Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

DEATHORCHESTRA Symphony of Death

Live album · 2020 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Symphony of Death" is a collaboration album project by Russian technical death metal act Buicide and the Olympic Symphony Orchestra. The album was independently released in December 2020. "Symphony of Death" is a live album recorded May the 4th, 2019 at the Opera Concert Club in Saint Petersburg. All material on the 7 track, 36:14 minutes long album are cover tracks of influential Florida death metal act Death. The album´s release date was deliberately chosen to coincide with the 19th anniversary of Death founder Chuck Schuldiner's death. "Symphony of Death" is available in both audio format and a DVD video format.

This is obviously a tribute album enterpreting Death´s music with the addition of a symphony orchestra. Honestly when I first heard about the project, I didn´t expect much, but I´ve been pleasantly surprised, and the combination of the technical death metal and the symphony orchestra works really well. It should be mentioned right away, that "Symphony of Death" is fully intrumental, and that the vocal melodies/lines are handled by the orchestra. Again it works like a charm. I like the fact that it´s audible that this is a live recording with audience noise, yet the sound production is still clear, detailed, and powerful. Buicide are well playing and do the songs great justice, and Olympic Symphony Orchestra manage to add some intriguing symphonic arrangements to the tracks.

There is a wealth of great material to chose from in the Death catalogue, and 7 tracks aren´t much, but I think they´ve picked some great tracks for the album in "Voice of the Soul", "Crystal Mountain", "Zero Tolerance", "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow", "Spirit Crusher", "Destiny", and "Pull the Plug".

"Symphony of Death" is the kind of project which could easily have failed badly, but DeathOrchestra manage to present intricate versions of the original material and "Symphony of Death" is ultimately a great tribute to Schuldiner and I´m sure he would be proud of- and grateful for the gesture, had he still been alive. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT The Symbol Remains

Album · 2020 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.06 | 4 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
So here we have a classic band of the seventies whose fortunes declined in the eighties, who were in disarray throughout most of the nineties, tried to get back in gear in at the turn of the century and who then carried on mostly as a classic rock band playing their classic tunes. Then after 19 years of silence from the recording studio, Blue Oyster Cult drop a new release. The title, "The Symbol Remains" seems less like a victory shout and more like confident statement made through weathered and grim lips with a knife edge of a smile. "It's 2020. BOC is still here."

I was curious. I had never been a huge fan, but my musical travels brought me to BOC Base on a few occasions, allowing one or two more albums to nestle into my collection. My recent reacquaintance with the much-derided "Club Ninja" exposed me to the new album's cover. Somehow, I felt it had to be good.

Of the original line-up, only the two guitarists and principal singers, Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom remain. That's something important though as what defines a band's sound is mostly in the vocals and lead instruments, as well as the songwriting. And to my delight, I feel that this is very much a Blue Oyster Cult album!

The band's familiar heavy side opens the album with "That Was Me", a song that I thought was a reflection back on a "career of evil". At this age, I think this song is very suitable and it is executed in the familiar style of Blue Oyster Cult.

The next two, "Box In My Head" (about his brain), and "Tainted Blood" (a vampire song) continue that familiar sound and style. Obviously, the two legendary members are that much older and the sounds of the instruments and recording is very modern, but they deliver songs worthy of the legendary band name.

I'll confess, though, that partway through the album, it begins to sound more like a generic old dudes' rock album. While at the start I felt it was without a doubt a BOC album, by the middle I thought had I heard this without knowing who it was, I don't think I would have even suspected that I knew what band it was.

Fortunately, once we reach "Stand and Fight" we know who put out this platter. It is actually a heavy tune, perhaps in the sense of classic heavy metal of the seventies but again with a modern sound. "Florida Man" is pretty good, but "The Alchemist" is totally a Blue Oyster Cult track with the heavy guitars, some piano, and an epic tale of fantasy and a quest. Had the album ended here (and I expected that it would as I was listening while walking and not looking at the track list), I would have applauded the band.

However, there is yet another track, and another, and another. It became a game to guess if I had heard the final track yet. I would think, "Now there's a great conclusion to a song and a great way to finish up the album." But then another track would begin. Not that the last five tracks were bad or dull. There are still some very good ones there and some even better than those in the middle of the album where I was wondering if I would recognize the band. I suppose after 19 years, the band had enough material for a 60-minute album. But I personally feel the album could have been more cohesive and more like a BOC album if some of the songs - three or four - had been relegated to CD/download bonus tracks that were separate from the rest of the songs.

My impression is that Blue Oyster Cult have released a surprisingly good album for a mature band. They keep the BOC flame burning for us with songs that both musically and lyrically are congruent with the classic sound of the band.

Any disappointments would be in two or three tracks that could have been either left off or come after the main album track list. I think the album would have had more of a wow impact at somewhere around 10 or 11 tracks.

Overall though, it's a solid release!

AVATAR Hunter Gatherer

Album · 2020 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
One never knows what one is going to get with Avatar, as while they may have started life as yet another Swedish death metal act, they have broadened their horizons greatly since then. Their last album, 2018’s ‘Avatar Country’ was the second-largest independent album in North America upon its debut, reaching #4 (Hard Music Albums), # 8 (Rock Albums), and #25 (Billboard 200 Current Albums) with one major rock outlet even declaring it a heavy metal ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’. While I can never see myself going that far, there is no doubt there is something both strange and compelling about their music.

In 2020 they released their eighth studio album, ‘Hunter Gatherer’, which saw them record with all of them playing in the studio together as if they were onstage, and then putting it down on two-inch tape. When they go for it they really hit hard, but in “A Secret Door” we get groove/death metal along with Roger Whittaker-style whistling, guitars being played like mandolins, huge riffs and hooks which sees them move into the likes of Linkin Park. It is commercial but given what they are doing it really shouldn’t, as there is no way this mess should work, yet it does. Some bands have tried to move out of the Swedish death scene and failed miserably, yet these guys really have managed to bring something together which is mixing loads of many styles and somehow having it all make total sense while also never really settling. One never knows what is going to happen next as they can be in full flight and then drop into some keyboards or just blast along and never change, coming across more as power metal than anything else, but always with a heavy bottom end. Fans of the band have become used to never knowing what each album is going to sound like, and while I cannot speak for the whole of the back catalogue I can see that this one is worth checking out as it brings together nu metal, groove metal, melodic death, industrial, and the kitchen sink.

HEATHEN Empire Of The Blind

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Empire Of The Blind" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Heathen. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in September 2020. It´s the successor to "The Evolution of Chaos" from 2010 and while it hasn´t been 19 years like it had been between "Victims of Deception (1991)" and "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)", 10 years between album releases are still a lot of years and a long waiting time for the faithful and dedicated fans. Not surprisingly there have been a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as bassist Jon Torres has been replaced by Jason Mirza and drummer Darren Minter has been replaced by Jim DeMaria. Guitarists Lee Altus and Kragen Lum, and lead vocalist David White, remain from the lineup who recorded "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)".

Apparently 10 years between album releases and changing the rhythm section haven´t changed much, because "Empire Of The Blind" more or less sounds like it could have been released a year after "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)" and it could easily have been released by the exact same lineup, although Heathen seem to have gone for a slightly more concise songwriting approach on this one, as the tracks are generally shorter than on the predecessor.

Stylistically Heathen play a melodic yet still powerful style of thrash metal. White can both sing raw and more melodic, sometimes even touching US power metal styled vocals. He definitely wouldn´t be out of place on an Iced Earth album or anything in that vein. The instrumental part of the music is technically well played, varied, and very interesting in terms of the powerful playing rhythm section, the razor sharp thrashy riffs, but also the many melodic leads, harmonies, and guitar solos. The guitar work on the album is nothing short of amazing.

The material is well written, varied, and effective, and "Empire Of The Blind" also features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production (courtesy of Zeuss), which suits the material perfectly. In other words a consistently strong and high quality thrash metal release. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

THE DEAD DAISIES Holy Ground

Album · 2021 · Hard Rock
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
The Dead Daisies have had a revolving door of members since their eponymous debut in 2013, the only ever present member being Australian guitarist David Lowy. Practically a who’s who of hard rock, members who’ve come and mostly gone include bassist Marco Mendoza, vocalist john Corabi, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Doug Aldrich, drummer Brian Tichy and drummer Deen Castronovo as well as some high profile guests like Slash and Jimmy Barnes. The band have so far released four never less than solid studio albums, the pick of the bunch for me being 2016’s Make Some Noise. After 2018’s Burn It Down vocalist John Corabi and bassist Marco Mendoza jumped ship. A great loss to any band but the perfect time to bring in Glenn Hughes, replacing both of them in one go. Hughes and Aldrich already have history, the guitarist having played on one of his solo tours back in 2015 I believe it was, one of the dates in Newcastle I was lucky enough to have seen.

It’s clear from the off that bringing in Hughes was the smartest move the band could have made. As soon as the title track Holy Ground kicks in its apparent that he’s had a big influence on the band’s sound. Of course there’s his vocal. I’ve long held the belief that his powerful and soulful delivery is the finest in rock but on a musical level a lot of the songs could have sat comfortably on many of his solo albums. Holy Ground is undoubtedly the bands finest album to date but all the credit can’t be given to Hughes who with one or two exceptions has made his strongest albums in band settings – Trapeze, Deep Purple, Hughes/Thrall and most recently Black Country Communion. The Dead Daisies are on fire here with eleven songs of hard hitting rock bursting with big riffs and powerful hooks backed by top notch musicianship. Every song here is a killer, even the seemingly obligatory ballad Far Away that closes the album which Hughes’s soulful vocals fit perfectly and Aldrich reels off perhaps his best guitar solo on the album. There’s also a cover of Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole. The Daisies seem to have at least one cover on every album but here they make the song their own adding power to the original and also featuring Castronovo sharing vocals, a fine singer in his own right.

It’s perhaps on the other nine tracks where the real gems lie though where the band really kick ass, heavier than they’ve ever been. The songs, mostly mid-pace, have plenty of groove and are driven along by the powerful Hughes/Castronovo rhythm section overlaid by Aldrich and Lowy’s crushing and infectious riffs. Favourites include Like No Other (Bassline) for strongest hook and a pummelling dirty bassline and perhaps Hughes’s finest vocal performance on the album. Then there’s Unspoken, the first song unveiled by this line-up and a grand statement of intent that really made me very impatient to hear the rest. Righteous Days is another highlight for the same reasons that I’ve already mentioned above but as I already said, every song here is a killer.

In view of the many line-up changes this band has had and Hughes seems to get itchy feet fairly often, I really hope this incarnation can hold it together for a few more albums as they work so well together and it’s hard to see how they could improve on this formula they’ve developed. An early contender for album of the year for sure.

THERION Leviathan

Album · 2021 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It’s hard to believe that THERION began as a somewhat generic sounding old school death metal band when it was founded by Christofer Johnsson all the way back in 1987 but after a sluggish beginning which step by step morphed into full-blown symphonic metal by the time the 1996 album “Theli” wooed the critics and hi brow metalheads into the cult, THERION had done the unthinkable and crafted a brilliant new metal sound that took metal music further into the world of Western classical and opera than ever attempted. The results were riveting and brilliant and catapulted the band to international fame.

THERION kept this momentum going all throughout the 2000s with one excellent album after another that slightly reinvented the overall recipe laid down on “Theli” however beginning with “Sitra Ahra,” Johnsson was obviously getting bored with the band’s signature sound and started experimenting and while the albums thought the 2010’s were interesting, they lacked the focus and enthralling hybridization effect that album’s like “Secret Of The Runes” and “Gothic Kabbalah” had so perfectly captured. This all led up to the band’s most ambitious effort yet, 2018’s triple album “Beloved Antichrist” which tamped down the symphonic metal a few notches and instead delivered a whopping 3-hour rock opera.

While the project sounded like a good idea in writing, the results were very lackluster as the album lacked any sort of cohesive gratification despite exhibiting brilliant performances in bits and pieces. The album was a huge flop and fans were wondering if perhaps THERION should call it a day and go start a philharmonic orchestra somewhere in an undisclosed location in the Swedish countryside. The fiasco that was “Beloved Antichrist” pretty much kept fans wondering what THERION’s next move was going to be and finally in 2021 we have a new album that makes it all so clear just what that next move is. In short THERION has proposed another ambitious project only this time it will disperse its grandiose visions in a three album set that will be released by the following LEVIATHAN sequels in 2022 and 2023.

This is basically what we call damage control as Johnsson is obviously not going to disband the profitable cash cow called THERION which has an international following and dedicated fanbase. LEVIATHAN (bad album title considering the mega-popular Mastodon album) pretty much backpedals to the band’s style around the turn of the millennium and could easily fit anywhere in between “Vovin” and “Sirus B.” What is presented here is a tried and true and very well performed collection of eleven tracks with an impressive lineup of various vocalists, both male and female sopranos delivering divine operatic performances accompanied by sizzling metal guitar, bass and drum backing. As always at this point in THERION’s career, this is a big budget production with a great number of guest musicians and extra instrumentation that includes hammond organ, violin and lots of drumming diversity.

As far as a THERION album goes, LEVIATHAN is indeed a return to form and pretends that the whole “Beloved Antichrist” backlash was just a bad dream however at the same time these grounds have already been covered and no matter how well these tracks are performed (and they are perfectly executed), it just feels like THERION has gotten stuck in a certain moment in its career that it will never escape from due to the fact that the band is popular and therefore obligated to kowtow to the fanbase. Despite these apprehensions to continue down a more experimental path, as a true THERION fan myself, i’d prefer to have the band release experimental flops like “Beloved Antichrist” than to retread that which has already been accomplished two decades ago. THERION will always be a band i have a soft spot for so i can never rate an album this beautifully performed very low but it certainly doesn’t get any extra love for creative growth. This is about as THERION by the books as it gets still though LEVIATHAN is quite an enjoyable album.

VOIVOD The End of Dormancy

EP · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"The End of Dormancy" is an EP release by Canadian progressive/thrash metal act Voivod. The EP was released through Century Media Records in July 2020. It´s a 3 track, 22:31 minutes long release, featuring a version of "The End of Dormancy" from "The Wake (2018)" (the band´s preceding album release) with added trumpets, saxophone and trombones titled "The End of Dormancy (Metal Section)", a live version of the same track and a live version of "The Unknown Knows" (the studio version of that track is featured on "Nothingface (1989)"), recorded at Montreal Jazz Fest 2019. A video was also released for the new brass version of "The End of Dormancy".

The inclusion of the brass arrangement to "The End of Dormancy" works really well and gives the song a bombastic quality. Voivod experimentet with string arrangements on "The Wake (2018)" (on "Iconspiracy" and on "Sonic Mycelium") and now with a brass arrangement on "The End of Dormancy", see them come out as victors. I´d not give that trend up just yet as those experiments definitely provide some spice to Voivod´s already adventurous songwriting approach. The live version of "The End of Dormancy", which also features the brass arrangement, and the live version of "The Unknown Knows" are both well performed and both also feature a good quality live sound.

Listening to the same track twice on a release (although in two different versions), is seldom something which pleases my ears and I can´t say this EP changes that. So while the quality of the performances, the material, and the sound quality of both the studio track and the two live tracks are of a high quality, the EP as a full listening experience does suffer slightly from the live version of "The End of Dormancy" directly succeeding the studio version on the tracklist. I think it would have worked better if "The Unknown Knows" had been placed between the two versions of the title track. So there´s nothing wrong with the content of the release, but a good tracklist flow is important too, and that´s where this EP score low. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still fully deserved.

TODD LA TORRE Rejoice In The Suffering

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
[Warning: My most listened-to artist of the past 12 years by a large margin according to statistics from Last FM is Queensryche, so if you expect a review without mentioning Seattle’s finest, you may have to look elsewhere].

Rejoice In The Suffering is the debut full-length studio album by Todd La Torre, the man most famous for being the singer on the past three Queensryche albums (and drummer on the latest one too!) and who was in Crimson Glory before that.

It was released on Ratpack records and self-produced, but with help from bassist/guitarist/keyboardist Craig Blackwell, with mixing and mastering duties capably handled by Chris “Zeuss” Harris (Chimaira, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Overkill, Heathen, and the past two Queensryche records).

Now obviously, the first question you may be wondering is, “does it sound like Queensryche?” And the answer is a non-committal “sort of, a bit, in places, but also no.” Having the man who has been the revitalising force in the band and voice of their records for the past decade will obviously draw some comparison, as will tapping Zeuss who worked on their albums. That being said, the album feels like Todd wanting to use all the ideas he has that don’t quite fit in the Queensryche formula, or that might be too much of a departure if he did. This is not a Hard Rock record, this is not a Prog Metal album. This is a Metal album with a capital M.

The album is heavier, harder, faster and less progressive than 90% of the Ryche’s output, and because Todd doesn’t have to fit in with an established sound, his voice is much less like Geoff Tate’s than it is on Ryche records. While still sounding like himself, he really shows off all different sorts of voices here, from Rob Halford Screeches to that Bruce Dickinson/Ian Gillian talk-sing, to Chuck Billy melodic bark, to a few death growls and at one point an almost Dani Filth style creepy storytelling voice blended with a Johan Hegg roar, on one of the bonus tracks (“One By One”). Don’t let me dropping all those names capsize the boat or deflate your enthusiasm though, this is not to say the album is Todd-does-karaoke, Todd himself would probably be shaking his head if he were ever reading my comparisons; its just my limited language skills describing how broad the range of styles he covers is, he has his own unique spin on all of these voices.

What about the music? Where does that fit in with? Well, to be honest, it reminds me a lot of the newest Andy Sneap-helmed albums by Accept, Saxon and Priest at times, but some songs on the other hand (like “Critical Cynic”) are a little more punchy and staccato with that crunchy guitar sound that modern Prong albums have, but also wouldn’t be out of place on a Five Finger Death Punch album, the sort of thing you get when you take Fear Factory’s mechanical style and make it more organic.

The semi-ballad “Crossroads To Insanity” on the other hand is exactly the sort of thing Queensrcyhe have been doing lately, and probably the one to try first if you aren’t into heavier material. I feel like this one could have just sat happily on The Verdict. Its not really representative of the whole album though, if you want to get sort of the average sound of the record, listen first to the crunchy mid-paced title track, and then to the speedier, thrashier “Vanguards Of The Dawn Wall” which is probably the hardest, heaviest number and closer to Testament than Queensryche. This song shows me why Todd deserves a solo album, as he utterly nails this track, but it would never have fit on The Verdict or Condition Human. Now imagine something mid-way between the two and you’ll get a ballpark idea for where the album sits most of the time.

Todd handles the drums himself and does a great job (he was a drummer since a young age), mixing in a bit of flare with also not overplaying and aforementioned Graig handles the riffs; doing a very solid job of it, serving the songs well. There are some brilliant guitar solos too, particularly on the album closer (not counting bonus tracks) “Apology.”

Good production, check. Good stylistic direction, check. Good music, check. Good vocals, check check check check check.

I don’t know if the album will still be listened to and talked about in 5, 10 or 20 years. I don’t know if Todd’s solo career will be an ongoing thing, or if this is just a one time pandemic-era release of steam while Queensryche can’t tour. I don’t know if I am just unduly fond of it due to being a massive Toddryche fanboy, but I do know that in and of itself, this album is well worth your time right now, and a stirling showcase of a master vocalist demonstrating a broader range than he gets to in his day job. Being selfish, I hope it doesn’t interfere in Queensryche in any way, but other than that one caveat, I have nothing but good things to say about this.

AD NAUSEAM Imperative Imperceptible Impulse

Album · 2021 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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AD NAUSEUM hit the ground running in the world of avant-garde tech death metal in 2015 with its lauded “Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est” which proved to be the second coming of Gorguts’ classic “Obscura” wrapped in completely new clothing. With bantering wails of sonic swarms of atonal and jagged guitar riffs teased out into unthinkable detachment, AD NAUSEUM proved they were worthy successors and pretty much handed honorable post doctorates in “Obscura” studies which they so successfully took to the next level in the world of avant-garde metal excess.

If any band can be accused of nerding out to the max, surely it’s this quartet of unorthodox musicians hailing from Scio, Italy which is just a hop, skip and a jump from the city of Venice. Having gotten the unrelenting angst out of their system after a debut album that excelled in a relentless attack so frighteningly intense that it was advised to avoid for those who were faint of heart, after six long years AD NAUSEUM returns with its second coming in the form of IMPERATIVE IMPERCEPTIBLE IMPULSE and as well as leaving the Latin locutions behind, so too does AD NAUSEUM jettison the full speed throttle that dominated the debut.

While the 20th century integral serialism and avant-garde classical underpinnings of the debut rarely peeked out of the bantering din, IMPERATIVE IMPERCEPTIBLE IMPULSE showcases a more relaxed AD NAUSEUM that has allowed less abrasive moments of contemplation to intermingle within the incessant metal brawl that continues the bantering din of the Gorguts playbook. Album #2 features six tracks, all of which exceed the eight minute mark with “Coincidentia oppositorum” racing past the twelve. With a running time of 57 minutes, IMPERATIVE IMPERCEPTIBLE IMPULSE offers a more balanced approach laid down on the debut with an extraordinary attention to details that displays this band’s outstanding commitment to crafting some of the most forward thinking avant-garde metal of the decade.

While still steeped in tech death clothing with growly vocals, aggressive technical guitar wizardry and abrasive atonalities, AD NAUSEUM has like many of its contemporaries in reality drifted off into a totally new world of extreme metal that doesn’t really fit into the established orthodoxies of death, black, sludge, progressive etc metal. While currently only the term avant-garde can really fit the bill, AD NAUSEUM continues the death metal immediacy with the Deathspell Omega abstractness and Meshuggah-like disscontempt of established paradigms. On this sophomore release, AD NAUSEUM pretty much takes all the features of the debut and amplifies them severalfold.

This is the kind of metal monstrosity that has alienated a lot of traditional metalheads for sure as this type of experimental abstractness has totally left the gravitational pull of classic metal approaches and ventured into unknown territory where it seems there is no end in sight as these types of bands venture ever further into the unexplored terrains. AD NAUSEUM seems to have perfected a balancing act here as it delivers unrelenting brutality in the form of atonal dissonance riff barrages wrapped up in progressive tech death clothing however the moments of non-metal shine through much more brightly and feature interesting orchestrations that evoke a keen sense of 20th century classical composers ranging from Arnold Schoeberg and John Cage to free dissonance and experimentalism of Charles Ives and Edgard Verèse. Metal bands like this are truly the new avant-garde classical. There are more moments on this one that remind me of Kayo Dot or Maudlin of the Well than album #1.

This is truly abstractionist’s paradise as AD NAUSEUM really understands the dynamics of metal-in-opposition and develops their post-Obscura-ism even further. Graced with a keen attention to production values as well as over-the-top metal dynamism, this band has truly mastered the true intent of avant-garde extreme metal and showcases a more mature album although many will be instantly alienated by the jagged uninviting soundscapes presented. Advanced metal who study calculus for fun. This is not the instantly warm and fuzzy metal of decades prior but rather the ultimate expression in nerd metal run amok. Personally i love this shit and AD NAUSEUM has unleashed a brilliant followup to its already ambitious debut.

ACCEPT Too Mean to Die

Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
If someone asked me to define pure classic heavy metal, the first thing that comes to my mind is the German band, Accept. Their classic run of 1980s albums is still fresh and entertaining to this day, and their reunion era with the new singer Mark Tornillo is somehow just as good, or even better (very few heritage bands can say that, maybe only Kreator are making better albums nowadays than in the 80s). For example; Their 2012 album Stalingrad was one of my albums of the whole decade, and the follow up to that Blind Rage is just as good.

In 2021 the long running band have put out their sixteenth full-length studio album, and the fifth of their modern Tornillo-era. Like the other albums from this era it is released on Nuclear Blast, and boasts an absolutely banging production job from Andy Sneap (who has done some great work with the best Saxon, ‘Priest and Testament albums of the modern era).

There has been some line-up shifts in recent years, as essential members Herman Frank and Stefan Schwarzmann left before the previous album, The Rise Of Chaos, and now iconic bassist Peter Baltes has departed too. I can imagine a few fans being worried about how that will affect the sound and direction.

Luckily main-man Wolf Hoffman is still going strong, and the Tornillo/Sneap dynamic over Wolf’s signature style ensures a sense of continuity. Christopher Williams on drums and Uwe Lulis on guitar are still here from the previous record (and the live album before that) and both of those guys are pretty dialled into what Accept should sound like anyway, which also helps it all still feel like Accept should feel.

If you have heard any album since Blood Of The Nations, you will know stylistically what to expect here. They’ve settled into a specific style and are pretty much just fleshing out every variation of that theme they can think of without straying too far, kind of like how Motorhead did for their final five or six albums, or what Saxon have been doing on their three or four most recent records. There are fast, medium and slow paced variations. There are melodic, blunt and medium intensity variants. There are rocking and metallic stylistic variants. Some songs may have a bit of a neoclassical section here, or a singalong section there. But at the end of the day, they’ve hit upon an excellent formula and they’re working it to maximum effect one album after another now; There’s lots of speed metal, lots of hard rock and a few tiny tinges of thrash and power metal in small doses for flavour now and again.

If you want to know what this album (or indeed the last four albums sound like), check out the brilliant tracks “Not My Problem,” “No One’s Master” or the title-track “To Mean To Die.” Plenty of good tunes here to keep existing fans happy. This stuff is exactly what I love about the band.

For the band’s more rock, less Metallic side, “Overnight Sensation” is a blast, and the amusing lyrics about social media influencers kind of serve as a spiritual sequel to the previous album’s “Analogue Man.” If you like the band when they add a bit of classical music into the mix, then “Symphony Of Pain” is also worth checking out.

How does this album fit into the band’s catalogue overall? Well, it isn’t my number-one favourite, but it is no disappointment either. I think of words like “solid” or “dependable” which may sound like damning with faint praise, but that isn’t the case. They have released better albums, that’s just the burden of being a brilliant band with a stellar catalogue. There may perhaps be one or two songs that come across as filler, and furthermore because they’ve used this formula for several albums now nothing feels particularly wow-ing or fresh which can sometimes have an impact when ranking records, but as a whole it is just another damn solid set of songs in a style I’ve come to love for the last decade, and still as well produced and performed as ever. If it was a Deep Purple album, it would be Who Do We Think We Are. Still awesome, but maybe not the one that makes it into all the lists.

Will it make my album of the decade list like Stalingrad did? Maybe not. Will it be my number one album of this year? Possibly not either. But do I still recommend you buy it? You bet I doa. If you liked Rise Of Chaos, you’re going to like this, it is as simple as that. At least half the album I can’t wait to add to playlists or see on live albums.

[Ps. As a side note, every time I look at the green album artwork with a pissed off looking serpent and a lightning forked-tongue, I always wonder if it was originally made for Overkill, like maybe the single art for Electric Rattlesnake? Kind of like how Obituary’s Cause Of Death album cover was originally either made or at least suggested for Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains].

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST The Thule Grimoires

Album · 2021 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
It’s been four years since the one-man act Alexander von Meilenwald has released anything under his THE RUINS OF BEVERAST project but a four year gap is pretty much the norm as Mellenwald clearly favors quality over quantity of material not to mention the two splits that emerged in 2020 with Mourning Beloveth and Almyrkvi. THE THULE GRIMOIRES is the sixth full album experience from the mighty BEVERAST which has consistently cranked out a slew of highly sophisticated and enticing examples of extreme metal that continue to defy classification. Is it atmospheric black metal? Is it death-doom? Or is it avant-garde progressive? Well, throw in all of the aforementioned and a healthy dose of dark ambient in the proper doses doused with the fertile creative mind of a dedicated musician and voila, you have the recipe for some highly innovative 21st century metal in the making.

THULE refers to the location farthest north in ancient Greek and Roman world but with the advent of the concept ultima THULE acquired a metaphorical extensional meaning of any place beyond the borders of the known world, a perfect concept for the murky blackened sonic storm of sound to wrap themselves around especially when paired with the term GRIMOIRE which is a textbook of magic and serves as an instructional guide on how to create magical objects such as talismans, amulets as well as a guide for casting spells and summoning supernatural entitles ranging from diving angels to hellish demons. THE TULE GRIMOIRES as a concept offers a glimpse into a terrifying world beyond our comprehension where demonic wizardry and the realities of the hellish underworld provide the inspiration for this collection of seven sprawling tracks that collectively exceed the 69 minute mark.

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST albums are notorious for being lengthy atmospheric compositions that embark on darkened journeys and employ the sounds of various metal styles as well as ambient sounds to craft an otherworldly soundscape that perfectly synchronizes with the subject matter at hand. THE THULE GRIMOIRES is no exception in continuing this tradition however the beauty of this project is that Mellenwald never relies on the copy and paste method for crafting new music magic. THE THULE GRIMOIRES features the recognizable black metal guitar fuzz, the sprawling ten minute plus compositions teased out into meandering musical form as well as the expected extreme metal vocal style of previous BEVERAST offerings. This album however adopts more of a gothic metal approach with clean ghoulish vocals often replacing the raspy growls and calm icy slow tempos inching the album along in death-doom procession.

With less emphasis on the overall metal elements of THE THULE GRIMOIRES, Mellenwald casts his gaze on the potentials of a production job that amplifies the grimness value with oscillating guitar distortion, engaging atmospheric contrapuntal sound swarms as well as placing the focus on the flow of the album and the overarching psychological effects rather than on any particular track. The album is technically demarcated by the chapters Aurora, Than and Sad Chapel and is noticeable less bombastic than previous albums and in many ways sounds like a more experimental version of Type O Negative during the gothic excursions to Transylvania and back. Despite the black metal tag awarded, THE THULE GRIMOIRES feels the least black metal of the entire BEVERAST canon as blastbeats are for the most part tamped down in favor of a plodding procession into the darkness with guitar chords sustained in glacial drone metal perpetuity.

While i cannot honestly declare THE THULE GRIMOIRES to be the most exuberant or compelling chapter of THE RUINS OF BEVERAST canon, i can definitely appreciate that Mellenwald doesn’t simply rest on his laurels and continuously crafts a completely differing musical experience from one album to the next, a talent he has showcased ever since his Nagelfar days. As with all BEVERAST releases, this is not one to rush through and to expect it to sink in immediately. This dense package of sounds is so intricately designed that you could probably drive yourself crazy analyzing the minutia but despite the lack of the desired bombast of yore, still comes off as an interesting and unique excursion into the gothened RUINS OF BEVERAST universe and one that is worthy of attention for those who love the more modern high brow compositional fortitude of experimental metal.

EVILDEAD United States of Anarchy

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"United States of Anarchy" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Evildead. The album was released through Steamhammer in October 2020. It´s the successor to "The Underworld" from 1991. Evildead disbanded in 1995, and had a reunion in 2008 which lasted until 2012 where they disbanded again (this period spawned only one recording from the band in the 2011 "Blasphemy Divine" single). Evildead reunited a second time in 2016 and resigned to their former label for the relase of "United States of Anarchy".

Lead vocalist Phil Flores, guitarist Juan Garcia, and bassist Karlos Medina, remain from the lineup who recorded "The Underworld (1991)", while guitarist Albert Gonzales and drummer Rob Alaniz are new in the band.

Stylistically Evildead play an aggressive, mid-to fast-paced type of thrash metal with crossover leanings. Flores sometimes sound very similar to Billy Milano (S.O.D., M.O.D.), and other times like the most raw moments produced by Russ Anderson (Forbidden). Needless to say his voice is strong and his performance powerful and raw. There are loads of riot gang choir vocals throughout the album too. The lyrics are often political in nature. Opening track "The Descending" talks about the unfairness of the US political system and corruption (the line "It just a game to the billionaire" says a lot), while "Napoleon Complex" is aimed directly at former president Donald Trump (at least that´s how I interpret the lyrics).

"United States of Anarchy" is an album loaded with killer thrash metal riffs and new drummer Rob Alaniz is a great asset to the band´s sound. He has a powerful playing style, driving the music forward in an energetic and aggressive fashion. I didn´t sit still one second of the 38:35 minutes long playing time, maybe except for the awkward clean guitar lounge jazz intro to "No Difference", which was completely unneccesary if you ask me. Yeah we now know you can play other styles than thrash metal...now get on with the thrashing!!!

Evildead are an exceptionally well playing band, and they understand how to compose a 3-4 minutes long effective and concise thrash metal tune, designed to make your head bang and your body move (while that´s not the case with the B-52´s cover "Planet Claire 2020", it´s still a great cover song and a nice variation on the album). They excel in both fast-paced thrashing and mid-paced heavy grooves and as "United States of Anarchy" also features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, it´s through and through a high quality release and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

GROWTH The Smothering Arms of Mercy

Album · 2020 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"The Smothering Arms Of Mercy" is the debut full-length studio album by Australian technical/avant garde death metal act Growth. The album was released through Wild Thing Records in December 2020. Growth formed in 2019 in Melbourne and consists of the Barnes brothers, Tristan (bass, guitars) and Nelson (drums) and lead vocalist Luke Frizon.

Stylistically the material on the 9 track, 62:46 minutes long album is technical/avant garde death metal in the vein of Gorguts and Ulcerate. Growth are slightly more accessible than the two other mentioned acts though, and they even occasionally include clean vocals (or maybe more correctly vocals which are sung and not growling vocals, because most of them are still pretty raw vocals) and some melody. When that happens I´m reminded of the most chaotic and raw moments of Gojira. There is a post-metal touch to the music too in the way some of the tracks build towards climaxes. The best example of that is the closing track "Gird Your Loved in Armour While Yet You Wither".

To listeners familiar with the style, it´s no surprise the riffs are dissonant and the riff- and song structures are often unconventional and twisted. The atmosphere is bleak and the lyrical content depressing. Growth are a very well playing unit and the performances are top notch on all posts. "The Smothering Arms Of Mercy" also features a powerful, raw, and detailed sounding production, so upon conclusion it´s a high quality release through and through. A few more original ideas and a more unique sound could have elevated this album to an even higher state, but it´s still a great album as it is. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

HAIL SPIRIT NOIR Eden in Reverse

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.54 | 13 ratings
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UMUR
"Eden in Reverse" is the 4th full-length studio album by Greek progressive metal act Hail Spirit Noir. The album was released through Agonia Records in June 2020. It´s the successor to "Mayhem In Blue" from 2016 and features quite a few lineup changes since the predecessor as Hail Spirit Noir have gone from a trio lineup to a sextet.

While the three preceding releases weren´t exactly primitive and simple, the new sextet lineup do create an even more massive and more busy soundscape. Hard (and more mellow) rocking guitars, bass, and drums, loads of vintage synths/keyboards/organ, and well performed clean vocals, harmonies and choirs. This is 60s/70s influenced heavy progressive rock with a strong psychadelic touch. The contemporary artist which comes closest to the sound on "Eden in Reverse" is probably Opeth and their 70s hard rock infused progressive rock sound, but Hail Spirit Noir have a more driving, repetitive rhytmic pulse (Krautrock/space rock influenced). The latter influence is especially heard on the 10:20 minutes long closing track "Automata 1980", but the hard rocking repetitive rhythmic playing is there on most tracks.

Hail Spirit Noir come from a black metal background, but while the three preceding releases did feature black metal elements, they weren´t really black metal. It was just an element of their sound. That element is now almost completely gone from their music, and "Eden in Reverse" does not feature much more than 1 minute of black metal influenced sounds. A raw black metal styled scream at the end of "Alien Lip Reading", and a few sections with tremolo picked distorted guitars and some faster-paced drumming are about it. The clean vocals are performed in a laid-back almost sedated fashion. Very pleasant on the ears, but maybe slightly too one-dimensional in the end. On the other hand the vocals suit the atmosphere of the instrumental part of the music perfectly.

"Eden in Reverse" features an organic and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly, and upon conclusion it´s another strong album release by Hail Spirit Noir. They´ve moved forward and have added new elements to their sound and they´ve removed other elements, but ultimately they still sound unmistakably like themselves. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

FUCK THE FACTS Pleine Noirceur

Album · 2020 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.82 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Fuck The Facts has always been an abrasive band, usually right in your face, so that’s what most listeners would expect from “Pleine Noirceur”. And first track “Doubt, Fear, Neglect” doesn’t disappoint. It is just that, like a raging drill sergeant yelling in a raw recruit’s face. Until it’s not.

About three and a half minutes into the track, metallic riffs and lead guitar suddenly break into the mix. Sure, the drums are still exploding all over the place as you’d expect from a normal FTF album, but this new found dynamic is a surprise, and permeates right through the whole album. There are fans at the extreme end of the metal spectrum who dismiss or avoid grindcore because it often lacks sufficient metal elements or tropes. This is an album that can’t be dismissed quite so simply.

The band has streamlined it’s line-up since 2015’s “Desire Will Rot” album thinning down from a five-piece to a three-piece. It hasn’t made any noticeable difference to the size of the sound - it’s still enormous.

Second track “Ailleurs” seems like a return to type. It’s a minute and a quarter of blown bass, blasting drums and screeched vocals, but deteriorates into a soundscape like the last remnants of a wave washing out on a beach. Such subtlety would have been unknown to FTF in the past, as blasting angry noise usually filled the entire sonic register. Title track “Pleine Noirceur” (translates to “total darkness”) takes a similar but different dynamic (does that even make sense?) to the opening track. The introduction to “Sans Lumiere” is absolutely brutal, like a repeated kick in the face.

Vocalist Mel Mongeon is one of the best in grindcore and noisecore. In these genres, vocals are usually just another bludgeoning instrument, often rendered totally incomprehensible as a gurgle or a grunt, but hey, they sound brutal. Not so here. Mongeon’s vocals are brutal, but convey depths of emotion, and have a stark, spare beauty to them. You even fear for her emotional state in the gut wrenching “Everything I Love Is Ending”, which seems to be a bleak examination of human mortality. This album is also bilingual, as this Quebecois band writes in both English and French, and Mongeon is perfectly capable in both.

“A Dying Light” is a sparse instrumental with distant vocals more akin to a doom metal sound than something you would expect from a band which started life as a powerviolence project. “Dropping Like Flies” looks like a critical summation of 2020. It could be referring to the global pandemic which savaged the planet, or it could be about lack of respect for other humans’ lives which seems to have manifested in some sectors of society, or it could be a warning of impending environmental climatic Armageddon. Take your pick, or combine them all. Whatever the intention of the song, the lyrics paint a bleak picture.

The whole album has a cold, chill atmosphere to it, more often associated with black metal, but there’s nothing else of that genre on display here. The light/dark, hard/soft contrasts are not often expressed like this in grindcore, and the introduction of doom and death metal-tinged sections are a surprising but welcome addition to Fuck The Facts’ base sound. If anyone who has ever wanted to try grindcore but it has seemed too opaque or dense, this may well be the perfect introduction. Like a billowing mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb blast, "Pleine Noirceur" is an album of terrible but powerful beauty.

SOEN Imperial

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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lukretion
Well, here I am, in the first week of February, already holding in my hands what is very likely to become my Album of the Year in 2021: Imperial, Soen's fifth album, is an amazing record that has haunted my CD player since its release ten days ago and will very likely continue to do so for at least a few more weeks. I must have listened to this album at least 50 times already, and I still do not seem to get enough of it. Yes, it is THAT good!

Packed with smashing grooves, soaring guitar solos and incredibly catchy melodies, this is easily the strongest album released by the band so far. And I am not saying this as a newcomer to Soen’s sound. I have been following the band since their second album, 2014’s Tellurian. Their blend of groovy progressive metal - built in equal parts of technical proficiency and emotional intensity, intricate riffs and melancholic melodies - is right up my alley, given how I feed on a diet of dark, atmospheric prog metal in the vein of Katatonia, Leprous, Riverside, Opeth and Anathema. Yet, until today, my attitude towards Soen has only been lukewarm, at best. I dug what they have been trying to do, but until now I have always had issues with the end-result of their albums, be it for a subpar sound production (their third album Lykaia was literally butchered by the sound engineer), or for a songwriting approach that has always sounded to me as in need of a good injection of dynamics and a healthy dose of fat trimming to craft songs with nothing but their strongest parts.

Imperial is exactly the album I was hoping one day Soen would write. It takes the best parts of their sound and condenses them in to eight, strikingly lean, gloriously dynamic, and instantly impactful tracks, where nothing is superfluous and every single instrument truly plays only for the song. In interviews, Soen’s main man and drummer Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) hinted that this has partly to do with the involvement of Grammy-nominated sound engineer Kevin Churko, who mixed and mastered the album and encouraged the band to remove any superfluous elements that were getting in the way of the song. The choice of Churko may surprise Soen’s fans, given his previous involvement with acts that sound quite different than Soen, such as Papa Roach, Five Finger Death Punch, and In This Moment. But they need not worry: although Imperial does sound more modern, more immediate and punchier than Soen’s previous records, the album still retains the classic Soen sound. The intricate but groovy riffs and drum patterns are still there, and so are Joel Ekelöf’s soaring vocal melodies and Cody Ford’s emotional bluesy solos. Yet, everything sounds more compact, leaner, and more exciting than anything the band has every written before.

Ultimately, the strength of Imperial comes down to its truly brilliant songwriting. Its eight songs strike that perfect balance between (dare I say it?) pop accessibility and progressive complexity that elevates the album above most other modern rock/metal releases, not unlike Leprous 2019’s masterpiece Pitfalls. It is an extremely difficult achievement to accomplish. Writing hooks and catchy refrains that have an immediate impact on the listener is relatively easy. Combining them into compositions that retain artistic depth and remain interesting after repeated listens is much more difficult. On Imperial Soen miraculously achieve this by packing each song with a myriad of great ideas - be it a clever riff, a groovy drum fill, a cathartic guitar solo, or a memorable hook - without lingering too long on any of them, but moving quickly to the next one, in an breath-taking tourbillion of sounds that leave the listener astounded by its musical richness. This approach gives the songs an unpredictability and spontaneity that keeps them fresh and relevant even after multiple listens.

Soen are also very clever to avoid as much as possible formulaic song structures, by continuously varying the way Imperial’s eight songs are constructed. Take, for instance, Cody Ford’s solos. How many bands have you listened to where, in every song, the guitar solo falls invariably after the second repetition of the chorus? Too many to count. Cody’s solos are instead all over the place: after the chorus (“Deceive”), but sometimes after the first verse (“Illusion”), or between verse and bridge (“Modesty”), or in the middle of the middle-eight (“Antagonist”). It’s like Cody is playing whack-a-mole with the listener: you never quite know when to expect his poignant, Gilmouresque lead solos to pop up next. This is generally in line with the compositional manifesto that Soen seem to have followed on this album: to keep the listener guessing what new sound will come up next. Subtle variations to melodies and arrangements, countermelodies played with varying intensity in the repetitions of the chorus (“Antagonist”), eerie, mellotron-like string arrangements (“Modesty”, “Fortune”), sudden breakdowns where only Ekelöf’s voice and Lopez’s emphatic tom fills are left (“Antagonist”, “Dissident”) - Imperial has it all.

Amazingly, despite their complexity, the songs sound infectiously simple and immediate, partly due to the production but also thanks to the sensational vocal melodies that Ekelöf sings on the album, which contains what is easily his best performance to date, by far. But there is more to this: Ekelöf’s voice soars and impresses because the other instruments allow it to do so. There is such a tasteful restraint and subtlety in the other four musicians’ performances on this album that was not present on Soen’s previous records, where the band was instead following a “more is more” approach. This may disappoint some, as Lopez’s drumming is for instance less flamboyant and off-the-cuff than on previous records, but the songs have gained immensely from this newly-found discipline.

Imperial is a terrific release but, if I were to nitpick, the first half of the album is slightly weaker than the second half, which is more varied and contains the most inspired songs (“Antagonist”, “Modesty”, “Dissident”, “Fortune”). Part of the problem is that the first three songs of the album (“Lumerian”, “Deceive”, “Monarch”) sound just a little bit too similar to one another (same tempo, similar structure, similar vibes). I would have perhaps dropped “Deceive” from the trio, as it is probably the weakest song of the record anyway. Another minor complaint I have is that some songs (“Lumerian”, “Monarch”) do not so much come to an end as simply stop, without fully giving the listener that sense of resolve which is instead achieved on tracks like “Modesty” (that gorgeous line Ekelöf sings in the coda of the song gets me every single time). And, yes, Churko does occasionally exceed with modern production touches that feel a tad forced in the context of Soen’s sound (for instance, the processed, hard panned guitars that surface on a couple of songs, or the echoes on Ekelöf’s vocals that are perhaps used one time too many).

But these are really minor complaints. Imperial is an impressive piece of art that I consider the highest-point in Soen’s career so far. It is as inspired and inspiring as Lotus, but it is leaner, better arranged, and more immediate than that album, and it sounds much better for this. It is one of those records that it is really hard to put down because it sounds so fresh, so dynamic, so exciting that it just compels you to keep pressing “Play” again and again. At times, I have the impression that Imperial contains the material of twenty potential hit songs, just condensed into eight. It is a stunning achievement, which brings Imperial as close to perfection as only a handful of albums I have encountered in nearly 25 years of listening to (progressive) metal do.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

IRON MAIDEN Nights of the Dead, Legacy of the Beast: Live in Mexico City

Live album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Pekka
There are two viewpoints for looking at the way Iron Maiden operates nowadays, of which one is to see them as an endlessly cashgrabbing nostalgia act milking the fans with a live release after another. This is of course wrong since the other, better, opinion is that if there's no live release from every tour, there's not enough! Plus they've had a continuous cycle of album tour -> hits tour -> album tour -> hits tour going on since 98, so it's not a thing they started doing in their old days.

So for me, being a semi-obsessive semi-diehard, every live release is a reason for celebration. Frankly I did not see this one coming since apart from Flight 666 they have not done any official releases from the retrospective tours despite some of them containing very strong era-specific themes that people like me would love to have. Extremely loosely based on a Maiden themed mobile game Legacy of the Beast this tour fleshes out the regular hit list with deep cuts from different points in the past, even including the Blaze era.

I saw the show in Helsinki and absolutely loved it. The stage presentation with the airborne spitfires and stained glass cathedrals was the most stunning I'd ever seen them do, and the setlist is indeed a treat. But one thing I noticed clearly was that, finally, age was starting to catch up with them. It just so happens that the person setting the tempo and keeping the beat is also the oldest member of the band, and Nicko McBrain's performance was regrettably sloppy with many a fill going sorta almost like it should but stumbling halfway.

Taken by itself the all the deficiencies of this release are not too obvious, but I happened to listen to Nights of the Dead right after the brilliant Flight 666 the other day, and compared to that one the tempos seem a bit sluggish in places, band performance less than airtight, bass sound is thin, guitars pretty quiet and Bruce, while hitting the notes, is laboring like hell. You get used to the mix after a few songs, but in comparison to the older release the difference was very obvious. One thing is the audience noise which sounds like some weird synthetic din, and as this release was a covid-19 stopgap it might even be possible that they never recorded the audience properly in the first place and had to manufacture something in its place.

The pure golden setlist takes this one very far, but the performance and production keep it from reaching its full potential. For the first time I'm a bit concerned about the future of Iron Maiden.

DEATH ANGEL Under Pressure

EP · 2020 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Under Pressure" is an EP release by US, California based thrash metal act Death Angel.The EP was released through Nuclear Blast in October 2020. Although "Under Pressure" is released under the Death Angel monicker, the EP lineup actually only features two out of five of the band members who recorded their 2019 album "Humanicide".

Guitarist Rob Cavestany and lead vocalist Mark Osegueda opted to work together and record a four-track acoustic EP. Probably as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic isolation situation and the subsequent issues getting the full band together to record new music, but maybe also because it was a project the two musicians had been planning for a while. The title track is cover of Queen (featuring David Bowie). "Faded Remains" is a brand new track, and "A Room With a View" and "Revelation Song" are re-recorded acoustic tracks from previous releases in the band´s discography.

Although Death Angel have been pretty consistent in the quality and style of their material since their comeback in 2001, the pre-split-up part of the band´s discography feature more experiments with other sounds and styles, so it´s not a huge surprise that the band have opted to record and release a fully acoustic EP. There have been sung many accolades of the guitar skills of Cavestany, and it´s safe to say he shines here too. Osegueda has a strong voice and a passionate delivery, and his voice perfectly suits the acoustic material, just as it suits the band´s usual thrash metal sound.

Personally a couple of acoustic tracks aren´t anything which blows my mind, but "Under Pressure" is overall a good quality release, and it´s definitely a worthwhile addition to Death Angel´s discography, and perfectly sums up the band´s eclectic and boundary searching attitude to songwriting. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

THERION Leviathan

Album · 2021 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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lukretion
In my experience, when an artist advertises their new work with the words “We have decided to give the people what they kept asking for”, that normally does not bode terribly well. However, if the man saying those words is Therion’s mastermind Christofer Johnsson, whose latest two controversial and fan-challenging releases are an album of French pop covers and a 3-hour, 46-track, narcolepsy-inducing triple-album, well, then we better listen carefully. Therion’s new album, Leviathan, does exactly what it says on the tin: deliver 45 minutes of “classic Therion” music, packed with memorable, instantly-likeable songs. A "commercial" sellout, you say? I disagree, I don’t really feel I can blame a band that has been pushing boundaries for 34 years of career for wanting to take it easy for once. Regardless of how genuine you feel this new artistic endeavour might be, one thing is for certain: one has to try really hard not to like at least some of the eleven songs on Leviathan.

The album is packed with everything we have come to love about the exquisite blend of symphonic/operatic metal that has defined Therion’s music since the mid-90s. Classic heavy metal riffs form the basis for epic and bombastic orchestral arrangements, striking a great balance between the sophistication of classical music and heavy metal grit. Tasteful folk influences seeps in on tracks like “Die Wellen der Zeit”, the Middle Eastern influenced “Aži Dahāka” and “Eye of Algol”, and “Ten Courts of Diyu” where we even find some Far Eastern music themes. Elsewhere, the album veers towards European power metal territories (“Great Marquis of Hell”; “El Primer Sol”), while gothic-tinged passages emerge as well throughout the record. Leviathan also literally brims with fantastic melodies and an impressive array of vocal styles, ranging from straight heavy metal belting, to melancholic female vocals, to majestic operatic singing.

The list of interpreters is no less exciting. Regular band members Thomas Vikström (tenor) and Lori Lewis (soprano) are joined by some great guest singers, including Marco Hietala (ex-Nightwish), Mats Levén (ex-Candlemass, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Noa Gruman (Scardust), Taida Nazraić (The Loudest Silence), Chiara Malvestiti (Crysalys) and Rosalía Sairem. Meanwhile, Israel’s Hellscore Choir directed by Noa Gruman provides lush and expansive backing vocals. The use of such a diverse and varied list of singers, who are often employed together in the same song, is one of the most remarkable features of the album that brings to mind the best work of rock-opera maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon). On the instrumental side, Snowy Shaw and Björn Höglund share duties behind the drum kit, while the rest of the line-up is the same one that recorded the last few Therion albums (Christofer Johnsson on guitar/keyboards, Christian Vidal on lead guitar, and Nalle Påhlsson on bass).

If you are worried that Johnsson’s deliberate attempt at writing “hit songs” may have compromised the earnestness of the songwriting, that’s not the case: the music feels fresh, inspired, and fun. Sure, there’s nothing really revolutionary or experimental here, the album treads similar waters to Therion’s 90s/00s work (and after all that was the whole point of the record). But the eleven songs included on Leviathan are by no means just a rehashed, half-baked version of tracks one can find on Vovin or Secret of the Runes. These are songs that can hold up well to any previous output of the band, which, after 17 albums in a 34-year career, is no mean feat.

There isn’t a single bad song on the album: Leviathan is one of those records that you can put on and smoothly enjoy from the first to the last note. Nevertheless, a few tracks stand out for me. “Tuonela” is one of those, partly for Marco Hietala’s compelling vocal performance, partly for the beautifully constructed chorus that masterfully combines three melodic lines played by Hietala, the Hellscore chorus and two violins. “Die Wellen der Zeit” is a surprisingly simple ballad carried by the lush voice of Serbian singer Taida Nazraić, one of the most shining new talents enlisted on this record. “Nocturnal Light” is the other ballad and is another great track, more majestic and operatic, which gives me strong Vovin vibes. Meanwhile, the “Eye of Algol” is a multi-part Middle-Eastern-tinged beast that contains a really cool riff on the chorus, while “Ten Courts of Diyu” is a beautiful atmospheric piece that closes the album in style with a spine-tingling vocal performance by Noa Gruman and a nice guitar solo by Christian Vidal (if there’s one thing that I perhaps miss on this album is more spots for instrumental solos).

After the last couple of releases, Therion’s fans might be wary to approach Leviathan, but there is really no need to. If you are a fan of the band’s output between Theli and Gothic Kabbalah, this album will not disappoint you. Neither will it surprise you, but perhaps Therion’s fans have had enough surprises already in the past decade. Leviathan may be the most linear and accessible album that Therion have released in the past ten years, but there’s a catch: this is just the first installment of a trilogy of albums that Johnsson has already written up and is preparing to release in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The man seems incapable of writing less than 40 songs in one sitting! I don’t know about you, but after having listened to Leviathan, I very much look forward to the rest of the trilogy!

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

THOU The Helm Of Sorrow (with Emma Ruth Rundle)

EP · 2021 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
Something I’ve always loved about Emma Ruth Rundle is her versatility and willingness to do whatever the hell she wants musically. She's done everything from ambient to folk to doom to sludge to post rock to just about everything in between, and pretty much every project she’s brought her style to has flourished and succeeded in its own way. Whether it be her unique guitar work in post-rock group Red Sparowes or her more mellow folk-laden solo work, her greatest idiosyncrasy as a songwriter is the fact that her career never becomes static. Case in point: collaborating with Thou. On paper, it seems like a strange combination; I can’t think of a band Rundle has worked with that’s more crushing and intense than Thou, and you’d almost expect the latter’s sludgy riffs to be at odds with her singing and playing style. But such is not the case, as the “beauty-meets-brutality” aesthetic is exactly what makes this project work.

The Helm of Sorrow is an excellent continuation of the sound Rundle and Thou built together with last year’s May Our Chambers Be Full, still keeping with the latter’s melding of sorrow and intensity. The biggest thing that this collaboration benefits from is the members’ keen sense of dynamics; the music is meticulously composed to account for all the right emotional peaks and valleys, as is important for a lot of doom and post metal. In fact, opener “Orphan Limbs” is almost entirely based around Rundle singing cleanly over soft droning passages, whose guitar is reminiscent of Red House Painters’ brand of slowcore (Down Colorful Hill in particular). Only at roughly the last minute does the band erupt in a volcano of steamrolling guitars and shrieking vocals, and the long buildup just heightens the resonance of the payoff. This is the first time on the entire album we hear this level of intensity, and the slow build within the grim ambiance effectively keeps you on edge the whole time. But this isn’t the only way the dynamics of the record are experimented; “Crone Dance” is pretty much unceasing in its ferocity, and yet Rundle’s lovely vocal inflections add a strange melodicism to such an unrelenting series of sludge riffs. It helps, too, that the guitar tone is absolutely incredible here; it strikes a wonderfully odd middle ground between violent and textured, so you get something that’s equal parts harsh and compelling. And when Rundle and Bryan Funck start singing together on the remaining two tracks “Recurrence” and “Hollywood" (the latter being a Cranberries cover), it starts bringing to mind a certain approach that quickly got run into the ground in a lot of gothic metal: the “beauty-and-the-beast” approach. But I find there’s a difference here, as it feels like it’s done much more in service to the atmosphere rather than to be gimmicky. The downcast riffs are constantly emitting a sense of despair while the mix of clean and harsh vocals brings that perfect balance of sadness and anger; it really feels like I’m listening to “She Painted Fire Across the Skyline Pt. 1” by Agalloch again for the first time.

At this point, it surprises me a bit that Emma Ruth Rundle hasn’t been fully brought onboard as a member of Thou yet. Their respective approaches to these records seem meant for each other, and it’s a wonderful feeling when styles that are normally meant to clash can be brought together so beautifully. Let’s hope we can get another full-length of this kind of music, because 21 minutes - even for an EP - simply feels too short for how great the material is.

DEFILED Infinite Regress

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"Infinite Regress" is the 6th full-length studio album by Japanese, Tokyo based death metal act Defiled. The album was released through Season of Mist in January 2020. It´s the successor to "Towards Inevitable Ruin" from 2016 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as bassist Hiroaki Sato has been replaced by Takachika Nakajima.

Stylistically the material on "Infinite Regress" are unmistakably the sound of Defiled. Brutal technical US influenced death metal with a twist. The twist consists of the fact that Defiled are inherently old school and often have more in common with acts like Autopsy and early Deceased than they have with the more technical part of the early 90s death metal scene and artists like Suffocation and Gorguts. But...Defiled still play a very technical death metal style with loads of tempo changes, unconventional riffs, and a generally adventurous approach to songwriting, so the comparison above should not be misunderstood as if this isn´t music with at least some focus on technical playing.

One of the greatest strengths of "Infinite Regress" is the raw and organic way the music is delivered. These guys are human and they want you to know it. The raw, powerful, and organic sounding production job supports that sentiment too, and "Infinite Regress" is generally far removed from most of the more clinical and sterile sounding contemporary brutal technical death metal releases. Highlights include "Divide and Conquer" (the drumming is brilliant on this one), "Tragedy" (old school to the core), and "Centuries". Predominantly because those tracks stand out as a bit different from the remaining tracks, but all material on the album are of high quality.

Upon conclusion "Infinite Regress" is through and through a high quality death metal release. It´s not often you´ll come across death metal acts with a unique sound these days, but thankfully we still have artists like Defiled to prove to the world that intriguing, adventurous, and unconventional death metal is still being produced (while still maintaining old school death metal credibility). A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

TOXAEMIA Where Paths Divide

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
My last review for MMA was Skelethal’s 2020 album Unveiling The Threshold, a French death metal band whose sound owed a lot to the original Swedish death metal bands like Dismember and Entombed. My next comes from Toxaemia, a band who can claim to have been around at the start of the Swedish death metal movement. Unfortunately for them, they only stuck around long enough to release an EP and a couple of demos, splitting up in 1991. Incidentally, these early recordings can be heard to best effect on the Burried To Rise compilation. As well as the original mixes there are remixed and remastered versions done by Dan Swano who has worked wonders with them. The band could have been nothing more than a footnote in Swedish death metal but reformed in 2017 and over thirty years after their original formation have finally released their debut album.

Where Paths Divide kicks off proper, after the almost obligatory atmospheric intro piece, in this case the album title track, with Delusions. It’s a great start with a powerful slab of mid paced old school death metal. It’s one of the best songs on the album as is following track Pestilence. Here they up the pace without sacrificing any of the power, ferocious riffs not in short supply on either track. The band never betters these early high benchmarks but nevertheless retain a high standard of compelling and pulverising death metal for most of the album. The albums not about speed, though it has its faster moments, but more about crushing riffs, sometimes slowed to a steady groove, which is aided by the Dan Swano mix who adds an organic and muscular edge to the band’s sound. The playing is solid from band originals Pontus Cervin (Bass) and Stevo Bolgakoff (guitars) aided by new guys Rasmus Axelsson (guitars), Perra Karlsson (drums) and Dennis Johansson (vocals). The album does tail off slightly towards the end but with only a minimal dip in quality Toxaemia have still managed to produce a high quality death metal album.

I was originally leaning towards a 3 star rating before starting my review but repeated plays have allowed most of these songs to get under my skin. Where Paths Divide is an album I’ll enjoy returning to from time to time so it’s definitely worth a good 3 ½ stars. Hopefully there will be more to come from Toxaemia in the future.

SKELETHAL Unveiling The Threshold

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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A late entry in my 2020 death metal explorations is this second album from French band Skelethal. Released late November, I’ve been living with it since the run up to Christmas and didn’t have as much time to spend with it as I would have liked. It’s only now in these dark, miserable January days, under our third Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, that I’ve found the time to devote to it that it deserves.

I’m certainly glad to have found the time, as give Unveiling The Threshold a few plays and you’ll discover an excellent old school death metal album that could have been released back in the nineties. Leaning more to the Swedish style, buzzsaw guitars and all, it’s packed with infectiously raw riffs with a dual guitar attack. The sound is authentically raw and organic with just enough of a modern edge to add some extra punch. It’s not only the guitars that benefit from this as the drums really cut through with plenty of visceral power and there’s no shortage of bottom end from the bass. The vocals from Gui Haunting, who also doubles up on guitar, do the job nicely, or should I say horribly. It’s your typical low guttural growl as you’d expect and sits well in the mix without being too in your face. The pace rarely lets up but there’s enough twists and turns to keep things interesting and at thirty seven minutes is just about the perfect length. No songs particularly stand out as a favourite as none really stray from the bands template but the overall quality remains high throughout.

This is pretty much your meat and potatoes no frills death metal, you’ve certainly heard the like many times before if this is your thing. However, Skelethal do it with such enthusiasm and conviction on a consistently strong collection of songs that it’s hard not to be won over by it. Looks like I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my album of the year list here on MMA.

MOTORPSYCHO The All is One

Album · 2020 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 2 ratings
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lukretion
Motorpsycho’s new album, The All Is One, concludes the so called “Gullvåg trilogy” of albums inspired by the art of painter Håkon Gullvåg that the band started in 2017 with The Tower and continued with 2019’s The Crucible. Sporting on its cover another beautiful Gullvåg’s painting, The All Is One might just be the best progressive rock album released in 2020. Whether you agree with this statement or not, one thing is for certain: it is simply amazing how, after 30 years of career and more than 20 full-length albums, these three Norwegians are still able to create music that feels fresh and innovative and is of such a high quality. This is truly a testament to their creativity and ability as musicians that I have a deep respect for.

So what makes The All Is One so good, you ask? Two things stand out for me: how deliciously varied its 9 compositions are, and how they are perfectly balanced between creative discipline and looseness. These characteristics put the record at the top of the trio of albums that form the Gullvåg trilogy, in my opinion. The songs on this album have the same playful, proggy exploratory spirit of The Tower, but with the structure and discipline that one can find on The Crucible, giving us the best of both worlds.

There are three types of songs on The All Is One, reflecting three distinct phases in the recording process. A first bulk of songs were recorded in September 2019 at the Black Box Studio in France. These recording sessions see the Motorpsycho trio (Bent Sæther - lead vocals, bass, guitar; Hans Magnus Ryan - lead guitar, vocals; Tomas Järmyr - drums) join forces with long-time collaborator guitarist Reine Fiske (Landberk, Paatos). The songs that came out from these sessions are of medium length (between 5 and 8 minutes), follow a somewhat traditional structure and are fairly vocal-driven, without too many extended instrumental jams or detours, making them relatively easy to assimilate. Nevertheless, the music has a strong classic prog flavour, somewhat reminiscent of the US modern school of progressive rock (bands like Echolyn, but also Spock’s Beard and Neal Morse come to mind). Classic acts like Yes and King Crimson are also obvious influences, but they are re-interpreted through a modern lens that avoids the music sounding derivative. Among these tracks, the title-track and “The Magpie” stand out, containing some of the best and most memorable hooks of the album. “Dreams of Fancy” is also notable, with its classic rock feel (Led Zeppelin come to mind). “The Same Old Rock” and “Like Chrome” are instead perhaps a tad less inspired and come across a bit as run-of-the-mill prog.

Then we have the 42-minute suite “N.O.X”. This piece, recorded in November 2019 at the Oceans Sound studio in Norway, was originally written as performance music that Motorpsycho were commissioned to play at 2019 St. Olav Festival as part of its celebration of the art of Håkon Gullvåg. The suite was composed with the help of two other instrumentalists, Lars Horntveth of Jaga Jazzist (saxophones and clarinet) and Ola Kvernberg of Steamdome (violin). It is an amazing piece of music, and my personal highlight from the album. It comes in 5 separate parts (each a separate track on the album) that are interconnected and tied together by recurring motifs and common rhythm patterns. The music has a strong experimental and avant-garde feel, and encompasses a range of different styles, from krautrock and space rock (Hawkwind), to classic prog, to Canterbury prog (Caravan come to mind on the opening bars of “Circles Around the Sun pt I”), to psychedelia. The suite has everything one would ask for from a prog masterpiece: it is complex and shapeshifting while never losing focus or tension, it is filled with sublime arrangements and exceptional playing, it is groovy like hell (listen to “Ouroboros”) and it has strong dynamics, moving between hard-hitting, almost punkish pieces (“Circles Around the Sun pt II”) and dreamy, reverb-drenched meditative moments (the Pink Floydian “Ascension”). Vocals appear sparsely throughout the suite, and are often processed and used more as an additional complementary instrument than as lead instrument. Drummer Tomas Järmyr puts in a monstrous performance on this piece, but the playing of everyone involved is truly dazzling and a joy to listen to. What impressed me the most, though, is the sense of structure and discipline that transpires from the music. Motorpsycho have often indulged in extended instrumental jams on previous albums. While captivating and engrossing, I often found these jamming pieces a bit too loose, structureless and repetitive, which made it difficult to continuously retain my attention. “N.O.X” is incredibly tight and well-organized, each part flowing naturally - almost necessarily - into the next one, in a way that brings to mind classical music more than jazz or psychedelic improvs. This perfect balance between discipline and looseness is what makes “N.O.X”, and the album in general, such a fantastic piece of music for me.

Finally, the album contains three shorter songs, recorded at various times between 2018 and 2019 in Trondheim (Norway). These are acoustic pieces for guitar and voice (and synths sometimes) that are strategically placed on the album to separate the “N.O.X” suite from the other tracks. I am particularly fond of “Delusion”, a beautiful, delicate piece that reminds me of the more pastoral moments of early King Crimson. “A Little Light” is also endearing, with its simple guitar line, especially after the musical mayhem of the closing parts of “N.O.X”.

Overall, the alternation between acoustic pieces, more regular prog rock songs, and the tour-de-force of “N.O.X” gives the album a sense of progression and moving-forward that is truly captivating and naturally invites the repeated listens that are necessary to properly assimilate the sheer amount of creativity that is contained in the 80+ minutes of music on this double-album. Nevertheless, The All Is One is also a record that is very easy to instantly like as it contains enough hooks and moments of brilliance to entrance the listener on the first run. It is also notable that the doom/stoner/heavy prog influences (e.g., Black Sabbath) that Motorpsycho are known for are not so strong on this album. Overall, there is more prog and less fuzz on The All Is One, which may make it an even more palatable release for the prog community.

In short, The All Is One is an amazing piece of work. It contains some of the proggiest and most inventive pieces of music Motorpsycho have come up with in a long time. The experimental, largely instrumental suite “N.O.X.”, alone, would have made for an incredible album, but perhaps it stands out even more with the addition of the other acoustic and more standard vocal-driven tracks to balance the record. Despite some less inspired moment (“The Sme Old Rock”, “The Dowser”, “Like Chrome”), it is without doubt one of the best progressive rock albums I have listened to this year and it is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in prog.

[Originally posted on http://www.progarchives.com]

SOILWORK A Whisp of the Atlantic

EP · 2020 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 3 ratings
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"A Whisp Of The Atlantic" is an EP release by Swedish metal act Soilwork. The EP was released through Nuclear Blast in December 2020. It´s the follow-up release to the band´s 11th full-length studio album "Verkligheten" from January 2019, although the "Underworld" EP from June 2019 bridges the gap between the two releases. There has been one lineup change since the release of "Verkligheten (2019)" as bassist Taylor Nordberg has left. He has not been replaced here and the bass parts are therefore recorded by guitarist David Andersson. "A Whisp Of The Atlantic" features 5 tracks and total playing time of 36:52 minutes, which makes it longer than some album releases although it´s labelled an EP, so there is a lot of quantity for the money (I´ll get to the quality a little later).

Stylistically Soilwork play a melodic death metal/heavy metal style, featuring intricate melodic lead- and harmony guitar lines, an energetic and powerful playing rhythm section, atmosphere enchancing keyboards, and Björn "Speed" Strid´s raw snarling vocals and clean vocals complimenting each other. What sets the EP apart from other Soilwork releases is predominantly the song length and progressive structure of the 16:31 minutes long title track. This is something completely new in the world of Soilwork, which is a band where most tracks feature a rather formulaic vers/chorus structure and it´s definitely a breath of fresh air to hear them try something new. They´ve dipped their toes in progressive territories a few times before in the past, but never to this extent and definitely not with a long track like "A Whisp Of The Atlantic".

This could easily have been a forced attempt at creating a long progressive track, but fortunately Soilwork have managed to write a greatly intriguing composition, with many different sections, atmospheres, tempo changes, and even excursions into completely different musical territories like the semi-jazzy part on the track and the use of instruments like cello and flugelhorn. The remaining four tracks on the EP are also very well written compositions. "The Nothingness and the Devil" features an infectious melodic heavy metal riff and memorable vocal melodies and "Feverish" is also quite the brilliant track. I like the way they play blastbeats while Strid sings a melodic clean vocal line. The contrast of fast-paced brutality and melodic sweetness works perfectly. To my ears "Desperado" and "Death Diviner" are less interesting tracks. They are still high quality compositions, but they don´t stand out as much, and when you know what Soilwork can produce when they set their mind to it, I´m afraid those two tracks come off a little more standard in quality. Standard quality in the world of Soilwork is still way above what most other artists are able to produce on their best days mind you...so this is ultimately a minor critique.

"A Whisp Of The Atlantic" features a clear, powerful, and detailed sound production, which does exactly what the best sound productions are meant to do...enchance the listening experience and make the material shine. So upon conclusion "A Whisp Of The Atlantic" is yet another high quality release by Soilwork and the band successfully manage to further develop on their signature sound here, which is a great sign for an experienced act like Soilwork. No stagnation in sight here. It actually feels like something new is about to happen. A shift of gears or musical approach maybe. I´m excited, and I hope Soilwork don´t blow this chance to broaden their musical horizon and experiment with their sound on the next releases. Because what they have done here is certainly promising. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

BRAVE THE COLD Scarcity

Album · 2020 · Deathgrind
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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"Scarcity" is the debut full-length studio album by US deathgrind act Brave The Cold. The album was released through Mission Two Entertainment in October 2020. Brave The Cold was founded in 2018 by guitarist/bassist/lead vocalist Mitch Harris, and Belgian drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, Soilwork..etc.) was added to complete the two-piece lineup. "Scarcity" was released only a month after "Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (2020)" by Napalm Death. An album Harris also played on. Circumstances in Harris life meant he and his family moved back to Las Vegas after living almost two decades in the UK, and his position in Napalm Death is at this moment still undecided. Officially he is taking a break from the band and his touring duties are covered by session musicians. Although Harris hasn´t toured with Napalm Death for quite a few years, his career in music is far from over, and Brave The Cold is the project to prove that.

Stylistically the material on "Scarcity" is a relatively varied form of deathgrind. There are blastbeat parts here, but just as many heavy parts. The hardcore punk influence is strong and although "Scarcity" does not sound like Napalm Death there are still quite a few similarities in the riff department, which is of course only natural as Harris has co-written loads of Napalm Death songs throughout the years.

Harris vocals are aggressive, snarling, and raw, but he also sings clean vocals on the album. He is not the most unique sounding clean vocalist out there, but the clean vocal parts work well and provide the album with a melancholic atmosphere, which compliments the raw aggression of the most brutal deathgrind parts. The musicianship is not surprisingly on a high level given the two musicians featured in the lineup. Verbeuren´s drumming is technical but never in a forced way and he always seem to know exactly what a song needs. When a break or a tempo change is needed, or when to add a little more organic playing. He is just one hell of a drummer, and proves it once again here.

As mentioned above the material on "Scarcity" is relatively varied for the genre, and the tracks on the 11 track, 38:03 minutes long album are all memorable and surprisingly catchy. It´s not often you´ll find a deathgrind album with material as memorable as the case is on "Scarcity" and when it features a unique sound too, it´s hard not to say more than a few praising words about the album. The album features a raw, brutal, and powerful sonding production too, and upon conclusion it´s a high quality release in all departments. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

HEATHEN Empire Of The Blind

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 4 ratings
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Empire Of The Blind was released in September on Nuclear Blast. Heathen are perhaps not the world’s most prolific band, having only released their fourth studio album since their 1980s inception in 2020, but when they do put something out, you can be sure its going to be good. Carrying on the general sound and vibe of their previous album, The Evolution Of Chaos, this new album sees the band once again blasting out crunchy Bay Area Thrash Metal riffs, a variety of fast, slow and mid-paced material, great melodic catchy choruses and superb melodic lead guitar lines. (Guitarist Lee Altus clearly uses Heathen nowadays as a vehicle to let out the cleaner catchier stuff that wouldn’t fit with his other band, Exodus).

The only main shift in direction from the previous record would be the amount of mid-paced or groove based parts is higher, and the number of speedy parts is a bit lower (although thankfully, without crossing the barrier into being ploddy too often).

They don’t frontload it and shove a bunch of filler at the end, it starts off restrained, opens up as it goes along, with the power-ballad just after the middle as a bit of a breather. It arguably gets better as it goes on, and also doesn’t drag on too long, clocking in at a solid 47 minutes with 10 proper tracks, an intro and an outro. The production is flawless, the vocals are remarkably good for singer Dave White’s age (holds up a lot better than many of his ‘80s contemporaries), and the overall flow of the album is just right.

Highlights include the tight and bouncy “Blood To Be Let” and the speedy “The God’s Divide” (I wish that was the album opener actually) as well as and the muscular “In Black” which feels like it could be played at sporting events, and reminds me a tiny little bit of the meatier material on Metallica’s Death Magnetic album (think “Judas Kiss” and “Broken, Beaten, Scarred”). The instrumental “A Fine Red Mist” is the real standout moment however, which balances the faster more powerful riffing with grand guitar textures and victorious mountaintop vista, sword-in-hand feel.

Kragen Lum has been handling the heavy lifting in the song-writing department, and seems to be more into creating a mood and leaving room for the singer and lead guitars to show their stuff, rather than just breaking teeth. The balance is not too dissimilar to recent Queensryche albums actually, (I don’t see how someone who loves Condition Human for example wouldn’t enjoy “Shrine Of Apathy”) although still unmistakably Heathen.

If I was to make a slight criticism, it could maybe do with one or two faster songs to keep the Thrashing up. For example just one more “The God’s Divide” would have elevated it from good to very good for me, but that’s just nit-picking and personal preference really, and Heathen have never been a Dark Angel or Razor focusing on relentless speed anyway. As long as you don’t go in expecting Darkness Descends, Reign In Blood or Pleasure To Kill however, this album is sure to satisfy and if you enjoyed The Evolution Of Chaos there’s little chance you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the songs or the performance of the musicians.

NEMOPHILA Oiran

EP · 2020 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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Time Signature
The future of metal?

Genre: modern metal / power metal / thrash metal

Japanese rock band Nemophila pretty much kicked Youtube's metal community's ass when they released a reheasal version of the track 'Oiran' whose heaviness and sheer brutality caused thousands of jaws to hit the floor all over the world. Eventually, the band released the three-track EP "Oiran" which, in addition to the title track, features 'Monsters' and 'Life'.

'Oiran' is a modern metal track that combines thrash metal with incluences from metalcore such as breakdowns and down-tuned guitars - and don't worry, we're not talking lame-ass trite breakdowns. Right from the get-go, we're treated to aggressive riffage, a superb rhythm section, excellent lead guitars, and absolutely magnificent vocals that combine aggressive screams with melodic rock belting. Seriously, this is probably one of the best - if not the best - metal track to emerge from the Jrock scene (a scene which seems to generally be thriving very well). The song is well-performed and well-produced. It's aggressive as hell and catchy as fuck.

'Monster's is more of a power metal track with modern synth elements. It's definitely a great track, while not as ass-kicking as the title track. It's well -composed and features some great guitar solos as well as what I interpret as direct influences from 80s Helloween.

'Life' is more of a ballad with considerable pop-leanings and a very epic feel. It's my least favorite track on the album, but I still enjoy it. There's just no denying that it's a well-crafted song, and, if pop leanings are to be inserted into metal, I think this is the way to do it.

Nemophila's great level of musicianshop shines through with Saki and Hazuki's rhythm and lead guitar work being very impressive, while Muratamu is one of the best drummers out there. Haraguchi-san's solid bass work binds everything together, and vocalist Mayu has an absolutely amazing voice: she can scream, belt and sing clean, and it all sounds great. Just check her out on 'Oiran'. The song owes 50% of its greatness to her voice. These ladies know their way around their instruments!

If you're up for a lesson in the versatility of metal, check out this release.

[review originally posted at ProgFreak]

CARCASS Despicable

EP · 2020 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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"Despicable" is an EP release by UK, Liverpool based death metal act Carcass. The EP was released through Nuclear Blast in October 2020. It´s the successor to the "Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel" EP from 2014, which is a release featuring leftover tracks from the band´s comeback album "Surgical Steel (2013)". "Despicable" was however originally not meant to be the next Carcass release as the band had already recorded a full-length studio album, with the tentative title "Torn Arteries", which they had plans to release in the summer of 2020. They even released the teaser single track "Under the Scalpel Blade" in December 2019 to promote the release of the album. The Covid-19 pandemic hit though and Carcass and Nuclear Blast opted to postpone the release of their next full-length album until 2021, to be able to tour in the wake of freshly released material. Carcass felt they had to fulfil the promise made of new material in 2020 though, and hence the release of "Despicable".

"Under the Scalpel Blade" is included on "Despicable" along with 3 other tracks, which are outtakes from the recording sessions for "Torn Arteries". Carcass have usually had the habit of releasing an album and then subsequently releasing an EP with leftover material (or at least they´ve done it quite a few times), but as a consequence of the circumstances they´ve done the opposite this time around. It´s too soon to say if any of the four tracks on the EP will be included on the forthcoming album, but if any my guess would be "Under the Scalpel Blade". It´s quite the brilliant death metal track and stylistically sits somewhere between the sound of the material on "Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious (1991)" and "Heartwork (1993)".

The three remaining tracks: "The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue", "The Long and Winding Bier Road", and "Slaughtered in Soho", are predominantly mid-paced, heavy, and slightly more traditional heavy metal/thrash metal influenced, while of course still being placed firmly in the death metal camp. Jeff Walker´s raw snarling vocals are intact, the guitar harmonies, the solid and heavy playing rhythm section, and the great guitar solos are all there and accounted for, so fans of the band won´t be disappointed with the musical direction, although I personally hope for slightly more memorable material to be featured on the forthcoming album.

"Despicable" features a heavy, powerful, and detailed sounding production job, and it´s a sound which is perfect for the material. Upon conclusion "Despicable" is yet another high quality release from Carcass, and although I wouldn´t call it a mandatory listen, it´s still great to finally hear some new material from the band. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

BODY COUNT Carnivore

Album · 2020 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.69 | 4 ratings
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"Carnivore" is the 7th full-length studio album by US metal act Body Count. The album was released through Century Media Records in March 2020. It´s the successor to "Bloodlust" from 2017 and is now the third Body Count album in a row to feature the same lineup. "Carnivore" features guest vocal performances by Amy Lee (Evanescence), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed), and late Power Trip vocalist Riley Gale. Dave Lombardo also guests playing drums on the cover of Ice-T´s "Colors".

In addition to "Colors", "Carnivore" features two more covers. Another Ice-T cover in the form of "6 In Tha Morning" (which is a bonus track, and quite a brilliant song) and a cover of "Ace of Spades" by Motörhead. The 8 remaining tracks are originals, and it´s of some notice that not a single track is credited to lead guitarist Ernie-C, who used to write most of the band´s music (the instrumental part of the music that is). Stylistically the material on "Carnivore" still sound unmistakably like Body Count though. Crossover hardcore/thrash and heavy rock/metal with lead vocalist Ice-T singing/rapping about the injustices of this world. Civil rights, corrupt and violent police and politicians, and some lyrics about being true to what you believe in, violence, and the melancholic "When I'm Gone", which features lyrics about remembering to tell your loved ones how much you appreciate them while they are still here. As always he is well articulated, angry, and passionate about the topics he sings about.

"Carnivore" is well produced and the musicianship is on a high level on all posts. To my ears the quality of the songwriting is a bit up and down, but most tracks are instantly catchy and memorable. The materal is also relatively diverse and the guest vocal performances bring a little extra spice to the album. Upon Conclusion "Carnivore" is another strong album by Body Count and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

THE ORDER OF CHAOS Maniacal

Album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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voila_la_scorie
The last day of work of the year. Lacking sleep as usual. Riding the train home and listening to some 2020 release that is really good, but I'm standing in the corner of the train and dozing off. Two stops before my station and then a 40-minute walk home because I want to save the bus fare. What to listen to next? Hmm... How about this Order of Chaos album? I haven't really given it a full spin.

Earlier this year, I bought my first album by The Order of Chaos. It was good but the production had that heavy wool blanket feel - the music was dulled down a bit and to me it lost some of its punch. But after a few careful listens, the songs began to stand apart from one another and at last, I decided I liked the band enough to get another album. It was as I was adding them to MMA that I discovered there was a new release, a 2020 album. I placed an order through Bandcamp but was contacted the next day by John Simon Fallon, saying that the CDs were all sold out. He'd see if he had an extra one in his personal collection for me. He didn't and refunded my money. But he also sent me access to download the album in WAV file format. At the time, however, I had so many new CDs coming in that I left off listening to the album.

Until tonight! And wow! I was swept up immediately by the music!

The Order of Chaos are basically a heavy metal band. They're not a trad metal band; the style is more modern. They have thrash moments and the clean-vocal choruses have a hint of power metal. At times they also cover melodic death metal, just without the usual deep, growly vocals. Vocalist Amanda Kiernan sings in both clean and harsh vocals. There are no ballads. This album delivers just straight up heavy hitters.

One obvious difference from their older album that I have is that the production quality better brings out the blast and blister of the music. Those riffs just burn right into your brain. The songs are heavy and solid but sometimes charge ahead or drop back to slam you with another riff. And you can feel it all in the production!

Another reason why this album sounds so good is that Amanda's harsh vocals have improved, in my opinion. Previously, I preferred her clean vocals with harsh vocals as an effect reserved for only parts of the songs. When she sang too much in her shredded voice, I wasn't all that thrilled. Now she sounds awesome! Thankfully, she still keeps the clean vocals which are often double-tracked and harmonized for some of the choruses.

This music on this album feels more consistent than the older one, which played around with mixing styles a little more obviously though still successfully. This album seems to go straight for the gut with one-two punches in every track. It's only the final track, "The Downfall of Belief", where things are clearly different as it's a short instrumental track on clean guitar, very beautiful and a shame to be over so soon.

I would really like to track down a copy on CD if I can, and I'm hoping the other album I have on order will please me as much as this one. It's great to hear a band solidify their style in an album that kills it from from to back!

BLEEDSKIN Blood Reign

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Blood Reign" is the debut full-length studio album by Belgian death metal act BleedSkin. The album was independently released in October 2020. BleedSkin formed in 2016 and released "The Rotten One" EP in 2018. The band recorded "Blood Reign" as a five-piece, but lead guitarist Benjamin Lefèvre has since left.

Stylistically BleedSkin deliver a relatively brutal and technically well played type of US influenced death metal. They are a very well playing unit and female lead vocalist Anouk Debecq has a snarling malicious sounding growling delivery, which reminds me a little of Ross Dolan from Immolation (and that´s definitely not a bad quality). The material are very intense, aggressive, and loaded with tempo changes, breaks, and a good balance between fast sections and mid-paced heavy grooves. It´s not the most original sounding release, but there is enough passion and conviction here to tilt an elephant, and those are redeeming qualities which make it less important that this may not be the most unique death metal album you´ve ever heard.

"Blood Reign" features a well sounding and powerful production which suits the material well. The drums could maybe have prospered from a slightly more organic sound and the guitars could also have been a little more defined in the mix, as the fast notes sometimes blur and the riffs become less sharp. These are minor issues with the sound production though, and to most ears they won´t even be issues, so overall the sound production is of a good quality.

Upon conclusion it´s not often I pick up a release from a band completely unknown to me (and a debut album no less), where I get that "hell yeah, this is the real deal" feeling when I listen to it. These guys (and girls) have managed just that and "Blood Reign" is in many ways an impressive and very promising debut album. As mentioned above it´s not a perfect release and there is room for improvement in terms of creating a more unique sound, but this album is still overall a killer release. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

INQUISITION Black Mass For A Mass Grave

Album · 2020 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
As one of black metal’s most unholy cheerleaders for evoking the throne of Satan and all that good old fashioned misanthropy and pure evil shit, INQUISITION has been one of the few bands on the black metal scene that actually has forged a unique path without sacrificing all the roots that connect them to the second wave black metal scene. Formed in Colombia all the way back in 1988 by guitarist / vocalist Dagon, the moniker was changed to INQUISITION and relocated to the US where the band exists in Seattle at the present.

Having traversed three decades of extreme metal trends, INQUISITION has remained faithful to its past but craftily adds enough new elements on every album to keep the black metal underpinnings from fizzling out into generic irrelevance. Come 2020 and the band’s eighth album BLACK MASS FOR A MASS GRAVE and nothing has really changed in that department. Still simply a duo where Dagon performs vocals, guitars, keyboards and all songwriting duties, the only other performer Incubus is around for the ride as the carbon-based drumming machine to punctuate the blackened fury with the proper percussive outrage.

BLACK MASS FOR A MASS GRAVE is a lengthy blackened beast with twelve tracks that sprawl just shy of the 75 minute mark making this the lengthiest INQUISITION release to date although the band’s debut “Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult” from 1998 came close at a 66 minute running time. Despite the three decades of head banging and Satanic worship, INQUISITION is just as dedicated to usurping the throne with dark priestly duties and bringing about the anti-Christ or whatever Satanists do but who cares really! I’m just in it for the music and BLACK MASS FOR A MASS GRAVE showcases yet another avenue of exploration within the seemingly endless possibilities for expansive black metal cosmos.

The first thing noticeable about BLACK MASS FOR A MASS GRAVE is that the tempos are much slower and sludgier than the canon of quickened firebombs that came before. Slinking along often at the pace of doom or sludge metal on the faster side of the spectrum, BLACK MASS features the usual melody meets dissonance shtick with twin guitar outbursts, one the buzzsaw guitar fueled underpinning and another the melodic counterpoint that provides guitar licks and psychedelic accouterments. The album also has a noticeably vaster role for the keyboards as well with an almost martial rhythmic drive of the percussive drive which more often than not crafts tasty fills rather than the rampaging blastbeats of yore but they do still exist and used more sparingly for contrast.

This album is much more explorative in many ways although the main staple of black metal bombast and detachment is firmly in tact. There is much more attention paid to production and mixing on BLACK MASS than on previous albums although INQUISITION has never been afraid of employing modern micro-elements to bring out the melodic subplots of the ugly distorted chug-tests employed through the series of blackened guitar riffs and rampaging drum rolls. Dagon’s croaking vocal style is pushed lower down in the mix as the creepy guitar swells overpower them. There has been a huge interest in adding psychedelic elements to black metal in the last decade since bands like Oranssi Pazuzu and Blue Aus Nord have taken black metal into ever more surreal arenas and INQUISITION seems to be following those trends without fully cutting the umbilical cord of its origins.

INQUISITION is either a band you’re going to warm up to or not as Dagon’s croaky vocal style is surely an acquired taste but in reality black metal is supposed to be about crafting some of the most gnarled and repulsive sound combos in all of extreme metal and INQUISITION has not only followed the recipe to a hilt but has bucked the odds and managed to stand out from the legion of imitators of second wave pioneers. Add to that this band has managed to keep its black metal integrity and forging new techniques on each of the eight studio albums and in that regard BLACK MASS does not disappoint. While some may find this too melodic, too reliant on keyboard sounds for contrast and oft too slow to the point that it drifts into doom metal turf, i’m actually very fond of diversity of tones, timbres and tempos which keep the album from stagnating. After a four year absence INQUISITION is back and just as strong as ever. There’s nothing on BLACK MASS that will attract new members to the cult but for those already indoctrinated, this one is just as excellent as any other album that came before. Triumphant i say!

ARMORED SAINT Punching the Sky

Album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 4 ratings
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Nightfly
Armored Saint and me go back a long way. The first album I bought by them was their second, Delirious Nomad when it was released in 1985. On the face of it they should have had a lot more success than they did and I’m not quite sure why they didn’t, as from day one the band have been releasing quality heavy metal. In a career that has seen them split up and reform a few times, their latest run from 2006, Punching The Sky is their eighth studio album. Despite the quality of earlier releases I felt the band reached a career high on 2015’s Win Hands Down, a perfect example of traditional heavy metal with barely a weak moment.

The good news is if you enjoyed Win Hands Down you’re going to also love Punching The Sky. It’s another strong collection of heavy metal full of great songs, melodic but heavy and packed with great riffs and memorable well thought out guitar solos. The bands not so secret weapon has always been the incomparable vocals of John Bush who of course spent time with Anthrax. He’s on fine form as expected here with the right balance of raw power and the ability to carry a tune which he always does magnificently. Of course any fan of Armored Saint knows that the rest of band are fine players and they all put in strong performances here. Like last time around the album is strong as a whole but favourites include the up-tempo End Of The Attention Span and then there’s Lone Wolf which wins the award for catchiest chorus. Then there’s the chugging palm muted riffing of Do Wrong To None alternating between a steady groove and a more up-tempo chorus. In fact the songs on the whole maintain the listeners’ interest with plenty of dynamics, well placed accents and tempo changes, no better demonstrated than on Fly in The Ointment.

Armored Saint have done it again and released an album of classy heavy metal to equal anyone in their field. As a whole it may not quite equal Win Hands Down but that’s more to do with the high bar they set themselves last time than any defects here. It’s not far off though and if they continue to release albums of this quality I’ll be more than happy.

MY DYING BRIDE Macabre Cabaret

EP · 2020 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Macabre Cabaret" is an EP release by UK doom metal act My Dying Bride. The EP was released through Nuclear Blast in November 2020. It´s the follow-up release to My Dying Bride´s 14th full-length studio album "The Ghost of Orion" from March 2020. The "regular" version of the EP features 3 tracks, while the 12" vinyl version features the bonus track "Orchestral Shores (Buiksloterkerk Cathedral Mix)".

"Orchestral Shores (Buiksloterkerk Cathedral Mix)" is a slow and melancholic atmospheric track dominated by vocals, keyboards, and acoustic guitar and the track comprises vocals/lyrics and instrumental elements from the two tracks bookending "The Ghost of Orion (2020)": "Your Broken Shore" and "Your Woven Shore". The three remaining tracks on the EP are new originals exclusive to "Macabre Cabaret". The 10:00 minutes long title track and "A Secret Kiss" are both melancholic doom/death metal tracks in a similar style to the material on "The Ghost of Orion (2020)", but "A Purse of Gold and Stars" is a subdued melancholic and atmospheric track. It´s Stainthorpe showing his most gentle poetic side predominantly accompanied by keyboards.

The EP features a similar sounding production to the sound production feautured on "The Ghost of Orion (2020)", and while I´m not sure if it´s true, the material on "Macabre Cabaret" could well have been written and recorded during the same period as the material on the preceding album release. They don´t really feel like leftover tracks though, and "Macabre Cabaret" is definitely what I would call a high quality release and well worth having if you enjoyed "The Ghost of Orion (2020)". A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

AC/DC Power Up

Album · 2020 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.65 | 9 ratings
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UMUR
"Power Up" is the 16th internationally released full-length studio album by Australian hard/heavy rock act AC/DC. The album was released through Columbia Records/Sony Music Australia in November 2020. It´s the successor to "Rock Or Bust" from 2014 and almost miraculously features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor. The miracle consist of the fact that three out of the five members of the lineup have been out of the band at various points and for various reasons since the release of "Rock Or Bust (2014)", but they all returned for the recording of "Power Up". Bandleader and guitarist Angus Young dedicates the album to his brother and fellow AC/DC founder Malcolm Young who passed away in 2017. The material on "Power Up" is credited to both brothers and much of it is vault material Angus Young digged out and rearranged.

Stylistically there are next to no surprises on "Power Up", as AC/DC sound exactly how they have sounded since 1980 when Brian Johnson joined the band after original vocalist Bon Scott´s untimely death. Rusty raw vocals (and well placed backing vocals), sharp hard rocking blues based riffs, a solid rocking rhythm section, and blistering brilliant guitar solos. "Power Up" also features a powerful, raw, and hard rocking sound production (courtesy of producer Brendan O'Brien), so as usual it´s the quality and memorability of the songwriting which separate "Power Up" from other AC/DC albums. The last couple of releases have featured decent quality material and a couple of highlights, and the same can more or less be said about "Power Up", but to my ears AC/DC do sound a little more enganged on this album and there are some really strong tracks on the album like "Through the Mists of Time", "Demon Fire", and especially "Shot in the Dark". The latter even has the qualities to have a chance to become an AC/DC evergreen...only time will tell...

So upon conclusion "Power Up" is not a revolution of AC/DC´s sound but it´s probably exactly what their fans expected from them and in that respect they deliver like they´ve always done. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

DEFTONES Ohms

Album · 2020 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.81 | 5 ratings
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charlesthemann
Deftones is a band that grew on me ever since i was young and it will continue to do so since they’ve aged not only well but as a completely unique band. I must make a clear statement in that this album will probably go down in history as a masterpiece which will most definitely be the case since it is getting well overall recognition for being a solid Deftones album as well as a high amount of Deftones fans digging into it once and then again. What really got me into Deftones besides their uniqueness was that ethereal almost spiritual bond they have with music and its connection with us humans. Just as we are energy so are we affected by the ambient in general and in this case with vibrations from chinos vocals to Stephen carpenters guitar riffs to the rest of the band members that resonate in an almost incredible and envied way. As their ways enter us we find songs like the kick starter genesis to be a heavy yet melodically juxtaposition of how we can "reject both sides of what I'm being told" as a person. The imperative nature that gets us to question if what we are doing is fine or if we should react to a higher understanding of the truth is what makes this song explode in euphoria. Oh and don’t even get me started on the bridge... The next song ceremony has a groovier and catchy vibe to it which was meant to be to contrast that stark opening song with a more mellow and chill song that will get the viewer ready for what’s to come Urantia definitely stood out to me in that it has such a powerful guitar riff and chinos crisp voice just adds that extra layer that cements into a solid song designed by the gods in a very melodic yet surreal sort of way. Oh my Error is most definitely not one at all. It’s so good that it should be remembered as the missing link (not making reference to the link is dead) that takes the album one further or to another level and that is because of the song as a whole having all these elements that make it outstanding. The intro and verse have a catchiness and head banging groove to them that completely makes us reach the sky once it connects with the chorus. That chorus man it was good. But not good enough as the bridge is the cherry in the cake. it has some strong waves of passionate yet spellbinding aura to it that makes us enjoy every last second of it as if we were spell struck and bound to finishing with everything that makes the song good as it truly is. What a trip... The spell of mathematics is definitely a song that could be considered one of the best that ohms has to offer. So much that I would consider that it could be their third single by the time that single drops. It has haunting verses with a totally irresistible voice emanating from chino right at the chorus. As for pompeji well i can say that it is either liked by fans or disliked by people how don’t really get the song. you do feel a sudden drop into the vast sea where you find yourself hearing seagulls and waves as the chorus breaks into a nearly religious manifestation which later break into a very unusual yet captivating and haunting outro as synthwave effects cast a spell upon everything that is noise and vibration. as the last minute is mostly just 80's sort of Sci-Fi synthesized music like something out of blade runner or stranger things the listener usually goes into a state of trance. But only usually since it can be a really strong change of style for some. i personally really enjoyed that last minute and a half since it was actually something good in a wonderstruck sense. This song gives way or makes its way through to this link is dead which is a complete head banger in all its good and wild sense. This song isn’t heavy but it just manages to touch that side in a more dancy and upbeat sort of way. It captivates and keeps the listener in a very fun and edge of the seat state. Radiant city is probably my more questionable song in that I can’t find the reason why it’s as notorious as it is. Many people enjoy it yet they all have something to say about the chorus which is not that Deftones sounding I that it’s ok not that great. Still it does captivate people in general so it is a decent song and fills the void that is needed with its very fun guitar riffs (quite good actually) and its very bouncy beat Headless is a beautiful song and engages us into a darker more old Deftones state mostly associated with change from white pony. As for most songs I this record the darkness seems to be very much present yet it resounds in a romantic fashion in headless for it is quite intense and engulfing. The last song on the record is the self-titled ohms which completely fits into place after the trip that was headless in a way that the transition between one and another foment a possible gap that could’ve occurred right before ohms intro yet that’s not the case since it enters at the precise moment with the precise sound and captivates us listener at least 3 times more than when it first came out as a single. It’s something to be of noteworthy and recognition whenever we look at the good, solid job that terry date did when producing this record. The outro of this song it just great and sets the mood for a farewell to an unforgetful album since it’s so easy to just go back and relisten to it in all its glory for it has something that every artist can only dare dream of…a never-ending feel of coming back and re-listening to it and making it grow by each listen more and more as it grows on you and literally ages well even after its 100th listen (not exaggerating at all). For every Deftones fan this a must listen and as for the new fans just entering the Deftones experience I highly recommend this album and I place it a solid 10/10. Personally I had zero problems with this album and I t really grew on me the more I listened to it. It’s a classic and a keeper…for sure.

WHITE STONES Kuarahy

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Kuarahy" is the debut full-length studio album by Spanish, Barcelona based progressive death metal act White Stones. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in March 2020. White Stones formed in 2019 and is a side project for Opeth bassist Martín Méndez. Méndez plays bass and guitars on the album and the lineup is completed by drummer Jordi Farré and lead vocalist Eloi Boucherie. Guest musicians Fredrik Åkesson (Méndez bandmate from Opeth) and Per Eriksson (Bloodbath, Katatonia) perform additional lead guitars (the former plays most leads on the album).

Stylistically the material on "Kuarahy" is a heavy, groove based, and organic type of progressive death metal. While the growling vocals are certainly brutal enough, "Kuarahy" isn´t the most death metal oriented death metal release out there. The organic, pleasant, and warm sound production is relatively subdued and it´s obvious the band aren´t out to pummel the listener with a loud abrasive sound. This is a much more sophisticated, laid back, and thoughtful approach to writing and playing death metal. The tracks aren´t overtly complex and the progressive ideas only emerge once in a while, so "Kuarahy" is generally an accessible release, which isn´t hard to get into, although it´s certainly intriguing enough and not simple in any way either.

One of the great assets of the band´s music is the irresistible laid back groove. I´m often reminded of 70s hard rock/stoner rock but just as often I hear similarities to the more complex rhythmic riffs of Tool (there´s even the rare semi-jazzy touch). The drums often pedal away with double bass hits, but not in an aggressive fashion and the drumming is perfectly complimenting the intricate riffs. The guitar solos and the atmosphere enhancing guitar leads bring variation to the music and they are generally very well played and are another great asset to the album. The growling vocals are probably the least interesting feature on the album. They are not badly performed and they suit the music fine, but I would have preferred them a little more intelligible and maybe also a bit more varied and intense. They simply leave me a bit indifferent.

"Kuarahy" was not an album, which won me over the first time I listened to it, but it planted a seed of curiosity in me, and with each successive listen I have been won over more and more, to the point of me greatly enjoying the album and finding it a very unique listen. It´s a well written and varied album featuring many different stylistic elements combined into a consistent whole. There are several standout tracks on the album, but if I´d have to mention a couple of highlights it would be "Worms", "The One", "Guyra", and "Infected Soul".

So the million dollar question that almost anyone reading a review of "Kuarahy" will ask is of course if this sounds anything like Opeth...and while both acts are in some way progressive death metal (Opeth not so much anymore), there are as many differences as there are similarities. They are definitely kindred spirits, but White Stones are ultimately a very different sounding act and anyone coming to "Kuarahy" expecting it to sound like Opeth won´t get their money´s worth. A 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved for this little perl of an album.

NECROPHOBIC Dawn of the Damned

Album · 2020 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Dawn of the Damned" is the 9th full-length studio album by Swedish melodic black metal/blackened death metal act Necrophobic. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 2020. It´s the successor to "Mark Of The Necrogram" from 2018 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as bassist Alex Friberg has been replaced by Allan Lundholm.

Stylistically "Dawn of the Damned" is unmistakably the sound of Necrophobic and a natural continuation of the preceding releases by the band. The listener is treated to melodic blackened death metal, which sometimes is more black than death, and sometimes visa versa. Lead vocalist Anders Strokirk has a raw blackened snarling type delivery, which is intelligible and powerful. The instrumental part of the music is of high class. The rhythm section is solid and energetic, and the two guitarists deliver sharp melodic tremolo riffs, blistering melodic solos, and when the songs call for it, heavy mid-paced death metal riffing too. Some of the riffs are highly impressive and quite intricate. Listen to the main riff of the title track and tell me if that´s not brilliance incarnate...

...other highlights include "Darkness Be My Guide" and the two closing tracks "The Return of a Long Lost Soul" and "Devil's Spawn Attack". The latter is a speed metal influenced melodic death metal track with Destruction vocalist Schmier guesting on additional vocals.

"Dawn of the Damned" features a raw and powerful sound production, which suits the material well. There is generally a good balance between rawness and detail, which is important for this type of music, with two guitarists delivering harmonies, solos, and intricate riffs. Necrophobic have never released a bad quality album, but not all their releases are equally memorable. "Dawn of the Damned" is definitely in the better end of their discography and a 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

MASTODON Medium Rarities

Boxset / Compilation · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.93 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
As one may expect from the title, the brand new release from Mastodon is a collection of material which is difficult or impossible to obtain, bringing together cover versions, soundtrack contributions, instrumentals, B-sides, and live recordings on one complete package. This means we get the likes of “A Commotion” (Feist), “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” (The Flaming Lips), and “Orion” (Metallica) while also featuring soundtrack cuts such as “White Walker” (Game of Thrones), “Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife” (Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and “Rufus Lives” (Bill & Ted Face The Music). If that isn’t enough, they also include instrumental versions of “Asleep in the Deep”, “Toe To Toes”, “Jaguar God” and “Halloween”. Given that many of the songs are unavailable elsewhere then this is obviously something that fans are going to be interested in, especially as it includes brand new song “Fallen Torches”, which features guest vocals by long-time friend and collaborator Scott Kelly (Neurosis).

Due to the nature of the music contained within this, it is aimed only at Mastodon diehard fans and those people will really enjoy this, yet in reality this is not something which normal punters will rush out to obtain, and rightly so. There are a few numbers which do stand out musically, but overall this is something which many people will listen to once and then go back to the “normal” releases. Rarities albums sometimes produce a few gems, such as Jethro Tull’s “Jack A Lynn” and “Coronach” which many people were unaware of until they were put out on such a set, but for most people they can be safely passed by until the next new album comes out, and this falls into that bracket. But if you really did want some of those rarer Mastodon songs then now you can do just that.

LAMB OF GOD Lamb Of God

Album · 2020 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is unusual for a band that has been around as Lamb of God to release a self-titled album, but it is possible this is for a few different reasons. The last release by the band was not actually the previous Lamb of God release but an album of covers they released as Burn The Priest, which was the original name of the band when they were first formed and under which they released their debut album. More importantly, this is the first ever release which does not feature drummer Chris Adler, who alongside bassist John Campbell were the only founders of Burn The Priest still involved. Adler had taken some time away from Lamb of God to perform and record with Megadeth (winning a Grammy for his work on ‘Dystopia’) and is now working with neither. There are various reasons floating around the web as to why he left, but for whatever reason he is no longer involved, and his place has been taken by Art Cruz (Winds of Plague, Cruz).

It may have been five years since the last LoG release, but in many ways, this is a direct continuation and sonically there is not much difference in the drum styles. The band feel happier with the album itself due to a change in approach in that they undertook pre-production then toured with Slayer before coming back to the songs which allowed them to hear them in a different light. Hard-hitting groove metal is the order of the way, with Randy Blythe bringing his best punk attack to it over the top. His vocal approach does provide cut through, as the band provide a solid backdrop for him to spit his venom against. As with the last album this is also highly melodic, although the nuances do not appear to be as prevalent, which may be due to having a new drummer as opposed to having one who has been in the band for quarter of a century. This is solid as opposed to exceptional, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the next one. I just hope we don’t have to wait another five years as I do not think it is possible for these guys to release a bad album, and I am intrigued to see where they go from here.

MORTA SKULD Suffer for Nothing

Album · 2020 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Suffer for Nothing" is the 6th full-length studio album by US, Wisconsin based death metal act Morta Skuld. The album was released through Peaceville Records in September 2020. It´s the successor to "Wounds Deeper than Time" from 2017 and features one lineup change on the bassist post as John Hill has replaced A.J. Lewandowski.

Stylistically the material on "Suffer for Nothing" continue in the US death metal style of its predecessor. In fact very little has happened between the two album releases, and Morta Skuld still deliver technically well played US death metal (not technical death metal) with good variation between fast- and mid-paced parts. The songwriting is solid, but not particularly memorable, and the catchiness of the music is not exactly enhanced by the one-dimensional and quite emotionless growling vocals. On the positive side the album features some well played leads and the occasional effective heavy groove.

"Suffer for Nothing" features a well sounding production which suits the material well and it´s one of the assets of the album, which is otherwise a pretty standard quality affair. It seems Morta Skuld just aren´t able to rise above being a B-league US death metal act, which to my ears is true for their original 90s releases and true for this release too. There´s nothing offensive or bad about "Suffer for Nothing", but there´s little really great about it either. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

ANNIHILATOR Ballistic, Sadistic

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 8 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
If I had to describe this album in three words? Absolute. Guitar. Pornography! - Thrash fans the world over can rejoice, because on their 17th studio album, Canada’s best Thrash band (no offence to Sacrifice, Exciter and Voivod fans) are truly on top form. I don’t know what has happened in Jeff Water’s life, but he sounds absolutely super-charged. Best vocals of his career. Superb song-writing. Astounding solos. Performances like a man possessed. If the band had broken up after their second album and this was their comeback, the music press would be all over this like ants on a picnic. As it stands; Their previous album was a step in the right direction, but this album is an Olympic sprint in the right direction. Chocked full of lead guitar that would make most of the great virtuosos blush, fast enough to make modern Megadeth albums feel like a Doom Metal band, fun enough to make it endlessly memorable, Ballistic Sadistic is quite possibly Annihilator’s best album of the modern age. Perhaps their 3rd best ever. The production is crystal clear but with nice crunchy rhythm guitar and hard hitting drums, all the instruments are perfectly balanced, nice thick bass, vocals not too loud. Its only 10 songs, no intros, no ballads, no joke tracks, just absolute “give the people what they want” thrashing. I mean it isn’t devoid of variety (they don’t call this man the Eddie Van Halen of Thrash Metal for nothing) but it is hyper-focused and filler-free. Highlights include the opening three songs, including the very Never, Neverland-reminiscent single “Psycho Ward” (Jeff’s lyrics were never the most progressive when it comes to mental health, but I the music is brilliant) as well as the speedy “The End Of The Lie” and “Out With The Garbage” which channel the band’s faster material from their late ‘80s style and not forgetting the brilliant “Lip Service” which carries on that fun guitars cut out, rhythm section takes over style of song that the band tried on songs like Knight Jumps Queen” and “Pastor Of Disaster” in the early ‘90s. When Annihilator are on, they are really on, one of the best bands in the whole genre when they get it right, and this my friends, is the band on and righter than right. Do you like to headbang? Do you like your air guitar? Do like a bit of melody with your Thrash? Then this red-hot scorcher of an album is highly recommended.

NECROPHOBIC Dawn of the Damned

Album · 2020 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
Now nine studio albums into their career, which started with the highly regarded The Nocturnal Silence in 1993, Necrophobic have been releasing quality blackened death metal with only the occasional slip. The swingometer between black and death metal varies slightly and these days they seem to have settled on a blackened melodic death metal style which I felt reached a zenith on 2018’s Mark of The Necrogram. Two years later we now have Dawn Of The Damned and it’s almost the same line-up as last time with only a change in bass players, Allan Lundholm replacing Alex Friberg. That’s some going in Necrophobic world as they’ve had quite a few changes of personnel over the years. This stability may explain why Dawn Of The Damned is similar in feel and execution to its predecessor, not only musically but the largely red cover even having a similar look. On Dawn Of The Damned though they may have just exceeded the excellence of Mark Of The Necrogram slightly and produced the finest album of their career.

The short opening instrumental Aphelion sets the mood up nicely before things kick off proper with Darkness Be My Guide and we’re immediately into familiar territory of flailing blast beats and tremolo picked guitar riffs. It’s catchy as hell and a strong way to get things going. Without going into each song the quality continues throughout. There may not be a lot of variation – most of the songs power along at a similar high speed but the energy, melody and strength of the riffs win over and stop lethargy settling in. Two of the songs break the seven minute barrier, The Infernal Depths Of Eternity and The Return Of A Long Lost Soul. Both are highpoints, particularly the latter of the two which actually slows things down, to begin with at least, but ends with all guns blazing on a compelling instrumental outro with excellent guitar solos. Of course the standard of musicianship is high as expected and vocalist Anders Strokirk’s blackened rasp is on top form. This all helped by a sympathetic and powerful production.

There will always be those I’m sure that cite their debut or perhaps The Third Antichrist as the bands high point, both excellent albums for sure, but for me it’s their later years where Necrophobic have really hit their stride. Dawn Of The Damned is essential listening for anyone who’s ever liked this excellent band and sure to be in my top ten at the end of the year.

ABORTED La grande mascarade

EP · 2020 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"La Grande Mascarade" is an EP release by Belgian death metal act Aborted. The EP was released through Century Media Records in April 2020. Since the release of "TerrorVision" from 2018 guitarist Mendel bij de Leij has left and "La Grande Mascarade" was therefore recorded as a quartet. The EP features three tracks. Two are new tracks and one was written and recorded during the "TerrorVision (2018)" sessions.

Although the tracks were written at two different sessions and a couple of years apart, they are all consistent in quality and style. It´s the sound of Aborted as we know them. Technically well played and brutal death metal with Sven de Caluwé´s deep growling and higher pitched aggressive snarling vocals on top. The quality is high throughout from high level musical performances, to the powerful, meaty, and detailed sound production, to the professional and effective songwriting. The tracks are all in a similar style to the sound on "TerrorVision (2018)" and those who enjoyed that album will pretty surely enjoy "La Grande Mascarade" greatly too.

Personally I found "TerrorVision (2018)" one of the more standard quality releases from Aborted. Still a high quality release, but not a release which stands out much in their by now vast discography, and the same can be said about "La Grande Mascarade". It´s a high quality release but it doesn´t add much new or interesting to Aborted´s sound. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved though.

HOUSE OF LORDS New World - New Eyes

Album · 2020 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
James Christian may have been fronting this band for more than 30 years, but neither he nor the rest of the guys are showing any sign whatsoever of slowing down. There have been a few different periods of the band since it was first pulled together by none other than Gregg Giuffria (Angel) and signed by Gene Simmons, but James has been a constant, and Jimi Bell (guitar) and drummer B.J. Zampa have been there since 2005 and this is also the second album featuring bassist Chris Tristram. They have looked outside the band to assist with the songwriting this time, as they wrote most of the numbers with Mark Spiro (Giant, Bad English, Cheap Trick etc.) as well as also collaborating with Tommy Denander, Chris Pelcer, and Richard Hymas.

With those names involved, and the band themselves on fire, then one knows exactly what this album is going to sound like, namely melodic hard rock which sounds as if it has come fresh out of the 70’s with loads of melody and into the 80’s with panache and hooks to die for. The production manages to keep the music just this side of bubblegum pop, the result being that here is a guilty pleasure as while this type of music was done for by the likes of grunge and all the extremes of metal which exploded in the 90’s, there cannot be many who will fail to just smile all the way through this release. We all know there is far more deep and meaningful music out there, and bands that really live it in a way we understand, but sometimes all you want is hard rock with passion, hooks, harmony vocals and melody, and these guys really know how to deliver just that. There may be too many “ooh’s” for some, but take it from me this is an incredibly enjoyable release, and at the end of it isn’t that what music is supposed to be all about? For 48 minutes this is an escape from the rather frightening world around us and we are transported to a place of lights and glamour, as if the darkness will never gather again.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 284 - Through The Looking Garden

Album · 2020 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD is as predictable for releasing albums as much as his musical tastes and stylistic shifts with one year resulting in hundreds of releases and some years zilch. While 2020 hasn’t hatched the most eggs, there have been a few lately and next in the never-ending procession of the PIKE series is PIKE 284 - THROUGH THE LOOKING GARDEN and is a title i have absolutely no friggin idea what it is supposed to represent :D

This PIKE is normal in that it only plays around the 30 minute mark but unusual in that it only showcases a single title track. It also seems after the odd out of order releases of the numbering system that the PIKE series is back on track. This one is the usual instrumental affair with BH playing everything and once again no chickens were harmed in the making of it.

Despite this one sounding like dozens of other PIKEs that start slowly and then build up into alternative metal style with similar sounding riffs and by the book motifs, the PIKEs of the last year or two have gotten better in the production department with crisp clear sound effects bleeding into the overall atmosphere and THROUGH THE LOOKING GARDEN is no exception.

While the riffs and musical flavors are been there done that, this PIKE features more atmospheric counterpoints and a few more guitar slides and other tricks. The tempo ranges from slow to midrange and the album never really gets to fired up with space rock guitar solos being the most feisty moments to occur. The riffs are cyclical with a never-ending repetition of the same chord progressions and although this is long, it’s not exactly progressive.

After reviewing every single BUCKETHEAD album and the other 283 PIKEs, it’s getting harder to get excited when the albums are just variations of each other in many regards. I wish BH would be as unique and creative like in the beginning when every album was explosive and bursting with creative mojo. Like many of these, PIKE 284 just seems to be content with being one more edition in the series rather than standing out. It’s all well done and the music isn’t bad at all. Like many PIKEs this one makes great background music but doesn’t really rise above and beyond the call of duty to make a truly excellent experience although there are some great guitar solos towards the end.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 280 - In Dreamland

Album · 2020 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
As we approach Thanksgiving 2020 in the USA i suddenly have a bizarre notion. I’ve reviewed every single BUCKETHEAD album as a solo artist under that moniker (and the BUCKETHEADLAND one). I feel like i’ve become fused with this mystery man behind the mask below a KFC hat. Have we become psychically connected like Voldemort and Harry Potter? If so which one am i? LOL. These are the existential quandaries of the universe i ponder on a daily basis. No wonder i’m socially awkward :/

The great mystery of what happened to PIKE 280 has been solved and released after PIKEs 281-283 and finally appears in November 2020 with the extended issue title IN DREAMLAND. This one features four tracks and clocks in at 30 seconds shy of 30 minutes. This is one of those mellow acoustic rock albums that Mr Chicken Lover has released so many of. Gawd, i really wanna call him Clucky Nogger.

There’s really not much to say about these. He’s done quite a few at this point. Lazy slow tempos with clean guitar riffs, mellow atmospheres frosting the horizon with a bass and drumming section that merely accompanies the lazy processions of arpeggios and unambitious guitar licks. Yep, it’s all been done before but these newer ones are much better for some reason as the production has been much improved and a nice backdrop atmosphere is like a zephyr wind that the melodies ride upon. Sleepy time is upon us.

Yeah, this has been called lullaby music and it’s certainly not my favorite style of BUCKETHEAD’s rotisseries of genre mashups but like i said…. these newer ones just work a tad bit better than the older ones and i can only surmise that is due to production upgrades. Glad mr BH is using the proceeds for a good cause. Not my fave yeah but for those into the mellower side of Clucky Nog, then this one is for YOU! Just don’t expect any chickens to lay any eggs over this. For that they need BH to break out da funk! OK, nothing more. Next.

ULCERATE Stare into Death and Be Still

Album · 2020 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"Stare into Death and Be Still" is the 6th full-length studio album by New Zealand death metal act Ulcerate. The album was released through Debemur Morti Productions in April 2020. It´s the successor to "Shrines of Paralysis" from 2016 and features the exact same trio lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Two words and one influence have always been among the descriptors of Ulcerate and that´s inaccessible, dissonant, and Gorguts. While Ulcerate have managed to stay relevant and continue to release albums in the years since their inception in 2002, they haven´t strayed too far from their original formula or from their obvious Gorguts influence on any of their previous releases. What they have done though is develop their sound slowly but steadily from album to album, and adding more and more of a unique touch to their bleak and dissonant technical death metal style and that´s what has happened again on "Stare into Death and Be Still". One more step out of the shadow of Gorguts.

When that is said this is still strongly Gorguts influenced technical death metal, featuring dissonant twisted riffs and open chords, complex and challenging technical rhythm work, and some deep growling vocals, which this time around has become slightly more intelligible. I won´t remove the inaccessible label from my description of the music, but "Stare into Death and Be Still" is to date the most accessible release from Ulcerate and I hear more memorable and catchy moments here than before. The songwriting is more focused on those qualities and while this is still bleak and brutal music, it features a little less of the impenetrable darkness of some of the predecessors. It´s actually quite atmospheric at times and occasionally leans towards post-metal territory.

Ulcerate generally seem a little more interested in opening up their intriguing take on technical death metal to the listener, and it´s not done by compromising their integrity or the brutality of their music. It´s small details like a semi-melodic hook, an intelligible vocal phrase, or maybe a heavy groove, which is a bit more catchy and simple than usual. A good example is the title track, which is an incredibly creative composition, featuring many intriguing riffs and rhythms and an atmospheric middle section. But while it´s certainly a complex and challenging song, there are also some more simple features, which makes it at least occasionally accessible.

"Stare into Death and Be Still" features a crushingly brutal and heavy sound production, which is perfect for the material and helps the tracks to shine. This is an album for those who are interested in a different take on technical death metal. Forget about conventional power chord riffs, guitar solos, or regular drum patterns. When you cross the threshold and enter "Stare into Death and Be Still" you are in for an adventurous ride that´s sure to challenge the conventional ideas of what death metal should sound like. A 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

HAZZERD Delirium

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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voila_la_scorie
Hazzerd's brand of thrash metal is the higher tone type with vocals that make them sound like they could be a punk/thrash crossover band, except I haven't heard that they ever played any punk rock. Drummer/vocalist Dylan Westendrop must get part of the intensity in his voice from having to play the drums so fast! Lyrics are your typical themes about corrupting societies and chemical health hazards. If I have overlooked something, I apologize.

There is, however, something else lurking in the rapid fire thrash guitar playing and maximum overdrive steam engine speed, and that is a desire to show off a higher level of musicality which comes up in two instrumental tracks, "Call of the Void" and "The End". Here we have finger-picked acoustic guitar, clean electric guitar, and lead guitar that is melodic and beautiful at times and even approaching neo-classical style in "Call of the Void". It's a bit like finding the classical guitar parts of Metallica's "Fade to Black" and the melodic parts of "Orion" on the "Kill 'em All" album. Personally, I think these instrumentals add something to what could have been a fairly straightforward thrash metal album and give the band more cred as musicians whose skills go beyond playing standard thrash metal.

Another point I like about this album is that there are two or three tracks where the bass comes forward. It's not for long but I always find these moments of "stop the six strings and let the four string walk to the front of the stage" contribute to a track's interest.

A track that I just have to mention is "Dead in the Shed", which is about a young, garden shed drug chemist named Bill who makes LSD for the neighbourhood junkies. "Stay on drugs and don't do school," is his moto; however, Bill ends up overdosing and dying in his shed and no one finds him until his corpse stinks too much for the funeral home. Lyrically, it has a dark sense of humour but also warns against drug abuse.

Because of the more skate party thrash tone I picked up early on, I wasn't as thrilled about this album as some other thrash albums I got around the same time. Listening more carefully, there are actually a few tracks that really stand out for me, "Illuminated Truth" and "Waking Nightmare" being two more that had me checking the track listing.

A pretty solid trash album that shows a band aspiring to possibly evolve into something more.

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