Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

ESOCTRILIHUM Mystic Echo From A Funeral Dimension

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
The rather hard-to-pronounce Esoctrilihum is the solo project of one Asthâghul. Bedroom black metal projects run a wide gamut from lo-fi howling to more sophisticated symphonic or atmospheric black metal efforts, and Esoctrilihum firmly leans towards the latter here. It's not going to offer a whole lot you haven't heard before if you're into atmospheric black metal - particularly the cutting-edge material of the sort put out by I, Voidhanger labelmates Mare Cognitum - but it's certainly a competently put-together album with plenty of synthesiser, buzzsaw guitar, and all that sweet atmosphere you come to projects like this for. On the whole, a solid basis from which I hope Esoctrilihum are able to build on.

OBSCURA Diluvium

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
According to MMA, Obscura are a Technical Death Metal Band, while according to PA they are Tech/Extreme Prog Metal, and needless to say the truth probably falls somewhere between the two. I can understand why they are classified as Tech Death as that is definitely the majority of their sound, but they are also bringing in many other elements, although whether I would classify it as progressive is another matter altogether. I know that there are many people out there who feel that Obscura are one of the most important bands around, but I’m definitely not in that camp. I recognise that Linus Klausenitzer is an amazing bassist, and his use of a fretless in this style of music should be admired, but to my ears it just doesn’t work. It has also been mixed in a way that is often above the twin guitars, and it all becomes quite disconcerting. The guitars are being rough, ferocious and incredibly staccato with lots of palm muting, and then there is a warm fat fretless which provides a totally different sound and feel. When the band slows down then of course it makes sense, but with their style of attack I would much prefer a fretted bass with a pick, to drive that hard edge.

Consequently I find myself becoming incredibly distracted, and instead of admiring what is undoubtedly a masterclass in musicianship, I find it grating. Of course, that means that I soon have issues with the rest of the album, with the touches, nuances and sojourns into different styles becoming something of distraction. I soon started wishing that the guys had just kept it simpler in some ways, got solidly behind, and put all of their energies into that. This isn’t a poor album, far from it, but it is not for me.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 275 - Dreamthread

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
.

B U C K E T H E A D ~ Pike 275 - Dreamthread

2nd album of 2018

EIGHT tracks that clock in at 29:41

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

After several years of a seemingly endless output of material with the years 2014-15 having found 178 Pikes alone, 2018 has been quite the surprise as we enter in the month of August and B U C K E T H E A D is only releasing his 2nd PIKE of the year titled DREAMTHREAD.

The main reason for this absence of new music has been due to a heavy touring schedule finding BH at a coop near you which i found myself viewing the chicken lover in a live setting for the very first time in lovely Berkeley, CA.

I was beginning to wonder if the folks at KFC tired of the blasphemous use of their greasy grub packaging donning BH’s head for so long and put a lock on the coop and stealing his guitar. Lo and behold the eclectic one is back just in case you missed a new album every day :o

The opener “Hypnagogia” by definition is the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep such as in the phrase “hypnagogic state of consciousness” and BH gently lulls out the perfect sleepytime nightie night night music. Much like the mellow PIKEs of the past, this one somnambulistically meanders on placidly with a gentle rhythm, background ambience and delicately strummed guitar strings.

And then the true surprise! Just when i thought this was going to be one of those mellow only PIKEs, “Thread 1” becomes one of those shapeshifters starting out with a heavy metal thunder and then alternating between weird electronica and free form rock that mixes it up with energetic metal outbursts. Yeah, this is the BUCKETHEAD that i was waiting for! Nice Jedi mind trick with the opener! This track is pretty much all over the place and i love it!

“Thread 2” changes the mood to a slower metal piece but then erupts into a guitar solo and electronica frenzy. Another shapeshifter as it ventures into funk and then thrash metal and there’s really no need to continue track by track since the “Thread” series jumps all over the place ranging from the hypnagogic dreaminess of the opener to funk metal to thrash metal to hyperactive jittery electronic freakiness. Guitar riffs are aplenty as are solos. Rhythms, timbres, dynamics and tempos shapeshift with no rhyme or reason.

This is my favorite type of BUCKETHEAD album but i have to admit it’s not adding anything new to his overall collective of styles on his PIKE series. He’s simply recycling all his tricks and trinkets that he’s always relied on. The tracks are all performed brilliantly and the production is totally cool. I love listening to this even if it’s not breaking any new ground and great to finally see a second BH PIKE emerge from the egg factory.

ARCHSPIRE Relentless Mutation

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 5 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
A few months back, I watched a video review of this album on Banger TV on YouTube. I was intrigued first because the band is from Vancouver (my old stomping grounds) and second because of what the reviewer had to say about the music (I believe the rating was four and a half skulls out of five). I finally ordered it only a few weeks ago and only recently have I been able to lend some valuable ear time to this album.

I can’t believe how short it is! Barely 30 minutes! But then, there are only seven songs. Nevertheless, those seven songs make for one very complete album. By the time it’s all over, you might feel as though you just stepped of a rollercoaster ride, the kind that sends you careering through machinegun crossfire in an ashen landscape of smoke and fire before at times lifting you abruptly into peaceful, lulling and lush pastures, and then dropping you back down into bombast and mayhem.

But this is no ordinary mayhem. It’s super tight and quite remarkable that these lads can play at such speeds with so many stops and abrupt tempo changes. While tech/extreme metal is something I’ve only become acquainted with in the last year or so, I am truly amazed at the dexterity and timing skill bands like Between the Buried and Me, Protest the Hero, Decrepit Birth, and Obscura exhibit. Archspire easily fit into this kind of highly technical playing and composing.

One thing I really notice when listening to this album is that I can pick out each track from the others. Some death metal albums have an overall sound which is awesome but each track blends into the others with little variation. Archspire add some standard heavy riffing in breaks between the rapid-fire, single-note picking and just as easily they can slow down, ease off and go clean (those are the lush, pastoral parts).

Three things to point out specifically. Jared Smith’s bass playing is stunning. Dude can easily keep up with the guitarists in notes per second but with, what’s that?, tapping and hammering? Chords? Awesome! Spencer Prewett’s drumming is intense and pummeling and, to my ears, sounds really well recorded and mixed. It must be quite a feat to get the four musicians playing that fast and that tight live. Finally, Oli Peters vocals stand out because at times they sound like a percussive instrument or fill the role of percussion. Oh, yes, there’s the usual death metal growl and the modern obligatory reverse screaming that sounds like pig squeals. But he fires off the lyrics in ultra-quick staccato: chu-ku-ta, chu-ku-ta, chu-ta-ga. This is punctuated by blast beats, and it’s something I haven’t heard done quite like this. In fact, this very vocal style was highlighted during the Banger TV review of the album.

I get such a rush while listening to this CD. I think the band was very wise to make it so brief. Seven distinct songs of extremely fast, tight, technical playing with a number of surprises. I am so very pleased to hear a Vancouver band performing this challenging music at such a high level of ability. Stay tech!

OBSCURA Diluvium

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
OBSCURA in a way carried on the interesting cross-pollinating potentials of Necrophagist after guitarist Christian Muenzner jumped ships and brought forth his virtuosic neoclassical shredding skills infused within the sensibilities in a death metal context. While Muenzner would move on to crank out some solo releases as well as hook up with various bands such as Spawn Of Possession, Paradox, Alkaloid and Eternity’s End, OBSCURA retained a great deal of the his influence, that being the delicate balance of tech death metal bombast with the reverie of classic progressive rock. Throughout OBSCURA’s history only founder Steffen Kummerer has remained the glue that keeps the band together but somehow through thick and thin he has proved to be quite the director of the ever rotating cast of stunningly brilliant musicians who cross paths with him. On OBSCURA’s fifth studio album DILUVIUM, a new lineup is in play with Tom Gelschläger taking up guitar duties following Rafael Trujillo’s departure after “Akróasis.”

Tech death metal in the 21st century is an increasingly complex beast with bands spiraling out in all kinds of directions and often fizzle out into unrecognizable territory and alienating the extreme metal fanbase before latching onto something tangible to grasp onto. OBSCURA has been the exception to this rule with each following album getting more focused and tighter than the last. While the band started out more as a simple brutal death metal band, their progressive tendencies ratcheted up to the point where “Akróasis” seemed like the band could go full-on prog but on DILUVIUM, they dial back the prog aspects a bit and instead hammer out some extremely heavy and tight death metal delivery with more direct riffing, more recognizable song structures that remind a bit of Necrophagist with easier to follow compositions that only judicially exercise the meandering tendencies into more complex departures. DILIVIUM is the final album of the four album concept series following “Cosmogenesis” (2009), “Omnivium” (2011) and “Akróasis” (2016).

As “Clandestine Stars” abruptly begins DILUVIUM, it’s clear that OBSCURA aren’t wimping out as they mature but rather place their wisdom in better musical constructs rather than less intensity however this album isn’t afraid to experiment or continue bold and daring bouts into the progressive metal world in the least. The opening track announces the bombastic return of Germany’s premier tech death metal band with a vengeance but soon begins the welcome contrasting sounds by incorporating some cool coded vocals that i personally haven’t really heard since Cynic’s debut “Focus” all the way back in 93, well at least not as well incorporated into a heavier metal sound and not just for one track but the coded vocal effects find their way scattered throughout the entire album. Unique for the band and the album for that matter is the track “Ethereal Skies” which utilizes some symphonic effects in the from of cello, violin and other string arrangements but don’t worry - this track is still a brutal beast with the full death metal bravado, neoclassical guitar wankery with the string arrangements simply adding a bit of ambience and a few moments in the spotlight.

DILUVIUM simplifies the compositional constructs a bit and there are less meanderings into the arcane prog world which the previous two albums dived into, however simplicity is not in OBSCURA’s vocabulary and new forms of complexity emerge with the riff changes, Sebastian Lanser’s technical drumming craziness as well as Linus Klausenitzer’s excellent fretless bass workouts. The return of V. Santura’s excellent production skills guarantee a continuation of the beautifully mixed subtleties that marry the sensuality and aggressiveness fitting for a 21st century extreme metal album. All of this is great news for those who dislike long drawn out bouts of spaced out sonic surfing into the sonicsphere and eschew the heavyhead banging bombast that fans of this stuff are utterly addicted to. Being both a proghead as well as a metalhead, i do not prefer one or the other finding both styles compelling but something about DILUVIUM screams seasoned metal band reaching new heights of glory.

After five albums, OBSCURA shows no signs of slowing down or toning down the ferocious intensity. Instead the band is more focused by cranking out precisely cut progressively tinged tech death metal candy like there is a bottomless wellspring of creative energy to be tapped. As i see it, OBSCURA is playing the cards exactly right. There is always the tendency for a techie band to go for the jugular and continue the journey into the inaccessible for the average fan but on the other extreme the temptation to tame the music down so much for greater exposure can mean that it becomes tediously inane. OBSCURA on the other hand simply changed the equation around a bit by not jettisoning any of their signature traits but merely rationed them in more intelligent proportions. The result is perhaps the most balanced album of their career, one that walks the tightrope between the tech death and progressive metal that they have juggled throughout their career. While some may like this more or less than the previous albums, i simply find this to be yet another satisfying edition to a solid canon of intelligently designed sci-fi fueled tech metal that satisfies from beginning to end. Well done, guys.

CRYONIC TEMPLE Deliverance

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Before 2017, Cryonic Temple was a band I had enjoyed in the past, but I had never even come close to considering them a favorite. I was introduced to them with their third album, In Thy Power, which is generally considered their best and that one and its predecessor, Blood, Guts & Glory definitely impressed me, but they never quite blew me away. Obviously, their fourth album, Immortal, was a total disaster, which led to the band going away for quite some time, but even those more acclaimed albums, while being consistently entertaining, never quite hit me in the way any of my favorite power metal albums do. Everything changed in 2017 with Into the Glorious Battle, which saw the band returning from their long hiatus with a renewed focus, as well as changing to a more melodic but still epic and intense sound. I was instantly blown away by the melodies throughout the album as well as the more dynamic and versatile songwriting compared to their past albums. Now with their latest album, Deliverance, the band has only taken things further, producing by far their most varied, yet also their consistently engaging album to date, making it a slight step above even its amazing predecessor.

Unsurprisingly, some folks were a bit disappointed with Into the Glorious Battle, as while it was an unarguably better effort than Immortal, some missed the more epic, heavier sound of their first three albums. At this point, I think it’s safe to say those days are over and they aren’t ever coming back, though, as the band has clearly moved towards a more modernized and more melodic sound, as well as breaking new lyrical ground with a multi-part Sci-Fi concept, which started on the previous album and continues with Deliverance. For those like me who loved the previous album, this one is sure to be an absolute treat, as it continues with the same melodic, guitar-driven sound, while at times getting slightly heavier and more intense, as well as occasionally being a bit more fun and pop-ish, with a couple tracks, in particular, having some pop melodies to them, as well as being more driven by keyboards and orchestras. In fact, the orchestral elements are in full force throughout this album, showing up on many tracks, and especially being noticeable during the two ballads, as well as on some of the lighter tracks. The best thing about the previous album was how it had a perfect balance between speedier tracks, slower, more melodic tracks, ballads and some nice, melodic mic paced tracks, and if anything this album is even more varied, never falling into predictable patterns and instead constantly finding ways to surprise, all while being consistently excellent the whole way through. There’s definitely a few excellent speedy tracks that should please classic power metal fans, as well as a couple ballads and a ton of surprises.

The area where I’m most pleased with this new era of Cryonic Temple is the vocals. While I enjoyed their first three albums and thought Glen Metal did a great job, I always found his vocals to be just a bit too over the top for my taste, while current singer Mattius Lilja has a softer and much more restrained voice, which puts extra emphasis on the melodies and really allows the choruses to soar, the way a great power metal vocalist should. At the same time, he does get a bit more intense at points on this album and does a great job of that as well, so it’s safe to say he fits the band’s current sound perfectly. I also notice some rather different sounding vocals at a few points on the album, which I’ll go into detail about below, but these are generally done quite well and I assume they’re done by other members of the band, as they certainly don’t sound like Mattias. Either way, though, the album has some amazing vocal melodies throughout, and they’re all performed perfectly.

After Into the Glorious Battle managed to be such a strong album in the songwriting department, I was excited to see what the band would do with a follow up, especially one that came so shortly after Thankfully, while the band has clearly continued with the sound they established on the previous album, they have managed to take things to the next level here, coming up with some even better songs than before including a few that stand out as sounding rather surprising and very different from anything they’ve done in the past.

The album gets off to an unsurprisingly strong start, with a nice intro track making way for “Rise Eternally Beyond”, which starts off with some soft guitar work before the rest of the band kicks in, along with the orchestra, and the track quickly turns into the kind of fast and fun power metal anthem fans would expect from the band. It’s a very fun and energetic track, which would have fit in perfectly on the last album, complete with verses that feel quite similar, though once the chorus hits it proves itself to be best and most melodic part of the track, with huge, soaring vocal melodies, to help kick the album off in an amazing way. The instrumental section is strong as expected and shows off the kind of excellent, very melodic guitar leads that have become an important part of the band’s sound in their current form, with some excellent leads and solos throughout the album, and this track is a great example of that. Next is “Through the Storm”, a more surprising track, with a slight cinematic feel to it. The intro to the song is quite interesting, with heavy keyboard effects as well as some rather eerie sounding voiceovers, and the song itself is much more relaxed than the opener, moving at a more laid-back pace, while still having some heavy riffs, but it feels more driven by keyboards and orchestras, especially during the chorus where we enter into pop territory but in an amazing way, with some truly epic vocal melodies. The track is quite surprising, being somewhat heavy but also fairly laid back and extremely catchy and melodic. It’s definitely one of my favorites on the album.

A more typical track follows in “Knights of the Sky”, a fast-paced guitar driven power metal track, where the excellent melodic leads are on full display. It’s another very energetic track with a strong and very catchy chorus while having more power to it than the previous track. It’s probably the most traditional power metal track on the album, and it has another great series of solos in the second half. Next is the slightly unconventional title track, which moves along at a fairly upbeat tempo, but it has more of a classic heavy metal feel to it, with some of the heaviest guitar work on the album. It’s the chorus where the song really gets weird, though, as the smooth vocals of Mattias are replaced by some wild falsetto vocals, which I initially found off-putting, but over time they’ve grown on me quite a bit, and I find the track to be quite fun overall. One of the biggest strengths of the previous album was how well written the ballads were, as it had three of them and yet all of them were excellent and served as a change of pace, without stalling the momentum at all. This holds true for both ballads on this album, the first of which is “The Loneliest Man in Space”, a nice piano-driven ballad with some added orchestral elements and soft guitars. It moves along nicely during the verses, with some strong vocals, but it’s the chorus where Mattias really shines, delivering a powerful and emotional performance, which really brings the lyrics to life. The solo in the middle is very emotional and well done as well, and overall it’s simply a very well written track, which can’t always be said about ballads on a power metal album. And yet, this is actually the slightly lesser of two on this album, which I’ll get into a bit later.

Next up is “Pain and Pleasure”, perhaps the heaviest and most intense track on the album. It’s another very fast paced track, but the riffs have a slight thrash edge to them and the vocals throughout the track are more animated and slightly wild, especially during the epic and super catchy chorus. The vocals are quite surprising compared to the rest of the album, but they’re very well done and fit the more aggressive tone of the song perfectly, which helps to make the track another instant highlight. A softer track is next in “Temple of Cryonics”, which of course comes close to being a self-titled track. Either way, it’s the most epic and cinematic feeling track on the album, with a heavy use of orchestral elements. It’s a rather soft and slow-paced track, but I wouldn’t quite call it a ballad as it has some slight heaviness to it at points, and it’s also a bit more epic and eventful than what you’d expect from a ballad. It has another strong chorus, as well as an excellent guitar solo in the middle, and while it’s not one of my personal favorites on the album, it’s an excellent track and shows how dynamic the band has become in their current form. My favorite track on the album is next in “Starchild”, an extremely fast-paced, incredibly melodic track which blazes through its verses at a frantic pace, setting the tables one of the catchiest and most melodic power metal choruses I’ve heard in quite some time. It’s seriously so damn fun and energetic, it brings a smile to my face every time, and is definitely a perfect example of the genre at its finest. The guitar solo is very melodic and well done as expected, and overall the track is simply pure power metal perfection from start to finish.

Speaking of songs with insanely fun and catchy choruses, next is “End of Days”, which has an almost dance-like beat from the keyboards at the start, and is a very upbeat track, with a slight metal edge to it. It’s a fairly fast-paced and very melodic track, with a huge chorus that has a slight pop feel to it, but it’s so damn fun and catchy I certainly can’t complain about it! Another instant highlight and one of my favorites on the album, though it certainly sounds a bit light and more modern than anything the band has done before, so some folks may hate it. The second ballad on the album is next in the form of “Swansong of the Last Emperor”. It’s mostly led by soft guitars and pianos again, though its vocal melodies and lyrics are the most inspiring elements, for sure, as it’s a very emotional track with an insanely good chorus and an excellent performance by Mattias, which takes it to the next level. Both ballads on the album are great, but this one feels just a bit more epic and more inspired. Shifting gears once again, we have “Under Attack”, a fast-paced and aggressive track, with some of the roughest riffs on the album, as well as another fun and catchy chorus. It has a great use of the orchestras in the second half and is certainly a very fun track overall. The last main track on the album is also my least favorite, that being “Blood and Shame”, a slower paced and very hard hitting the track. It has a heavy metal edge to it, for sure, and while the verses are energetic and fun enough, the chorus gets a bit rough for my tastes and lack a real melody or hook, making it the weakest on the album. It’s still a good track overall, but it’s certainly not on the level of any of the other tracks here. Lastly, there’s a bonus track called “Insomnia”, which starts off with a very Iron Maiden influenced acoustic guitar intro, before picking up speed and turning into a fun, speedy power metal track with slight traces of classic heavy metal. It’s definitely a better note to end the album on than the previous track, so I’m glad the band included it as a bonus.

Overall, Deliverance is an amazing power metal album, which shows Cryonic Temple picking up where they left off on Into the Glorious Battle, and continuing their resurgence as one of the best current bands in their genre. It has a mix of everything fans of the previous album would expect, with some of the most varied and dynamic songwriting in the band’s career, while still delivering tons of great speedy and melodic power metal. It slightly edges out its predecessor to become my favorite Cryonic Temple album to date and is definitely one of my favorite power metal albums of 2018 so far.

Originally written for Myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/07/15/cryonic-temple-deliverance-review/

THERESIA An Invitation To Darkness

Album · 2018 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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After making their debut on the Wisteria Records Various Artists Compilation METAL MADNESS: VOLUME ONE, the Japanese turned Canadian depressive black metal band THERESIA make their true debut with their first EP release AN INVITATION TO DARKNESS. While the band formed in Japan in 2016 they moved to both the UK and Canada and somehow ended up in the unlikely setting of Regina, Saskatchewan.

All along the band was more into noise rock than metal but their influences also include Gothic rock like Christian Death as well as the Japanese band Sodom And Silencer. Somehow the trio found themselves more in black metal mode with hints of the noise, punk and Goth in the mix, however with pummeling distorted guitar riffs, angry shouted vocals and a muted bass that fuses with the murky guitar parts, there is no mistaking this for anything other than black metal with lyrics screamed out in both English and Japanese.

The band is led by vocalist Ikiryō with Misaki on both drums and guitar and Okiku on bass. This EP is way too short while although it has four tracks, the first and last are simply an ambient intro and a short crust punk outro. The short opener “Dear Kayo… An Invitation For Darkness” begins like the first Black Sabbath album with thunder and church bells chiming with some Japanese poetry being read.

The only two real songs are “Funeral Games” which nicely continues the bell chimes and breaks in true depressive black metal riffing along with pummeling percussion that isn’t exactly blastbeat style but certainly has energetic bursts of pummelation that equal the intensity. The vocals offer glimpses of bleak hopelessness and unhappiness perhaps obtained through all that moving from country to country and ending up in one of the coldest nations on Earth!

“The Graves Of Passion” has an even more disturbed sound with insanely crazy distorted guitars, a frenetic percussive pattern and even more unhinged vocals angrily vociferating through the din. The flow is very much of second wave black metal with a straight forward delivery and not overly unlike many other bands of the 90s and early 2000s. The final closer “Deathmask” sounds more crust punk but with a blackened veneer followed by a short snippet of spoken words at the end.

THERESIA shows promise with a strong drive and excellent delivery of black metal however the EP is way too short. I believe a debut should at least be 20 minutes long and offer a variety of tracks even if set in the same genre mode. While performed quite well THERESIA needs to work on some sort of way of differentiating themselves from the legions of other black metal bands out there. Definitely one to look out for but just getting their feet wet in the morbid metal games of the 21st century. Definitely worth checking out but it seems like it’s just getting started and then ends!

POWERWOLF The Sacrament of Sin

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
One question that frequently comes up among metal fans, is how long can a band go sticking to a familiar formula? Over the years, different bands have offered different answers to this question, even among power metal bands, with the likes of Iron Savior and Primal Fear mostly sticking to an established formula from album to album, while bands like Edguy and Sonata Arctica have branched out and tried many different experiments in their later years. One of my favorite bands that have up to this point managed to stick to an established formula is German band Powerwolf, who I discovered in 2009 with their breakthrough release, Bible of the Beast. Many of their fans may not know this, but their debut, Return in Bloodred, actually had a much different sound than what they are known for, going for more of a classic heavy metal sound, with their second release, Lupus Dei, marking the beginnings of their now famous anthem-like, super catchy power metal sound, featuring lyrics about werewolves, vampires and other nocturnal, otherworldly creatures, blended in with religious themes. With Bible of the Beast, they achieved perfection, and every release since has stuck to the same formula, with minor differences between albums, as the band continued to stick with what brought them success. Now with their upcoming seventh full-length release, The Sacrament of Sin, scheduled for release in the second half of July, can fans expect more of the same, or will the band finally change things up and try something different? Well, this time around, the answer isn’t so obvious, as it feels like the band has indeed changed things up quite a bit on some tracks, while still delivering their classic sound fans have come to expect on other songs. As a result, this is their most varied, most engaging and perhaps altogether best release to date. I think some fans may be a bit disappointed, if they’re expecting a certain sound to dominate the album, as usual, but most folks should be very pleased with it overall.

One thing I never expect to change when it comes to Powerwolf is their overall sound, in particular, the way they use keyboards in a unique way to create a church organ sound, which immediately gives their music its own atmosphere you won’t hear from any other metal band. This element is of course as present as ever on The Sacrament of Sin, with the organ being a driving force throughout many of the songs. In the past, I’ve seen some people mistake the band as being symphonic, due to affect the organs have on the music, but for the most part, the band has never really had many orchestral elements before, outside of intros or in quick bursts. That is one thing that has changed, as on this album the orchestras are out in full force, appearing throughout the album and giving the songs a strong symphonic element that was never there in the past. The orchestras blend in wonderfully with the organ, to create an epic, at times cinematic sound that takes the music to new heights, and if anything this album is even more epic than sounding than anything the band has done before, which is certainly saying a lot.

With all this talk about the organ and symphonic elements, though, I will say that fans of the band have nothing to worry about when it comes to anything else being removed or reduced, as the guitar work is still as present and as melodic as ever, and while the album isn’t especially heavy, there’s definitely some great riffs here as well as some nice melodic leads and solos. Songwriting has always been a strong point of Powerwolf, with their albums having some extremely catchy choruses, while managing to be addictive for their entire duration, and this is once again the case with this album, as tracks are shorter than ever before, but they flow wonderfully and breeze by at a pace that makes it very easy to get hooked and want to keep playing the album over and over and over again, something that’s always been the case with this band. As usual, there’s a mix between classic speedy power metal, as well as some slower, more melodic tracks, but fans expecting the former style to dominate may be in for a rude awakening, as unlike past albums, this one is actually quite a bit more restrained when it comes to the overall tempo on many tracks. Obviously, there are still a few tracks here where the band goes full speed ahead, and those songs are as energetic and fun as ever, but there’s actually a surprising amount of slow to mid-paced tracks on this album, including the band’s first attempt at a full ballad, which is something I certainly wasn’t expecting. I’ve always thought of Powerwolf as having some similarities to Sabaton and on this album that comparison is stronger than in the past, as while the organ helps assure the band’s sound is still recognizable, some of the beats and melodies in the middle section of this album remind me a lot of the Swedes, and it’s certainly a very melodic album, even by Powerwolf standards, while still being as epic and catchy as ever.

Of course, yet another standout feature of the band is the vocals of Attila Dorn, and that’s another aspect I never expect the band to change. As always, he’s in top form on The Sacrament of Sin, flawlessly mixing together his classical training with his rougher, more metallic vocals, and carrying already great vocal melodies and choruses to greater heights than just about any other power metal vocalist would be able to take them. I’ve always loved his deep voice and his unique singing style, and as much as I love the band overall, his vocals have always been my absolute favorite thing about their music, so it’s no surprise that on an album that leans more towards slower and more melodic songs, he has managed to reach new heights, and has delivered an absolutely incredible performance.

Songwriting has always been a big strength for Powerwolf, so every time I hear a new album from them I expect nothing but perfection. Unsurprisingly, they have once again delivered 11 songs that are absolutely phenomenal on their own, while flowing together perfectly. However, as I mentioned before, the pace is slightly different this time around, which may throw some folks off, though I certainly took no time to warm up to it. One thing’s for sure: If you don’t enjoy the opening track “Fire & Forgive”, you probably aren’t nor ever will be a Powerwolf fan, because if you are a fan, this is the exact kind of song that will knock your socks off! The track opens with some orchestral backing, before the organs kick in and Attila delivers some of his epic classical vocals, delivering the customary intro to a Powerwolf album, before the guitars and drums kick in, and the track starts moving at a blistering pace, delivering the kind of upbeat, hard-hitting but fun and epic power metal fans have come to expect from the band, highlighted by one hell of a catchy chorus, that I actually had stuck in my head for hours straight, after hearing it just once, that’s how catchy it is! That track seemed like an obvious pick for a single, and indeed it was the second single for the album, but the lead single is the much less obvious pick “Demon’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. This is a much lighter track than usual for a Powerwolf single, and it has a slight pop/rock feel to it, except that the organ and some epic keyboard effects are on hand to help give it a unique, somewhat creepy atmosphere. The track moves along at a nice pace, with the verses being fun and breezy, while the chorus is ridiculously catchy as fans would expect. While it’s not a hard-hitting track by any means, I really like the overall feel of it, plus that chorus is absolutely amazing, so I’m definitely glad they made it a single, even if it’s not the kind of song that will please all fans of the band.

Speaking of songs which may not please fans hoping for the usual Powerwolf sound, that brings us toward the middle section of the album, where the pace drops off quite a bit, giving room to a group of more restrained and melodic tracks, which still nonetheless manage to be as catchy and fun as usual. I mentioned earlier that I hear a fair bit of Sabaton influence on this album, and one needs to look no further than “Killers of the Cross” to instantly pick up on that, as it’s a mid-paced, very light track, where the drum patterns and overall rhythm of the music sound like they easily could have come from the Swedish band. Of course, it’s the organs and Attila’s voice that help make the track stand out, and it’s definitely as fun and epic as anything else on this album, with some absolutely terrific vocal melodies, and a great guitar solo. Next is “Incense and Iron”, another slower track, though this is one where the symphonic elements are in full effect to help give it more of an epic, cinematic feel, especially during the verses, where some cool chanting vocals are added in the background. It’s one of those tracks that isn’t fast at all but still manages to breeze by and have a ton of energy to it, with yet another spectacular and super melodic chorus, as well as another great guitar solo.

The biggest surprise of all is next in the form of “Where the Wild Wolves Have Gone”, the first real ballad the band has ever attempted. The symphonic elements are again out in full force, being one of the main elements along with some piano and of course the vocals. It’s a very epic, slow-building track where the verses help set the tone, and then the chorus absolutely knocks it out of the park, being one of the best and most epic choruses I’ve heard all year. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say this may be the best metal ballad I’ve ever heard, and if not, its certainly the best one I’ve heard in many years, with the piano and orchestra setting the mood perfectly, and Attila absolutely kills it on vocals, putting his classical training on full display and showing why he remains the band’s MVP, despite the rest of the music already being amazing. The solo in the second half is just icing on the cake. Surprisingly, it’s my favorite track on the entire album. Another surprise is next with “Stossgebet”, another slower paced track, which starts off almost like a ballad, driven by vocals and the organ, before the track gets a bit heavier in time for the chorus. It’s a very moody and atmospheric track, while still having some wonderful melodies, as always, while once again using some symphonic elements. What makes it stand out, though, is the fact that it’s sung entirely in German, which is a nice touch, and allows Attila to excel, singing in his native language. Rounding out the middle section is “Nightside of Siberia”, the most typical sounding track of the bunch, which moves at a pretty nice pace without going full throttle, and it’s probably the track where the symphonic elements are most notable, really blending well with the organ to create some unique and epic melodies. It definitely has the fun and energy of a typical Powerwolf track, speeding up at some points without going overly speedy, and it has the kind of fun and addictive chorus fans would expect, as well as a pretty amazing guitar solo towards the end.

As we reach the final stretch, we enter the portion of the album where the band most relies on their usual formula, starting with the epic title track. Aside from some choral chants at the start, this is a very typical Powerwolf song, moving along at a frantic pace during the verses, with double bass drums going all out, and it’s a fast-paced, hard-hitting track with some great guitar work throughout, as well as yet another super addictive and catchy chorus. The song never relents and is definitely one of the fastest and most pure fun tracks on the album. Next is “Venom of Venus”, which follows suit, starting out with some epic classical flavored vocals from Attila, before slowing down a bit during its verses, but then speeding back up again for a super fun chorus, which sure to get stuck In the heads of many fans. It’s yet another super catchy and addictive track that is sure to please fans of the band. The slowest song during this part of the album is “Nighttime Rebel”, a track where the organ dominated early on, before giving way to guitars orchestra later on. It’s a fairly calm and slower track, but still has some excellent vocal melodies and a fantastic chorus, as well as an excellent and very melodic guitar solo. For the last few albums, Powerwolf has followed a predictable formula for the closing track, with a slow paced, slow-building yet super epic track that ends with a long fade out. Well, this time around they’ve changed things up with “Fist by Fist (Sacralize or Strike)” a track which comes firing out of the gates, only slowing down a bit during its extremely epic first verse where the orchestra is again on full display, with some inspiring melodies building up to a chorus that picks up the pace and again shows the band speeding along, with super catchy vocals and melodies, as usual. Once the song gets going it’s the exact kind of super speedy, super epic and just incredibly addictive power metal track fans have come to love from the band, complete with an excellent guitar solo in the second half. It’s a very high energy track which ends the album on a very high note and is certainly a welcome change of pace compared to how they ended their past few albums.

I always have high expectations whenever I hear Powerwolf is coming out with a new album, and they never disappoint me. With The Sacrament of Sin, the band has not only kept their winning streak going, they’ve produced possibly their best album to date, striking a perfect balance between giving fans what they want, and experimenting just a bit, creating some songs that aren’t quite what folks may be expecting from the band. I suspect fans hoping for a mostly fast-paced album may be a bit disappointed, though hopefully the high-quality songwriting will be able to win them over, but everyone else, whether they’re already a Powerwolf fan or just a fan of power metal, symphonic metal or melodic metal in general, should absolutely love this, and I’d definitely consider it a must hear for fans of the genre. Easily my favorite album through the first half of 2018, and I really don’t see anyone being able to top it any time soon.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/06/26/powerwolf-the-sacrament-of-sin-review/

SKYGLOW Thousand Years Of Terror

Album · 2018 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
In recent years there has been a prolific output of technically gifted musicians from behind the former Iron Curtain with Russia leading the way. Metal vocalist Alexander Mokin, having been raised in the city of Saratov found a connection with myriad extreme metal bands ranging from the classic era of In Flames, Be’Lakor and Metallica along with the more technically gifted wizardry on display with bands like Death, Dissection, Dark Tranquility, Necrophagist and The Chasm.

Mokin started to write his own music in 2012 and four years later was joined by long time friend and guitarist Vlad Kudryavtsev to form the band “Eyes Of Skyglow,” later shortened to SKYGLOW. Once Sergey Stepenenko from Excruciation By Silence replaced Kudryavtsey and handled both guitar and bass duties, the lineup was almost complete with drummer Dmitriy Kim filling the last spot.

In 2017 the band released a short two track demo called “Curse Of The Butterfly” and in 2018 they see their debut THOUSAND YEARS OF TERROR cast its shadow over an unsuspecting world. After a brief virtuosic performance of acoustic classical guitar leading the way, the music bursts into the full pyrogenic fury of technical thrash metal. These guys are riff monsters with a clear Vektor type of fury on display with a youthful energetic bombast, yet with a seasoned flare for dynamic shifts, alternating tempos and dramatic displays of neoclassical virtuosity strewn about.

The inspiration behind the theme of the album lies in Mokin’s analysis of government corruption that tells the tale of a millennium of the horrors of Russian history. While the music is firmly based in unrelenting tech thrash metal, there are health doses of Western classical music in the form of guitar and keyboards that crank out pleasant melodies that develop into fully formed thrash fury. While fitting well into the technical thrash crowds, this is melodic thrash metal that utilizes the lush compositional structures of classical music.

While the world is saturated with a gazillion metal bands as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, very few stand out amongst the ever increasing crowds. SKYGLOW is quite a different story altogether. This is a band that means business and pulls of the chops to accomplish their goal of the tech thrash metal soundtrack of Russian history in all its ugly regalia.

While a mere fledgling in the metal universe, SKYGLOW sounds like a seasoned band around for decades as THOUSAND YEARS OF TERROR not only exceeds in lyrical continuity but bedazzles with virtuosic prowess of the highest degree. The production is also noteworthy as it sounds like a bona fide professional release.

Fueled by shapeshifting time signature rich thrash metal riffs, choppy blastbeats meet jazzified percussive pummelation and brilliant classically rich intermissions accompanied by top notch thrash vocals, SKYGLOW is a band to look out for. On this debut album they display a maturity few bands muster up in a whole career. While the band claims The Chasm as their closest metal relative in stylistic terms, i hear a whole lot of Vektor inspired technicalities that show off their chops in perfect unison.

This is no clone band here. These guys really deliver one brutally satisfying track after another. So far, one of my favorite metal releases of 2018. Perhaps not quite to the level of finding a totally unique sound of their own, but they nailed the traditional classically infused thrash metal sound perfectly. Recommended.

INGESTED The Level Above Human

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Things have been a bit quiet lately on the new release front from my death metal favourites. Whilst I’m always looking to check out bands I’ve never heard before this current dearth has encouraged me to look a bit wider. One such album I’ve recently come across in my search is The Level Above Human by Ingested. It’s the fourth from this brutal Manchester bunch but the first I’ve heard by them.

Whether there’s any musical growth from their earlier releases I couldn’t say and maybe I should have done my homework and found out. What I can say though is while it doesn’t offer anything original, something that’s not necessary anyway if you’ve got the songs to back it up, if brutal/slam death metal and deathcore is your thing then you probably will find much to enjoy here. The playing is tight and pretty complex at times with tempos ranging from the expected breakneck blasts to slower breakdowns and slam death parts. There are plenty of strong riffs throughout though the opening riff of Invidious sounds like a rip off of Iron Strengthens Iron from the last Dyscarnate album, With All Their Might. Individually each song sounds fine but nothing jumps out particularly to distinguish it from the rest despite the bands efforts to inject plenty of changes into individual tracks. After a while one song tends to blend into another and after the full 44 minutes I was feeling like I’d had enough. The more melodic instrumental Obsolescent offers some welcome respite from the overall bludgeon and alternating growl/shriek vocals making a good choice for closing the album.

Overall then, The Level Above Human whilst certainly no classic is a pretty good album. I’m sure plenty of people will love it but my own preference for my death metal being served straight up makes it more an album I admire rather than love. One that I’ll be happy to give a spin from time to time though for sure.

AMORPHIS Queen Of Time

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.86 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
After twelve albums, world tours, countless gold records, Amorphis are back with their mix of metal, folklore and rock. After their last tour they decided to take a break before going into the studio to rehearse the new album, so had a single day off, before starting the next chapter. This means that all the tightness and understanding that develops from being on the road and gigging were still very much there. In many ways it goes back to the early Seventies when bands were expect to either be on the road or in the studio, preferably releasing an album every 6-8 months. I remember reading an interview with Ian Anderson saying that all his downtime while on tour in the States was spent writing songs for the next Jethro Tull album as they had to be ready for the band to record before they headed back out on the next tour.

I have long been a fan of Amorphis, who somehow manage to bring together many different styles and influences yet make the music so complete and seamless that it always makes total sense. It doesn’t matter if there is a saxophone, or guitar solo, or choir, it is always exactly the right thing to move the music onwards. After their last album, ‘Under The Red Cloud’, some fans may have expected them to get even heavier, but here they have moved sideways and have brought in the likes Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie) on pipes, laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin and saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, plus an orchestra and a choir, while also maintaining an incredibly heavy intensity. These elements deliver a dramatic and cinematic depth to the sound, making everything even more epic, even deeper, and even more meaningful than ever before.

As always, borne by Pekka Kainulainen's poetic lyrics, AMORPHIS penetrate deeper than ever into the thicket of folklore and cosmic contexts. "This time, Pekka tells about the cosmic powers that people believed in long ago in a very universal way: the rise and fall of cultures." This is also symbolized by the image of the bee on the album cover - the queen of time, as Holopainen explains the title of the album. "It represents the microcosm that can nevertheless trigger cataclysmic changes. The fall of world empires ushered in by a small sprouting seed. The butterfly that causes a hurricane." And as “Daughter Of Hate” needed a spoken part, lyricist Kainulainen also appears for the first time as a narrator. An excellent choice: His wise and venerable shaman-like voice is a perfect match to the music. Original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine, has also returned to the fold, following the departure of Niclas Etelävuori after 17 years, as the band look both back over what has gone before, and to the future with yet another stunning piece of work. From the production through to the quality and style of the songs, this is essential.

SKELETAL REMAINS Devouring Mortality

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Taking their name from a song by cult NY thrash band Demolition Hammer, covering a song by Carcass on the album, along with it being mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö (Opeth, Bloodbath) and featuring cover art by Dan Seagrave (Entombed, Suffocation, Dismember), it is safe to say that with their third full-length album American death metal band Skeletal Remains are not showing any signs at all of slowing down. These guys have obviously been heavily influenced by Death, with a technical old school sound that is reminiscent of Schuldiner. One of the delighst of this album is the way that they mix tempos,. Not afraid to slow it right down almost to doom speed when the time is right, this allows them to hit back with real impact when they ramp it up, but also shows on songs such as “Catastrophc Retribution” that solos don’t have to be at the speed of light to have the corrcet impact.

There is a lightness within this, with the bottom end not always a sprevalent as it might be, but with Chris Monroy’s vocals not also being a guttural and brutal as one might expect, it actually works together really well. This is a really easy album to listen to, which isn’t something that one can always say of the genre, yet contains plenty of dynamic shifts which are always in keeping with the tone and allows the band to create a distinct sound within the genre. More melodic than many, and certainly not as abrasive, this is an album which is essential for any fan of the genre.

FABULAE DRAMATIS Solar Time's Fables

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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voila_la_scorie
Fabulae Dramatis are a multi-national, Belgium-based avant-garde/progressive metal band formed in 2011. Their theme is story-telling through lyrics the myths and and beliefs of world cultures. Fabulae Dramatis was founded by Colombian-born Isabel Restropo when she recruited Hamlet of Transport Aerian and Colombian-born guitarist Daniel Dias to work on some material she had originally written while performing in a metal band in Honduras. Along with a host of guests, they released their debut album "Om" in 2012. Five years later, with a six-piece band in place, the sophomore album "Solar Time's Fables" was released.

With a bigger budget and two producers, the sound of the new album was seen as improved over the first. In my opinion, the album's sound quality is terrific. In fact, such quality is necessary to capture the charm of Fabulae Dramatis' music. Metal at heart, the band explore well beyond the traditional confines of a metal album by incorporating various instruments such as sitar, harmonium, saxophone, and djembe. But that's only part of what makes the band's songs and music special. On this album, there are four lead vocalists: Wesley Beernaert (growls and clean vocals), Isabel Restropo (classical/operatic vocals), Isadora Cortina (classical/operatic vocals and harsh vocals), and Hamlet (clean and harsh vocals). With each vocalist providing two different vocal styles, the songs benefit with a variety of voices and vocal expression. So, with a triad of diverse vocals, diverse instrumentation, and heavy metal, Fabulae Dramatis have established themselves as a band doing things differently. One could also point out some hints of Hamlet's prog noir style emerging here and there.

The first four tracks, showcase the band's metal side but with their other two talents strongly represented, particularly in the vocals. "Agni's Dynasty (Fire I)" was the first single and has a video on YouTube. For me, these first four tracks are an excellent welcome to the band and brings me back to the growled vocal style that I really got into the previous year. From "Sirius Wind" we take the first of many steps outside of metal. Clean guitar and saxophone are joined by bass and drums and then Isabel's vocals. There's almost a Renaissance (the band) feel to the song yet in an eerie and mysterious tone.

"Coatlicue Serpent Skirt (Earth)" opens with a suggestion of something different yet again but after 55 seconds the guitar leads us into another metal rocker with soaring vocals. Then there's "Nok Terracottas (Mud)", a short but once again haunting track with Isabel's beautiful voice and her whispers, "Sculptured figures talk". The song is a second diversion and although it is short, it is welcomed.

"Forest" is an instrumental track which is soothing and interesting. We get to hear Isabel's sitar playing on here. This is followed by "Roble Para El Corazon (Wood)" with an accordion intro and a kind of southern European serenade that becomes a bit more metal as the song progresses but still the melody of that accordion keeps its place. "Smoke for the Clouds (Anhuiran's Water)" reminds us that the band is very capable of being a melodic death metal band when they are up for it.

The final track "Barren (Gravel)" features some excellent vocals by Hamlet plus a duet by both classically trained women. It is slow, mournful, and powerful.

"Solar Time's Fables" has a terrific balance of metal and exotic sounds. Each song is created with some connection to an old myth or story, and as I mentioned above, having the variety of vocals on this album really adds to the freshness and intrigue. Unfortunately, "Om" is not easy to find on CD, but the download is available. I've been enjoying "Solar Time's Fables" for the last few weeks now and the album continues to captivate me.

GIGAN Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescense

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
GIGAN (ガイガン) took a five year hiatus from the studios but after fan speculation as to whether or not Godzilla finally won the final battle, the mystery is solved as the Tampa, FL tech death metal champs release their fourth album UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE, which once again finds founder and main creative director Eric Hersemann ushering in yet another new lineup of the band. While drum abuser in chief Nathan Cotton joins the cast for a reprise following 2013’s “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science,” vocalist Ethan Browne is out and newbie Jerry Kavouriaris is in. However, to be honest despite the rotating cast of vocalists and musicians since the band’s inception, all manage to fit their respective roles perfectly and therefore one would be hard pressed to differentiate one vocalist’s ghoulish growls from another.

While tech death metal bands in the 21st century are aplenty and many fade into the generic backdrop of this boisterous and noisy nook of the musical universe, GIGAN (ガイガン) have proved themselves as rising above the din drudgery and taking the extreme metal by storm with their utterly unique mix of tech death chops, jittery angularities of mathcore style guitar riffage all packaged with dissonant Gorguts styled progressive freeform compositions laced with exuberant brumes of psychedelic haziness glistening over the bombastic aggressiveness that will somewhat bring other avant-garde noisemakers Pyrrhon, Portal or Cephalic Carnage to mind but only in a “nearest family tree” sorta way.

GIGAN (ガイガン) had been ramping up both their progressive and aggressive metal assaults on each subsequent album and IMHO peaked with their approach on their previous album “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science” with their hyperdrive relentless speed, churning angularities and psychedelic infusions that created the perfect speed metal mediation session. Hersemann steers his plangent progified beast into somewhat new directions with UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE. One of the most noticeable differences is the abstaining of speed of light tech antics for the entirely of the space metal roller coaster ride.

While Cotton has proved himself to be one of those unbelievably blitzkrieg fast types of drummers who can navigate the percussive constructs like a caffeinated squirrel with an adrenaline rush, on this one he is much more selective in how he unleashes his fury. In fact, much of the time the drumming is more akin to sludge metal bands like EyeHateGod or post-metal bands like Isis. Same goes for the down-tuned guitars and overall feel of the album. It seems that there were no new limits to breach and the only place to go was to retreat to some sort of more familiar grounds and therefore the tempos have been tamed with speedy outbursts only occurring for periods of contrast. “Ocular Wavelength’s Floral Obstructions” is the perfect example of this. A down-tuned distortion-fest that runs the gamut of chilled out distorted heavy sludge metal that jumps into tech death overdrive and back.

While poising themselves more into an accessible arena that allow certain segments to breath, GIGAN (ガイガン) perhaps are trying to widen their appeal for only a small sliver of us freaks thoroughly enjoy music that pushes the triumvirate aspects of tech metal, progressive constructs and psychedelic detachment to break orbit into freeform destruction, but personally i find that is exactly what GIGAN (ガイガン) achieved with resounding success. For me UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE is somewhat of a step down as far as exploration of taking the aforementioned elements to their extremes. Having disconnected from the world’s consciousness being achieved, it seems GIGAN (ガイガン) is more susceptible to finding that happy medium between freeform freedom and audience connection.

As with all GIGAN (ガイガン) albums, UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE requires a number of listens to really sink in for even hardcore and jaded prog saturated metalheads such as myself can barely grasp this on a single spin. There are simply too many elements to keep track of and only patience can yield the proper results even if the process is equivalent to taking a census of hostile asteroids hurling through space in myriad directions. My first impression was of disappointment with the new stylistic approach but subsequent listens have me more impressed with the diversity that has blossomed from the new developments. Jazz infused tech drum rolls still grace the angular sonicscape, the expected guitar squeals still there but simply surrounded by less frenetic Gorguts-ish avant-garde sludgery. Yes, it grew on me. Another winner.

AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
AT War With Reality, 2014’s comeback album from At The Gates was criticized by some for being too safe and clinical sounding. Personally, I had no problem with it at all and welcomed the bands return to the upper echelons of melodic death metal. In fact I thought it so good I voted it my album of the year on this site and felt that many songs such as The Night Eternal and Eater Of Gods, to name just two, were showing the band at the top of their game.

No such criticism is likely to levelled at To Drink From The Night Itself. It’s a heavier, darker and murkier sounding album. In fact my eyebrows were initially raised over the production where the vocals and drums sound like they’re coming from the opposite end of a very long room to the rest of the band which took a bit of getting used to. I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed but after spending quite a bit of time with it my opinion has changed a hell of a lot. The biggest concern prior to the album’s release was how much of difference it was going to make to the band’s sound minus original guitarist Anders Björler who left in 2017. Fortunately, none at all. This is clearly the sound of At The Gates – the melancholic and melodic riffs, tremolo picked guitars and of course Tomas Lindberg’s distinctive high register growl. New guitarist Jonas Stålhammar has fit seamlessly in, no doubt an advantage having already played in The Lurking Fear with Lindberg and drummer Adrian Erlandsson.

As I said earlier this album did take a few plays to fully reveal itself, in part down to the production. The title track was the first song I heard when the band released it 2 or 3 months back. I must admit that despite being good I wasn’t blown away by it, it being pretty much At The Gates by numbers. It has since grown on me more but there’s much better on offer here, the second half of the album being particularly impressive where they barely put a foot wrong, with songs like In Nameless Sleep and The Mirror Black, after a slow start, having a vibe similar to The Night Eternal, my favourite song from At War With Reality with their use of guitar arpeggios and Erlandsson’s triplet double kick pattern. The latter closing the album in a similar fashion until the strings kick in at the very end. The first half still has some impressive moments though with A Stare Bound In Stone and Palace Of Lepers being particularly good.

To Drink From The Night Itself may bring nothing new to the table, it may not be better than At War With Reality overall, but that’s more to do with my love of that album than any weaknesses here and the production was certainly better last time around. It does however prove to be a consistently excellent album and contains some of the bands finest moments. I keep getting drawn back to it and I can’t give it a better recommendation than to say it’s my most played album since it was released.

DIMMU BORGIR Eonian

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has been way too long since Dimmu Borgir last released a studio album, and I felt the only way to be able to understand how this fits in the canon was by playing a few tracks from this and then dip into ‘Death Cult Armageddon’. This was an interesting exercise, not least because I always felt that a major part of their sound (at least for me) was the clean vocals of ICS Vortex, but of course he departed long ago. Vocalist Shagrath, as well as guitarists Silenoz and Galder are still there providing the material, while drummer Daray has been there for a decade, keyboard player Gerlioz has been there since 2010, so there is only one new boy, bassist Victor Brandt. Deciding to take their time on the songs has obviously been worthwhile, as there is far more breadth and depth to this than anything that have released previously. They have moved far more into the orchestral and symphonic arena, while still playing black metal like no-one else.

A special mention must be made of Gaute Storås and his work on the choral arrangements for the Schola Cantrum Choir, as it isn’t possible to overstate the impact they have had on the album as a whole. This is very much a metal band, but one that is attempting to create a genre of their own making, taking black metal and forcing into something that is far deeper, heavier and orchestral than anything they have managed up to this. The production is simply superb, incredibly clear while also very heavy indeed, allowing the band to spread their wings and show that when it comes to this style of music there are very few in the world who can even approach the majesty and dark beauty of what they are producing. It has been way too long since these guys have provided us with a new album, let’s just hope that the world tour to follow is just that, and that they make their way down here, as that would be a show not to miss.

CIRCLE OF SILENCE The Crimson Throne

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Power metal is often known to be a very melodic and lighter genre compared to most types of metal, but there are some bands out there who like to play a more aggressive, thrashier version of the genre, most notably coming out of Germany. One of the better bands to emerge from this side of the genre in recent years is Circle of Silence, who impressed me a lot with their previous release The Rise of Resistance, a very in your face kind of album, loaded with tons of punishing thrash riffs, speedy power metal rhythms, and great choruses. After taking a long break in between albums, the band is finally back almost five years later with their third full-length album, The Crimson Throne. With this album, the band has picked up where they left off, giving listeners some of the most brutal and intense power metal possible, while still managing to mix in a ton of great melodies and vocal sections.

For those who’ve never heard Circle of Silence before, they play a very rough brand of power metal, with a ton of thrash elements in their music, as well as some very aggressive vocals at times. They do a good job of varying the tempos, with a nice mix of faster tracks and more mid-paced tracks, as well as occasionally changing things up partway through a song. For the most part, The Crimson Throne feels very similar to their previous album, though a couple tracks felt surprisingly lighter to me at times, with some heavy metal style melodic guitar leads at points, which add a bit of extra flavor, and these are quite effective. At the same time, this is definitely a very hard hitting album overall, and the heavier, speedier passages are definitely when the album is at its best. For the most part, it’s a consistently engaging album, with no weaker tracks to be found, though it doesn’t quite have anything that matches the masterpiece “The Architect of Immortality” from their previous album.

One element that took time for me to get used to the first time I heard a Circle of Silence album was the voice of vocalist Nick Keim. He fits the band quite well, to be sure, but he has a very deep voice and rough voice that’s a bit atypical for the genre, and he can at times be very in your face with his vocal delivery. He certainly delivers some fiery vocals that match the intense thrashier portions, though, while being able to rein himself in a bit and deliver some big vocal melodies during the chorus. While his vocals took some time for me to get used to, I now think he’s a great singer and he fits the band’s sound -perfectly, with this album especially doing a good job of letting him showcase both his more aggressive vocals and his smoother, more melodic vocals.

Another area where I’ve sometimes struggled with the band is in the songwriting, though thankfully that has proven to be an area where they’ve improved a lot over the years, with their debut The Blackened Halo being very inconsistent, while The Rise of Resistance was a mostly consistent album with one huge highlight, and now The Crimson Throne is their most consistent album to date, to the point where it’s hard to pick a favorite, not because there aren’t any great tracks, but because every single track is in very good to great territory, with nothing quite on the level of the best track from its predecessor, but the majority of the tracks here are slightly better than most other tracks on that album.

The band does a great job of letting listeners know exactly what to expect within the first few tracks, as following a brief but nice intro, the first three full songs all cover different elements of the band’s music quite nicely. The first of these is “Race to the Sky”, the most classic power metal sounding track here, though with a slight edge to the riffs. Still, compared to most tracks on this album, it’s both speedy and melodic in ways fans of the genre would expect, with some great riffs, nice melodic leads and an excellent chorus. The extended solo section in the middle is amazing, and overall it’s an excellent track. Next is “Destroyers of the Earth”, one of the hardest hitting songs out of the bunch. It immediately charges out of the gate with some pummeling riffs, and this keeps up throughout the verses, where Nick delivers some of his most fiery vocals. There are some great melodies during the pre-chorus section, but then the thrash edge kicks in again and the chorus is short but intense, and the most melodic section of the track is during the solo section, which is quite good. After those two faster tracks, the pace slows done a bit for the first time with “The Chosen One”, a slightly heavier metal influenced track, which moves along at a decent pace, with some great melodic leads and some of Nick’s smoother, lighter vocals. It has one of the most epic choruses on the album and is definitely another great track.

While I enjoy all elements of this album, I especially prefer the thrashier tracks, as these are more unique for a power metal band and Circle of Silence has always excelled at them. After the first group of songs, the next real hard hitter is the title track, a slightly more mid-paced affair, which nonetheless brings back some of the powerful thrash riffs from “Destroyers of the Earth”, and it again has a nice melodic vocal section leading into an intense chorus, though this time around even the instrumental section is quite vicious, and overall it’s a very hard hitting and satisfying track. Right after that is “Into the Fire”, a more upbeat song with an epic and more melodic chorus, though it too has some excellent thrashy riffs, and is quite a heavy track overall. In the same vein as the title track is “A Kingdom Divine”, another more mid-paced track with some very hard hitting riffs, though it has a slightly more modern sound to it, and well as occasional points where the vocals come very close to death growls. It has an insanely epic and catchy chorus, as well as a great solo section, and it’s definitely one of my favorites on the album. The last real heavy track here is “Possessed By Fire”, where the verses start off a bit slow but pick up speed as they go along, all while being heavy and intense throughout, while the chorus is frantic and intense right from the start, with some great gang vocals. It’s definitely another great thrash infused power metal track, which delivers exactly the kind of sound I want from the band.

On the more melodic side, we have “Lionheart”, which starts off with a great melodic guitar section, before speeding up quickly, and it actually starts off feeling like it’ll be another power/thrash hybrid track, but it actually get much lighter and more melodic as it goes on, with the second half being almost entirely instrumental and having some classic heavy influences. The chorus is a bit weak, but otherwise, it’s a great track overall. A few tracks after that is “Endgame”, which starts off with some beautiful guitar melodies, before picking up the pace and turning into a more mid-paced power metal track, with an excellent chorus, featuring some of Nick’s best vocals on the album. The closing track is “Wild Eyes”, a mostly mid-paced track, with another excellent chorus, though its highlight comes in the second half, during a speedy instrumental section which gives way an epic final run through the chorus, to the end the album in an extremely epic way.

Overall, The Crimson Throne is another great album from Circle of Silence, which delivers more of their hard-hitting brand of thrash infused power metal while mixing in a few more melodic sections every once in a while. I’d say it’s slightly better than their previous album overall, and I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the band, as well as any power metal fan who prefers the heavier, more guitar-driven side of the genre, with no presence of keyboards whatsoever.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/03/31/circle-of-silence-the-crimson-throne-review/

TESSERACT Sonder

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.54 | 6 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Out of all types of metal, one genre I’ve long struggled with and only managed to enjoy in quick bursts over the years is djent, a particularly rhythmic, repetitive and at times overly harsh sounding offshoot of progressive metal, which of course is one of my favorite genres. The band many consider to be the pioneers of the genre, Messhugah, have certainly never impressed me, while other famous bands like Periphery and Textures have managed to hook me in on occasion, but never entirely. So far, the one band in this style that has managed to keep me interested over the course of multiple albums is British band TesseracT, who I first discovered with their excellent second full-length release, Altered State, in 2013. Their next release, Polaris mostly eluded me, though I did eventually give it a listen and quite enjoyed it as well, so while their upcoming fourth full-length album, Sonder, wasn’t one of my most anticipated releases the year or anything, I was interested to see how it would turn out. In the end, if their previous albums hadn’t already won me over and convinced me that djent can work on a consistent basis when done correctly, then Sonder surely would have been the one to do it, as it manages to be equal parts accessible, hard-hitting and atmospheric, and it’s easily the most engaging and consistently impressive release I’ve heard from TesseracT to date.

One aspect of djent I tend to not be too fond of is the constant use of repetitive chugging guitars, which can grate on my ears badly if done the wrong way, with even a band such as Periphery sometimes falling into that trap. Thankfully, TesseracT have always been good at knowing just how far to take their heaviness, without pushing it to the point where it gets irritating, and they also do a great job of letting the guitars and drums settle into a nice groove, that allows the atmosphere and vocals to take and over and really push the songs to the next level. Which brings me to one aspect of the genre I do enjoy, and another thing TesseracT does amazingly, and that is the contrasts between the rough, aggressive sections, and the dark but rather calm and atmospheric, sometimes even ambient, sections. On Sonder, TesseracT have really perfected that side of their music, with almost every track seamlessly switching from loud and violent to calm and more introspective seemingly out of nowhere, and they handle these transitions perfectly. There are many extended softer portions on this album, where the electronic elements are used nicely along with more melodic guitars to add atmosphere to the music, and this goes along nicely with the lyrics, which deal with themes of insignificance, and it is definitely a very emotional album, with very strong performances all around. At the same time, fans looking for the more aggressive side of the band’s music still have a lot to look forward to, especially on tracks like “King”, “Juno” and “Smile”.

Another aspect I often struggle with is the vocals, as djent is a genre often known to use a ton of screaming, metalcore style vocals, and those are the kind of thing that can often grate on my nerves if done poorly, which I sadly find to be the case a lot of the time. Thankfully, that is yet another trap TesseracT manages to avoid, as vocalist Daniel Tompkins only uses screams in quick bursts, often during some particularly intense and powerful sequences where that kind of approach is necessary. When he does use them, he sounds fittingly intense, but certainly never grating or irritating. For the most part, he uses clean vocals and he is certainly one excellent singer, seamlessly going from high notes to low notes within the same sentence, with his lower range especially sounding very smooth and really fits the atmosphere of the music, though his high notes are also very nice, of course. He sings very calmly during the soft parts but can get his voice to sound rough and intense without screaming during some of the heavier parts, and this is used to great effect throughout the album. Overall, he simply does an excellent job and puts a ton of emotion into his performance, which helps to enhance an already great album even further.

One last area where djent can often be hit or miss is in the songwriting, as I find there isn’t really that many bands can do while sticking to their overall sound, so often times the songs will blend together, with few standouts. This is again an area in which TesseracT delivers, as while there is a consistent feel to the whole album and everything flows together perfectly, each track can definitely stand on its own, and it certainly never gets boring. Opening track “Luminary” does an excellent job of setting the tone, opening with some brief atmospheric electronic effects, before the dissonant guitars kick in, and then the music calms down again and Daniel enters in on vocals. It’s a great track which does a great job of briefly showcasing the heavier side of the band, while overall being a very melodic and surprisingly accessible track, with a very strong chorus, and a great use of atmospheric sounds throughout.

The first big standout is “King”, the longest track on the album at just under 7 minutes, and it’s a mammoth track, entering in with some very overpowering riffs that set a dark and ominous tone right out of the gate, and this is one of the tracks where Daniel showcases his screams, seamlessly mixing them in with his various types of clean vocals, with everything sounding perfect, of course. The track is definitely one of the heaviest on the album, getting especially intense during a screaming section in the second half, though it still manages to throw in a ton of calmer and more atmospheric moments both in the middle and ending of the track, and it has another strong chorus. After that is the interlude track “Orbital”, a brief but very nice ambient track, which uses some nice electronic sounds in the background, while Daniel sings very softly. It manages to be an emotional track, while also being very quiet, and despite being only 2 minutes, it is quite memorable. The next full song is “Juno”, which starts out heavy before settling into a nice groove, with some pretty nice guitar work as well as some cool electronic beats, that add a nice rhythm to the track throughout. This is one of the grooviest tracks on the album, for sure, and it moves along at a nice pace and manages to represent somewhat of a middle ground between the heavier tracks and the calmer tracks, and it does so quite wonderfully.

The second half begins with “Beneath the Skin”, a very dark and mostly soft track, which has an extended atmospheric section early on that uses minimal sounds very effectively, creating a thick atmosphere with very few sounds used, and it is quite the interesting track overall. It does get heavier as it goes on, with the typical djent chugs and grooves kicking in later on, though it’s still one of the slower and more melodic tracks on the album, with some wonderfully smooth clean vocals from Daniel, as well as an excellent chorus, once it shows up in the second half. Another soft track is next in “Mirror Image”, which is the closest this album comes to having a full ballad. It’s another track which uses some nice electronic effects and vocals to create a dark atmosphere, and it’s certainly one of the most vocal driven and melodic tracks on the album, with another very emotional and powerful performance from Daniel. It gets slightly heavier in the second half, and the guitar work towards the end is amazing, but it’s definitely a surprisingly calm and beautiful track overall. The last real heavy track on the album is “Smile”, which again starts with some dark and heavy riffs before settling into a nice groove, with a nice use of electronic effects to set the tone for the music. It’s somewhat similar to “Juno”, except a bit darker and more intense, with a very sinister feel to it, and the guitars have a very aggressive, alternative metal feel to them throughout the track, which is somewhat on the rest of the album, but it’s especially noticeable here. The screamed section towards the end is extremely intense and epic, and overall it’s definitely one of the highlights of the album. After such an intense track, closing number “The Arrow” is a suitably mellow and atmospheric track, with haunting vocals and very dark lyrics, as well as some beautiful but twisted sounding melodies. It has a slight heaviness to it but is another surprisingly soft and calm track for this style of metal. While it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album, it’s also one of my favorites, due to the vocals and lyrics working together so effectively with the music.

Overall, Sonder may be the best djent album I’ve heard to date, and while that’s not saying a whole lot, it definitely is an excellent album in its own right, with an excellent mix of heavy, punishing guitar work, a great use of atmosphere, and some very powerful vocals. Fans of the band are sure to be pleased, and anyone like me who has previously found this genre to be a bit too rough on the ears to handle may be pleasantly surprised, this is a very nicely balanced album that certainly has some excellent melodic and calm portions, to go along with the expected intense bursts. I was expecting to enjoy this album, but it greatly exceeded my expectations and become one of my favorites of the year so far, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to hearing anything else TesseracT does in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/04/21/tesseract-sonder-review/

CALIBAN Elements

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Caliban have been creating quite a noise in the metalcore scene since their inception in the late Nineties, and with the quintet managing to keep the same line-up together for fifteen years now is quite an achievement. Here they are back with the follow-up to 2016’s ‘Gravity’, and they seem to have increased the intensity in all areas. “’Elements’ is a logical progression from the last album,” says guitarist Marc Görtz. “But we definitely expanded the range of music we wanted to incorporate on ‘Elements’. It’s going in extremely different directions. It’s heavier, but also more melodic. Also, Andy is doing all the vocals—harsh and clean—on the new album.” This last is a change, as those duties are normally shared between Andreas Dörner and guitarist Denis Schmidt with competing styles, but here Dörner provides both melodic and gruff. Görtz says that when he started putting together the initial riffs for the album he was trying really hard not to listen to any other music so that he wasn’t influenced, but bands such as Meshuggah, Whitechapel and Trivium all seem to have made their way into his psyche.

It is the intensity that really blast out of the speakers and pins the listener against the far wall – if ever the States want to militarise music then they should look to this album to start with. That the band go between incredibly light and tremendously heavy only emphasises the difference between the two styles. They can keep it low and groove-ridden, suddenly knocking down the guitar tuning, or keep it riff-laden as if they are a new Cannibal Corpse before becoming a next generation Linkin Park. This is all over the place, so much so that one never knows quite where the musical journey is going to lead, except that it will be a fractured and enjoyable road to get there. Caliban are showing no sign at all of slowing down, and this may just be their finest release yet.

AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Although there have been some substantial gaps in their career, the line-up of At The Gates has been incredibly stable, having been the same since 1993. So, it was quite a blow when guitarist Anders Björler decided that it was time to move on. But, the band knew that they still had a great deal to offer, and called in old friend Jonas Stålhammar who they had known for almost thirty years. One rehearsal later and he had the job. It was important for the band to bring in someone who knew what they had been going through, had followed a similar musical journey, and also came from the same musical influences. Russ Russell was brought in as producer, and the result is one of the standout metal albums of the year.

By now most people would think that At The Gates would have nothing left to prove, having been at the forefront of the Swedish Death Metal scene for so many years, but while other bands have moved on and often changed their musical path ATG have double down and are bringing forth melodic death metal that is as heavy, violent and so damned enjoyable as anything they have released in the past. The band formed back in1990, yet here they are in 2018 showing all the young guns how to do it. The groove, they move, they mix incredibly light and delicate aspects into the thunderous sound, yet when the time is right they all lock in and bring it home. Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg still sounds like the angry young man he used to be, but now with more presence and command. He is at the forefront of what truly is a metallic monster casting all before it. Whatever anyone may want from a metal album, I can pretty much guarantee that this one has it. From the first note to the very last all I wanted to do was to keep turning it up time and again. It has been four years since the last album, let’s just hope that it isn’t so long until the next one.

TRAUN Deleted Scenes

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Ex-Estradasphere drummer Dave Murray’s TRAUN project only has three EPs that tell this tale:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

There are, however, four EPs that were released and the fourth one is titled DELETED SCENES which is exactly what the name says, a bunch of leftover tracks and various different drafts of tracks from the TRAUN trilogy.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon The Black Metal Princess Escape From Spa 9 DELETED SCENES (bonus tracks)

Musically DELETED SCENES runs the same gamut as the other EPs with frenetic shapeshifting of genres that are classical music one second, jazz the next and maybe even some downtempo or heavy metal thrown in. They not only take the expected genre blending into extreme arenas but they also often incorporate extreme avant-prog avenues with crazy time signature changes as well as sudden start / stop tempo changes. Everything from dynamics, genres, tempos and moods mix it all up and often.

Seriously unless you really adhere to the story on TRAUN MUSIC dot com then this is really just a fourth album because i can’t figure out from the music alone that any storyline exists behind it all. It’s one of those series where you can just enjoy the music or actually add more intrigue by delving into the actual meanings behind the accompanying sounds. While the other EPs hover around the 20 minute mark, this one actually extends past the 31 minute mark making it the longest of the four. This one is just as good as the others and if you want to check these out, you really need to go for the whole shebang. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

TRAUN Escape From Spa 9

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN MUSIC dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon

The Black Metal Princess

ESCAPE FROM SPA 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #3 - ESCAPE FROM SPA 9

This one doesn’t quite hit the 20 minute mark and most tracks are barely over a minute long but pack in an album’s worth of ideas at times. “The Deserts of Traun” begins the genre jumping journey with a sombre violin and classical piano in avant-garde fashion. “Making Haste” goes into frenetically paced jazz-fusion that alternates between slow and fast tempo. “Mayor Of Ghost Town” starts with a storm and a suspenseful mystery crime show theme style. This one has vocals and what sounds like a theremin. Police sirens and other noises jump in and out. “The Lone Coachman” spends a while in electronica land only to burst into heavy metal guitar riffing with an atmospheric backdrop droning away. “Pirate Stronghold” begins as a mellow classical string piece but turns into a cartoonish sounding form of accordion rock reminding me of Mr. Bungle.

“Lizardback” begins as a mellow acoustic guitar sequence that has a country vibe with slide guitar with some unexpected Tuvan throat singing. The title track is the longest and exceeds three minutes. It begins with some ambient noise and then bursts into crazy brutal prog with heavy guitars, electronic noises and ridiculously challenging time signatures. It goes through bursts of excitement and then calms down to nothing. The heaviest track on board and the most complex. “Vampire Invasion” is another classical / lounge jazz piano with violin in a tango type form. Some operatic vocals pop in from time to time with some death metal growls making an appearance at the end. “Flight Of The Water Baron” is a symphonic metal piece with heavy guitars, piano and then becomes a violin led classical piece and then they join forces. “The Fruitless Kingdom” is all over the place as well. Bouncy electronica cedes to mellow classical and then symphonic metal. “Mel’s Home” ends the short album with jazz funk keyboard riffs.

At this point i still find no sings of an overall theme that connects to the music but it really doesn’t matter. This music is like taking a long journey abridged into a short time span. This album is only 19 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

WITCHERY I Am Legion

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"I Am Legion" is the 7th full-length studio album by Swedish heavy metal act Witchery. The album was released through Century Media Records in November 2017. That´s almost exactly one year after the release of "In His Infernal Majesty's Service (2016)", and after a couple of years of relative inactivity before that, the band have indeed said in interviews that they would pick up the pace and record and tour more the next couple of years. With "I Am Legion" they keep that promise. "I Am Legion" was recorded by the same five-piece lineup who recorded "In His Infernal Majesty's Service (2016)", so no changes there.

Stylistically "I Am Legion" is slightly different from it´s predecessor though, and a little less formulaic than what we´re used to from Witchery. Witchery were always a band who were hard to define as their heavy metal basis sound features quite a few influences from genres like black metal, thrash metal, speed metal, and a little death metal too. Some of the previous releases featured an almost traditional heavy metal sound (although in the harder end of the spectrum) but with blackened snarling vocals, but on "I Am Legion" the scale tips a bit more to the extreme metal side of the band´s sound. The structure of the songs and the songwriting are also a bit less anthemic and a little more loose and intentionally chaotic, which is both a strength and a weakness.

It´s a strength because it´s always great to hear when an established act with a signature sound try something different. It shows a band which haven´t stagnated and who are still hungry to prove themselves and who still have the boldness to evolve. I applaud that...but it´s also a weakness in terms of "I Am Legion", because the infectiously catchy sing-along (well...shout-along) choruses from the previous releases are few and far between on this release, and those choruses were always a big part of what made Witchery such a charming act.

I´ll put on the positive glasses here though, as I think Witchery make their less formulaic and more adventurous approach to songwriting work really well, and it´s not like there aren´t any catchy moments on the album. In fact there are plenty of memorable tracks and catchy moments featured on the album, so it´s not a major change of the band´s sound, but more an adjustment towards a more creative songwriting direction. Witchery are as always a very well playing band and lead vocalist Angus Norder shows again, that the band made the right decision to add him to the lineup on the predecessor. "I Am Legion" features a dark and fairly organic sounding production, which suits the new musical direction perfectly, and upon conclusion "I Am Legion" is yet another high quality release by Witchery. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

TRAUN The Black Metal Princess

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon

THE BLACK METAL PRINCESS

Escape From Spa 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #2 - THE BLACK METAL PRINCESS

Each track has a storyline about how it relates to the concept. This is detailed in great artistic form on the TRAUN dot com website. This album, much like the Estradasphere albums Murray played on, runs the gamut of dreamy psychedelic ambience, electronic wizardry and heavy metal to bursts of jazz, folk and classical plus lots of ethnic influences as well. “The Voyage Home” begins with a mopey disoriented beat with guitars that sound like they’re going in and out of tune. Very soundtrack feeling as with “The Lilac Moon.” Ends with surf guitar incorporated. “Preparing The Pit” begins with sounds of an ominous storm but becomes echoey guitar with reverb. Piano and weirdness ensue with evil sounding vocalizations joining in and then metal guitar, bass and drums. These short tracks really are all over the place and nothing hangs around for too long.

“A Stranger In The Landing” jumps into avant-garde hard bop with a Latin flare. It quickly becomes symphonic prog and then adds heavy guitar and flutters around in freeform style. This second installment is much more surreal than the first and that’s saying something! Once again it’s amazing to realize that this is a huge project with thirteen musicians delivering rock (guitar, drums, bass, keys), classical (violin, viola, bassoon, cello, upright bass), folk (accordion, acoustic guitar, flute, mandolin) and jazz (baritone and tenor sax). “An Undisclosed Location” alternates between speakeasy lounge jazz, avant-prog and 60s psychedelic pop with a few spoken words to convey storyline details. “Looking For Clues” provides a marching band feel with military drums but becomes quirky and well, very weird! It goes all over the place with dreamy pianos, rock guitar, classical. Ideas last about five seconds on this one but it all strings together. This one actually lasts more than three minutes and goes through jazz, downtempo etc. “The Terrace Computer” begins as creepy ambience and then becomes angelic harp-like ambience. This one stays fairly consistent but still has outbursts of energy but remains fairly electronic oriented with guitar coming in.

“Miriaun Crossing” is a classical piano riff with violin and remains that way for the entire near two minute run! Very tranquil and a lull in the sonic storm that is this album! “Mel Function” jumps into a loungy jazz mode with a sultry sax and a rather normal sounding generic delivery and stays that way. “Passage Through The Mire” begins with crickets chirping and arpeggiated guitars creeping in with jittery electronica. It becomes ominous soundtrack type music with a sombre cello and raspy ghoulish vocals in the horizon but morphs again into rather Middle Eastern sounding rhythms but remains somewhat on a leash although rock beats. This is rather unique but conjures up a hellish overall feel that finally unleashes the black metal aspects although they only peek in before disappearing into the classical symphonic backdrop. Excellent orchestration here with even some surf guitar coming in at the end. The title track ends with a mellow folky vibe orchestrated with piano and harp that picks up with black metal elements and freaky ghoulish vocals. This album is only 22 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

TRAUN The Lilac Moon

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

THE LILAC MOON

The Black Metal Princess

Escape From Spa 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

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EP #1 - THE LILAC MOON

Each track has a storyline about how it relates to the concept. This is detailed in great artistic form on the TRAUN dot com website. This album, much like the Estradasphere albums Murray played on, runs the gamut of dreamy psychedelic ambience, electronic wizardry and heavy metal to bursts of jazz, folk and classical plus lots of ethnic influences as well. Just within the first track “The Crystal Caverns” many of these genres are present. However while the first track is more on the aggressive side, the second in line “Aervallis” is more of an airy Celtic folk song with busy Disney-esque classical leanings that leap into heavy progressive rock and back to dreamy folk. It takes no time at all to realize this is a huge project with thirteen musicians delivering rock (guitar, drums, bass, keys), classical (violin, viola, bassoon, cello, upright bass), folk (accordion, acoustic guitar, flute, mandolin) and jazz (baritone and tenor sax).

“The Broken Barge” continues with a speakeasy jazz lounge feel while “Inn Of The Dreaded Hippy” is right out of the Mr Bungle playbook with crazy keyboard workouts and time signature rich prog jumping in and out of metal with every other crazy idea thrown in for good measure. “The Thieving Wall” only continues the eclectic output with crazy heavy prog rhythms angularly darting out all over the place at breakneck speed with a slight surf rock vibe. Sort of like Secret Chiefs 3 on steroids. “Greywater Hideaway” is sombre and piano rich as well as slow and sumptuous and short like all the track which all hover around the two minute mark with the exception of the opener which hits three. The title track is flute rich prog folk rock track with more Celtic feels while “Errands Of Captain Yargh” is an explosive death metal explosion with industrial overtones.

“The Old Road” is back to prog folk only in a love affair downtempo electronica. “Valeriana” begins with mandolin and sounds like Renaissance music but quickly incorporates heavy rock guitar stomping and then morphs into classical soundtrack music. Damn, it’s hard to keep up with this ever-changing sonic feast! “Brig To Nowhere” begins with a pulsating electronic noise with a guitar playing in mono in the background but it becomes extreme metal guitar chugging with steady riffing but morphs into more progressive technicalities. Occasional breaks reveal a symphonic backdrop. “Embers In Snowfall” is a slow ambient folk outro. This album is only 21 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

PARKWAY DRIVE Reverence

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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For their sixth studio album, Parkway Drive had a hell of a lot to live up to. After absolutely perfecting their formula with the popular Horizons and Deep Blue albums, and utterly reinventing themselves on the astounding Ire album, the Australians would have a hard time releasing anything that good. What should they do? Return to the old formula? Try and repeat the triumph of Ire?

What they decided to do was a bit different. On Atlas, the great but less-popular follow up to Deep Blue they decided to try and balance their formula with new ideas like choirs, strings and DJ scratching with more variety of fasts and slows. The band weren’t going to limit themselves or stay in their own little box, they already did the perfect version, so its time to try some new ideas.

Reverence, to me, feels to Ire as Atlas did to Deep Blue. Its not a rehash of the past formula but a pushing of the envelope. Its taking that general idea but broadening it. There’s some pretty inventive and new sounds for Parkway on this album, from quiet spoken word bits, no almost Ghost-eque latin sounding chants (‘I Hope You Rot’), and film-score sounding orchestration. And while Atlas all sounded cataclysmic like a disaster movie, Reverence sounds epic and biblical.

Musical direction is one thing, but of course its all for nothing if the quality isn’t there. Fortunately Revereance is not only interesting, but it is also excellent. There are some absoltuely fantastic songs, amazingly catchy choruses and damn enjoyable guitar lines. There’s parts that’ll stick in your head for days (‘I’ve got the whole world swinging from the end of a chain,’ gets me every time). Some of those drum fills and leads are demading of a good air-instrumenting. Some of these songs will utterly crush live!

If you only want Parkway at their absolute heaviest and don’t want any clean singing, or any atypical instrumentation, then maybe chose a different album as your first. If you like the band, especially the shift in direction that started with Ire, then you don’t want to be missing out on Reverance. It is one hell of a record, strong all the way through, creative, interesting and thoroughly entertaining.

Highlights include the single ‘Wishing Wells’ as well as ‘Shadow Boxing’ and the dark ‘The Colour Of Leaving’

Its too early yet to rank it in their discography, but I can tell you right away from first impressions it certainly aint in trouble of being in the bottom half. I got this on release day (for some reason it was signed, which didn’t cost any extra, hooray!) and have absolutely pasted it every since. I can listen to this five times in a row and not be sick of it. It is a truly joyous album. If you are a fan don’t hesitate, get in on this ASAP.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY No Cross No Crown

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 3 ratings
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"No Cross No Crown" is the 10th full-length studio album by US metal/heavy rock act Corrosion of Conformity. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2018. It´s the successor to "IX" from 2014 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as lead vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan has returned to the fold after leaving the band after the "In the Arms of God (2005)" album and not being part of the lineup who recorded the 2012 eponymously titled comeback album nor a part of the lineup who recorded "IX (2012)". Both mentioned albums were recorded by the three-piece lineup of Mike Dean (Bass, Vocals), Reed Mullin (Drums, Vocals), and Woody Weatherman (Guitars, Vocals).

It was never ruled out that the three remaining members wouldn´t work with Keenan again, and in late 2014 Corrosion of Conformity indeed announced that they would be reuniting with Keenan to write and record at least one album and tour in support of it. Initially the plan was to release the album in 2015, but touring commitments and the temporary dismissal of Mullin after an alcohol abuse related seizure postponed the recording and release plans.

While the two predecessors featured a more hardcore influenced heavy rock/metal style, which harks back to the early beginnings of the band, "No Cross No Crown" more or less picks up where "In the Arms of God (2005)" left off. So the listener is treated to a catchy stoner metal/southern influenced heavy rock style featuring healthy doses of both aggression, groove, and melody. Keenan is a skilled vocalist with a distinct sounding voice and delivery, and he just brings that something extra to Corrosion of Conformity´s sound. The instrumental part of the music is also performed with great skill and conviction. The band are an organic playing unit, who obviously know each other well and connect on a musical plain. Nothing sounds forced here and the band appear to have a good time playing, which isn´t always the case with reunited artists.

So it seems that the band have reunited with the right intentions in mind (because they like playing together and not just because they could make a lot of money). That can also be heard in the quality of the material on the 15 track, 57:37 minutes long album, which is relatively high throughout the album. I wouldn´t call "No Cross No Crown" the band´s strongest or most memorable release, but it´s a powerful, groove laden, and heavy and hard rocking album, featuring mostly memorable and catchy songs. The whole thing is packed in a raw and organic sounding production, which suits the material well, so upon conclusion "No Cross No Crown" is a quality comeback album for the Pepper Keenan-fronted Corrosion of Conformity. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

VARIOUS ARTISTS (GENERAL) Metal Madness: Vol. 1

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Metal Related Genres
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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VARIOUS ARTISTS - METAL MADNESS: Vol. 1 https://wisteriatn.bandcamp.com/album/metal-madness-vol-1

Rate Your Music's own Abishai Smith is back for another huge colossus of a project on his newly created Wisteria Records and this time he’s not holding back (um, well maybe he never has!). While it’s hard to believe, Bishopboy1999 (his site user name) puts out a punishing behemoth of a compilation in the form of METAL MADNESS: Vol 1 which includes a whopping 66 tracks by no less than 39 artists from all over the globe spanning the entire subgenre aisles at your friendly metal superstore. Yeah, that’s right. You name it. Progressive, death, black, sludge, technical, screamo. It’s all here! Ok, sorry you glam metal lovers. That didn’t make the final editing sessions. The album swallows up 388 minutes of your life to get through but when all is said and done…. THIS FUCKING COMP ROCKS!!! Although it took me only a mere two months to sift through ten tracks at a time for a few listens. It was definitely worth it as there are indeed MANY metal bands with great talent out there lurking in the shadows. Do yourself a favor and check them out on this handy one-stop listening center.

The comp starts off with two tracks from the sequencer and MIDI based POSITRON (France) which harnesses elements of black metal and industrial to create hyperactive little electro-metal pieces. The music is based more on the industrial elements with a rather polished metal backing. OK, but not my favorite style of metal.

HEDNINGER (Canada) brings the headbanging elements on board with a rather Amon Amarth-esque take on melodic death metal with Viking march styled melodies, soaring guitar riffs and pummeling percussive drive with a nicely placed bass part that doesn’t get buried in the din. The vocals are angry and shouted with emphatic warlike charge. Three tracks from these guys.

THRASHING MOSSDOG (US) takes the brutality to the next level with some stellar brutal death metal that offers a unique mix with blackgaze as a pummeling death oriented guitar riffs and percussion ascend from a blackhole of noise haze with the vocals screaming and still barely emerging from the gravitational pull of the chaotic din. Compositionally the track sounds more like black metal as well, so this is some sort of blackened deathgaze, perhaps? Cool stuff. 2 tracks from these guys.

Next up, SCOREDATURA (Australia), uh whaaat? Do you know what datura is? It’s a hallucinogenic drug that will make you jump off buildings and shit. And it sounds like this is the soundtrack! Taking a completely different detour, this band pumps out 2 tracks of fine djent-rification laden progressive instrumental metal with sizzling neoclassical guitar solos, thoughtful compositions and sounds like something that would’ve emerged on the Shrapnel Records label had it come out two decades prior as it’s prime finger melting wankery of the highest calibre. Animals As Leaders fanatics will eat this up!

THE BLUE PRISON (US) aka Keigo Yoshida only contributes one track but what a killer one it is! What would i call this? Sounds totally unique. “Patriot” is characterized by a military march percussive style, sizzling neoclassical shredding techniques and a tear inducing ambient synthesized background that evokes the fallen angels haunting the heavens above. The guitar work is absolutely outstanding and the emotional tugs are equally compelling. One of my favorite tracks on the entire comp. Thematically chilling and technically executed to perfection.

Next up, MOLEKH (Ireland). Now these guys have conjured up some of the absolutely wickedest sounding metal since Deathspell Omega scared the shit out of us with their trilogy of jangly Satanic liturgies over ten years ago. This band pummels with unrelenting percussion, similarly scary jangly atonal guitar riffs and franticly possessed shouted vocals that sound like several exorcisms ravaging the vocalist at the same time. The atmosphere is just plain creepy with strange theremin type guitar runs creating strange sounding effects. MOLEKH is another favorite discover as they have nailed the creepy technical black war metal sound like very few have. A true talent i’m anxious to hear more from.

LIGHT DWELLER (US) follows with four tracks of brutal blackened death metal mayhem. A great followup with similarly blackgazy death metal pummelation of unrelenting percussive fury, downtuned guitar string abuse, tortured shouted vocals and technically challenging compositions that allow harsh dissonance and steady stream rhythms to bombard the senses with the occasional break into bleak bouts of slowed down guitar parts for contrast. They also utilize the creepy atonal jangle guitar effect for maximum brainfuckery and it soooo works. Their debut EP is called “Nullity Of Light” but their music could easily fall into the “Nullity Of Sanity” category as well. I love it!!

Named after a birth defect in which the baby’s intestines extend outside the body, GASTROSCHISIS (US) deliver a short one track of pure adrenaline goregrind with the expected adrenaline infused grotesque nature that one would expect. Fast and furious and to the point.

DEVICE (Brazil) offer 4 tracks of an old school death metal sound bringing more of a classic era Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse or Bolt Thrower style to the table. Superbly executed with snarling vocal growls, classically themed deathened drum rolls and nicely delivered guitar riffs from below hell with a semi-melodic underpinning. Evil yet just enough sweetener to get through. Nice.

FRAYED ALIVE (US) deliver one track of brutal slam death metal goods on “To Dwell In Time” with deep growled unintelligible vocals the almost sound like a demonic frog croaking with subdued guitar riffs, blastbeat percussion and nice atmospheric passages that make this sound quite unique. A nice mix of dark ambient, sludge metal tempos and death metal overall feel. Awesomely evil sounding!

THE HORN (Australia) deliver a strange blackgazy sort of metal with “Spell 8” that has a heightened dark ambient fuzz with a murky mix of heavy black metal riffs, tales from the crypt vocals and a relentless percussive driven groove that allow a subdued melodic guitar run to creep through the sonic brume. “Spell 30a” follows suit but offers Egyptian sounds similar to Nile only these guys are more groove oriented in a weird galloping way. “Child In Time” is completely different as it covers the classic 1970 Deep Purple song and completely brings it up to date. Beginning with a demonic spoken word intro it slowly ratchets up both the dark ambient melodic backdrop as well as the ever encroaching guitar presence until it bursts into full metal fury. The keyboard work is extremely impressive. This is one helluva cover track! These guys are another favorite. This is another outstanding evil as fuck sounding band that released an astonishing number of albums dedicated to The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Three tracks from these guys.

NTIZKVM (Philippines) kill it with a primeval lo-fi indie sounding war metal track with “Dark Ends Of Eternity.” Sloppy guitar and drum action, psycho killer vocal ranting. All the makings of a great underground kvlt classic. Particular interesting is the drummer’s use of cymbals which accompany the pummeling blastbeats. Nice blackened journey into the underworld!

NON EST DEUS (Germany) only present one track but at nearly 10 minute long is one of the longest of the compilation. Another black metal band although this one reminds me more of the second wave 90s bands like Rotting Christ with a steady fast beat but not blastbeats. The vocals very much remind me of Hellenic black metal as do the guitar riffs which are rather boogie-woogie oriented like AC/DC on speed. While i’m reminded of those other bands, this is really rather unique in how it’s presented. Very digestible for black metal as it’s melodic but also badass. Kinda has a Violent Femmes folk punk groove to it as well.

Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa (France) immediately brings Metallica’s “One” to mind as the opener seems to simulate the opening riff of that track and when i see the name of the track is “The Exalted Ones,” it almost seems like a given that that intro was used as the basis for its development however don’t worry because it branches off into totally different arenas. This is atmospheric black metal and sounds like it. Buzzsaw guitar distortion at mid tempo. Creepy deranged vocals and a dark ambient fuzz. Melodic with tremolo guitar parts. Kinda has a touch of Doors psychedelia in the keyboard department. The guitar becomes thrashy at times. Also becomes very noisy and changes things up including an unexpected sax presence toward the middle. Cool track.

CULTOR NOCTIS (Belgium) continue the black metal streak with more dungeon synth oriented bleakness. Quite a downer and depressive with guttural howling of keyboards with downtuned guitar arpeggios that lead. Brings Sweden’s Shining to mind as the actual metal kicks in but while Shining is a slower drudging band, these guys aren’t afraid to unleash some wicked speed and heft in their depressive black metal. Nice chord changes offer a semi-progressive metal workout. The subdued frigid vocals convey the ultimate nadir of bleakness. Very effective.

THERESIA (Japan then Canada) offer another dose of depressive black metal only with higher octane and more agression. The percussion pummels the blastbeats, the tortured vocals scream from the pits of hell while the buzzsaw guitar. While the track plods along in a straight forward manner, i have to say that the violent vocals pleas make this the most unhinged track on the entire comp.

INNER SUFFERING (Ukraine) continue the depressive black metal show with four tracks characterized by heavy drumming, atmospheric backdrop, jangly dissonant guitar riffs and a doom laden dirge effect which offers an interesting hybridization of styles. More subdued screaming vocals from the pits of hell. While stylistically similar, the lengthy near twelve minute “Slow Dance On The Ashes Of Failure” take a funeral doom metal detour with echoey doomgazey ambience and slow dirge driven tempos glazed with atmospheric gloom that takes a lengthy journey into the darkness and never relents as it becomes slower and darker and even bleaker and more depressive. Oh god. Keep me away from that gun!

SADAEL (Armenia) continues the dirge driven doom laden melancholy with dissonant guitars and bleak atmospheres conjuring grim reapers for dark rituals in a near ten minute dark march into a mid-tempo metal excursion. The semi-spoken, semi-growled vocals provide a rather grim narrative of sort that exacerbates the darkness. One one track from the Armenians.

MOONDWELLER (Russia) provides another two tracks of atmospheric black metal that takes more than a few cues from Darkspace with thick atmospheric complexities and heavy pummeling guitar riff based black metal aggression. Instrumentally this is well executed but the production seems a little off for my tastes. The keyboards have a rather cheery vibe to them that clashes with the metal aspects.

DONARHALL (Germany) continues the atmospheric black metal but only one track with more emphasis on the atmospheric part as it straddles along with arpeggiated guitar chords heavily amplified for a lengthy period of time before breaking into black metal bombast mode. Honestly, this one is a little too generic for my tastes and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the legions of similar sounding acts.

COMA (Austria) brings back the depressive blackgaze with wrenching heavy distortion only the oddest vocals are delivered on at the 14 minute plus “Dance, Burning Butterly” with guest Narbengrund (of Totengeflüster) who sounds more like a Goth rock singer instead of the expected raspy evil sounding vocals associated with black metal. The track turns into a weird noisy psychedelic trip with a faint piano providing some sort of melody but then when the metal returns it becomes angry, bombastic with stomping power chords and furious growls from the pits of hell. This track continues to alternate between a sort of sound collage with clean arpeggiated guitar and the distorted black metal. Pretty cool. Their second track “Ghosting” sticks to the atmospheric black metal with the deranged growly vocals, dark ambient backdrop and heavy buzzsaw guitar. The time signatures are quite progressive though. This is another favorite band of this comp.

REMOTE (Russia) dish out one track of heavy duty sludge metal that marches around at a mid-tempo stomp with nice beefy type distortion and screamed vocals that bring a sense of impending despair. The sludge riffs are thick like an oil spill on the ocean’s surface and the melodic prance brings a quickened Black Sabbath vibe to the forefront. Nice filthy raw sludge metal here.

DEKONSTRUKTOR (Russia) delivers another dose of Russkiy sludge metal from the land of frozen tundra and vodka. Their one track takes a more lo-fi approach and a high energy galloping guitar riff and heavy percussion that makes this one border on death metal however the vocal style is definitely in the same camp as sludge metal bands such as Neurosis or Eyehategod. Nice aggressive sludge metal albeit nothing tremendously out of the ordinary either.

SMOKE (US) deliver another one track of American sludge metal all the way from the sludgy swamps of southern Louisiana. The track “BMF” makes me think “Big Monster Fuck” as the sludgy creeping guitar riffs that allow as much sustain as possible slowly build up for full attack. The track builds up to more of stoner metal vibe in the vein of Kyushu but the vocals take it to the twisted world of black metal as raspy vocals scream from the abyss. Nice.

SUNDRIFTER (US) dials things down a bit from the extreme metal universe but continues the stoner vibe as a tribal drum starts things off. The heavily distorted guitar has a Sabbath sort of feel as do the bluesy shuffles. The vocals are what ground it to the stoner rock world as they are clean and sound a bit like Jim Morrison of The Doors. This band sounds more like Danzig than a bona fide metal band but the heavy guitar, bass and drum are ferocious enough to get them in this club.

THE SLEEPER (Germany) changes the direction with their one track into the world a more progressive metal sound with a rather alternative Alice In Chains sound from the “Dirt” era. In fact Steven Jost’s intro vocals sounds very much like Lane Staley but the track takes on a heavier melodic metalcore stance as the Between The Buried And Me type style merges with a Linkin Park sort of piano riff. This is an interesting mix between alternative metal, metalcore and even touches of nu metal.

yrs. (Germany) is one of those newer band that just refuses to use capital letters in their name. What’s up with that guys? These guys dish out two tracks of eerie atmospheric sludge metal with depressive background ambience, a melodic guitar riff attack and anguished vocals screaming from the abysmal bottom of hell. The band name makes me think “years” which brings to mind some sort of sentencing and condemnation to a jail cell in some dark torturous location. If the tag depressive sludge metal existed, i’d definitely use that since this is a sludge metal equivalent to the anguished black metal of Shining and similar bands. We get two tracks from this band.

EMPRESS (Canada) cranks out four tracks of their unique style of atmospheric sludge metal which has a more evil sort of take on 90s Neurosis. They provide a heavy distorted groove, tribal drumming patterns, gazy atmospheric mix and a subdued shouting vocal effect emerging from beneath the heavy distorted din. When the guitar drops the incredibly evil sounding bass is allowed to shine which is my favorite instrument for these guys. Bouts of shoegaze type psychedelic meandering also occur. With four tracks they are one track away from featuring their entire debut EP “Reminiscence.” While sounding a bit like a more aggressive version of Neurosis, these guys have a firm command of their murky atmospheres married with heavy guitar sludgery. Nice tones they achieve and the instruments don’t bleed into each other too much leaving enough independence to be heard. Definitely an up and coming talent here.

APE CAVE (US) continues the sludge metal attack with a progressive edge with heavy guitar riffs that have an angular edge unleashing jittery time signatures and an edgy sort of percussive bombast. In fact the drummer is highly skilled with blitzkrieg lightning fast drum rolls. The vocals alternate between depressive clean and anguished angry growled screams. Their one track alternates from clean guitar led calmness to heavy distorted sludge outbursts. Nice attention paid to the details which makes this a pleasant mix. Another up and coming band ate watch out for.

TALLER THAN TREES (Belgium) provides two tracks of atmospheric sludge metal more in the post metal vein of bands like Isis and Pelican with repetitive grooves, lazy percussive backing and sludgy distortion. The vocals emerge as growly screams more in the vein of Eyehategod or early Neurosis. Not the most original band but passable. Needs work on variety the monotonous riffs become generic.

BESTIA (Poland) continues the sludgefest with a fierce heavy dual guitar assault that allows a bassier riff to cruise along with a higher registered one. This is also a band that blurs the line between metal styles. While the guitar riffs are based in sludge metal, the growly vocals are more akin to old school death metal such as the Morbid Angel years. The tracks have a more melodic alternative metal sort of approach that sound a little like accessible 90s grunge however it’s all balanced very nicely as not to be too saccharin and have enough metal ballsy gusto to feel like i want to run down the streets beating my chest and growling like a fucking animal! Nice semi-dissonant arpeggios and just off enough to have an edge yet grounded in traditional compositional structures. These guys have an instantly addictive mix of styles that will remind everyone of some band or other but really don’t sound like any other. Nice two tracks from the Poles.

LEFT TO WITHER (France) offers one of my least favorite types of metal hybridization and yeah that means screamo, an offshoot of hardcore punk meets math rock but this may be that i haven’t really delved to deeply into this little nook of the hardcore universe. It’s usually the vocals that drive me away (and i’m saying that as an extreme metal fanatic.) OK, on this French band’s two tracks, we indeed get a nerdy math rock that is heavily distorted with the expected unintelligible emotional outbursts that in this case emerge as the expected angry screams. Touches of atmospheric sludge metal make this a littler more digestible for me. Heavy sludge riffing, hardcore drum assault and a decent amount of slide guitar and interesting changes make this a nice set of headbangin’ hardcore.

SATURNIST (Finland) present just one track on this comp but these Finn’s know how to make an impact with this almost twelve minute doomfest. These guys take the traditional doom metal route with immediate Black Sabbath connections from the getgo as the tintinnabulation of bells and a bass gently usher in an incrementally more aggressive stance. The riffs are very Sabbathy as they churn on but close to the three minute mark a distorted atmospheric break allowed guitar sustain to transmogrify the music into a more 90s based doom metal not unlike Candlemass or Saint Vitus. Although it takes almost five minutes to introduce the vocals, once they hit, they are nicely unique not sounding like any of the aforementioned influences and instead convey more of a clean vocal style that sounds most like bands like Slough Feg rather than a doom metal band but it’s a nice contrast. Although the track plods along, this is indeed a nicely done doom metal track although not really groundbreaking in any way.

DEATHBELL (France) delivers the next round of doom metal with the expected nonchalant flows of distorted guitar riffs, lazy percussive backing and gloomy marches to infinity. What’s not expected is the vocal style of Lauren Gaynor who makes use of a high clean vocal style that is melodic and rises above the bass heavy instrumentation. Over their two tracks, they implement Sabbath-esque chord changes only dragged out into near funeral doom arenas but yet retain a sort of Kyuss styled stoner vibe to the mix. Rather catchy for doom metal but delivers all the doomy, gloomy goods.

SWALLOWED WHOLE (US) provide a rather unique soundscape on their one track. Straddling somewhere in the ether mix of black, industrial and death doom metal, this Seattle based band deliver an ominous assault on the senses with somewhat catchy melodic riffs that have a black metal guitar, a cymbal laden percussive backing and a freaky deep gargling vocal style. The melody is somewhat catchy but kind of teeters in and out of tune in an apparent dissonant / consonant tug-of-war. With a name like SWALLOWED WHOLE, their unique sound does kind of convey that they recorded this track at least in the belly of a whale! Now wouldn’t THAT make a killer recording studio? LOL

V.H. CLEANER (Australia) is the odd band out on the mix. They really aren’t a metal band at all but rather are more known for vaporware, plunderphonics, electronic and dark ambient. However, here they do implement some mean guitar distorted riffs that although echoing and writhing about like land locked octopi, they do provide a darkened ominous assault on the senses. A very short track that not exactly metal still fits the overall vibe.

SZAR (US) deliver the only drone metal track on the comp. This Louisiana based act is really the alter ego of Thomas Dwayne Hargrave who plays all instruments but don’t get too impressed. Drone metal is the easiest metal to play with virtually zero effort, however it is about the right atmospheric dynamics and SZAR does provide a nice romp through glaciated guitar sustained distortion with minimal drumming and more chord changes and faster tempos than frozen in time acts like early Earth. Drone metal is not my favorite in the least but this is decent.

Our metal circus ringleader saves his own contribution for the very last and while that alone doesn’t surprise me, the fact that this is not metal at all really does. ABISHAI ends the long journey through this comp with a little bit of a pallet cleanser. Instead of dishing out yet one more dose of heavy guitar distortion and growly vocal attitudnal misalignment, Mr Smith ends with a dark ambient track titled “Immortality And Hatred Within The Zealots.” While i would’ve loved to hear ABISHAI’s own metal concoction, this one is a nice grounding piece that keeps the darkness churning on til the very end.

CONCLUSION: Bravo to Abishai for creating a fan-damn-tastic METAL MADNESS comp! I do hope that the VOLUME ONE part of the title refers to a future Volume Two and beyond because this dude has proven to be a veritable talent magnet that has turned me on to some totally ripping good times here. Granted there are ups and downs on this one and everyone who can fantasize what their favorite type of comp should be, probably has not worked through the painstaking processes of compiling what is available for them to work with. While i’m sure everyone could think of a better way to do it themselves, the fact is they didn’t and Abishai shows a mature way of compiling some veritable contemporary talents in the underground metal world. Sure i would’ve loved to hear more power metal, more thrash or even more technically based avant-garde weirdness but i do have to say that there is more than enough here to please any extreme metal fan even if they don’t dig every single track. Although some tracks are stronger than others, there are really no throwaways either. This was a pleasure to experience 66 tracks worth of dark underground metal even though it took me forever to get through it a few times. I mean, wow. This easily could’ve been broken up into six volumes, so this could easily be considered a box set of sort had it come out before the digital age. EXCELLENT album! More of these please ;)

SLEEP The Sciences

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
After all this time, and particularly considering that its members had gone off to do other projects, did anybody expect Sleep to ever put out another album? No - but good things come to those who wait. A full decade after reforming for very occasional live gigs, Sleep woke up in a bleary haze on 4/20 and passed us some of the good stuff - namely, a set of six songs in the classic Sleep vein. Nothing here is quite as mind-crushingly heavy as Dopesmoker, but that's only to be expected - nothing is as heavy as Dopesmoker - but I'd say in general it's consistently heavier and slower than, say, Sleep's Holy Mountain. If you know your stoner doom, you already know what to expect from Sleep, and they deliver it here as though they'd never been away.

XANTHOCHROID Of Erthe and Axen Act II

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
This is the second half of Xanthochroid's two-part concept album, the two between them detailing the origin myth of their homebrewed Dungeons & Dragons world (I think). As previously, we're in a blackened progressive metal territory here, with folk touches and an overall concept which seems to combine the storyteller's theatricality of the Decemberists with the fantasy worldbuilding of Immortal. To my ears, it sounds like it has a bit more fire and fury than its predecessor, in keeping with being the exciting climax of the story. On the whole, the two-album set was an ambitious project to undertake, but it has at least paid off in terms of prompting a maturing and development in Xanthochroid's sound.

SKELETAL REMAINS Devouring Mortality

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Nightfly
I was pretty impressed by Condemned To Misery, the second album from Californian death metal band Skeletal Remains and three years later album number three, Devouring Mortality seems set to surpass it in my esteem.

Plain old school death metal which when done well is pretty hard to beat amongst the genres various subs or in metal in general for that matter. Skeletal Remains fortunately do it very well. On Devouring Mortality they may not surprise you with any great leaps forward or genre developments but what you get is an album of songs with classic old school styling with just enough of a modern edge to not sound totally retro. During the next forty five minutes they run through eleven tracks with plenty of variety – i.e. constantly shifting tempos from groove laden slower double kick drum led riffing to fast blast beats and inject moments of brutality into the mix. The riffs are totally compelling and kick ass but let’s face it, metal without great riffs is crap metal right. They’re made all the more powerful by the organic production and are well thought out and executed with precision, the guitar solos likewise which made me sit up on more than one occasion. Chris Monroy’s vocals may not be to everyone’s taste – they aren’t your typical low growl being higher pitched in the vein of Martin van Drunen of early Pestilence/Asphyx fame but work well within the songs being a good counterpoint to the low tuned guitars.

Picking favourites is a pretty futile exercise as the overall quality is very high with barely a weak moment. The only track that doesn’t earn its place is the short instrumental Lifeless Manifestation which sounds like the opening of a song and then fades out without going anywhere. A minor quibble though.

Such was my enjoyment of this album that when receiving it I played it three times solid and many times since. Devouring Mortality is definitely one of my favourite death metal albums of 2018 so far.

DALE CROVER The Fickle Finger Of Fate

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The Fickle Finger of Fate" is the debut full-length studio album by hard/heavy rock artist Dale Crover. The album was released through Joyful Noise Recordings in July 2017. Dale Crover is quite the prolific musician and while he is mostly known for his drummer role with Melvins, he has also contributed to the recordings of many other artists (Nirvana, Shrinebuilder...just to mention a few). It´s been fairly sparse with solo output by Crover through the years though with the Melvins 1992 Kiss-themed solo EP being the closest to a solo effort (and a few other minor releases), but with "The Fickle Finger of Fate" he finally got the time and mustered the energy to write and record enough material for a full-length solo release.

Not surprisingly the material on the 20 track album is quite the eclectic size. There´s everything from semi-avant garde sound experiments (usually very short tracks), to rock´n´roll tracks, to punk influenced tracks, to psychadelic tinged rock tracks. Crover plays and sings almost everything on the album, and while he is predominantly a drummer, this is not a "drummer solo album". The material aren´t centered around Crover showing off on the drums. These are actual songs, and some of them are pretty catchy tunes too. With that said, it´s impossible not to notice how great a drummer Crover is. His groove, his timing, his organic touch...beautiful. His voice isn´t particularly remarkable, but he can sing, and sing pretty well too.

The album was recorded by longtime Melvins engineer Toshi Kasai, and he has created a well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion Crover can be pretty proud of his first solo offering. It´s a quality release, which is catchy but also challenging enough to be interesting in the long run. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

TESSERACT Sonder

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.54 | 6 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
In my mind, there’s no doubt about it. Tesseract are the undisputed kings of Djent. There are a lot of great tech metal and alternative metal bands around right now, a lot of bands who mix elements from Tool or Messugah or Nine Inch Nails with the lessons learned from modern metalcore. Some are good, some are even great, but for me none are as effective as Britain’s own Tesseract.

I’ve seen Tesseract a good few times live both with Ashe O’Harra and with Dan, (Never with Good Tiger’s Elliot Coleman sadly) and slowly fallen completely in love with them. Amos and Jay are the perfect rhythm section. The guitarists work so well together weaving through each-other and creating glorious shimmering melodies. To date, all their studio albums have been great, from the heavier debut One to the beautiful and haunting Altered State and the hypnotic Polaris. Even their live album Odyssey/Scala is cracking. With a track record that good something was bound to go wrong. No one can keep it up for so many albums in a row. No one can keep a hot streak alive forever. Sadly however…

…Gotcha! No, 2018’s Sonder is far from a disappointment. Sonder is a triumph! The album is getting some seriously good media attention now. Its not hype. Its not major label pressure on the magazines. Its because Sonder is an absolute barnstormer.

Its got some absolutely electrifying singing. Its got some damn catchy rhythms. It got some pretty classy lyrics (its a concept album exploring a profound sense of insignificance). It flows perfectly from beginning to end. It is expansive and progressive in one way, but is punchy and concise in another way.

Its too early to tell obviously, but a lot of people are calling this the band’s best ever album. As much as I’m skeptical of hyperbole, and think statements of that nature need longer to be sure, I don’t feel utterly resistant about it in this case. (I mean its amazingly hard to top Altered State, which is my personal favourite due to when I came on board, but it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch).

There are some terrific tunes on this. The second single ‘King’ is Djent perfection, that section where it goes ‘Bow. Down.’ is so strong. ‘Juno’ is one of the catchier numbers, up there with ‘Nocturne’ for their catchiest song to date. The lengthy ‘Beneath My Skin/Mirror Image’ is the album’s epic moment. To be fair, its all well and good picking highlights, but this is the kind of thing you have to listen to all the way through.

If you like weird time signatures, if you like emotional and evocative clean singing, if you like awkward polyrhythms and a band who can be technical but make it sound catchy instead of just showing off, Tesseract are the band for you. If you like Tesseract, there is no other option, you need Sonder in your collection now.

PESTILENCE Hadeon

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 5 ratings
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Nightfly
Pestilence has not had the easiest of rides over the years, from fans and critics alike. It could be argued that this is their own doing as they have shifted styles almost on an album by album basis. From their early critically acclaimed death/thrash days they moved into a less raw sounding and more technical form of death metal with Testimony Of The Ancients. They then alienated a lot of fans with the jazz laden Spheres with mainman Patrick Mameli being highly influenced by the guitar work of Alan Holdsworth and other jazz/fusion players. A split followed but a return in 2008 led to the 2009 album Resurrection Macabre which seemed to signal a return to less experimental days. However, it was short lived with following album Doctrine lacking direction and re-introducing the jazz elements to a certain extent though less successfully than on Spheres. The more cohesive Obsideo followed and whilst not ditching the jazz/tech aspects entirely was a far more satisfying collection of songs and one of my favourites from the band.

Roll on to 2018 and Hadeon, studio album number eight. Perhaps they’ve grown tired of the critics but for whatever reason Hadeon is their most straight forward death metal album for a quite some time. It’s certainly doesn’t have the raw sound of Consuming Impulse having an up to date production. Nor does it ditch the technical aspects altogether and with players of this calibre I wouldn’t want them too. Old school death metal it ain’t but they focus more on delivering a collection of songs with great riffs and groove. The riffs are tight and they occasionally throw in a bit of thrash into the overall death metal sound. There’s a healthy dose of dissonance in many of these riffs as well, Oversoul being a prime example which drives along with a strong mid pace groove. All the songs are pretty short with nothing reaching the four minute barrier but they manage to inject plenty of changes into them. There’s still the odd moment of jazz creeping in like the bass led instrumental Subvisions and on some of the guitar solos too which generally have a strong melodic sensibility. Mameli is singing in a slightly lower register to my ears and far more satisfying than the screeching on Doctrine. My only gripe, which is minor, is I could have done without the robotic vocals that appear on a couple of songs like Ultra Demons though they are short lived.

Hadeon should keep most Pestilence fans more than happy (unless you only like Spheres) which doesn’t mean it smacks of compromise. Myself, I thought Obsideo was a great album, but this is equally so, just a more streamlined version of the band.

MELVINS A Walk With Love & Death

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"A Walk With Love & Death" is the 25th full-length studio album by US hard/heavy rock act Melvins. The album was released through Ipecac Recordings in July 2017. It´s the successor to "Basses Loaded" from 2016. While "Basses Loaded" is an album featuring material compiled from various recording sessions during the last decade, "A Walk With Love & Death" features freshly written new material.

"A Walk With Love & Death" is a double album release. The first part of the album is titled "Death" and the second part of the album is titled "Love". The "Death" part of the album (tracks 1-9) are individual tracks in the usual hard/heavy rock style that Melvins have played for now many years, while the "Love" part of the album (tracks 10-23) is the soundtrack to a short film by Jesse Nieminen, titled "A Walk With Love & Death". The album features various guest performances, but the main tracks were recorded by the three-piece lineup of King Buzzo (Guitar, Vocals, Theremin, Modular Synth, Assorted Noise), Dale Crover (Drums, Vocals, Assorted Noise), Steven McDonald (Bass, Vocals, Assorted Noise).

The heavy/hard rock part of the album is pretty standard quality Melvins. Some tracks stand out a bit more than others, but the "Death" part of the album is generally pretty consistent in quality and style. I´d mention tracks like "Euthanasia" and "Christ Hammer" as some of the highlights, but they aren´t major standout tracks. Overall it´s not Melvins as their best, but certainly not at their worst either, and the "Death" part of the album is generally entertaining enough.

The "Love" part of the album is another story. Some soundtrack albums feature "regular" vers/chorus pop/rock material and maybe some atmospheric sound collages/experiments, voice samples, and assorted noises (there are plenty of examples, but I´d mention "More (1969)" and "Obscured by Clouds (1972)" by Pink Floyd to make my point), but Melvins have opted to only include the latter type of material on the "Love" part of the album (with a few exceptions where they break the sound collage style with something which resembles regular songs). It´s probably an aquired taste if this type of music is something a listener can appreciate, but if enjoy atmospheric sound collages, you may be able to enjoy the 14 tracks on this part of the album.

Personally I find the "Love" part of the album completely redundant, and although the "Death" part of the album is good quality heavy/hard rock and "A Walk With Love & Death" features a well sounding organic production and Melvins are as always distinct sounding and very well playing, I have to evaluate "A Walk With Love & Death" as a full product, and in that regard the soundtrack part of the album does drag my rating down. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

JUDAS PRIEST Firepower

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 15 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
18 studio albums in, and Metal Pioneers Judas Priest are still relevant. There are many bands from the past who are making great music nowadays. Kreator have been as good in the past 10 years as they ever were in the ’80s. You can add Saxon and Accept to that list. Queensryche since Todd joined too.

Priest’s best moments on Redeemer Of Souls and Angel Of Retribution were in that sort of sphere as well but not to the unquestionable level of the above mentioned renaissances. Judging from how magazines, podcasts, blogs and websites I care about have reacted to Firepower however, I was expecting seriously great things when pressing play for the first time.

I’ve been hammering this record non-stop in the car for about half a month now, repeat listening to it over and over again. Its taken a while to grow on me as I had such high expectations after the last Saxon album and also all the hype surrounding this, that it almost did more harm than good setting me unrealistic expectations, but after taking a good long time to really digest it and understand how I feel about it, I can definitely confirm Firepower is a bit of a banger.

There are a few moments of variety, such as the slower closer ‘Sea Of Red’ and the brief instrumental ‘Guardians’ but most of the material is just straight ahead well written classic heavy metal. Highlights for me include ‘Evil Never Dies,’ ‘Rising From Ruins,’ ‘Flame Thrower’ and especailly ‘Traitors Gate.’

That being said, its an album you can listen to all the way through, and its an album you can happily listen to on repeat. I once heard the phrase ‘an album you can get lost in’ and that’s exactly how I feel about Firepower. The performances pop. Rob’s vocals are more energetic than on the previous record. Travis’ drums are that little bit harder. The production is a lot sharper and more metallic as well. Everything sounds that little bit harder and heavier. Maybe its having that Andy Sneap involvment? Who knows, but everything rips. The band sound twenty years younger.

I wouldn’t go overboard and start heaping tonnes and tonnes of hyperbolic praise on this personally. I wouldn’t argue its better than Screaming For Vengeance or Painkiller. I like Angel Of Retribution and Redeemer Of Souls well enough already not to go down that ‘best album since Painkiller’ route, but I will say it is a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue and no disapointment whatsoever. A pedantic person may be inclined to argue it is a bit overlong, and that a few songs are a bit forgettable compared to the better ones, but those are arguments that can be made for pretty much every album nowadays. Iron Maiden fans are well used to it at this stage and it doesn’t stop us buying their albums.

After Nostradamus I thought this band may be hitting a downer period and after KK left the band it seemed quite unlikely they would be anything more than a nostalgia act but that’s two albums now they’ve proved that fear wrong. The band are arguably on an upward streak and they are starting to sound almost as fresh and relevant as the new Accept and Saxon albums have been. Considering by how long Priest pre-date those bands its even more impressive really. It isn’t just as amazing as I was expecting, but what I was expecting wasn’t realistic to begin with, but the more I play Firepower, the closer it gets to being a reality.

If you like Priest, get it. If you like Classic Metal, get it. Hell, if you like Metal at all, get it!

AUGURY Illusive Golden Age

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.92 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
It's been a long road for the Canadian technical death metal act Augury to reach their third album, Illusive Golden Age (2018). Band members have come, gone and come back again and nine years have passed them by since the release of Fragmentary Evidence (2009), which itself took five years since their debut album Concealed (2004). The band was formed in 2002 and has never been outright inactive, but three albums in sixteen years isn't the most consistent showing. Augury is forgiven for this of course due to how bloody good those first two albums were. Augury is, as far as this humble reviewer is concerned, the best death metal act to have ever existed. Concealed is the main reason for that belief, but Fragmentary Evidence also goes a long way to strengthen it. Still, making their fans wait almost a whole decade for this follow-up can't have kept them in everyone's good graces. It's been so long that now that the album actually has dropped many may have even forgotten that these guys were in fact still around and who can blame them? But the third Augury album is here now and it's time to find out if it was worth the wait.

Hell. Fucking. Yes. Yes it was.

Illusive Golden Age has the sound of an album that is both familiar if you've heard Augury's earlier work but also with a bit of a different spin on it. The more atmospheric sections of music that they like to use have seen a reduction here compared to Fragmentary Evidence, as have the clean singing vocals from frontman Patrick Loisel, who main sticks to mixing his deep growling and higher pitched screams. His clean voice is still used but don't expect a track like the previous album's Sovereigns Unknown to show up during Illusive Golden Age. After nine years away Augury seem to have made a statement that they're all about the death metal. I'm not sure that anyone ever doubted that about them as they've always had a heavy sound and Loisel's deeper growls have always been brutal as hell, but that's the best description of how this album feels compared to their previous one that I can come up with.

That's not to say that their sound has become lesser by reducing these elements of variation. After all they are still there being used to effect when needed and the level of technical skill on display seems to be higher than ever, if that was even possible, including the audible fretless bass work from Dominic 'Forest' Lapointe. This is so noticeable it's like the bass is being used as the lead instrument. Not to sell what may be some of the best and most intricate technical death metal guitar work ever recorded short here, but fretless bass guitar works so damn well in this genre that it's near impossible not to focus on it as the band's defining feature. Augury and by extension Lapointe's ventures with similar band Beyond Creation have always done this well and it really does feel like he gets to share the centre stage with the two guitarists, Loisel and Mathieu Marcotte. That's very rare for a bass player and for me it's what really makes Augury more than simply technical, but also progressive.

Due to how technical and progressive their music is calling this album straight-forward seems like the start of a bad joke, but the simple fact that matter is that Illusive Golden Age is undeniably a bit less unusual in terms of its song-writing direction, especially if you're comparing it to the often weird Concealed (which for me remains their best album) or the more atmospheric Fragmentary Evidence. I think maybe stripped back would be a more appropriate way to describe it in relation to their previous, but Illusive Golden Age can only be called generic at your own peril. Augury's ability to write coherent and mostly unelongated songs while still being so technical with their riffs should quickly squash any such thoughts you might be having about this release. They did not make their comeback as just another generic tech death act by any means. They've made their comeback with an album that still sounds distinctly like an Augury album that has its own identity from their previous two. I don't know about you readers, but I'll take it.

I haven't mentioned any specific songs from Illusive Golden Age yet and that's because of the eight it's difficult to single out any particular one and then convincingly justify why that one is better. It can't be done. At a total running time of 44:20 Illusive Golden Age is pretty easy to take in during a single listen and let it all in as a singular experience. I will say that Augury made a good choice in Mater Dolorosa as the first song released to promote the album as it is a great one for getting a feel of exactly what to expect from the album. I didn't personally have any doubts that Augury would deliver when they eventually managed to get a third album out, but this song certainly sealed the deal on a CD pre-order from me. Of course there was little doubt that I'd have bought it anyway, but that song was enough to know that I need this in my hands as soon as possible. This is the death metal album to beat in 2018. I have little faith that anyone will come close to what Augury achieved here though. The long wait is forgiven...though try not to leave it another nine years next time lads.

DANZIG Black Laden Crown

Album · 2017 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Black Laden Crown" is the 11th full-length studio album by US heavy rock act Danzig. The album was released through AFM Records/Nuclear Blast Records in May 2017. "Black Laden Crown" is the first Danzig featuring new original material since "Deth Red Sabaoth" from 2010. The two albums are however bridged by the covers album "Skeletons" from 2015. The material on the 9 track, 43:11 minutes long album were recorded over the course of 3 years, with the initial recording sessions starting in February 2014.

Vocals, rhythm guitars, some bass parts, and some drums were performed by Glenn Danzig, while lead guitars and the remaining bass parts were handled by Tommy Victor. In addition to the drum parts that Glenn Danzig performs, no less than four other drummers were involved in the recording of the album: Joey Castillo, Johnny Kelly, Karl Rockfist, and Dirk Verbeuren.

Stylistically most tracks on the album can be described as a heavy and dark type of doomy rock. Most are slow and atmospheric tracks, but "Eyes Ripping Fire" and "Devil On Hwy 9" are slightly more hard rocking with a heavy bluesy edge. Not completely unlike the musical direction on the early albums by the band. It´s obvious though that a lot of water has run under the bridge, and in the intermediate years Danzig changed their sound and added industrial elements and generally had less focus on the bluesy heavy rock side of their music. On the last couple of albums the latter style has crept back into the band´s sound though, and "Black Laden Crown" is a combination of the various elements the band have picked up over the years. The material are generally well written and fairly memorable, although a bit more variation could have made the album more interesting.

The musicianship is solid, although there´s little here which requires great (technical) skill to play. Glenn Danzig was born in 1955 and is not a young man anymore, and while he still has a powerful and distinct sounding voice, said voice has changed a bit and has become a bit more hoarse on his older days. "Black Laden Crown" features a sound production which unfortunately takes away some of the power of the music. The instrumental part of the music is often a bit low in the mix, while the vocals are placed unnaturally high. The latter are also produced with an effect, which makes them sound a bit like they were recorded in an empty bathroom, and that´s not particularly pleasant to listen to.

Despite some elements of the album not quite reaching the expectations, it is nice that the tracks generally work well and "Black Laden Crown" is overall a decent quality release. It would be fair if some listeners had their doubts regarding the project after the minor catastrophy of "Skeletons (2015)", but thankfully Danzig make a decent return to form on "Black Laden Crown". The album doesn´t exactly reach the heights of the band´s iconic late 80s/early 90s releases, but less will do and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

KAMELOT The Shadow Theory

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
As someone who listens to a large amount of music every year, I’ve piled up a ton of favorite bands, some of which I’d say I can always rely on to produce an excellent album, while others fall into more of a long shot category, where sometimes they’ll disappoint me, but other times they’ll pull through and blow me away. One of the main bands I place into that category is American band Kamelot, one of the most well known and prolific power metal bands in all of North America. They’ve released three of my all-time favorite albums over the years in Epica, The Black Halo, and Silverthorn, but they’ve also released some disappointments like Ghost Opera and the total snooze fest, Poetry for the Poisoned. They’re one of those bands where every time I start to either lean towards loving them for all their great works or being a bit hard on them for their disappointments, they always manage to turn things around on me fairly quickly. So it’s no real surprise that after their last release Haven ended up letting me down a bit after the masterful comeback album Silverhorn, to the point where I started doubting the band again, their upcoming 12th full-length release The Shadow Theory has yet again managed to pull me back in. It’s not quite on the level of some of their all-time best works, but it’s a more consistent, more cohesive, yet somehow more varied and interesting album than Haven, which in some ways pushes their sound forward a bit, while also celebrating everything they’ve been in the past.

For a while it’s felt like Kamelot hasn’t quite known what to do with their sound, with the likes of Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned experimenting with melodic heavy metal and progressive metal respectively, neither of which quite worked for the band, while Silverthorn represented the return of their classic power metal sound in all its glory, paired with an increased focus on symphonic arrangements. At the time, I was expecting future albums to continue with that direction, but somehow Haven pushed the power metal elements into the background, while keeping the symphonic elements as the main focus, and so it ended up feeling like a slightly better version of the two aforementioned weaker albums, while still ultimately falling short of my expectations. Obviously, I had no clue what to expect from The Shadow Theory, but in the end, it has proven itself to be their most varied release in quite some time, possibly ever, combining elements from all their past releases, while also including some new elements at times.

Most notably, the keyboards seem to be a greater focus than ever before. Obviously, they were always there on past albums, but this time around they become the main focus a bit more often, along with the symphonic elements, of course. While they sound more typical on some tracks, others like “Ravenlight” and “Amnesiac” have a much more modern sound to them, almost giving the music a slight trance metal feel, which has never been there before. The guitar work is also a bit heavier and more modern sounding on some tracks, especially on “Phantom Divine” and “Kevlar Skin”. At the same time this is a Kamelot album, and so there’s still a ton of great melodies here as well, with some excellent melodic guitar leads, great guitar solos, epic symphonic arrangements, and huge vocal melodies and choruses. In fact, this album has some of their best melodies in quite some time, especially on some of the speedier, more power focused tracks, but even a slower, darker track like “Burns to Embrace” has an incredible chorus. As far as the songwriting goes, there’s a little something for everyone here, with fans of their classic power metal being given quite a few great tracks to look forward to, while fans of their slower, darker and more melodic tracks have quite a few songs to look forward to, and of course there’s a couple more progressive tracks as well as two ballads. Most importantly, though, where Haven had a couple tracks that bored me, this time around every song is consistently engaging. The musicianship is of course top notch as always and the production is absolutely perfect, as fans would expect.

The one element of Kamelot that’s consistently been excellent is the vocals, and of course, The Shadow Theory is no exception there. I’ve always loved Tommy Karevic’s vocals, and while I personally prefer his more emotional, higher ranged vocals he uses with his other band, Seventh Wonder, he’s done an excellent job of fitting in with Kamelot’s sound over these past three albums, and each time he sounds more and more comfortable. At this point, he feels like he seamlessly blends in with the band, doing an equally great job on the speedier, more upbeat sections and on the slower, darker sections. Perhaps the one thing I miss is some of the more dynamic vocal performances he gives with Seventh Wonder, as he seems to be more and more focused on channeling Roy Khan here, singing lower and darker than normal, which he, of course, does a great job of, but it does feel like some of his talents are largely being left untapped. Make no mistake about it, though, he does an excellent job on this album, and if anything my criticisms are more due to personal taste than anything else.

Of course, the biggest concern for any Kamelot album is whether or not the songwriting holds up. Thankfully, this time around the band has produced a collection of excellent tracks, which cover all aspects of their sound and it feels like they did their best job of giving everyone a little something to enjoy. Unsurprisingly, there’s both an orchestral intro and outro, both of which are quite nice, and in between those are 11 songs of varying sound, but each of them is memorable in different ways.

Fans of speedy power metal are in for a treat right away with “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)”, which has a brief keyboard intro before the orchestra and guitars kick in and it quickly speeds up, before slowing down for the slow but heavy verses. Once the chorus hits, though, it goes full speed ahead, with an excellent, speedy power metal chorus that fans of the band will instantly fall in love with, as Tommy delivers some epic vocals that bring Khan to mind in the best way possible, and from there the song keeps getting heavier and more intense as it goes on, with the second half of the track featuring the first of two appearances from Once Human vocalist Lauren Hart, who provides some pretty epic death growls. Overall, it’s an excellent track, which kicks things off in style. Next is “Ravenlight”, the first song released and it kind of represents a middle ground, largely being more of a darker, mid-paced track with some pretty heavy riffs and nice modern sounding keys, but it speeds up dramatically towards the end, for its most impressive section. Overall, I find the track to be solid, but it doesn’t fully grab my attention as the melodies are nice but not fantastic, and the main riff isn’t especially memorable. However, the final 45 seconds, when the song fully speeds up, are absolutely fantastic and help take it to the next level.

Other speedier tracks include the oddball “Amnesiac”, a fun and upbeat track which doesn’t quite reach full power metal speed, but it does move at a nice pace, especially during its chorus. It starts off with some very heavy guitar work, before giving way to some very trance-like keys, which lead the way through much of the track, especially the chorus, which is upbeat and very fun. It’s a bit of weird track, being a bit lighter and more keyboard driven than normal, but it’s actually very effective and feels fresh and new, while still having just enough of the classic Kamelot sound to fit in with the rest of the album. A more traditional power metal track is the hard hitter “Kevlar Skin”, which charges out of the gate and delivers some of the heaviest guitar work on the album, only slowing down a bit for the verses, before really speeding up during the intense and super addictive chorus. The guitar work only gets heavier as the track goes on, and the instrumental section is pretty damn intense and awesome. My favorite of all is “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)”, the most classic symphonic power metal sounding track here, as it’s a track that constantly rolls along at a fast pace, mixing heavy riffs with epic orchestral arrangements, and it has an absolutely incredible, super melodic chorus, where Tommy delivers some of his best-soaring power metal vocals. Even the one slower section in the second half stands out due to how dark and heavy it gets, and it makes for a great contrast with the rest of the track, while the instrumental section that follows goes back to being speedy and super melodic. Definitely my favorite song here and one I’d proudly put up there with some of the band’s all-time best. After that is the last full song here and also the longest and most progressive, “The Proud and the Broken”. It’s a more complex song, which starts off with a nice piano section before quickly speeding up. It goes through many transitions throughout, largely being a progressive power metal track, but it’s a bit lighter and more melodic than one would expect from the band, and it has some very nice softer sections, as well an excellent chorus, as usual. It’s definitely the most progressive track here and is another one of my favorites.

On the slower side, the first big stand out is “Burns to Embrace”, one of the band’s darker, more atmospheric tracks, but where I found the tracks like this on Haven to be a bit forced, this one actually works much better, pairing dark and heavy verses with a huge and epic chorus, and the track builds up tension nicely as it goes along, starting off calm and soft during its first verse, before picking up during the chorus and then finally going all out during the second verse. It’s a song that gets better as it goes along, with the instrumental section being great and then at the end the band brings in a children’s choir for the last two runs through the chorus, which is something I usually don’t like on a metal album, but here their voices combine with the lyrics to give the song a chilling and powerful effect that really elevates the track from being solid to being one of absolute best on the album. Unsurprisingly, things calm down with the next track, “In Twilight Hours”, a nice ballad which has some great vocal melodies, as well as some excellent guest vocals from Beyond the Black singer Jennifer Haben, who works very well with Tommy and helps to elevate an otherwise decent but forgettable track. She especially excels during the final run through the chorus, which is the best part of the song. The other ballad on the album is “Stories Unheard”, a largely acoustic track which has some very soft and excellent vocals from Tommy, as well as another excellent chorus. I find it to be a better written and more engaging track than “In Twilight Hours” overall, though both are pretty nice. Also on the softer side is “Static”, a track which starts off with some nice piano melodies and symphonic elements before getting slightly heavier during the opening verse. It’s a fairly light and calm track, with just a slight metal edge to it, and it has some nice vocal melodies, as well as another great chorus. It feels like the kind of thing they were trying to do on Poetry for the Poisoned and parts of Haven, except here it’s much better executed and more enjoyable. Also similar to much of Haven is “Mindfall Remedy”, a more mid-paced but very heavy track, with some great riffs and modern keys. It has a very fun chorus, as well as some more growls from Lauren Hart, and again it feels like they took the sound they had on much of Haven, except here the riffs hit just a bit harder and the melodies are just a bit more engaging, so the track ends up being much better than most of that album.

Overall, The Shadow Theory is an excellent album, which has a bit of everything for all Kamelot fans to enjoy. It once again brings back some of the band’s classic speedy power metal, as well as features some of their heaviest tracks, while also featuring some very modern keyboards and some darker, slower paced tracks, as well as some more relaxed and more melodic tracks. It’s definitely one of their most varied releases to date, while also feeling fresh in spots, and after Haven let me down, this one managed to win me over once again. I wouldn’t place it up there with their all-time best, but I’d certainly take it over anything else they’ve done since 2005, aside from Silverthorn.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/03/31/kamelot-the-shadow-theory-review/

RIVERS OF NIHIL Where Owls Know My Name

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 4 ratings
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Necrotica
In the 23 years I've spent on this planet, Where Owls Know My Name may be the most frustrating album I've ever encountered. Somewhere within this behemoth of a record, there lies an amazing journey that's equal parts harsh and melancholic; unfortunately, all of the external baggage caused by the inconsequential songwriting and sterile production robs it of its power. What's really sad is that, initially, all the ingredients to make this a masterpiece are in place. We're presented with incredible technical abilities from the musicians, lots of emotional potency in the performances, and an experience that's clearly striving to elevate the world of progressive death metal to something more ambitious and impactful. However, Where Owls Know My Name just goes in one ear and out the other and quickly becomes a dull grind akin to background noise.

The lack of dynamic range may actually be the biggest culprit here, especially as far as the metal sections go. There never seem to be any discernible climaxes or moments of catharsis, as the waves of guitar distortion and compressed production just wash over any sense of sonic variety. The best moments of variation and emotional weight come in the form of the album's quieter segments, such as the subtle keyboard-driven opener "Cancer/Moonspeak" or the beautiful saxophone break in "The Silent Life." But even these types of segments tend to be undercut by the generic riffing and djent-oriented chugs that kill both the pacing and ambition of the album. The entire first half of "Old Nothing" is crammed with intrusive blastbeats and dull deathcore riffs that ruin the album's sense of progression, as well as killing any potential atmosphere that could make it interesting. On top of that, quite a few moments just sound out of place and... well... ugly. "A Home" sounded great during the opening guitar chords, and the band didn't really need to throw a giant mess of triggered drum acrobatics all over it. Really, the majority of the metal in this experience is defined by strikingly similar chord progressions and tempos being glazed with gutless melodic noise that fills the treble end, while some chugs and mid tempo drum progressions try to fill in the cracks of the low end. That's basically the metal-oriented material in a nutshell, and it defines most of the tracklist. It's really easy to tune out of this album as it's playing, and very few moments really manage to gain one's attention back in a significant way.

Still, I'll give credit where it's due. Some moments still manage to be breathtaking, most notably that gorgeous acoustic intro to "Subtle Change." The song sounds like a real expedition, as the melodic bass traverses across the ample terrain of the rolling drums... there's a lot of 70s prog influence on this one, and it's one of the only songs in which the loud and quiet moments aren't too intrusive to each other. There's also a nice cleanly sung ballad intro that kicks off the title track, reminding me a lot of Paul Masvidal's vocals in the last few Cynic records. Finally, the last track "Capricorn/Agoratopia" cleverly brings the album full circle by using the intro track and giving it more fleshed-out instrumental accompaniment to drive the final mini-epic home. It's a decent way to conclude Where Owls Know My Name; I just wish the journey to get there was worth it.

It's not that the album comes off as misguided, but rather it sounds inconsequential and dull. If it was reduced to about 30-35 minutes and given an EP format, I might recommend it to fans of progressive death metal or even post metal. But in its current state, it happens to be arduous, overbearing, and boring all at the same time.

BLACK MOTH Anatomical Venus

Album · 2018 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Having been impressed by Black Moth’s 2014 album Condemned To Hope’s blend of doom, stoner and garage rock (which showed considerable growth over their debut) I was looking forward to hear Anatomical Venus, their first in four years. It sees a line-up change with guitarist Federica Gialanze taking over from Nico Carew. She previously played in a Black Sabbath tribute band whose influences can be heard in the grooves of this latest release as they were on the last album. The title Anatomical Venus was inspired by the wax models of women created by Clementi Susini which whilst being accurate anatomical figures for medical study also unsettlingly beautified them in death.

Istra kicks things off in fine style with powerful riffing and Harriet Hyde’s authoritatively biting vocal delivery but the song also manages to introduce some light and shade which works very well. A strong start and equally good is Moonbow, a pre-album single release, with a captivating and hypnotic 6/8 time riff. They clearly like playing in 6’s as Tourmaline later in the album does too. Whilst most of the influences that made Condemned To Hope such a strong release are in place they do seem to have toned down the purer doom touches, which were never particularly prevalent anyway, with most of the album being more in the stoner metal/rock vein with the garage rock still rearing its head from time to time. Black Moth are showing a lot of maturity as songwriters too with much of the album being their strongest work to date. The only lapse into ordinariness is Buried Hoards which whilst not bad creates a momentary lull though pleasingly short lived. Songs like Severed Grace more than make up for it though. A truly remarkable, haunting and powerful song, delving into the subject of the album title.

Anatomical Venus whilst I didn’t originally think so is the bands best work so far. A few listens however soon revealed what a compelling collection of songs this is with a few clever and unexpected twists and turns and deserves to give them wider recognition and success.

ELDRITCH Cracksleep

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
So far in 2018, a recurring theme has been bands who hadn’t quite managed to win me over in the past, finally managing to break through and impress me with their new releases. The trend continues with Italian prog band Eldritch. Granted, this is one case where I wasn’t terribly familiar with the band’s work, only hearing three of their ten previous releases, but while Tasting the Tears, in particular, had its moments, none of those three albums managed to consistently hold my attention the whole way through, and so I wasn’t exactly expecting a whole lot from their upcoming eleventh full-length release, Cracksleep. Somehow, though, were their three most recent albums had all failed, this one manages to pull through and provide a consistently entertaining release that I have played several times over the past week and enjoyed it every time.

Eldritch has always been on the darker side of the genre, and their music has always been quite heavy and atmospheric, but Cracksleep especially comes close to the likes of Evergrey at points, with the atmosphere constantly being an important part of the music, as even the heavier songs have some dark sounding riffs and keyboards that add a foreboding feeling to the music. The guitar tone especially reminds me of the Swedish band at times, though musically the album is more varied and has more power metal undertones than that band usually does. There’s quite a bit of variety to the songwriting, with a few speedy power metal influenced tracks, a couple of which have some very thrashy riffs, as well as the expected heavy mid-paced stompers, a few lighter, more atmospheric tracks, and a couple ballads. The faster and heavier tracks tend to be the most memorable, with the occasional flashy instrumental sections standing out and adding some extra energy and flare, but even the more atmospheric and slower tracks are quite nice, and this is the first album I’ve heard from the band that has kept me consistently entertained. It also happens to be a concept album, based around insomnia, which is quite the interesting and effective theme for this style of music, and I think the band pulled it off very well, both lyrically and with some of the sounds they used to evoke the feelings they’re going for.

One element of their music I’ve always enjoyed is Terrance Holler’s vocals. He has a very distinct and memorable voice, sounding very clear and rather airy, but he can provide a bit of extra power to fit well on the heavier tracks. On this album he really shines, sounding a bit frail in a way that fits the lyrics nicely, and he gives a very emotional and powerful performance that greatly enhances the tracks. There’s some occasional death growls used, most effectively on “Voices Calling”, where the band does a nice job of creating the old “voices in your head” feeling.

As with many bands, my biggest problem with Eldritch has long been their inconsistent songwriting quality. Surprisingly, though, Cracksleep is a consistently strong album throughout, with a few big standouts and no duds at all. The opening title track is a brief but very effective intro that opens with some nice piano and atmospheric keyboards, before eventually introducing a hauntingly beautiful main guitar melody that sets the tone for the album, and is actually a slightly slowed down version of a melody from the chorus of the next track, “Reset”. Speaking of which, “Reset” is an instant barn burner, and one of my favorites on the album, opening with some very dark sounding guitar riffs, before quickly picking up the pace and turning into a heavy, speeding track with strong power metal elements throughout. It’s definitely one of the faster and more immediately catchy tracks on the album, as well as having one of the catchiest choruses, but it still has a ton of atmosphere, especially from the background keys and slight symphonic elements, as well as that lead guitar melody I mentioned earlier. It’s an amazing track that really sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Despite being a very dark and at times melancholic album, there’s actually quite a few speedier tracks here, continuing with “Aberration of Nature”, another instant show stealer. This one is probably my absolute favorite on the album and is definitely the fastest and heaviest. It has some very thrashy riffs throughout, as well as the occasional use of death growls, and it’s a very in your face kind of track which speeds along during its epic, soaring chorus, while the atmospheric keys and crushing guitars are present throughout and help make it quite the special track. The instrumental section in the second half is absolutely crazy, and easily my favorite section on the entire album, while the rest of the song is also amazing. Another faster song is “Voices Calling”, which again makes very effective use of growls, as well as again having slight thrash elements during its rapid-fire verses. Its chorus is slower and brings out more of the atmospheric elements of the music, and all around it’s another excellent track. The final speedier track on the album is “Night Feeling”, another hard hitter, with a very nice chorus and another excellent instrumental section, while offering the usual mix of heavy guitar riffs and atmospheric keys.

On the slower but still heavy side of things, “Deep Frost” is an epic mid-paced track with crushing riffs during its verses, which build up to a calm and very melodic chorus, that again really brings out the dark feeling of the lyrics, and Terry gives a very emotional vocal performance throughout the track. Another heavier track is “Silent Corner”, a mid-paced track with some very crushing guitar riffs, that moves along at a decent pace and it has a very epic and melodic chorus, which gets very intense right at the end, in an awesome way. The track comes pretty close to djent territory at points, especially in the middle, but it’s a very nice track overall, which fits in nicely with the concept of the album, the guitar tone during the solo is absolutely gorgeous. In similar territory is “Staring At the Ceiling”, a rather slow-paced track with some pretty heavy verses and a very nice chorus. Its instrumental section is very heavy and is probably the closest the album comes to reminding me of Evergrey, especially during the beautiful guitar solo towards the end.

On the calmer side of things, lead single “As the Night Crawls In” is a very light and mellow track, entirely built around the atmosphere. It’s a slow building track with some haunting melodies, and subtle but very nice chorus, which serves as a nice indicator of the overall tone of the album. It’s a fairly subdued track, with brief bursts of heaviness and is quite good overall. Even softer than that is “My Breath”, the first of two ballads on the album. It’s a fairly calm, vocal-driven track with some nice melodies and a memorable vocal performance. There’s a great guitar solo in the second half, and overall it’s a very nice and atmospheric track. Closing out the album is one other ballad, “Hidden Friend”. This track is by far the softest on the album, with very simple and subdued guitar work being used to set the tone, and it makes very effective use of minimal sounds to create a thick atmosphere, while the vocals are very emotional and powerful once again. It’s quite the haunting track, which closes the album out nicely.

Overall, Cracksleep is the first time Eldritch has truly impressed me, with a very cohesive consistently engaging concept album that uses atmosphere very effectively, while having some heavier tracks, as well as occasional elements of power metal and thrash. The vocals and lyrics are obviously an important part of why the album connects with me, though it’s a very enjoyable album on the whole, and is definitely one I’d recommend to prog fans looking for something a bit darker and more atmospheric, while still having some great melodies and great riffs at times.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/03/03/eldritch-cracksleep-review/

PRONG Zero Days

Album · 2017 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
There's an argument to be made that a lot of bands put out their best material on their first to fifth album, or before they turn 40 years old. Think about all the bands who were better when they were newer. Of course, there are exceptions. Notable among those exceptions are New York's mighty Groove Metal Veterans, Prong.

Tommy Victor, who basically is Prong in the way that Dave Mustaine basically is Megadeth or Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails or Jeff Waters is Annihilator, has arguably only been getting better and better the more he works. Especially since the band really hit their new stride with their 8th studio album, Carved Into Stone in 2012. Basically, ever since then, everything the band touch has turned to gold. Great production, great tone, great vocals, great choruses, great riffs. Absolutely consistent, basically no filler, no drop-off from album to album.

You may have guessed already from that introduction, but I like Prong's newest album, 2017's Zero Days. I like it a lot. It is Prong's 11th full-length studio album (not counting remixes, covers albums and compilations),  and it is an absolute gem.

It follows that perfect formula of the past three studio albums perfectly, delivering more of that fantastic modernized Groove Metal with small hints of the different parts of their career all refined and with a lot of chug, pace and groove balanced out with catchy but not saccharine melodies. 'Bad Ass' are really the best words to describe their current sound.

Combining the crunchy, crushing riffs of a Pantera, the eerie melody and mechanical sensibilities of a Fear Factory, the hardcore-influenced groove of a '90s-era Sepultura and muscular power of a Machine Head, but with an updated sound and masterful production job; Prong batter the audience with a perfect blend of styles as easily enjoyable by a Black Label Society fan as a Five Finger Death Punch or a Pitchshifter fan.

Highlights include the speedy Hardcore influenced 'Force Into Tolerance' with its bouncy floor tom drive, opener 'However It May End' & also 'Interbeing' with their fat bouncy '90s riffing, as well as 'The Whispers' which seems to be a hark back to their classic single 'Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck' but with a much more melodic chorus that sounds like it should be in a pro wrestling event.

Just because they've been going a while, doesn't mean Prong aren't putting out some of the best material of their whole career. This album is a superb blend of tooth-kicking riffage and sweet but uncommon melody. It has all the advantages of Nu Metal without all the questionable drawbacks. Its fun, its bouncy and its accessible, but it still has ferocious riffs, impressive guitar solos and a direct through-line to beefy hardcore, classic thrash metal, and the slightest hints of industrial lurking deep in the background. If any of that sounds good to you, check this album out and check the three studio albums that preceded it too. You won't be sorry.

CANNIBAL CORPSE Red Before Black

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Red Before Black" is the 14th full-length studio album by US death metal act Cannibal Corpse. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in November 2017. It´s the successor to "A Skeletal Domain" from 2014 and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Cannibal Corpse are by now an institution on the death metal scene, and one of the most commercially successful artists on the scene too, but when you reach your 14th full-length studio album, it´s always interesting to hear if a band as seasoned as Cannibal Corpse can keep up the pace. There´s also a question of not stagnating artistically, and most artists would probably struggle with that at this point in their career...

...but that´s not really the case with Cannibal Corpse. Sure the quality of the songwriting has been a slightly (only slightly) up and down on their now many studio albums, but there has always been a certain standard that they have never sunk below. You can always count on excellent musicianship, a professional sound production, and consistent material, and nothing has changed in those departments on "Red Before Black".

Stylistically we´re treated to the brutal death metal sound, that is unmistakably the sound of Cannibal Corpse. George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher´s brutal growling vocals and occasional higher pitched scream, technically intriguing and powerful guitar riffs, the occasional screaming guitar solo, and the ever solid and hard hitting rhythm duo of bassist Alex Webster and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz. The gory lyrics (and another signature Vince Locke cover artwork) are also in place.

"Only One Will Die" opens the album in great style and establishes right away, that we can expect to be bludgeoned as always. From then on it´s one solid death metal track after another. Some faster, some heavier, but always of a good quality and in a few cases memorable. They could overall easily have been more hook laden though, and thereby also memorable longer after the album has ended, because that´s not exactly the case, and it´s not an album you remember many songs from. It´s not a major issue considering the brutality level and the fact that a one-dimensional songwriting style isn´t anything out of the ordinary on other contemporary releases in a similar style. At least Cannibal Corpse have a signature sound, and they deserve praise for that.

"Red Before Black" was produced by Erik Rutan, who has previously produced several of the band´s albums, and he has created a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well. So upon conclusion "Red Before Black" is another quality death metal release by Cannibal Corpse. It´s not one of their most standout releases, but it´s consistent in quality and style and an overall solid release. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

АРКОНА Храм

Album · 2018 · Pagan Black Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 5 ratings
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adg211288
Russia's Аркона (A.K.A. Arkona, used herein) must surely be their country's premium folk metal band. They've been releasing albums since 2004's Возрождение (Vozrozhdenie), but become something really special with 2005's Во славу великим! (Vo Slavu Velikim!), actually their third album by that point due to releasing Лепта (Lepta) later in 2004. Most recently, in 2016, they went back and remade their debut album in a much more polished yet faithful to the original version, complete with more authentic folk instrumentation as they were synthesising a lot of stuff when they first started, a treatment that I hope they give Lepta as well. Before that though the band had released Явь (Yav) in 2014, an album that saw them taking different approaches in their music. It's an album that can be seen as, through the kind of hindsight that can only be gained through the release of it's follow-up, Храм (Khram), as the kind of transitional, stepping stone release to the band becoming something different. Arkona may be Russia's premium folk metal act, but in 2018 their genre allegiance has taken a thoroughly more blackened turn.

Of course Arkona was always partially based in the black metal genre, also drawing on power metal in some songs, but here it's like the genre has taken over from folk metal as the band's main focus. Khram is not so much a folk metal album but a pagan black metal album. That means that there's still folk elements to be found, but it's much more about the blackened riff and a primitive sound. Vocalist Masha "Scream" Arkhipova still uses her clean singing abilities, but is dominantly using her growling style on this record. This is not to say that her growl suddenly sounds like the typical necro black metal rasp (it doesn't) or that the guitar tone is suddenly all raw and cold (it isn't), but the overall style and vibe of the band's music has certainly taken a shift. Yet it's still very much recognisable as the work of Arkona.

They've also got noticeably more progressive with this release. Yav had elements of what I would attribute to prog but it's much more overt here and has resulted in some added complexity within the primitive pagan black metal sound Arkona has forged for themselves. This also comes across in the form of some long song structures. Intro and Outro tracks aside the only regular length song can be said to be Шторм (Shtorm) at 5:12. The rest are all at least close to eight minutes long and one, Целуя жизнь (Tseluya zhizn') is over seventeen, making it Arkona's longest song to date.

I have one gripe I need to get off my chest at this point though. It's the intro track and by extension the outro track, both titled Мантра (Mantra). The Outro version only lasts for fifty-five seconds and it's really of any consequence but the Intro version goes on for too long at 3:51 before the first proper song gets underway. I wouldn't mind so much, but the chant-based intro just fails to really click with me on any level and proves a detraction from the release as a whole. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to start the album on track two.

However the rest of the rest is excellent. Khram is definitely more of a grower than Arkona's folk metal work, thanks in no small part to its darker sound, so it may take a few listens before it really starts to feel like it's rewarding its listener for their patience. The extra long track, Tseluya zhizn', certainly stands out as the crowning achievement of the album, but there's some great work to be found right across it, with plenty of variation in the delivery of each track that gives each identity, such as the use of piano on Волчица (Volchitsa), which is actually a cover song, originally by Russian folk group ВеданЪ КолодЪ (Vedan Kolod). Arkona has released covers before, but I believe this is the first one to appear on a main album. Despite the original artist having nothing to do with metal and Arkona's newfound more black metal direction the track fits in well with their original material.

The question is, given their folk metal back catalogue, whether Khram is really the album fans wanted to hear from Arkona? For some it's inevitable that the answer will be no. For others, this will be a breath of fresh air. This band has done several folk metal masterpieces that, frankly, they'd have difficultly in bettering. It's time now for something new. It's time for Khram.

ESOCTRILIHUM Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.92 | 4 ratings
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adg211288
Although barely half a year has passed since the release of Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension (2017), the debut by French atmospheric black metal solo project Esoctrilihum, it's lone musician Asthâghul has certainly wasted no time in getting it's follow-up out there. Entitled with the rather long-winded Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness), this second album sees the project building upon and expanding what was begun on the debut.

I want to make it clear that I personally loved Esoctrilihum's debut and nothing is going to be able to diminish the regard I have for that piece of work. It was a great example of the atmospheric black metal genre that could be considered contemporary to the work of I, Voidhanger Records labelmate Mare Cognitum. It wasn't the most surprising record in that respect, except for one sudden burst of death metal that came out of nowhere during the track BltQb (Black Collapse). Considered most likely to be a fluke by myself at the time, it's clear to me now that Asthâghul must actually be quite interested in what death metal can add to his music, since Pandaemorthium features considerably more death metal elements than Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension did, to the point where Pandaemorthium can be considered as much a death metal album as a black metal album.

While various black metal and death metal fusions aren't anything new, what makes Pandaemorthium a more unusual example is that the black metal elements themselves are still very atmospheric in nature, with many similarities to the first album in their underlying ambient, cosmic direction, a prime example being Lord of the Closed Eyes, the first song released for fans to hear. Naturally though the death metal elements greatly change the way that the record impacts upon its listener, becoming something much more aggressive. It is easy sometimes to forget you're listening to an atmospheric black metal record with this album because of them, which I guess is why some people seem to be saying that this album represents a complete stylistic shift for the Esoctrilihum project, but I have to say that I think that's false: if one listens past the death metal elements it's actually quite obvious that this isn't that big of a step away from what Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension started.

And that's just one of the things that's good about it! It's one thing to play this style or that style and another entirely to take bits of both and forge them into something that works as well as Pandaemorthium does. Another thing that's good about is the result of this mix. Pandaemorthium is an atmospheric yet intense album that will pummel your eardrums into submission for almost seventy minutes, neither letting up it's relentless assault or letting go of your attention span, not even during rare softer moments such as Breath of the Silent Shape. Expect plenty of black and death metal riffs (and even some thrashy ones in a track like The Holocaust of Fire in the Temple of the Red Oracle) that are full of technicality and complexity, interlaced with spacey atmospheric metal passages and of course Asthâghul's perfectly integrated, malevolent growling. I do find the latter hard to follow in terms of his actual lyrics, but as part of the whole package it works.

Pandaemorthium is undeniably a very satisfying release. It's not quite the album I expected to hear next from Esoctrilihum but maybe that's a good thing. A level of unpredictability makes this project even more exciting than it was already and Mystic Echo From a Funeral Dimension had already given me a lot of hopes for its future. For all we know, Asthâghul's next one for Esoctrilihum could easily be a full on progressive/technical death metal release, full on spacey black metal madness, or even something avant-garde. Or none of the above or maybe a bit of all of them and more. Wherever he takes this project next, it's clearly going to be one hell of a ride to take with him to find out. And for my money, Pandaemorthium is the first true standout album of 2018.

SAXON Thunderbolt

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 7 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Now, I don’t claim to be the world’s biggest or most devout Saxon fan. I only got into them about five or six years ago after hearing ‘Denim & Leather’ in an episode of both Metal Evolution and also Heavy Metal Louder Than Life and feeling like I needed to hear more. Since this was in my most financially broke student period its been a slow process gathering their discography. At present I own only about ¾ of their albums, but to be fair, have seen them live about 3 times (would’ve been four, but one was cancelled). Slowly, slowly they’ve won me over more and more and more until I’d now consider them one of my absolute favourite bands (if not for a mental block about having to have the full discography I have), and its a rare day you catch me without a Saxon t-shirt on, even at work.

Saxon have had several distinct periods over the years. The unsigned and first album era. The classic and most publicly beloved era of the next 3-5 albums where the bulk of their live setlist and greatest-hits tracklists will be drawn from. The more commercial 3 albums after that in the mid-late ’80s. The early ’90s comeback. The early ’00s comeback. The late ’00s comeback. Their current three comeback albums. Yeah, when I saw them live, singer Biff Byford joked “we’re on about our tenth comeback now!”

Even though they were already on an amazing comeback with Sacrifice, the public considered their last album Battering Ram a comeback as well, and judging by the chart performance and critical and fan reaction to this current album, 2018’s Thunderbolt (their 22nd studio album), the same thing is happening again.

Much like German Metal Legends, Accept or Kreator; Saxon are playing and writing better now than so many younger bands, than so many of their peers, and arguably than themselves in much of their classic discography.

Even as a new fan, this record is not something you want to be missing out on, this isn’t just a reason to tour or one or two new songs to add to a setlist for one tour, to be forgotten forever after, this is a damn strong, exciting, vital sounding album!

Highlights include the bombastic strung-up moody album-centerpiece ‘Nosferatu’ with its astonishing guitar work, dynamic mix of tempos and evocative lyrics, as well as the furious Motorhead tribute ‘And They Played Rock N Roll’ and the heavy ‘Predator’ which features guest vocals from Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg.

To be honest though, apart from an instrumental intro, there is not one skippable song on the whole album. Even towards the end of the album, tracks like ‘Speed Merchant’ are just as good as anything at the start of the album. It makes sense that the band are playing six or seven songs from this record live at the moment, as it is some seriously strong material. With Paul Quinn’s searing guitar solos, Nigel Glocker’s mighty drumming and Andy Sneap’s absolutely perfect production job… this is exactly what Heavy Metal is supposed to sound like; punchy, heavy, vital, catchy, impressive and fun!

If you like Saxon then this is no album to miss, if you are lapsed its a good re-entry point, and of course, if you are new or newish to Saxon then this is mandatory listening. I know some people would call it sacrilegious to compare it to career triumphs like Strong Arm Of The Law, Wheels Of Steel, Denim & Leather or Solid Ball Of Rock, but this tight, consistent and damn entertaining album is honestly good enough to be both up there with the best Saxon material but up there with the best Heavy Metal material coming out at the moment. I would have it over Iron Maiden’s latest at the moment, and they are on a high period as well. Don’t miss out, get struck by the Thunderbolt now!

BLACK LABEL SOCIETY Grimmest Hits

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Black Label Society are very much 'old dependable.' Every album is worth owning. For me I do have to admit prefering their Metal side to their Rock side and consequently thinging the first four albums and also Order Of The Black are the best, but even with that being said, nothing they do it bad.

2018's Grimmest Hits (a studio album, not a greatest hits, in case you didn't know) is their tenth proper Studio album. If it is your first BLS album, then you'll probably love it, if you already own a few, then you'll probably like me enjoy it, but not think it is the best. Like AC/DC or Hatebreed or Motorhead, the band do have album on album variation, but they always sound distinctly themselves and a causaul person may say 'heard one, hear em all.'

Its pretty much the usual fayer here, with a bit more Sabbathy and a bit less Groove Metal than some of their other work, but still very much more of the same. A few great ballads, a mix of fast, slow and mid-tempo Metallic rock songs with increddible guitar solos and vocals that owe a lot to both Layne Stayley and Ozzy Osbourne.

Highlights this time around include 'Seasons Of Faulter,' 'A Love Unreal' and the very catchy southern ballad 'The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away.'

Its the kind of album you have on in the car and listen to over and over again without realizing how much you actually listen to it. You wouldn't call it your favourite ever album but you certainly get your money's worth in the end. Recommended, not a disappointment, but not their greatest. If you are a new fan try something like 1919 Eternal first, move on to this when you're already a fan.

JUDAS PRIEST Firepower

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 15 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It’s hard to believe that the metal gods of the 80s who formed all the way back in 1969, yep, that’s 49 years ago are still around almost 20 years into the new millennium with their 18th studio album are still cranking it up and pumping out the metal glory. While most metal bands have formed and disbanded within this time period, JUDAS PRIEST somehow seems immortal as they unleash their classic 80s sound in modern form on their newest sonic artillery range FIREPOWER. On their previous album “Redeemer Of Souls,” PRIEST seemed to be having an identity crisis of some sort. The album sampled a bit from their entire career with one of the most diverse sounding albums since their Gull Records days, but on FIREPOWER, Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, Scott Travis and the newest member of the pack Richie Faulkner (who replaced found K.K. Downing in 2011) zero in on the classic 80s PRIEST sound that made them some of the metal lords of eternity. In fact if someone were to re-write history and replace “Turbo” with FIREPOWER and listen to their canon in sequential order, no one would probably even notice if they were not familiar with the real order or course.

While JUDAS PRIEST may have had mixed reviews with their 80s output, it’s generally agreed upon that they hit a high note with “Painkiller” and although it seemed that the band were on top of the world ready to rule another decade, Rob Halford upped and left leaving the band to find a new singer while he jumped into other projects like Fight and his self-penned band Halford. Once he found himself back in the band on 2005’s “Angel Of Retribution,” the original lead singer was back but that old school PRIEST magic was not. After a divisive attempt at a prog album “Nostradamus” and their decently performed but rather safe feeling “Redeemer Of Souls,” PRIEST finally return with one of their most confidently performed albums since “Painkiller.” To help rekindle the spirit of yore, producer Tom Allom rejoins the cast after an absence stemming back to 1988’s “Ram It Down.” To keep things fresh and modern Andy Sneap stepped in as co-producer which means FIREPOWER sounds like classic PRIEST in all thunderous heavy metal glory with a crisp punchy modern production fit for the modern era.

Right from the very first guitar gusto bursting out on the opening title track, it’s clear that PRIEST were going for the aggressive guitar riff heavy sound that is all their own with a serious feistiness not experienced since the “Painkiller” days although Halford is a lot more conservative with his high-pitched falsetto but nails the mid-range dynamics of his vocals perfectly showing not a single sign of multi-decade strain. The following “Lightning Strikes,” one of the singles follows in classic PRIEST form with heavy dueling guitar attacks, catchy and dynamic melodies with bombastic bass and percussive backup from Hill and Travis. Both of these tracks easily could have slipped in on any of the 80s releases. However just when it seems PRIEST was going completely retro on us with a few classic sounding tracks, they start to show a more diverse picture starting with “Never The Heroes” which shows influences from Halford’s solo career more than classic PRIEST with Fight inspired riffage although the soaring sustained guitar chord choruses yank the listener back into the classic era.

Some tracks like “Necromancer” carefully craft riffs around previous classics only changing it up enough to keep you guessing where you’ve heard it before much like Iron Maiden’s “Book Of Souls.” “Children Of The Sun” which sounds more like something from the Ripper years with clean guitar arpeggiated sections with thrash laden riffs showing that PRIEST were just as interested in incorporating other aspects of their career rather than a totally 80s free-for-all. Likewise the piano based “Guardians” serves as an intermission reminding more of the “Nostradamus” album before jumping into the now familiar guitar driven riffs of “Rising From Ruins,” another heavy melody rich stew of aggressive guitar driven metal only with softer verses that build up momentum.

The rest of the album continues this trend and pretty much continues the strong selection of compositions. While the album is surprisingly consistent in its quality, the album does hit a brick wall at the end with the head scratcher of a tune “Lone Wolf” which with a dirty bluesy shuffle sounds very weak amidst the heavier tracks. Likewise the “Sea Of Red” finale seems a bit anti-climactic as well as it slowly oozes in with a soft melodic acoustic guitar passage that also seems out of place in the midst of heavier company and not a very dynamic way to end the album although it’s not necessarily a bad tune by any means. Perhaps if it were placed elsewhere it would have packed a bit more punch. It also sounds like the classic PRIEST sound mixed with a Maiden “7th Son..” era with the un-PRIEST-ly sounding background vocals. When all is said and done, PRIEST deliver on 14 tracks of classic heavy metal fortified with a modern production as well as a contemporary lyrical subject matter.

FIREPOWER proves that PRIEST is not even close to ready for the retirement home as far as pumping out feisty adrenaline fueled classic metal anthems, however the news of of Tipton’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease resulting in his possible dismissal from the band’s line-up beckons the lingering question if the band after nearly a half century of head banging service will simply call it a day and at long last bask in their heavy metal god status glory that few others have achieved. The ingredients displayed on FIREPOWER do have a rather epic flare of gusto that would be a good note to end on. Personally i never expect much from classic era metal bands to deliver something compelling but i was pleasantly surprised with FIREPOWER. True it may not go down as the number 1 favorite PRIEST album of all time. That indeed would be a tall order to fulfill, but neither will it go down near the bottom. While not a perfect album by any means, for a band who’s been around for so long to put out an excellent midrange album this late in their career, that’s certainly a classic comfort i can wholeheartedly support and with metal music having spun off in so many crazy directions since the classic 80s, it’s really cool that one of the veteran acts of the day can create something that grounds them to the past while keeping both feet in the here and now.

XANTHOCHROID Of Erthe and Axen Act I

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 4 ratings
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Warthur
This first part of a two-part concept album finds Xanthochroid slipping from the progressive black metal of their debut album to a sort of "blackened progressive metal" sound, with extensive symphonic and folk touches and even more emphasis given to storytelling than the debut. As with Immortal, Xanthochroid's music is focused on exploring the band's made-up fantasy world, but Immortal have never gone as full Decemberists as Xanthrochroid do when it comes to the theatricality of their composition. It might not be absolutely groundbreaking, but it's a more than pleasant prog metal-with-teeth piece which makes me want to listen to the second album to hear the rest of the story.

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