed a lot since the band's early days, being much more melodic and in keeping with the more rock based music the band is playing now.

Reflections of a Floating World is certainly the kind of album that is a slow burn. There's a lot going on and a listener may be several listens deep before they've even started to get a grasp on the scope of the work Elder has created. It's pretty grand. The biggest issue facing the release though is that despite being very accomplished there isn't actually all that much to give the tracks identity from each other even after several complete listens. This makes it the kind of album that is best taken in a single sitting to get its full effect, but it's long duration may be a barrier to some listeners. The one track that really stands out as different is the much lighter and hypnotic instrumental Sonntag. Though the album as a whole can be described as an atmospheric work, that song takes it even further. Technically speaking though it's the least interesting of the bunch, slowly building and changing up small ideas in what's otherwise a fairly repetitive pattern. Fortunately it's the shortest song, but as mentioned earlier, that still makes it 8:39 long.

An intriguing album that I have to say does live up to its name in the way it inspires reflective contemplation in me, Reflections of a Floating World is not perfect by any means, but it's clear to me that the trio that make up Elder are a group of talented guys. They seem to still be in the transitional stage from their earlier stoner/doom metal sound though and haven't yet completely honed their new craft. For my part I find this album quite the pleasure while its running and can recognise the number of quality riffs found within, but after the event it's failing to leave too much of a lasting impression, and that's the kind of thing that is going to elevate Elder's music to the next level.

DYSCARNATE With All Their Might

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
It’s been five years since Dyscarnate released an album, the last being 2012’s excellent And So It Came To Pass marking them as one of best death metal bands to come out of the UK.

Roll on to 2017 and With All Their Might sees them returning with a more accessible sound. We are talking relatively speaking here of course as this album is still pretty brutal and complex at times but the riffs are more immediately memorable and they’ve injected plenty of groove into songs like opener Of Mice And Mountains and Iron Strengthens Iron. This definitely works to the albums benefit with most of the songs displaying strong hooks that beg for the repeat button to be hit. The playing is absolutely incendiary as fans of the band will expect with all showing their mastery of their chosen instrument. Best of all there’s not a single weak moment, the material showing plenty of diversity from the almost doom pace of Traitors in The Palace to the more explosive All The Devils Are Here, this really is death metal played at its best with a crystal clear modern production displaying the songs to great effect.

In case you hadn’t figured yet I’m loving this album and as the year draws to a close it’s pretty clear this will feature pretty highly in my album of the year list here on MMA.

BLINDFOLDED AND LED TO THE WOODS Modern Adoxography

Album · 2017 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland


Christchurch is the third largest city on New Zealand, with a population of approximately 450,000. For those who are unaware, Christchurch was struck by two earthquakes in September 2010 and January 2011, which caused considerable damage to the city and the loss of 185 people. Since then the city has been rebuilding, both physically and emotionally, and the result is a community that is incredibly close and bonded together. I live some 30 minutes outside the city, near the township of Oxford, and have been here for a couple of years now. All of this makes me feel incredibly annoyed that the only way I have managed to discover this death metal outfit is by being sent a digital copy by an American PR company!

Apparently, “Adoxography” is a term coined in the late 19th century, and means "fine writing on a trivial or base subject". That these guys have been inspired by Dillinger Escape Plan, and have been supporting them on their recent NZ tour, is of little surprise. Here was have death metal with a crazed edge, music that is abrasive, sharp and twisted, while losing none of the brutality that one would expect from the genre. Here we have ten relentless tracks in thirty-five minutes of crushing riffs, technical wizardry, and merciless vocals. While the band's musical foundation is built upon brutal death metal, elements of demented grindcore and bizarre sci-fi tones weave their way into the complex structures, resulting in an engaging and damaging listening experience.

I can only hope that the guys are able to tour outside Aotearoa, as music as good as this needs to be heard by a much wider audience than the restricted population of New Zealand can afford. This is brutal, uncompromising, and very, very good indeed.

KALMANKANTAJA Routamaa

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Not content with just releasing Demonwoods (2017) earlier in the year, Finland's productive black metallers Kalmankantaja are already back for another dose of their newfound atmospheric sound in the form of Routamaa (2017), their eleventh album. The band was only started in 2011, releasing their debut Kuolonsäkeet (2013) a couple of years later. The band used to play depressive black metal, but have moved over to atmospheric black metal with their recent releases, with Demonwoods completely shedding any depressive vibes that were still prevalent on their two prior albums Waldeinsamkeit (2016) and Tyhjyys (2016).

Where Demonwoods was made up of two long songs with a short interlude between them, Routamaa instead features six tracks of much shorter durations, ranging from the 4:35 long Ikijää to the 7:27 long Varjon ja Tulen Jumala. This actually ends up with the release being a little bit longer overall, despite Demonwoods title track being a near full ten minutes longer than anything here. The change in songwriting approach may be a conscious attempt from Kalmankantaja to not make the same album twice. If so, the band haven't really been successful or unsuccessful in that regard. Shorter compositions are by their nature generally more direct, which these are, but style wise Routamaa is more or less on the exact same page as its predecessor: atmospheric black metal without any atypical elements, stripped back to its base ingredients without excessive reliance on ambient and/or post-rock.

While calling the music a fairly standardised sound for the atmospheric black metal genre was a description that could also be applied to Demonwoods, the former was at least marked by its long format songs, which were made more noteworthy by having twists and turns take place within them. These six found on Routamaa are solid enough and very listenable, with the very melodic Kylmä Ikuinen standing out from the bunch, but all come across as less interesting by comparison. Though still of what I think of as a mid-length in general it does seem as if considerably less happens within these six songs. The production gives the album a tad harsher sound this time around which may appeal more to certain crowds, but at the end of the day, for me, I can't find Routamaa to be anything more than another atmospheric black metal album coming out of what is one of metal's most over-populated sub-genres. Decent supplemental material if you enjoy the band's other work, but if you don't know them yet and are interested in a recent album, get Demonwoods instead.

SLIPKNOT Day Of The Gusano

Movie · 2017 · Nu Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
***This review is regarding the single disc, UK Blu-Ray version only. Which contains the full uninterrupted concert only, with no special features or documentary footage.***

Now, you might be thinking ‘I’ve already got three Slipknot videos with concert footage on them’ if you already own Disasterpeices live in London from the Iowa touring cycle, (Sic)nesses live at Download festival 2009 on their first headline performance there during the All Hope Is Gone touring cycle, and the 2nd disc of the documentary release Voliminal Inside The Nine which had a smattering of live tracks from different dates and locations during the Vol. 3 touring cycle.

So what has Day Of The Gusano got to separate it from the others and make it worth buying as well? Well; first off, it is their first official concert video with the new rhythm section of Jay and Alex on drums and bass. Its their first ever show in Mexico City and the fans are energetic and grateful. Its their first video of a Knotfest performance and features all the associated spectacle and backdrops. It has songs from the .5 The Gray Chapter album, which obviously none of the previous videos will have had.

Comparing it to their other DVDs, there are 11 songs here that aren’t on Disaterpieces, including the rarely played ‘Metabolic’ off of Iowa, and ‘Me Inside’ & ‘Prosthetics’ off of the debut. There are 6 songs here that aren’t on (Sic)nesses at Download ’09. Compared to Voliminal‘s concert section, well, its a full length concert in a single location not just 9 random tracks from various locations, and none of it is in black & white.

So, onto ‘Gusano itself. (If you didn’t know already or bother to google that, its Spanish for ‘Maggots’ by the way, which makes sense, since y’know, they call their fans ‘Maggots’ and its filmed in Mexico). The audio visual quality of the release is really high. The picture quality, camera work, variety of shots, editing and general watching experience of the concert are the best that Slipknot have had to date. It is beautiful to look at, and there’s nothing distracting or interrupting about the editing. The performance visually has lots of pyro and fireworks and big backdrops and set pieces, fancy lighting. There’s generally lots going on up there on stage… its big and flashy and never boring.

The mix and production are very good. The only niggle is that Corey’s vocals are a bit lower in the mix than any previous live efforts from the band, but that’s real nitpicking. Otherwise, the instruments are really clear and well balanced, you can make the kick drum out clearly in all situations, and its even easier to hear Craig and Sid’s stuff than usual too which helps you notice them a bit better. If there’s a key riff or drum fill or whatever its given priority and generally its all beefy, heavy and just plain well put together.

The band themselves’ performance will always make or break a concert though. All the audio visual quality in the world, with the most expensive fireworks and lighting can’t hide a crappy performance. Slipknot have been through different phases in that regard. Old bootlegs off of the first album cycle show them as a sort of messy raw jumble. On Iowa they were a tight well-oiled million dollar perfect live-band (I remember seeing them live in Belfast on that cycle and its still one of my favourite ever concert experiences all these years later). On Volume 3 they flipped between the two but generally they were let down by Corey’s vocals (both times I saw them on that cycle and indeed both their 9.0 Live album and Voliminal DVD from that cycle all suffered from Corey’s vocals not being as great as usual). On All Hope‘ however, they came back blazing and were incredible and put in career defining performances and Corey sounded like one of the world’s greatest ever frontmen.

Luckily, here, the band are really on top form. This is a fiery, energetic, fun performance that everybody seems into. There are no complaints about the new line up and they do a great job of trying to fill some pretty massive, childhood-defining, shoes. (Heck, Jay arguably plays ‘Vermilion’ better live here than on any of the other three officially released versions of it). The veteran members are all super practiced, tight and precise. Corey is really strong here, arguably the second-best that he’s ever been on an official release next to Download ’09. (There are some minor questions about that on ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘Prosthetics’ maybe, which are a bit sketchy perhaps, but for the majority of it he really, really nails it). Its also nice to see him making an effort to speak Spanish which he does rather a lot and appears really humble and grateful.

The one bit where all Slipknot concerts drag is during ‘Spit It Out’ when the band get all the audience to squat down so they can all jump (the fuck) up at the same key moment. The actual process of cajoling them all to squat down can be a bit boring to watch or listen to if you aren’t actually there yourself sometimes, but luckily here it really doesn’t drag on too long and they payoff is great; the image of the gigantic Mexican crowd all bouncing in unison is really rather impressive.

So just to go through the list: It looks great. It sounds great. The band play great. The setlist is different enough from previous live releases to be worth it. That setlist itself is also pretty great, doing a good job of pleasing fans with the songs they’d expect to hear (Old fans could never see a set without ‘(sic)’ or ‘Surfacing’ and newer fans would never accept a set without ‘Duality’ and ‘Psychosocial’ for example) with pleasing them by spicing things up a bit and not just repeating themselves every time. On a personal note as well, its just so damn nice that they played ‘Metabolic’ live. I’ve been banging on for years about it and how its my favourite Slipknot song and they’ve finally put it out on something. I’m very pleased about that. Underrated song!

Anyway, that’s just personal preference. Everyone has their pros and cons to any setlist by any band. I’m sure some people are gutted ‘Sulfur’ and ‘Left Behind’ are missing considering they were big singles. I myself am kind of surprised ‘Skeptic’ is missing. With its catchy-ass chorus its absolutely built for big audience sing-alongs. I’d have thought that would be in every live set ever following Paul’s death, but I guess maybe its too personal for them lyrically or something like that.

Overall; this is a damn fine release from the band and not one to miss out on. Not even if you’ve already got a lot of live material by them already, as discussed at the beginning. Its probably their best video album on purely video terms, and its really worthy of inclusion in your collection in the other aspects like tracklisting and performance. If you are desperate to see the documentary, don’t get this version, but if you, like me, only really want the concert then this is the perfect version (at the lowest price).

ACCEPT The Rise of Chaos

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.49 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
2017 saw the legendary German Heavy Metal band Accept releasing their fifteenth studio album. It is their fourth album with former TT-Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo handling the vocals and as with all the albums of this era it features the slick polished production style of Andy Sneap and has been released on Nuclear Blast records.

It is noteworthy in that it has a significant line-up change following the departure of Herman Frank and Stefan Scharzmann, who had both been consistently in the band since 2005. They’ve been replaced by former Grave Digger/Rebellion guitarist Uwe Lulis, and War Within’s Christopher Williams joining in to the anchoring presence of Baltes and Hoffmann.

The music on the album is very much of the same formula that the band found renewed success with on their excellent previous three albums. With the same vocal styles and production job as the last three albums and roughly the same musical direction there are a lot of similarities with those previous three records and so, if you like those and want more of the same then this is a highly recommended album.

If you want some diversity, new ideas, or progression then this album isn’t for you. If you didn’t like the previous ones due to the production or vocals, this isn’t for you. Luckily for me, I am an absolute blind fanboy to the Tornillo era of Accept, and simply can’t get enough. I really enjoyed the recent Restless & Live concert release from this current line-up too.

One thing I would mention is that it is slightly safer and less energetic in terms of performance. I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘firing-on-all-cylinders’ or ‘firecracker’ anymore, although the difference is so slight it will only come up if you are sat directly looking for criticism. This is seriously top quality stuff, don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Album highlights include the firey opener ‘Die By The Sword,’ the nostalgia fueled ‘Analogue Man’ and the uplifting ‘Weight Of The World. ‘ To be fair its all solid, with absolutely no filler.

Overall; The Rise Of Chaos is more of the same from Accept and a very good installment of that. Unless you don’t like them recently as it is, or are actively looking for faults this is a rock solid and very entertaining addition to their catalogue and you’d be mad to miss it.

HAVUKRUUNU Kelle surut soi

Album · 2017 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Pagan black metal may just be the most loosely defined of the black metal sub-genres, if only by virtue of the fact that's its so often crossed with another black metal genre, usually atmospheric, that scant few artists actually play what could be described as pure pagan black metal. It's often used to add flavour and vibe to what is otherwise music that clearly belongs to the other sub-genre, with the work of acts such as Drudkh, Saor, Wodensthrone and Darkestrah springing to mind. Others simply exist on the fringes of it, otherwise playing fairly traditional black metal. More still amplify the folk element to it and ultimately become actual folk metal. As such, exactly what makes pagan black metal is something that, much like with the semi-related viking metal genre, is often misunderstood and categorised as a pseudo genre. This is not actually true. One band who excels at making pagan black metal as a distinct genre in its own right is Finland's Havukruunu, whose second full-length album Kelle Surut Soi (2017), puts them right up there with their countrymen Wyrd in that regard.

For most genres, describing something as textbook is like another way of saying it's completely generic, but that's not an argument that can really be applied the same way to pagan black metal, for the above reason. So when I say that Havukruunu play textbook pagan black metal on Kelle Surut Soi, I don't say it to be demeaning, but in admiration that these guys manage to capture this elusive genre so whole-heartedly. Folksy and with plenty of acoustic guitars to be heard right from the opening notes of Jo Näkyvi Pohjan Portit, yet with never a shortage of black metal riff work, some of it fast and some of it slower, with vocals that move between traditional growling and heathen chanting, results in songs that display a triumphant, epic character. The music feels tailored to celebrate the band's native Finland and its pagan ancestry.

Not being a Finnish speaker, following the lyrics of Kelle Surut Soi is a no go for me, but as with full-on folk metal I only find that to add to the authenticity of the compositions and the atmosphere the music creates. It's certainly not an issue against enjoying the release immensely, as Havukruunu's sound is quick to ensnare the eardrums. Not only is the black metal aspect satisfying and convincingly delivered, but everything else applied to it is tastefully done, especially the acoustic guitars. It results in an album that, even though it passes the fifty minute mark, is very easy to get so engrossed by that you don't notice the time passing at all. I would say that hands down, as few and far between as they are, that Kelle Surut Soi is the best pagan black metal release I've yet come across. This album represents a real lesson in how it should be done!

WRECHE Wreche

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
A haunting piano starts up, accompanied by numerous sound effects, especially creaking noises. It's an eerie intro track called Pruning the Spirit on Wreche (2017), the self-titled debut album of of this US duo. It's known that the group is supposed to play black metal, so for the one and a half minutes long track we wait for the inevitable, sudden assault of raw, distorted guitars...

...only it doesn't come. The track changes. This second one is called Angel City and it's indeed the first proper song on the album. Only the guitars don't show up. Why? Because there aren't any on this record at all. The band isn't even one of those bass driven ones, because there's none of those either. Wreche set out to create black metal with just three things. Vocals, drums, and piano. And by piano, they mean proper piano, sans any effects to imitate the distortion of a lead guitar. It would be easy to compare this to the work of Botanist who did a similar thing with hammered dulcimers, but Botanist has used bass and distorted their hammered dulcimers. Another artist this exists close to is Les Chants du Hasard, who applies black metal vocal to classical music. Unlike Wreche though, Les Chants du Hasard doesn't attempt to make its instrumentation actually sound like black metal as well. Wreche take the concept of throwing out the guitars to a whole other level.

It really shouldn't work, yet it does. It may not be heavy in the usual sense, but it's amazing how well traditional black metal rhythms can translate to the piano. The playing by John Steven Morgan is certainly amazing. Can it really be called metal? That's up for debate for sure and if it can count then it's surely better described as avant-garde, despite otherwise capturing the same essence as black metal and vocally even pushing on the boundaries of depressive black metal, especially during Angel City. Those are some really tortured and miserable vocals from John Steven Morgan there. That's actually in real contrast to the lively music heard in the three main songs Angel City, Fata Morgana and Vessel. The other member Barret Baumgart (also of Blood of Martyrs) drums away while all this is going on, but it's clear who the star of the show is here.

But is it really any good or just a novelty? Well, after a little while it does tend to get a bit samey. An ironic criticism I'm sure since such can undoubtedly be said of a lot of pure black metal records, or any genre for that matter, but it does feel as if Wreche has this one trick and once you've heard it you start to wonder what else they've got, because it quickly becomes clear that they've built everything they have upon it. Fortunately the album only runs for 33:32 minutes, so its not excessively long, but it does start to get a bit tedious even so, despite the accomplished piano playing. It would help I think if each track were a little more distinct (Petals is basically an interlude running for over three minutes, featuring slow, regular piano playing, so it doesn't count).

Much like with the aforementioned Les Chants du Hasard, this record ultimately leaves me wishing that instead of this business of basically saying 'hey, listen to what we can do' that the artists would apply these atypical interests to a proper black metal context. The guitar is the backbone of metal. We may enjoy the odd bass driven band such as Völur or Bell Witch, but most of us metalheads like our guitars. We're unlikely to listen to something that purposely throws them away too often. That at least is how I feel at the conclusion of Wreche. It's interesting, good in moderation, but now that I've written this review for it don't intend to revisit it for quite a long time. But if what I've heard here was applied to a normal black metal sound? Now that really sounds intriguing. Sign me right up.

PHYLLOMEDUSA Phyllomedusa, the Destroyer

EP · 2017 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Vim Fuego
Ever listened to a harsh noise or grindcore demo and wondered how the musician... no, performer, because this may not be music, is actually making those hideous/beautiful sounds? Have you considered what instruments might actually be involved? Is this created by over-amplified, distorted strings, or by some evil Dr Frankenstein electronic circuit soldered together with crowbars? And is that a human voice, altered beyond bestial into impure noise too dirty to be called white? Drums or machines? Are the microphones used in the recording process broken, or can human-created devices tolerate such stresses far beyond the red-line? Is this just the hideous nightmare outpourings of a cybernetic entity spontaneously formed inside a labyrinthine silicon chip?

In short, have you ever wondered where the boundary between noise and music is?

Here it is, right here.

Don’t try to understand or interpret “Phyllomedusa, The Destroyer”. Like quantum physics, it just is, and it’s beyond the understanding of most humans. There are two correct responses. The first, and more usual, is to recoil like pain receptors flinching from a flame. The other is to seek more, yearning for further stimulation of already overloaded pleasure sensors, like an overdosing addict knowing death will result but plunging the needle ever deeper in search of that elusive final apocalyptic high.

Few will tolerate this. Fewer still will find gratification. But which urge is stronger- fear of the potentially unpleasant and painful, or the desire and drive of Sacher-Masoch’s perversion?

SPECTRAL VOICE Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Boasting a line-up that includes 75% of the US death metal act Blood Incantation (who released their debut album Starspawn last year), Paul Riedl (guitars), Morris Kolontyrsky (guitars) and Jeff Barrett (bass), with a line-up completed by Eli Wendler (drums, vocals), comes Spectral Voice, an ominous and menacing new entry in the directory of death-doom metal. These guys have been around for five years now and already have a number of demo and split releases to their name. They used to be a five-piece with Casey Hogan (Clad in Darkness) as their vocalist, but Wendler took over the role in 2016 in time for Eroded Corridors of Unbeing (2017), the group's rather unsettling debut studio album.

Heavily channelling the death metal element for their music, with a small dash of black metal for good measure, Spectral Voice's Eroded Corridors of Unbeing creates a vibe that is undeniably all about doom metal. Even during the parts of the music that feature faster guitar riffs atypical for the doom genre, that are more like they're straight out of old school death metal, they manage to make sound absolutely sinister, filling their listeners with dread. It's a feeling shared by the more atmospheric and slow parts. The band's immense, powerful sound feels completely evil and rotten to its very core.

It's often the case with new bands, especially extreme metal bands, that the actual songwriting ends up being the weak link in a group even when they've hit on a winning sound and have good musicianship, because the individual songs don't make an impression. That's not the case with Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, which shows the guys in Spectral Voice to be very capable and creative songwriters. Often throwing out traditional song structure, each one of the album's five tracks feels jam packed with ideas, whether it be the 13:59 long Visions of Psychic Dismemberment that uses its long duration to move through multiple distinct sections or the instrumental Lurking Gloom where the band really rev up their speed to deliver some pummelling riff work. Their production work is far from polished, in fact it sounds pretty filthy, but nothing is lost in the murk. The guitar riffs stand out, as does the band's flair for haunting melodic notes that can regularly be heard behind the distortion, subtly adding atmosphere to the aggression in one wicked, unholy union. The growls from Eli Wendler are also worth taking note of, since he uses a whole range of styles. Nothing monotonous about his performance at all!

With Eroded Corridors of Unbeing Spectral Voice have a record where there's none of the usual pitfalls that extreme metal styles can fall into. Many bands, especially new ones, tend to make records where everything sounds exactly the same all the time, meaning that even if they are good musicians and have a good sound production their songs end up lacking identity. That's definitely not to the case with this one. Their music may sit in the dark and gloomy end of metal, but Spectral Voice are shining a bright light on the future of the extreme metal scene.

ARCH ENEMY Will to Power

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.07 | 8 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Sweden's Arch Enemy are the kind of band who I have always enjoyed but not necessarily found to be the most remarkable act around. Very hit and miss in terms of how interesting I find their albums, I was actually blown away by how much I enjoyed their last offering War Eternal (2014). Though the last ten years have resulted in a real up and down listening experience in terms of quality, I had high hopes resting on their eleventh album Will to Power (2017), which sees Jeff Loomis of Nevermore fame joining their ranks.

This is not just because of War Eternal being a new career high point for them, but because everything leading up to Will to Power seems to have being putting all the pieces in place for Arch Enemy to break their mould and deliver something that, at long last, brings their music to the next level. They have a vocalist in Alissa White-Gluz whose dual style of growls/clean singing was only lightly scratched on War Eternal (in a real blink and you'll miss it kind of way). They were showing tendencies of experimentation with symphonic elements on the last album, which were integrated well. And now they also have Jeff Loomis, one of the main writers of major (and very different to Arch Enemy) metal band Nevermore, whose new blood is surely going to influence their sound right?

Wrong. Loomis didn't contribute a single thing to Will to Power. The album feels so typically Arch Enemy that Michael Amott may as well just have played all the guitars himself and hired a session player for the second guitarist role when playing live. Such a noted player like Loomis feels wasted here as is. As for the other things I spoke of in the previous paragraph, the symphonic elements do make an appearance on a single track, the closer A Fight I Must Win, but mostly outside of a metal context. Otherwise they've evaporated into thin air. Alissa White-Gluz does use her clean singing voice on one song, Reason to Believe, which feels very much like a testing the waters kind of track to see how well fans receive it, while playing it completely safe with the rest of the release. And that's exactly how Will to Power comes across by and large. Safe and phoned in. The songs aren't bad in themselves, but it's nothing we haven't heard before from this band and many others in their genre.

In all fairness this isn't anything new with Arch Enemy, but unlike their best albums such as War Eternal and Rise of the Tyrant (2007) most songs aren't memorable individually after the event. That makes all the difference with a band like this. But as has always been the case in the past, Will to Power is not a terrible record by any means. I don't think Arch Enemy have ever made one of those. But it is very average and only made at all noteworthy by that one song Reason to Believe that uses clean vocals. That works really well, as I expected it would given the bands polished production sound. If only they'd been brave enough to use more of the clean singing.

Will to Power is the kind of record that makes one think whether Arch Enemy knows how much potential they have right now (I can't be the only one to hear it) or are content to just keep doing the same thing over and over, occasionally producing a War Eternal or Rise of the Tyrant quality album. I'm sure there's someone out there reading this and thinking 'but that's what they play, why should they change it?' and it's a valid point. And it would be fine if every album was as good as War Eternal. But as I see it when you're turning out more albums like Will to Power and the earlier Khaos Legions (2011) and Doomsday Machine (2005), where the term 'uninspired' springs to mind surely it's time for a bit of bravery with your writing and to use every weapon at your disposal? A band doesn't have to leave their established genre behind to make a record that sounds different from their others. This one just sounds over 90% recycled.

VATTNET Vattnet

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.90 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
When US post-black metal act Vattnet Viskar parted ways with their frontman Nicholas Thornbury in 2016 after two full-length albums, it spelled more change in the band that any of their fans could have expected. Rather than seek a replacement the band recruited their new voice in house with bassist Casey Aylward stepping up to the centre stage. The Viskar was struck from their name, which appears to have been a symbolic statement now that Vattnet (2017), the self-titled debut of this new incarnation of the group and third album overall, has been released. That's because this record, simply put, has very little in common with either of its predecessors released as Vattnet Viskar, Sky Swallower (2013) and Settler (2015).

It's a well established fact that metalheads in general don't embrace changes in direction too well. This is especially true of artists who start out playing extreme metal and then stop, which is what the case is on Vattnet. The name change even though its a minor one is a decent way of them saying 'this is still us, but a fresh start' but that doesn't mean it's easy to not listen to Vattnet as a follow-up to Settler. The previous album was, by the accounts of many reviewers including myself, a really excellent work that I described in my review as something that combined absorbing atmospheric black metal with crushing sludge metal. Well with this change of direction you can forget about all that. The black metal is gone. The sludge metal is gone. The vocal style has switched to clean singing with Aylward's promotion to frontman. In fact the only thing Vattnet has really in common with Settler is the term 'post'.

Specifically this album's style can be best described as a post rock infused take on progressive metal. It's still somewhat atmospheric but done in a completely different way. The clean vocals of Casey Aylward play no small part in that of course, but the music also displays a more technical approach, especially in tracks like Sugar, which has to be singled out as an album highlight. Other standout tracks for me include Dark Black and Chains. Musically at least it's actually very good and once you've got used to the drastic shifts in style it isn't hard to hear how the band reached this point. But vocally, even though Aylward does have a good voice, with times where he sounds excellent, I do have to consider his style the weak link here. It just seems out of place against the post-progressive metal backdrop, reminding me more of the kind of vocalist you hear in modern emo or post-hardcore bands. He comes across as lacking a commanding presence and being out of his depth.

Listening to Vattnet as the debut of a new group sees it come across as a promising release, but the record doesn't allow the group to stand out in the crowd as much as Settler did. The crowd of course is a different one, meaning there's no fair way to judge the two albums against each other, but even though I do enjoy Vattnet as an album there's always this nagging feeling that the band threw something really special away when they dumped the sound of Settler for this. This album simply feels much more familiar going into it, as if I'd heard this kind of thing all before. I'm a firm believe that artists should play what they want to and not what others think they should play, but I'll reverse the right as a listener to judge it a mistake. Of course, this album may turn out be all about them re-finding their feet after their reinvention and their craft could be honed considerably by the time they follow it up, so I'm keeping an open mind at this point. For now, Vattnet is a decent release on its own merits, if a bit unremarkable.

A PERFECT CIRCLE The Doomed

Single · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
aglasshouse
Thirteen years of baited breath and whispered rumors followed A Perfect Circle following their 2004 cover album eMOTIVe and subsequent hiatus. This effect followed both them and Tool, the other project featuring the frontman vocalist extraordinaire Maynard Keenan, as both bands of which fell into what seemed like an irreparable slumber filled with insubstantial announcements of various happenings, none of which came or seemed would come to fruition.

But Tool in fact came back with a bang with a surprise reunion tour in January of 2016, and it was only expected by the collective conscience of Keenan to give a fair shake to his sister band as well. As expected, a little over a year later APC also received recognition with not only a similar tour but one supporting the release of a new single (/rumored album) titled 'The Doomed'. Remember, this single is the first thing this legendary act has created in almost a decade and a half, so expectations are higher than an elephant's ear.

'The Doomed' has arrived at a perfect time, particularly for me, at a time when I am personally starved of new and enthralling uniqueness on the rock scene, let alone the hard rock/metal scene. It has got to be one of the most interesting songs released over the span of this entire year, and this is for a variety of reasons. First, for those who care to know, this song does in fact synthesize previously established sounds on other APC records, particular the past two. In other words Thirteenth Step and the good stuff from eMOTIVe, especially the original song from the latter, 'Passive'. This means great big burly drums (by new member Jeff Friedl replacing long-time member Josh Freese) that shift from simplistic beginner fills to war-like timbre that fills the stage heftily. This coincides perfectly with Keenan's vocal delivery- one of his absolute best in my opinion- which similarly shifts from scratchy and raw (akin to the Tool trademark) to almost saddened, quiet bridges. These bridges lament of a rapture-like event, as a "new Christ" comes to bless/doom those he deems worthy or not. The blessed are portrayed as undeserving (the fornicates, the rich, the envious, etc.) as they sit on the proverbial skeletons of the deserving doomed (the pious, the pure-of-heart, the peaceful). This lyrical environment is not only fresh but also almost bemusingly expressive. Although such greatness is unsurprising from such an act as A Perfect Circle, the content they deliver is straightforward yet thought-provoking, panicked yet collected, emotional yet headstrong. All in perfect harmony with eachother.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to write such a massive review for a single track, but a band that is so important to me and my past releasing such satisfying content is something I'm not willing to slip under my radar so easily. Fantastic.

BORN OF OSIRIS The Eternal Reign

EP · 2017 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.50 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
After their short EP debut studio release “The New Reign” which appeared in 2007, BORN OF OSIRIS roughly released a new album every two years but somewhere along the way the band decided that they just weren’t happy with their debut EP and it desperately needed to be re-recorded and repackaged, retitled and released once again. Come ten years later and the newly named THE ETERNAL REIGN accomplishes this goal by taking all eight tracks back to the studio and polishing them into deathcore perfection with even a bonus track in the form of “Glorious Day” to finish it off with bringing the new playing time to a whopping 23 minutes and 50 seconds.

Well, what can someone exactly say about a brutal deathcore band trying to re-record and album. How about…. REALLY? Ok, first of all, i’m rarely a fan of any band re-recording an album because of nitpicky imperfections no matter how legit they may be due to the fact that for every inch of error is erased, so too is a pound of passion that made the album stand out in the first place. However in the case of BORN OF OSIRIS who utilize a brutal deathened core sound designed to bang your head and make your ears bleed with slight touches of sugary atmospheric keyboards to make the bitter just a little sweet, i have to shake my head and ask the obvious question: WHY BOTHER?

To the casual listener this won’t sound a bit different as all the growly screams, all the distorted guitar riffs, solos, drum blasts and metal accoutrements are pretty much following down the same path. Where this second rendition of the EP does differ is in the “extras” department namely in the ambience and keyboard effects that add new riffs here and there and stand out as more prominent features of the band sprinkled across the album but nothing added makes this a substantially better album where it counts, namely in the songwriting department where all the tracks sound just as average as they did the first time around. I have to admit that the percussion has improved over the original.

Perhaps it would’ve been a better idea to focus on new music instead. The only redeeming aspect of this album is that there is one new track titled “Glorious Day” which is the best track on the EP which only serves the purpose of showing how far the band has come in its technical prowess and ability to make tracks more interesting. Hmmm, maybe that’s the point? I dunno but this track shows a more adept ability of blending all the core elements with more classic metal sounds, more sophisticated atmospheric embellishments and even the drum parts are more diverse than elsewhere. Unfortunately it lasts a mere two and a half minutes so hardly worth tracking this down for a mere bonus track which is good but not outstanding. Nah, this is mostly a waste of time.

THE LURKING FEAR Out Of The Voiceless Grave

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Out Of The Voiceless Grave" is the debut full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act The Lurking Fear. The album was released through Century Media Records in August 2017. The Lurking Fear was formed in 2016 and features several prominent members of the Swedish death metal scene: Lead vocalist Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Grotesque, Lock Up, The Crown), drummer Adrian Erlandsson (At the Gates, The Haunted, Paradise Lost, Cradle of Filth, Vallenfyre), guitarist Fredrik Wallenberg (Embalmed, Skitsystem, Sarcasm), guitarist Jonas Stålhammer (At the Gates, Bombs of Hades, God Macabre, Macabre End, The Crown), and bassist Andreas Axelsson (Edge of Sanity, Tormented, Marduk, Infestdead).

Stylistically the material on "Out Of The Voiceless Grave" is old school death metal. Playing that style was also the premise of forming The Lurking Fear, and the band arguably succeed well in their mission. It´s audible that these are seasoned musicians because they deliver the music with great skill and conviction. It´s brutal, it´s occult (the H.P. Lovecraft lyrical themes help pull in that direction), it´s distorted and raw, and Lindberg has changed his voice a bit to a slightly deeper growling style, although he still has the higher pitched hysterical edge to his delivery that we´re used to from his performances with At the Gates.

"Out Of The Voiceless Grave" features a raw and powerful sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and paired with the high level musicianship, and some good quality songwriting (highlights include tracks like "Upon Black Winds" and "Beneath Menacing Sands", but there´s not a single sub par track on the album, which is more varied than it initially may seem), the album is upon conclusion a great quality old school death metal release and a very promising debut, which begs for a follow-up as soon as possible. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
It’s always an exciting day when one of your favorite and most consistent metal bands releases an album and continues that exciting thrill of anticipation of whether they will continue their lengthy run as ambassadors of the extreme metal scene after more than two decades on the scene or the unthinkable of botching their rein and utterly teeter off that precarious precipice that they ride like a skateboarder sliding down a staircase railing. As the decade runs closer to its end Norway’s ENSLAVED took only two years to craft yet another installment into their progressive black metal universe after the release of 2015’s “In Times” which left more than a few loyal fans divided over exactly where they saw the band was heading next. While true that the album continued down the path of the expected quality material, there was still that lurking nagging feeling that perhaps ENSLAVED is just one tiny step away from completely derailing into pools of stagnation and ultimately becoming the feared and dreaded parodies of themselves. In 2017 the band emerge from their cocoon of secrecy and let loose their 14th full-length studio album E.

With an album title so truncated to one mere letter, it automatically triggers that WTF response and thankfully Ivar Bjørnson has explained this nebulous concept to smother any possible misconceptions in their nascency. E apparently has a dualistic meaning, firstly being a letter of the Latin alphabet but is also a reference to the rune Ehwaz which is depicted as our letter M (note both letters on album cover painted by long time associate Truis Espedal.) Ehwaz simply means horse and the relationship with humankind’s most endearing animal friend that celebrates one of our longest cross-species collaborations. Once you get past all the horse symbology, the title and tracks included expand further into the symbolisms of the duality of humankind and nature as well as fear and subconscious drive all wrapped up in the expected Viking imagery constructed through poetic prose in both gurgling raspy utterances as well as clean Gregorian chant inspired harmonies that exude a beauty and beast combo effect only this is bro style.

As evidenced from the sneak peak video for the first track “Storm Son,” ENSLAVED have entered new sonic arenas indeed and have once again taken all the different styles they’ve accumulated over their vast career and simply expanded them into new territory as if they take their Viking expansionist roots and simply apply those principles to conquering new musical territory. As E begins, i was expecting the immediate bombast of heaviness before meandering into softer passages of folky and ambience atmospheric touches but E takes a totally different approach than past offerings. This one begins with the sensual sounds of birds and the blowing of a gjallarhorn before horses whinny and clomp along insinuating a battle scene to come, however the track unexpectedly delivers a clean dreamy guitar riff that delivers the ultimate head scratcher making me wonder if these guys have pulled an Ulver on us and went post-rock or some non-metal direction as the repetitive riffs churn on augmented by an atmospheric ambience swirling around every arpeggiated note. Goodbye black metal ENSLAVED, hello progressive rockers who have always lurked beneath the noisefest. Oh, wait there’s those raspy vocals on top of the clean angelic choral. (then once again the riff ratchets up in intensity but this isn’t quite the metal i was expecting) as Grutle Kjellson takes the lead with his raspy evil-as-fuck vocal style. As the synthesizers swirl around and the staccato guitar riffs pound on like Teutonic marches on Prussian plains it seems that ENSLAVED has gone Opeth on us and finally divorced the black metal aspects that have carried them this far into the 21st century minus those raspy vocals of course. But wait! This is progressive black metal and nothing happens too quickly in this world. Finally at seven minutes in the black metal guitars and bass kick in with synchronized drums and yeah baby! Oops, i jumped to conclusions. This is black metal for PATIENT fans :p After a rough start things seem on track once again although the atmospheric synths and staccato guitar riffs are totally uncharacteristic of the ENSLAVED sound. This band has decided to carry on into new even more progressive arenas. Will the fickle black metal fans like this? Probably not. As “The River’s Mouth” takes the baton, the black metal groove is back at first but alternates substantially with the progressive metal segments that sound more like something out of a post-metal sludge band’s canon than anything ENSLAVED has tackled. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is a band always looking for parameters to overstep while breaking rules and worshipping runes and on E the floodgates have opened.

Many surprises lurk on E which is of course the key ingredient (surprise that is) to keep things spiced up. For example, “Sacred Horse” begins like a hippie dippy folk track for a few seconds but then bursts into the more familiar extreme metal sound of past glories. “Axis Of The Worlds” has a very different sort of groove than the band is used to with a much more sophisticated labyrinthine and circuitous riffing methodology that ratchets up their progressive rock aspects even further and with the mellotron organ sounds that accompany may raise the red flag for a progressive pollen attack for those allergic to the world of progressive rock but somehow once again the band walks that thin line between the black and prog worlds all the while including some bizarre electronica sputtering in the background reminiscent of electropop bands like Röyksopp whose cover they tackle with the rhetorical self-directed question “What Else Is There?” “Fathers Of Eolh” is probably the most un-ENSLAVED sounding track on E with its heightened 5/4 timing sludgy riffs, ambient shoegaze backdrop and liturgical proggy vocal styles mostly delivered in a clean, clear yet turgid display of interweaving compositional parts that are laced together in various alternating ways. “Hiindslight” is yet another progressive metal behemoth that tackles hitherto unexplored arenas as it churns out complex guitar riffs that range from brutal to sensual and graced by the raspy vocals of Kjellson. This is the track that will for sure act as the sunlight that scares the black metal vampires into their coffins as it incorporates a whirlwind of progressive features including the unthinkable use of flute and saxophone. “Djupet” is another more traditional track tacked on to appease the hardcores.

You may be wondering just how progressive can they possible get. Well before you get your knickers in a twist and cry out that they’ve totally gone Opeth on us, it should never be forgotten that ENSLAVED was always a progressive black metal band which began with their debut album “Vikingligr Veldi” and despite tamping down the progressive qualities on their next three albums, “Frost,” “Eld” and “Blodhemn” they nevertheless persisted under the surface before finally erupting once again in full pent-up fury on 2000’s “Mardraum: Beyond The Within” only to have the progressive aspects outweigh the black metal from “Monumension” and the albums that followed. The fact is that unlike Opeth who utterly abandoned their extreme metal roots to focus exclusively on progressive rock, ENSLAVED never for even a single album smothered the black metal out of their overall sound. While it’s true the black metal has taken a back seat to the progressive side of the coin, it’s more akin to the band having a new lover move in while banishing the ex to the basement only to be chained up but kept around because she’s still useful for all those chores around the house.

Yeah, the black metal may be the ugly ex-wife who is forced to perform as an indentured servant but she still has a role to play while ENSLAVED’s promiscuous Hugh Hefner tendencies take on a musical libido all their own. Keep in mind that the band’s name is ENSLAVED and not “Emancipated.” Set free the black metal and we’re left with an Age of Aquarius la-la-la singalong feel good album. Now that wouldn’t be very metal now would it? While ENSLAVED has not gone Opeth on us, it can be argued they’ve followed in the same footsteps another fellow Norwegian and gone insanely Ihsahn on us instead. You don’t believe me? For anyone who has kept up with Emperor’s frantic frontman as a solo artist, you will hear lots of parallels with albums ranging from “The Adversary” to “Arktis,” not only in the highly complex time signature rich riffing styles but in the addition of unorthodox metal instruments with the inclusion of flautist Daniel Mage and sax blower Kjetil Møster on the tracks “Hindsight” and “Feathers Of Eolh” and also the inclusion of fellow Norwegian Einar Kvitrafn from the Nordic dark folk outfit Wardruna. OK, i lied. There is one moment of going Opeth and that is the short use of mellotron style keyboard sounds at the end of “Sacred Horse.” This is probably one of the parts of the album that doesn’t exactly sound like it’s at home here and i concur that this should have been aborted before birth, but we should never let a few moments of awkwardness destroy the big picture.

Ultimately i’m finding E is about contrast and tension. There are simple clean parts that are unlike anything the band has done but somehow after slowly emerging elements, the band always resolves itself with the heavier and more frantic dynamics delivering fairly balanced compositions that perhaps can carry on a wee bit too long at points but still never entering the extremities of the uncomfortableness zone. It goes without saying that ENSLAVED alienated the one-dimensional kvlter-than-thou crowds long ago when the scales tipped in the progressive metal direction and with E, the band challenges their fans once again and therefore the close-minded, musically illiterate and those who simply get complacent in a particular phase will probably piss all over this one, however if dissected like a laboratory rat in order to scrutinize the inner parts, E is actually the logical next frontier for ENSLAVED to venture into. As the band continues to mature it would be pathetic for them to linger in pastures already explored and personally i much prefer a band to delve into new arenas despite less than perfect results than stagnate in festering doldrums of inertness. E may not constitute the absolute pinnacle of the career of ENSLAVED but i’m finding this to have much more of a return value than “In Times” and offers yet another creative and excellent rung in their long ladder of musical development since their humble beginnings during the second wave of early black metal.

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM Thrice Woven

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 5 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Wolves In the Throne Room took a good while to come up with a true black metal successor to Celestial Lineage; Celestite, the album that came between that and this, was fairly evidently a momentary diversion into electronic ambient music for the sake of stretching their musical muscles rather than a long-term future direction for the group.

With Thrice Woven, they return to the atmospheric black metal field with the lessons learned from Celestite integrated into their sound, with various ambient interludes woven into the album. These are always delicately and carefully constructed - we're not going full dungeon synth Casio keyboard early Mortiis here - and both the ambient sections and black metal sections are great, but at the same time they feel like just that - distinct sections which don't really feel like part of a cohesive whole. They do sit next to each other real purty though.

Whilst this isn't as essential as some Wolves In the Throne Room work, at the end of the day even second-tier Wolves represents a great ride as far as atmospheric black metal goes, and the wolves would seem to be secure on their thrones for the time being.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.56 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Harsh vocals and a deliciously poisonous death-doom murkiness make a big return to Paradise Lost's sound on Medusa - as does an unexpected dose of traditional doom metal at points. As the album cover suggests, the band here take a bit of inspiration from traditional doom metal throwbacks like Uncle Acid here - not to the extent of fully adopting some kind of Sabbath or Candlemass-worshipping sound, but at least to the extent that their death-doom material here isn't wholly devoted to slow, churning dirges like on Gothic but include livelier songs - Blood and Chains could be described as "death 'n' roll-doom" in its embrace of a catchy hook, whilst album closer Until the Grave is a pocket epic that perfectly fuses the slowest moments of death metal with the fastest of doom.

Highly impressive, this is a great little album which blows away all the memories of Sisters of Mercy-inspired synthpop from the middle of their career; listening to this makes me feel like Paradise Lost never left metal behind in the first place, and has convinced me that I really should give some more of their earlier album a second chance to win me over.

HAZZERD Misleading Evil

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Vim Fuego
Anyone with more than a passing interest in metal will know thrash metal died in the early 1990s. Why did it die? There were a number of reasons, but really, it fucking well deserved to!

It’s hard to tell exactly why thrash became so cancerously mutated. Bands started doing stupid shit, diluting the music with things like silly slapped bass and funky beats, or aiming for the mainstream with gutless power ballads. There was experimentation, social causes, a decline in pace, and a similar decline in quality. Perhaps thrash became an oversaturated market, filled with sub-standard crap. Maybe it was because the musicians involved in it lost interest as the genre had become too restrictive and straight-jacketed. Whatever the reasons, most of the big names abandoned it. Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax all slowed down, Slayer fucked off for a long while, Exodus fell apart, Kreator changed directions, Testament released some sub-par crap, and countless other bands “discovered” their love for acoustic ballads, radio-friendly rock rhythms, and shorter hair. There was no new good stuff coming out.

A few bands like Overkill soldiered on bravely, and the odd new killer band like Strapping Young Lad, popped up, but by and large, thrash lived on mainly through its past glories, like “Reign in Blood”, “Master of Puppets”, “Pleasure to Kill” and “Bonded by Blood”. So what was a lover of hard edged metal to do? There were a couple of options. The first, and probably best, was to start exploring the now established death metal scene, or look into the emergence of black metal. There was the less enticing option of putting the brain out of gear and following the smelly sulking masses of angsty teens into the grunge market, or the even less appetising moronicism of nu-metal.

And then, here we are, almost through the second decade of the 21st century, and thrash is back with… well, not really a vengeance, but it sounds like it’s fucking well supposed to again!

Yep, so press play on Hazzerd’s “Misleading Evil”, and you instantly get a pounding thrash of drums, a crashing riff of guitars, and away you go, speeding through the first track “The Tendencies of a Madman”. It is just like it is 1989 again. This is better than 1989 though. In those days, a band needed a pretty good record deal to get even a half decent studio sound, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed. Check Dark Angel’s “Leave Scars” for a prime example. What we get here from Hazzerd is crisp, clear guitars, with the right amount of crunch and zip so you can fully appreciate the riffs, and the shredding solos. The rhythm section is tight and energetic. Drummer Dylan "Shoes" Westendorp is also the band’s vocalist, and the dude can fuckin’ sing! Imagine Megadeth if they were still a young and vital band with something still to prove, possibly with Russ Anderson from Forbidden or Bobby Blitz from Overkill on vocals. Westendorp has the right mix of melody with a rough edge.

Often a telling test for a thrash metal band was how well they could hold the listener’s interest with an instrumental. Some, like Megadeth’s “Into The Lungs of Hell” and Nuclear Assault’s “Game Over” were excellent, while others like Death Angel’s “The Ultra-Violence” and Flotsam and Jetsam’s “The Jones” just get bloody tedious after a while. Here, the title track is an instrumental, and far from being boring, it is a highlight amongst highlights. No track stands out much from the others, because all are outstanding.

If you long for the golden days of thrash metal, check out “Misleading Evil”. It is a nostalgia trip and fresh and new at the same time. It has one of those Ed Repka-esque covers (a bloke called Andrei Bouzikov deserves the credit for it). This is fun and exciting, and a bit edgy, just like thrash metal was always meant to be. Metalcore pretenders, please take note: metal and hardcore were combined decades ago. It is called thrash fuckin’ metal. THIS is how it is supposed to sound.

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.56 | 9 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
UMUR
"Medusa" is the 15th full-length studio album by UK doom/gothic metal act Paradise Lost. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in September 2017. It´s the successor to "The Plague Within" from 2015, and once again there´s been a lineup change on the drummer position as Adrian Erlandsson has been replaced by Waltteri Väyrynen (Abhorrence, Vallenfyre). The band have had several drummers joining and leaving over the years, and although the remaining four band members have been there from the beginning, they´ve just never been able to find a longer lasting solution on the drum position. There have been drummers through the years who have held the position for several years, but it just seems like being the drummer in Paradise Lost comes with a curse.

"The Plague Within (2015)" reintroduced growling vocals to the band´s doom/gothic metal style, which lead vocalist Nick Holmes had otherwise dropped after the first couple of albums, and on "Medusa", Holmes continues to shift between clean and growling vocals (predominantly using growls on this album). Thankfully not in a formulaic growling sung vers/clean sung chorus format. Holmes manage to add an unpredictable element to the music by using clean and growling vocals for different parts of the various tracks. It´s nothing major, but it´s enough to keep the music from becoming too predictable and thereby lose longivity.

The material on the 8 track, 42:41 minutes long album are well written and memorable. It´s crushingly heavy, dark, atmospheric, and melancholic, and as a consequence of the growling vocals occasionally slightly aggressive too. Both the bass and the rhythm guitar feature a brutal distorted tone, which Paradise Lost haven´t had on their releases in years, and there is prominent use of lead guitar melodies throughout the album, which is another feature harking back to the early days of the band. But while there are quite a few derivative elements featured on "Medusa", it´s not an album which sounds like it was made in the early 90s. Paradise Lost successfully incorporate the gothic metal elements of their repetoire to the doomy and heavy sound on "Medusa", and it feels like an album where Paradise Lost are looking forward, creating a new sound using known elements. Highlights include the doomy "Fearless Sky", the catchy and melodic "The Longest Winter", and the hard rocking gothic metal track (with growling vocals) "Blood & Chaos".

The limited edition of the album includes two bonus tracks in "Shrines" and "Symbolic Virtue". Considering the generally harder edged, raw, and doomy direction of the material on "Medusa", both tracks are pretty obvious take outs. "Shrines" is a great quality track shifting between clean and growling vocals, but a bit more vers/chorus formulaic than the other tracks on the album, and "Symbolic Virtue" is a melodic, clean sung, and piano/keyboard drenched track, which doesn´t really fit with the rest of the material.

"Medusa" features a dark and raw sound production, which suits the material perfectly. I´ve often felt that some of their releases featured too polished and sterile sounding productions, but "Medusa" brings back an organic element which becomes Paradise Lost well. So upon conclusion it´s a high quality release by Paradise Lost and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

POWER QUEST Sixth Dimension

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
DippoMagoo
There have been quite a few comeback releases from well-established bands recently, and perhaps my most anticipated of all, Sixth Dimension, the sixth full-length release from the UK power metal band Power Quest, is set to be released in mid-October. I’ve been a fan of the band for a long time, with their previous release Blood Alliance, in particular, being one of my top power metal albums of this decade, so I was excited for anything the band would do in the future, which made it very disappointing when shortly after the release of that album, keyboardist and bandleader Steve Williams announced the band was done, because he didn’t think he could afford to continue with it anymore from a financial standpoint. Happily, six years later, through the help of crowdfunding, the band has been able to make a full comeback, first with the EP Face the Raven in 2016, and now with Sixth Dimension itself in 2017, set to be released by Inner Wound Recordings. I had high hopes for the album, and it certainly delivers!

In their early days, Power Quest played a very energetic brand of super speedy power metal, in the same style as DragonForce. In fact, Steve Williams actually formed the band after leaving DragonHeart, the original form of DragonForce, and guitarist Sam Totman was actually on the band’s first two albums, Wings of Forever and Neverworld. The one key element that has always set the band apart has been Steve’s very retro sounding keyboards, which have always dominated the band’s music and this was especially noticeable on an album like Magic Never Dies, a career highlight, which maintained some of the speed of their first two albums, while also showing the band moving to a lighter sound. This continued on Master of Illusion, the band’s least popular album to date, which dropped a lot of the speed and was a very light album overall, though I personally still enjoyed it a fair bit. After that, Steve fired all his bandmates and brought in an entirely new lineup for Blood Alliance, which brought back some of the speed, while also showing the band incorporating elements of classic Hard Rock and AOR, making for a varied but extremely melodic album which stands to date as my personal favorite by the band.

Which brings us to Sixth Dimension, with Steve again making some changes, this time keeping bassist Paul Finnie and drummer Rich Smith, while bringing in new guitarists Andy Kopczyk and Glyn Williams, as well as new vocalist Ashley Edison. The band made references to Neverworld while promoting the album, even calling their crowdfunding campaign Guardians of Neverworld, a line which appears on the track “Kings and Glory”, so it’s no surprise that a few of the tracks here have a very classic feel to them, complete with the speed and energy fans would expect from the band. At the same time, the more mellow hard rock and AOR elements from more recent elements are still very much in place here, with some of the tracks being very slowed down and more laid back, so there’s a nice variety of the songs here, and from a songwriting perspective, every song here is excellent, very melodic and very catchy, with a couple tracks having some harder hitting riffs than usual. Musically, there’s a bit more guitar presence than normal on this album, which makes sense because Steve apparently wrote the songs using a guitar this time around, but his keys are still very prominent on most tracks and still have a very 80’s sound to them, as always, which helps give all the songs that distinct Power Quest feel.

The one change I was most nervous about was in the vocals department, as I wasn’t too excited by Ashley Edison when I first heard him on the title track of Face the Raven, which also appears on this album along with “Coming Home”, but overall I think he does a pretty solid job. He has a deep and gritty voice, which helps give the music a bit of an extra edge., and he has a smooth delivery that works well on most tracks, with his mid-range vocals generally being excellent, but I find sometimes when he stretches for high notes his voice becomes a bit grating, and take away from the music. He does a nice job throughout the album, though, and those high notes only really bother me on “Face the Raven” and “Revolution Fighters”.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Lords of Tomorrow”, which has a quiet intro before those retro sounding keys kick in and the track quickly speeds up, turning into a classic Power Quest track, complete with a great solo section and an extremely fun and catchy chorus, making it the perfect way to open the album. Ashley does hit some higher notes on the chorus, but he sounds pretty good overall on this track and doesn’t bother me at all. Next is “Starlight”, a slightly slower though still relatively up-tempo track, which has some great riffs, epic vocal melodies, and another fantastic chorus, where Ashley stays in the midrange and really excels, getting the most out of the melodies. The guitar and keyboard solos are also amazing, and it’s another excellent track overall. After that is another very classic sounding track, “Kings and Glory”, which opens up with some characteristically cheesy but awesome sounding keys, before quickly going rapid fire and turning into the speediest track on the album, and also one which certainly brings the band’s early albums to mind. Again, the chorus is super catchy and excellent, the musicianship is great throughout, complete with a nice solo section, and the vocals are excellent throughout, making it another clear highlight.

The first oddball of the album is actually the aforementioned “Face the Raven”, which, aside from the keyboards, has a very different feel to it, with much heavier guitars the usual, and it’s a harder hitting, more mid-paced track, which really takes advantage of Ashley’s grittier vocals during the verses. The chorus is good, but not one of the band’s better efforts, and I find Ashley’s high notes really irritating on this track. The solos are excellent as always, though, and musically it is a great track if a bit different sounding for Power Quest. Next is “No More Heroes”, a lighter, more mid-paced track, where the keys once again dominate, and Ashley delivers a very smooth vocal performance. In fact, I’d say he gives his best performance of the album on this track, especially during the incredible chorus, which is one of the best on the album, and of course, the solo section is absolutely fantastic once again. My least favorite of the album is next, that being “Revolution Fighters”. It begins with a nice acoustic guitar section, then after a while there’s a nice guitar riff, and then the track settles into a mid-paced, hard rock influenced sound with some nice guitar work throughout and the chorus would be amazing, except I find Ashley’s high note’s extremely grating, more so than on “Face the Raven”, and his vocals here completely kill the track for me. It’s a nice track musically, but sadly I care too much about vocals to not be annoyed by how Ashley sounds here. Unsurprisingly, the band returns to a softer sound for the next track, “Pray for the Day”, the most AOR influenced track on the album, and definitely a softer, slow paced and very 80’s sounding track, with some excellent keys and a great performance from Ashley, where he stays in his mid-range and really carries the melodies well, especially during the fantastic chorus.

The best track of all is next, that being the absolutely glorious “Coming Home”, which has some of the best sounding keys on the album, and is another very fast paced, classic sounding track, which effectively mixes in some slower sections during the verses, before speeding up and becoming more epic for the incredibly catchy chorus, which stands as not only the best chorus on the album, but one of the band’s absolute best to date, and thankfully Ashley delivers it perfectly. As always, the solo section is amazing, and overall it’s simply an addictive, super epic track which stands alongside some of the band’s all-time best songs. Lastly, we have the title track, another more calmer, more mid-paced track where Steve’s keys sound a bit less retro than normal, and overall it’s a very melodic track with an excellent chorus and some great vocal melodies. There’s an excellent solo section towards the end and then former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon makes a brief but very memorable appearance, leading to some great keyboard work and then one last run through the chorus before the album ends. It’s an excellent song overall, and definitely a great way to end the album.

Overall, Sixth Dimension is an excellent comeback album for Power Quest, and it was certainly worth the wait for longtime fans! It delivers a little something for everyone, giving fans of the band’s early speedy power metal a few new songs to be excited about, while fans of the more hard rock and AOR influenced tracks on later albums also have a lot to look forward to. There isn’t much new to be found here, but the album really is everything fans could hope for from a comeback album, and aside from a couple sections where the vocals bother me a bit, I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I definitely hope the band can continue on for many years to come.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/10/01/power-quest-sixth-dimension-review/

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
renkls
When a group of artists intrinsically tie a personal tragedy to the creation of their art, it becomes an inseparable aspect within it. Such has clearly been imbued in the creation of Bell Witch's massive, emotionally crushing third full length outing, Mirror Reaper. Envisioned as one continuous, 83-minute composition, spanning two disks on CD, 2 double sided LPs or seamlessly in digital format, Bell Witch have created a monumental, sombre eulogy to their ex-drummer and vocalist Adrian Guerra.

Glacial in pace, yet extreme in scope, Bell Witch craft introspective bass lines which ring out with the sense of grief. Traversing the length and breadth of what's on offer, the composition offers peaks and valleys, near silent moments ringing with the subtle, yet unmistakable musings of an organ - to massive soundscapes of crushing emotional weight.

It is hard to overstate the diversity of the primarily two-man drum and bass guitar band, forcing out your feelings with every twist and turn on offer. The subtle insertion of the late Adrian Guerra's vocals impresses even heavier the weight of emotion Mirror Reaper works with. Even in the lengthy minimalist passages late in the composition, the band gracefully and gradually lead us through highly emotive territory, with near perfect segues into organ passages, before driving forward to a cyclic, cathartic close.

Few albums can respectfully represent an emotion with as much legitimate weight and personal circumstance so seamlessly woven in. While its surface length and ponderous nature warns off casual listeners, the passage through grief is not something that comes fast, and as a eulogy to Guerra and a gigantic slab of emotional ritual, you would be hard pressed to find a representation of grief as primal, cathartic and yes, as beautiful as Mirror Reaper.

ARCHSPIRE Relentless Mutation

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
Relentless Mutation is the third album from Canada’s Archspire. Having not heard them until now I thought I’d better check out the first two before reviewing this one, at least in part, which I did selecting a few random tracks from each.

Relentless Mutation is more of the same – that is to say high precision technical death metal displaying admiral musicianship. Most of it’s played at breakneck speed through a blur of blast beats supplied by the impressive Spencer Prewett. Unfortunately it’s marred by a thin boxy drum sound whilst high on definition lacks power. Having said that his busy playing style could have ended up getting lost in a more organic sound so I guess you can’t have it all. The guitar work of Tobi Morelli and Dean Lamb is equally dextrous as they reel off riff after riff and solos of the most complex variety. The opener Involuntary Doppelganger is the perfect case in point and sets the scene for pretty much what you can expect from the rest of the album. Midway however there’s an unexpected surprise with a short but sweet arpeggiated guitar part which adds a bit of colour to the largely relentless onslaught. Similar parts make a welcome appearance now and then throughout the album, most notably on the title track marking it as one of the highlights.

Whilst this kind of stuff can often come across as cold and clinical, as it does fairly often here, there is an injection of melody here and there, more apparent in the lead guitar work which adds some warmth. The vocals have a staccato attack that can sound a little one dimensional at times but nevertheless Oli Peters displays some fairly impressive phrasing. The production whilst lacking a bit of power is at least clear which is pretty essential for music of this complexity. Jared Smith’s dextrous bass work pleasingly cuts through aided by quite a toppy sound.

I’m usually pretty selective in my choice of tech death listening but at only thirty minutes Relentless Mutation doesn’t outstay its welcome. The musicianship is faultless and compositionally it’s good and quite inventive throwing in a few curveballs here and there. Having said that it’s still more an album I can admire rather than love, my preference generally being for something more organic sounding. If this is your thing however there’s plenty to recommend here.

EPICA The Solace System

EP · 2017 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
When Dutch symphonic metal maestros Epica wrapped up recording their last full-length album The Holographic Principle (2016), they found themselves with more songs than they needed. Uninterested in releasing a double album, a portion of these songs got dropped from the finished product. But rather than be regulated to the status of bonus tracks, they've been held back for The Solace System (2017), a six track EP release.

Lasting for a little shy of a full half hour, this is still a fairly substantial new release from Epica. I have albums passed off as full-lengths that are shorter than this. But due to its very nature one has to wonder going into it if the music will be somehow lesser than their usual high standard. After all, these are the six songs that didn't make it onto The Holographic Principle. Well overall I'd say that it's true that these ones didn't make the main album for a reason, but the good news is that The Holographic Principle has many claims to being Epica's best album, so the standard is so high that The Solace System's six cast-off songs are still very worthwhile additions to any Epica fan's collection and certainly still better than the work of the average symphonic metal band.

Sound wise the six songs are very similar to The Holographic Principle, for obvious reasons. Symphonic metal with strong progressive complexity and a bit of power metal influence. If you enjoyed that album then there's little reason not to also pick up The Solace System. It will never be as good but it's certainly essential supplemental material, especially the tracks Architect of Light, Wheel of Destiny and Decoded Poetry, that will serve well to tide listeners over while we wait for the next Epica full-length.

MMA TOP 5 Metal ALBUMS

Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
Master of Puppets Thrash Metal
METALLICA
Buy this album from our partners
Rust in Peace Thrash Metal
MEGADETH
Buy this album from our partners
Rising Traditional heavy metal
RAINBOW
Buy this album from our partners
Reign in Blood Thrash Metal
SLAYER
Buy this album from our partners
Ride the Lightning Thrash Metal
METALLICA
Buy this album from our partners

New Metal Artists

New Metal Releases

Sign of the Dragonhead Symphonic Metal
LEAVES' EYES
Buy this album from MMA partners
Down, Wicked & No Good Alternative Metal
IN FLAMES
Buy this album from MMA partners
Far Beyond Existence Thrash Metal
TORTURE SQUAD
Buy this album from MMA partners
Post Self Industrial Metal
GODFLESH
Buy this album from MMA partners
Ido y Lúcido Progressive Metal
SENEGAL GRINDCORE MAFIA
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Free Metal MP3 download/stream

New Metal Online Videos

More videos

New MMA Metal Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions

More...

Latest Metal News

members-submitted

More in the forums

Social Media

Share this site
Follow us

Buy Metal Music Online