Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

KRAANIUM Slamchosis

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Any album which starts with Cameron Britton (as Edmund Temper in the superb series ‘Mindhunter’) saying “it’s not easy butchering people, it’s hard work”, just has to be interesting and that is certainly the case here. That isn’t the only lift from that series, as various quotes make their way into the album, and it shows just how intense this is when these are the times when it lightens up a little. This is brutal death metal, their fifth album, and it is a full-on metallic onslaught from the first note to the very last. It grooves, it moves, and it hits the brain like a runaway express train. They do slow it down at times, and let the drums move to the centre while the guitarists have a rest, but all this is just a deliberate ploy so that when they come back it feels even more brutal than it was before.

It is a piledriver of an album, everyone in perfect sync to create riffs incredibly intense, and then over the top is singer Jack Papp Fahlberg Christensen, who is an incredible find. This is his first album with the band, taking over from founder Martin Funderdud who sadly took his own life in 2017, but Martin’s guitarist brother Mats is still there, driving the band onto new heights. I haven’t heard much from the band prior to this album, but this is one of the best examples of the genre I have come across in quite some time. If ever there was an album to lose the dandruff to then this must be it. Over the top in every area, the use of words from ‘Mindhunter’ adds additional polish and shows their thought processes at play. One of the songs, “Gratification Through Annihilation”, even takes its title from one of the lines. The line at the beginning of “Larva Infested Cum Sluts” (okay, so maybe it’s not all that polished – reminds me a little of Spinal Tap), is one of my favourites of the whole series, and I can still “see” the scene quite clearly.

This is quite some beast, and now it is out of its cage you can’t say you haven’t been warned. Intense, disturbing, superb.

ELUVEITIE Ategnatos

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There have been a lot of metal bands making an impressive resurgence in recent years, following either long periods of inactivity, or a big lineup change that initially seemed like a major setback. One such band to enter a new era recently is Swiss folk/melodeath band Eluveitie, who had released six great to excellent albums during their first twelve years of existence, before announcing some huge lineup changes in 2016, the biggest of which being the departure of Anna Murphy (Vocals, Hurdy Gurdy) and the addition of Fabienne Erni (Vocals, Mandola, Harp.) One year later, the band would release Evocation II – Pantheon, the long-anticipated sequel to their first ever acoustic folk release. However, while I found that album is enjoyable enough, it left me desperately wanting to hear how their new lineup would sound on a heavier album, so when the band’s eighth full-length release, Ategnatos, was announced, I was excited to hear how it would turn out. Now that it is here, it has not only exceeded my expectations: it has become by far my favorite Eluveitie album to date, and one that represents all aspects of their music perfectly, while also showing small signs of evolution.

Eluveitie essentially has two main aspects to their music: The heavy, melodeath infused sections where frontman Chrigel Glanzmann leads the way with his epic, varied growls, and the softer, more epic and melodic folk passages. The two often intersect on many tracks, and I generally find these tracks to be the band’s best works, with the mix between harsh and clean vocals, along with the heavy guitar work and extensive folk melodies, coming from many different unique instruments, all coming together to create something special. Stylistically, Ategnatos delivers more of what any fan of the band would want, with many straight-forward, hard-hitting melodeath passages, a fair amount of softer passages where Fabienne steals the show with her light, yet very powerful and emotional vocals, and a ton of sections where the two styles come together for something truly amazing. There are also some sections where the guitar work goes a bit into metalcore territory, though this is handled very well, and adds an extra level of intensity, without taking things too far, and there are also a ton of nice softer sections, as well as a couple of more danceable, somewhat pop-ish tracks, where Fabienne really gets to shine. Performances are strong across the board, as always, with Chrigel and all musicians, both old and new, doing a great job, while Fabienne really gets to shine in her first full album (Evocation II was very light on vocals) and proves to be an excellent addition to the band. The production is also top-notch, with all the different elements coming together perfectly, and it all sounds wonderful together.

As great as everything sounds, the most impressive part of the album is how the songwriting manages to be both incredibly varied and extremely consistent, with some of Eluveitie’s most dynamic songwriting to date, as well as some of their catchiest, most satisfying songs in quite some time. The title track (which also serves as the lead single) kicks things off in typical fashion, with a brief narrative section, which introduces the album’s overarching theme of rebirth (a very fitting theme, considering the band’s circumstances) and then there’s an extended sequence of folk instrumentation and choral vocals, before the guitars eventually take over and the band charges ahead with their classic melodeath sound, as Chrigel mixes high and low growls together wonderfully during some fun verses, and Fabienne joins along during a fun, soft chorus. It’s a very nice track and does a great job of alternating between speedy, intense melodeath passages, and more melodic folk sections. It’s an excellent indication of what to expect from the album.

I’ll divide the rest of the album into three categories, starting with the heavier, more melodeath focused tracks. First up, we have “A Cry in the Wilderness”, which starts out with nice folk instrumentation and percussion, before speeding ahead during some intense, fast-paced verses. It has a nice combination of folk instrumentation and heavy guitar work, and is a very heavy and fun track, with Chrigel delivering some epic growls, especially during the chorus. The most intense track, though, is “Mine is the Fury”, a short but absolutely brutal track, which has the most frantic, hardest hitting verses, as well as an intense, somewhat groove infused middle section. It does make use of some great folk melodies, but it’s a very hard hitting track, overall, and quite the fun one as well. A couple of tracks later is “Worship”, a track which has some epic folk melodies as well as some narration and it’s probably the most melodic of the Chrigel dominated tracks, but it’s still fast and very heavy at points, especially during the verses, while the chorus is more melodic, though Chrigel still delivers some very powerful, lower pitched growls, which work great. Lastly, we have “Threefold Death”, which has some beautiful vocals from Fabienne during soft passages at the beginning and near the end, but for the rest of its duration it’s rapid-fire, pulverizing melodeath track, with more very heavy guitar work, and epic growls from Chrigel.

On the softer side, there are three nice interludes throughout the album, which are mostly pure Celtic folk, and transition nicely between full-length songs. The first softer full-length song is “The Raven Hill”, which is one of the purest folk metal tracks on the album, with some nice Celtic folk melodies laying the backdrops for a more relaxing, though still intense track. Chrigel growls during the verses, while Fabienne delivers some nice vocals during the chorus, as well as during the intro, and it’s a very melodic, very beautiful track overall, with some especially great folk instrumentation throughout the track. One particularly unique track is “Ambiramus”, a fun, more pop-ish track with some very danceable melodies, as the folk instruments have a catchy, almost electronic sound to them, that is only really noticeable on this track. it’s a soft track, with slow verses and a very upbeat, extremely catchy chorus where Fabienne delivers some of her most powerful and inspired vocals on the entire album. It was definitely a great choice for a single and is one of the best songs on the album. Near the end of the album, “Breathe”, is another very beautiful track with a heavy focus on folk melodies. It does have some heavy guitar work, especially during the instrumental section in the second half, but it’s a slower paced, very melodic track overall, where Fabienne really gets to showcase her smooth and beautiful, yet very powerful voice. It could end up being one of the less liked tracks on the album, but it’s actually one of my personal favorites, due to how relaxing and catchy it is, as well as how amazing the vocals are throughout. Lastly, the album closes off with Eclipse”, a soft outro type track, which takes the main melody and lyrics from the previous track, “Rebirth”, and allows Fabienne to run with it, resulting in another stunning vocal showcase.

While both the heavier and softer tracks are amazing, the tracks that strike a balance between the two tend to be among my favorites. First up, following the title track and an interlude, is “Deathwalker”, a track which has some very heavy, slightly metalcore infused guitar work during the verses, while still having some beautiful folk melodies, as well as a very fun, upbeat chorus where both vocalists work together wonderfully. Similarly, “Black Water Dawn”, does an excellent job of alternating between heavy and softer passages, especially during the chorus, while the verses move along a decent, but not an overly fast pace, and have some intense growls. The chorus, though, is very melodic and gives Fabienne some room to work with, while the instrumental section in the second half is heavy, intense and really cool. On the softer side, but still having some intense growled sections is “The Slumber”, which has some more excellent folk melodies throughout, and it’s a slower, very calm track overall, with some heavy growled parts during the verses, and some beautiful, soft melodies during the chorus, which is dominated by clean vocals. The last full-length song on the album is “Rebirth”, which is the first song releases from the track, but it came out about a year and a half ago, so it’s hard to really call it a lead single. If anything, it initially served more like a tease at what fans could expect to hear from the band in the future. Either way, it’s an absolute stunner of a track, and probably my favorite on the album, again alternating wonderfully between speedy melodeath sections, with a slight touch of metalcore during some slower, pounding sections, as well as a very melodic chorus, where Fabienne gets to shine. The instrumental section in the second half is absolutely epic and spectacular, while the ending is also perfect and serves as a great lead into the aforementioned closing track, which ends the album wonderfully.

When Eluveitie announced their major lineup changes a few years ago I was concerned, and wondered whether they would be able to retain their high quality, but now that I’ve heard Ategnatos, I’m very pleased to say the band has stormed back in a wonderful way, producing possibly their best, most dynamic release to date! It strikes a perfect balance between their classic melodeath elements, as well as their epic Celtic folk sound, and it serves as an excellent full debut for new vocalist Fabienne Enri, while still allowing frontman Chrigel Glanzmann to shine as much as ever before. Longtime fans of the band should be pleased with the album, while fans of either folk or melodeath are highly recommended to give it a listen, as it’s likely to be among the best albums from either genre released this year.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/04/06/eluveitie-ategnatos-review/

COHEED AND CAMBRIA Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures

Album · 2018 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s 9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease) are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums. In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’

EVERGREY The Atlantic

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I’m not sure, but I think the last Evergrey album I heard prior to this one was ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’, which came out in 2006, but apart from bassist Johan Niemann the line-up is exactly the same as it was back then. Tom S. Englund provides vocals and guitars, and he is joined by Henrik Danhage (guitars), Rikard Zander (keyboards) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). Back in 2004, when reviewing ‘The Inner Circle’ I said, “They are more to the metal end of the prog metal genre than their contemporaries, and the result is a type of music that is extremely loud and heavy while maintaining the melody and invention of the genre.” In very many ways that is still true today, except there are passages when they show they can hit into ballads when the time is right.

They are a very heavy band, with harmony vocals, loads of commercial hooks and a production which takes off the rough edges without ever losing the majesty of the performance. They have a huge sound, and one can imagine Devin Townsend being involved with production, as they convey images of Muse with Opeth yet still hitting mainstream hooks and sounds. Unlike certain bands from their hometown of Gothenburg, they continue to delight, and show no sign at all of moving away from their determined path. I do regret missing out on the last four studio albums, and if they are nearly as good as this, I see I have some investment to undertake. Twenty years on, Everygrey are still delivering the progtastic metallic goods.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Still Cyco Punk After All These Years

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is the 11th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The album was released through Suicidal Records in September 2018. It´s the successor to "World Gone Mad" from 2016, although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the "Get Your Fight On!" EP from March 2018. Since the EP was recorded guitarist Jeff Pogan has left.

The title of the album is a pun on the band´s 1993 release "Still Cyco After All These Years" which in part is a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies self-titled debut album from 1983. The reason for the pun is that "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is also a re-recording of a debut album. This time around it´s a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir´s solo debut full-length studio album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)" from 1996. The tracklist is in a different order to the original and the band have opted to omit the two tracks "Cyco Miko Wants You" and "Ain't Mess'n Around", but have included "Sippin' from the Insanitea" instead, which wasn´t on the original release. To those who miss the brilliant "Ain't Mess'n Around", the re-recording of that song is available on the "Get Your Fight On! (2018)" EP.

Other than a different track order, a more contemporary sounding production job, and some minor rearrangements of the material, the tracks on "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" are generally pretty true to the original material from 1996. These are good quality punk/hardcore songs, but it´s up for discussion how necessary it was to re-record them, when the originals were already well performed and well produced. Sure this is an almost completely different lineup recording the material to the lineup who recorded the material for "Lost My Brain! (Once Again) (1996)", but that´s really not enough to justify the recording and release of "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years". A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is still deserved though, as this is some good quality material, but personally I´d much rather listen to the originals.

VLTIMAS Something Wicked Marches In

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
We’re already a quarter of the way through 2019 and although there’s plenty of time yet, apart from a small handful, I haven’t been overwhelmed by the quantity of great death metal on offer so far. Enter Vltimas then who have come along at just the right time to give a much needed injection of classic death metal. The members of this band, which hopefully won’t turn out to be a one off side-line, should need little introduction to fans of extreme metal. They are David Vincent - ex-Morbid Angel, Flo Mounier – Cryptopsy and Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen – ex-Mayhem. Having not listened to a lot of Mayhem, or his other bands for that matter, it is Eriksen that is the unknown quantity here from my point of view but the other two have both featured on some of the most essential death metal albums ever released.

Whilst so called supergroups can often add up to less than the individuals taking part that is certainly not the case here. Something Wicked Marches In is an absolute blast from start to finish without a weak track on offer. The playing is phenomenal. Of course Flo Mounier’s credentials as one of the greatest death metal drummers is not in doubt and he turns in an incredible performance displaying his trademark speed and dexterity. David Vincent is one of the best and most recognisable growlers in the business, his work with Morbid Angel made him a legend but why’s he not also playing bass here? All guitar duties are handled by Rune Eriksen and it is he, no doubt partly through my lack of past experience that provides the biggest surprise and turns in a phenomenal performance.

The nine songs don’t really sound like any of the bands that they’re generally associated with though Vincent sounds like you’d expect so you can’t help thinking Morbid Angel. Not surprisingly Eriksen brings a blackened touch to his riffs with plenty of tremolo picking and a healthy dose of dissonance injected too. It’s really his guitar work that defines the songs as his riffs are never less than inventive and captivating. When he gets into serious tremelo picking he impresses with a blur of notes but then will shift into something simpler and heavier in a flash and then into atmospheric arpeggios. It’s this variety that really makes the album. Of course Mounier’s blur of blast beats, breakneck speed fills and double kick drums backs it all up to perfection so Eriksen can’t take all the credit. Vincent’s vocals too are also integral to the success of the album as his clear growl attests. Picking favourites is not easy as with all great albums overall consistency is essential and present here but if pushed I’d go for Last Ones Alive Wins Nothing, Everlasting and Praevalidus as pick of the bunch, between them perfectly encapsulating the scope of this great band.

I really hope this doesn’t turn out to be a one off project as this band is too good to leave us with only one album. As I said earlier I’m not familiar with most of Eriksen’s work so can’t comment but as far as Vincent and Mounier go, neither have been involved in anything as good as this for some time despite the last couple of Crpytopsy EP’s being rated very highly by me.

HEIR APPARENT The View from Below

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The View from Below" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/progressive metal act Heir Apparent. The album was released through No Remorse Records in October 2018. Heir Apparent formed as far back as 1983 and released their debut album "Graceful Inheritance" in 1986, to a generally positive reception and more than one raving review in the contemporary metal press. It took the band three years to release their sophomore album "One Small Voice (1989)", and unfortunately for the band their window of opportunity had closed, and they disbanded in 1990. They had a short reunitement in 1998, and reunited again in 2000 playing sporadic shows. They recorded a demo in 2003 but other than that and a couple of compilation releases, there has been no new output from Heir Apparent since the release of "One Small Voice (1989)", making "The View from Below" the band´s first studio release in 29 years.

Quite a few things have happened on the metal scene in those years and of course also within the Heir Apparent camp. Naturally and not surprisingly there have been a couple of lineup changes since the release of "One Small Voice (1989)". Lead vocalist Steve Benito has been replaced by Will Shaw and keyboard player Michael Jackson has been replaced by Op Sakiya. The remaining part of the lineup who recorded the predecessor are bassist Derek Peace, guitarist Terry Gorle, and drummer Ray Schwartz (who in the band´s original run went under the name Ray Black).

"Graceful Inheritance (1986)" was a decent quality US power/heavy metal release, while "One Small Voice (1989)" took the band´s music in a slightly more progressive direction. The material on "The View from Below" is a continuation of the US power/progressive metal sound of the predecessor, but it´s generally a far more intense, dark and heavy release than anything the band have released before. Shaw is a more than capable replacement for Benito, and he delivers a strong and passionate vocal performance throughout the album. He is able to hit the high notes, but also capable of singing more raw vocals (not extreme by any means of course).

Keyboards still have an atmosphere enhancing place in the soundscape (sometimes providing the music with an epic feel), but it´s not the type of album where any instrument stand out above the others. All instruments and vocals are well balanced in the mix. It´s a well sounding, professional, and powerful production job, which suits the material perfectly.

The material on the 8 track, 45:05 minutes long album are well written, featuring strong vocal melodies and catchy moments. It´s predominantly slow- to mid-paced music, but "Savior" is a slightly faster-paced track, which fully showcases that Heir Apparent also master that type of musical expression. In their 1980s heyday Heir Apparent were often mentioned along artists like Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, and Fates Warning, but it´s especially the former mentioned and their mid- to late-1980s output, which is a valid reference. "The View from Below" features some of the same almost futuristic features as Queensrÿche´s 1986 "Rage for Order" album. Upon conclusion it´s a brilliant release on almost all parameters possible. Not genre defining nor pushing the boundaries of US power/progressive metal, but it´s a high quality release deserving a 4 star (80%) rating.

MAGNUM Live At The Symphony Hall

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1980, I was perusing the singles at my local branch of Woolworths, and saw a double live single by a band I had never heard of, but it was only 50p! Looking at the photo on the rear they appeared to be a rock band so thought I would give it a try. I took it home, played it, and was then straight back down the shops to purchase the latest album, ‘Marauder’. None of the four songs were contained on the live album, but I was immediately a fan of everything I heard. At the time I had no idea who they were, but on the basis of that album I ordered the first two, ‘Kingdom of Madness’ and ‘II’. From here on I was a fan, grabbing each album when it came out, but I don’t think even the fans were expecting the majestic might that was ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ in 1985. During the Eighties/early Nineties I saw them in concert multiple times (the first time I ever saw IQ was when they supported Magnum!), but until the last studio album must confess to having heard nothing by the band since 2004’s ‘Brand New Morning’. Nothing to do with the band, but moving to the other side of the world meant I just lost touch with what they were doing.

But when I realised they had a new live album out, then of course I had to get it. Guitarist Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley are of course still there, without them both this could never be Magnum, and bassist Al Barrow was working with them when Magnum stopped with Tony and Bob forming Hard Rain and has been in the band ever since. I am sorry to see Mark Stanway left in 2016 after many years of service, as I always felt he was a much under-rated keyboard player, but here he has been replaced by Rick Benton while drummer Lee Morris joined in 2007 when Thunder’s ‘Arry felt he could no longer commit. By now surely everyone knows what they are going to get from a Magnum concert. They have cornered the market in British pomp rock, and the way the keyboards and guitar link are really like no other. Tony has never enjoyed playing solos, so these are few and far between and are far slower and more melodic than one would expect from a guitar hero, as instead he provides the crunching riffs everyone enjoys so much. Just listen to the crowd joining in during “How Far Jerusalem”, not letting even an extended bass solo slow them down too much. This was their first gig in Birmingham for a while and was at the end of a 42-date tour, so both they and the crowd were on fire.

The older numbers such as “Don’t Wake The Lion” are still my favourites to honest, just because I know them so very well indeed. Guest Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguysounds like he also had a great time when he appeared for ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ to provide additional vocals, just like he did for the track’s studio recording. It is a wonderful album, with Bob showing that hitting 70 has had no impact whatsoever on his vocals – he is one singer I have always been impressed with as he is always in total control, and again proves it in spades. One problem of a band who have been going for so many years (formed in 1972, first album in 1978) is the amount of material they have available when it comes to a setlist, so there are always going to be favourites missing. But I never thought I would hear a Magnum concert without “Kingdom of Madness”, and it doesn’t appear to have been on the set list for when this was recorded on 19th April 2018. But that really is a small moan, Magnum have always been a great live band, and 40 years on from their debut they prove it yet again.

BURNING WITCHES Hexenhammer

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.19 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Burning Witches are an all-female quintet from Switzerland, and I do wonder if they would have managed to get signed to label as powerful as the mighty Nuclear Blast if their gender hadn’t been a factor. Girlschool were/are a mighty metallic force to be reckoned with, and have released some stunning albums over the years, but Burning Witches have returned with their second release with something that, at best, can be said to be both pedestrian and boring. Here is a band destined only ever to be the support on tours, and not the headline, unless there is a significant change in their approach. They come across more like a modern-day German power metal outfit than anything else, but without the force and dynamics. The sound is really very good, but when that is the best thing on an album then one has to start to worry.

Get all the way through to the end and one comes across the only cover on the album, Dio’s mighty “Holy Diver”. At least in some ways this shows how important the performance is, as in terms of notes this is fairly similar to the original, but in terms of how it is played it really is chalk and cheese. I have nothing against female singers, or female bands in general, to me it is all about the music and in this case the album is sadly lacking. It may not be awful, but there is nothing here that makes me think they will ever make it out of the middle of the second division.

BLOODBOUND Rise of the Dragon Empire

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s very common for bands within similar genres to influence one another. In fact, many bands are often influenced by those from within completely different genres. Bands borrowing ideas from another is quite common and can work quite well, as long as the band in question is willing to put their own unique touches on the music, to make it stand out. However, there’s always a tight line one must walk in such a case, so as not to fall into outright impersonation, or worse, plagiarism.

One band who has been clearly wearing their influences on their sleeves in recent years is Swedish power metal band Bloodbound. They initially started out with their own sound, being one of the heavier power metal bands around, but they’ve evolved a lot over the years, with their sixth album, Stormborn, in particular marking the beginning of their current brand of symphonic infused power metal, clearly influenced by Sabaton. Where that album and its successor, War of Dragons, showed clear influences of the aforementioned band on many tracks, however, their upcoming eighth full length release, Rise of the Dragon Empire, comes dangerously close to total impersonation at times, with some tracks feeling unmistakably familiar. However, the band has managed to work their magic, and put in enough of their own unique qualities, as well as continued with their usual excellent songwriting, in order to craft yet another excellent album, even if it does feel like a slight step down from their last couple.

Stylistically, Rise of the Dragon Empire is very similar to War of Dragons, with the band softening their sound even further, giving way to a largely keyboard dominant sound, with a continued emphasis on huge vocal melodies and epic choruses. The biggest change to the sound is the inclusion of some minor folk elements, which appear here and there on some tracks, though they’re most noticeable on “The Warlock’s Trail” and the closing ballad “Reign of Fire”. Aside from the slight issues of musical plagiarism, which I’ll get into in a bit, the songwriting is consistently excellent once again, with a continued focus on fun, catchy and very melodic power metal, with some symphonic influences, just as one would expect from a follow up to the band’s most successful album to date. Performances are strong across the board, with dual guitarists Henrik and Tomas Olsson, keyboardist Fredrik Bergh and vocalist Patrik J. Selleby all being in top form, as always, with the latter occasionally sounding a bit softer than usual, to fit the tone of the music, though he can still carry an epic chorus just as well as ever.

I usually do my song by song breakdowns in order, but for this album I’ll start with the slightly problematic tracks and slowly work my way up to the highlights, to end the review on a more positive note. First up, while the track is excellent in its own right, being a very melodic, somewhat upbeat track with some slight folk influence in the guitars, it doesn’t have the energy or speed one would expect from an opening track by this band. It does have an amazing chorus, though, except that Patrik sounds slightly quieter than normal, and doesn’t seem fully engaged. Two tracks later is “Skyriders and Stormbringers”, where right from the start of my first listen, my plagiarism detector went off, with the opening bars of the chorus being oddly familiar, and then once the opening verse starts, the main drum beat kicks in and it feels so similar to “Carolus Rex” by Sabaton, it’s just really hard to shake it off and fully enjoy the track. However, the chorus itself is absolutely spectacular once it kicks in, and over time, once I was able to get over the obvious impersonation, the song has managed to grow on me a lot, with the highlight being an incredible sped up passage in the middle, and that’s by far the freshest sounding section on the track.

The Sabaton soundalike marathon continues on “Blackwater Bay”, a slow, largely keyboard driven track, which has some very epic choral vocal during the verses, as well as a very fun and catchy chorus, It’s a slower paced track, very much in line with what the aforementioned band has been doing a lot lately, though it does have enough memorable moments to help make it stand out, so it doesn’t suffer as much from the comparison as “Skyriders and Stormbringers”. The last song that feels extremely familiar is “Giants of Heaven”, a speedier track where the opening riff really feels like it could have been taken from the likes of “Solider of 3 Armies”, “Poltava” or “Counterstrike”, among others, though there are some strong, epic symphonic elements to help distinguish it a bit, and the verses are explosive, while the chorus is every bit as epic and catchy as always, so it still ends up being an amazing track. Honestly, all four of these tracks are excellent in their own right, but I felt I had to mention how familiar they feel, as fans of the band in question may be taken a bit off guard, and think they accidentally put on the wrong album, or something.

Moving into more positive territory, “Breaking the Beast” is a fun, hard hitting heavy metal infused track, with some surprisingly heavy riffs during the opening, as well as during the excellent chorus, while the verses are melodic, but keep the momentum going nicely. It’s not quite amazing, like many of the other tracks here, but it’s still a very satisfying track, overall. Closing ballad “Reign of Fire”, is one of two more folk infused tracks here, with folk melodies dominating the music throughout, and it’s a very beautiful track, with calm, slow building verses giving way to an epic chorus, where Patrik goes all out and sounds amazing, especially near the end of the track.

And now, it’s time to mention the true killers, starting with lead single “Slayer of Kings”, a fast paced track, which starts off with a calm, melodic intro section, before the band quickly speeds things up and keeps the momentum going with some blistering riffs, thundering drums and epic vocals during the verses, before giving a way to a slow, but super melodic and unbelievably fun and catchy chorus. This is the kind of track the band excels at, and they really knocked it out of the park on this one. Two tracks later, “Magical Eye” is a more symphonic influenced, but still fast paced track, which is a bit lighter, but still has some great riffs, as well as an incredibly addictive chorus, fun verses, and an excellent guitar solo in the second half.

The most folk infused track here is “The Warlock’s Trail”, a mid paced stomper of a track, which uses its folk melodies very nicely during the chorus, while having some epic, fun verses. The chorus in particular is one of the best here, though, with a very cheery tone, epic vocals and a strong folk influence, to help make it absolutely wonderful, with the last run through being especially amazing. Near the end of the album is “Balerion”, another very speedy, highly symphonic track, with a slight neoclassical feel in the guitar work. It’s one of the fastest tracks here, while still having some great keys, and the chorus is again outstanding, while the verses are fast, furious and a ton of fun, and the guitar solo near the end is very epic and well played. The highlight of the track is an amazing stop/start section right near the end, and the ensuing final run through the chorus is awe inspiring.

My favourite track on the album, though, is “A Blessing in Sorcery”, another very speedy track, which definitely has some of that Sabaton influence in the keys, but unlike the other tracks I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t remind me of any particular tracks, instead using those influences in a more subtle way to craft something even more epic and unbelievably addictive and catchy, with the chorus in particular being one of the best sing along choruses I’ve come across in quite some time, while the rest of the song moves at a great pace, and is very melodic and epic, as well, with the choral section in the middle being particularly unforgettable. It’s simply the band at their absolute best, and is definitely an early 2019 highlight, as well as one of my favourite Bloodbound songs to date.

I was initially a bit disappointed with Rise of the Dragon Empire, due to some of the tracks feeling dangerously familiar, but once I got over that and started digger a bit deeper into those tracks, as well as focusing more on the album’s highlights, it ended up growing on me, and has proven itself to be yet another excellent album from Bloodbound. It doesn’t quite match Stormborn or War of Dragons, but it’s still a highly addictive, very melodic album, with some amazing choruses, as well as being the band’s most varied album in quite a while, continuing with the symphonic elements of its predecessor, while adding in some subtle folk elements. Fans of the band should love it, and fans of the more melodic, keyboard driven side of the genre are highly recommended to check this album out, as Bloodbound continue to be one of the best in the business, even if their influences are starting to become a bit too obvious, at times.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/16/bloodbound-rise-of-the-dragon-empire-review/

WITHERFALL A Prelude To Sorrow

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When I first heard the second album from this American progressive/power metal act I was instantly reminded of Iced Earth, especially the period when Tim Owens joined forces with Jon Schaffer. It was only on reading the press release that I realised that main songwriter, guitarist Jake Dreyer, has been a member of that band for the last few years as well. Was he chosen for Iced Earth as he was already performing and writing in that style, or has his day job rubbed off on him? Either way, this is an album which fans of Schaffer are going to be very interested in indeed. Both he and singer Joseph Michael (Sanctuary, Midnight Reign) have been there since the beginning in 2013, and are showing no sign at all of slowing down.

The one thing that does let them down at times is the consistency and quality of the material, but there is no doubt at all that these guys can play, and drummer Steve Bolognese may have only joined in 2017 but his experience with the likes of Ross The Boss shines through. Michael has a great range, able to power up and hit high notes quite easily with no loss of force, and the guitars are huge both in the riffing and shredding stakes. But even after playing this album multiple times, all I can ever remember about it is when it finishes is that it reminds me of Iced Earth, but without the depth in quality when it comes to material. Good, but certainly not essential.

WARREL DANE Shadow Work

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On December 13th, 2017, Warrel Dane passed away in São Paulo while recording the follow-up to 2008’s ‘Praises To The War Machine’. ‘Shadow Work’ was supposed to be an 80 minutes long opus and while all instruments had been recorded, Warrel passed away before completing all vocal tracks. But, enough had been tracked during pre-production and the actual recording for everyone to band together and release an album which is a little more than 40 minutes long. Is this what Warrel would have released if he had still been around? Probably not, but is it just a tribute to the ex-singer of Nevermore and Sanctuary? In many ways it is, but it is also far more than that. In reality this is a bloody enjoyable album, one where Warrel had travelled to Brazil to record with Brazilian session musicians, and created a piece of art which is superb.

There is a groove underlying this, combined with very heavy guitarwork and basslines, with the drums powering it all along. His emotional vocals show his years of operatic training, as he allows his natural baritone to provide warmth and depth, rarely moving up the register. His vocals are at the forefront, but never to the detriment of what is happening around him, and given this is an unfinished album in many ways one can only wonder how massive this would have been if he had been able to do everything he had wanted with it. A fitting bookend to his musical career, this is an album that lovers of atmospheric progressive metal should seek out as it is well worth hearing.

UNEARTH Extinction(s)

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Can it really be 20 years since these guys started to make a name for themselves by playing anywhere and everywhere, either at their own gigs or supporting others (I seem to recall one tour when one aim was to amend their name on the dressing room at every gig, ‘Bunearth” was quite popular). Although the rhythm section may have changed over the years, singer Trevor Phipps and guitarists Ken Susi and Buz McGrath are still flying the flag for over the top metalcore as they have through all the years. It is one of my least favourite metal genres, as many of the bands lumped in here seem to forget the metal bit and concentrate on producing something which seems way too commercial. No-one can ever accuse Unearth of that, as their music is always incredibly heavy and producer Will Putney (Thy Art Is Murder, Body Count, Every Time I Die, Suicide Silence) has created something which deserves to be permanently played at 11.

Fans of Lamb of God, Meshuggah, Whitechapel and even Trivium are going to get a great deal from this. They are turning it up, tuning it down, and refusing to conform to anyone’s idea of what should be coming from this genre as this is brutal, uncompromising metal. Sure, they take breathers here and there, but all this does is emphasise just how intense they are when it all comes back in. Chris O’Toole keeps the bottom end nailed, but a very special mention must be made of drummer Nick Pierce who not only hits the drums incredibly hard, but also uses more bass driven sounds than many drummers which keeps everything in the low register. There are many wannabe’s out there who wish they could be half as tight and as heavy as this, 20 years on and Unearth are still knocking it out of the park. This is a very special album indeed.

SOILWORK Verkligheten

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Verkligheten" (which is the Swedish word for "Reality") is the 11th full-length studio album by Swedish metal act Soilwork. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2019. It´s the successor to "The Ride Majestic" from 2015, although the 2016 compilation album "Death Resonance" bridges the gap between the two album releases. There have been two lineup changes since "The Ride Majestic (2015)" as drummer Dirk Verbeuren has left to join Megadeth and has been replaced by Bastian Thusgaard and bassist Markus Wibom has been replaced by Taylor Nordberg.

Stylistically "Verkligheten" is the sound of Soilwork through and through. Melodic death metal in the most accessible and polished end of the scale. Labelling the music death metal is sometimes actually a bit misleading, although there definitely are some pretty hard edged and even semi-brutal moments on the album (but they are few and far between). Other parts are so catchy and accessible though that we are closer to pop/rock melodic territory than we are to metal and there are also several of the riffs and rhythms on the album which are hard rock and heavy metal influenced rather than death and thrash metal oriented. Soilwork are however incredibly skilled composers who are able to combine all the sounds and influences into a sound that is unmistakably their own.

If you´re familiar with any of the predecing releases (maybe except for the first two which are harder edged), it´ll take you two seconds after lead vocalist Björn "Speed" Strid sings his first words, to identify that it is Soilwork you are listening to. While remaining relatively consistent Soilwork have still managed to develop and refine their sound over the years and continue to do so on "Verkligheten".

There are several standout tracks on the album and only a couple of quality "fillers". Highlights to my ears are tracks like the powerful "Arrival", "Bleeder Despoiler" (the start/stop riffs throughout the song are really great), and the ultra melodic "Full Moon Shoals" (where Strid reaches a new level of melodic excellence), but "Stålfågel" (which features some very well delivered clean female vocals by Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy), the hard edged "The Wolves Are Back in Town", and the closing "You Aquiver" are also tracks which stand out.

"Verkligheten" also features a top notch sound production, and upon conclusion it´s yet another high quality release by Soilwork. It´s quite frankly amazing they are able to continue releasing albums of this quality and what is even more amazing is that they are still capable of challenging themselves as songwriters while still maintaining a signature sound this far into their career. Soilwork are one of those artists where lineup changes haven´t always been a bad thing, as the lineup changes have often meant that the band have been able to take their music in different directions (in small steps). Always under the musical guidance of Strid though which has ensured continuety. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

SOULFLY Ritual

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Max and the gang are back with their eleventh album, the third to feature his eldest son Zyon on drums (the line-up is completed by Marc Rizzo on lead guitar, flamenco guitar and bassist Mike Leon, plus loads of guests). The last Sepultura album was their best for years, and here we see the ex-leader of that band pulling together what is probably their finest release since 2000’s ‘Primitive’. It is aggressive, powerful, pummelling, with the underlying groove taking nothing away from the ferocity of the attack, yet there are also some native sounds at the beginning of the title track which makes one think of the mighty, incredible, “Roots, Bloody Roots”. This is an album to get all sweaty and aggressive in the mosh pit, as the guitars crank it up, while percussion and drums combine to create something very special indeed.

But just when it is getting all too much for the head to take, and there is a need for some respite, we are treated to “Demonized” which starts life as an acoustic flamenco guitar track. “Fluff” anyone? On never really knows what is going to happen, with traditional flute leading into “Blood On The Street” while closer “Soulfly XI” simply doesn’t sound as if it belongs on any album which involves a Cavalera. Gentle, restrained, delicate yet passionate and emotional, this is not the style of music one would expect from someone who brought us ‘Chaos A.D.’. This is a superb album from Soulfly, and although I said it is their finest since ‘Primitive’, it may actually be superior to both that and the debut, quite a statement I know. I haven’t been this excited about an album from Max since the debut Cavalera Conspiracy album, he and the band are truly back to form. One not to miss.

SHINING Animal

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Jørgen Munkeby (saxophonist and guitarist, a graduate of the Norwegian Academy of Music) has long been the driving force between Norway’s jazz-metal collective, Shining. Over the years they have broken down musical barriers and have refused to be categorised into any particular style of music, as they mixed progressive, technical metal, jazz, avant-garde and experimental sounds. But now he is back with something different “I was tired of doing the same thing,” he explains. “I was done with ‘Blackjazz’ and wanted to create something new and exciting. I needed a change. I’m finally at the point where I have nothing to lose and everything to win. We had 360 degrees to play with so we could’ve gone in any direction. This new record is more Muse than Meshuggah, more Ghost than Gojira, and more Biffy Clyro than Burzum!”

It is all over the place as one might expect from the quote, and given Shining are known for having the sax as a key instrument it is somewhat surprising for one not to make any appearance anywhere on this! Devin Townsend has been an obvious influence, as have Linkin Park, and it is when the guys are really pushing the envelope with downtuned guitars and stacks of groove that they really make the listener stand up and take notice. It is mainstream for the most part, and it will be interesting to see how hardcore fans view this, as while it is an okay album, it is never really much more than that, and certainly not one which would be expected from him/them. It is almost a case of treating this as a brand-new band, and while the sound is very modern and powerful, for some reason it feels as if it as all been produced at the same level and consequently there just isn’t enough drama for it to be consistently interesting.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Get Your Fight On!

EP · 2018 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Get Your Fight On!" is an EP release by US California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The EP was released through Suicidal Records in March 2018. Although "Get Your Fight On!" is labelled an EP release by the band, it features 10 tracks and total playing time of 44:55 minutes.

The EP features two Cyco Miko covers (both re-recordings of tracks which originally appeared on Mike Muir´s 1996 solo album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)", one The Stooges cover, three original Suicidal Tendencies tracks, and four different versions of the Suicidal Tendencies track "Get Your Fight On!". One version is the original studio version from the band´s 11th full-length studio album "World Gone Mad" from 2016, one is an acoustic version of the song, one is an instrumental version featuring a bass solo, and one is an instrumental version featuring a guitar solo.

Stylistically the material on the EP is Suicidal Tendencies as they´ve sounded on the last couple of releases. It´s quite the eclectic mix of crossover thrash, hardcore punk, and funky rhythms. Mike Muir´s vocals are as distinct sounding as ever and defines the band´s sound, but the instrumental part of their music is also very well performed by all involved.

The material is powerful and varied, and although I would normally not find four different versions of the same song on the same release very interesting, it actually works really well here. "Get Your Fight On!" may not be a groundbreaking release by Suicidal Tendencies, but it´s a good quality release well worth your time if you are a fan. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

IRON FIRE Beyond the Void

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are some great power metal bands who seem to be going largely unnoticed, despite consistently making great albums, with one of my favorites being Danish band Iron Fire. I’ve been a fan of the band since their 2010 release Metalmorphosized, which marked the beginnings of a more modernized sound for the band after their past releases were all fairly traditional European power metal albums. They especially blew me away with the more progressive, symphonic and just plain epic Voyage of the Damned, though sadly that one wasn’t too well received, and the band took a bit of a break afterward. However, over four years later the band returned in 2016, with Among the dead, a hard-hitting collection of heavy/power metal tracks, that while being more straight-forward compared to its predecessor, was still intense and left me extremely satisfied.

Now, the band is set to release their ninth full-length album, Beyond the Void, and it is yet another killer! Fans of Among the Dead should know exactly what to expect, as the lineup remains unchanged, and musically this is a direct continuation of that album, with the same kind of raw, hard-hitting power metal, mixed with some classic heavy metal and some occasional thrashy riffs. While Among the Dead was a concept album revolving around a zombie apocalypse, Beyond the Void deals with many different lyrical themes, but otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the same, to the point where a couple of tracks feel eerily similar to tracks from the previous release, though the songwriting is consistently strong enough for that to not be a big problem.

Performances are as strong as always, with the guitar work being as heavy as before, though there are some more melodic passages compared to the previous album, and these are very well done, drums are mostly fast and furious and well done, and of course Martin Steene’s deep and raspy vocals are as strong as ever, with the faint hints of extreme metal vocals he showed on the previous album continuing to creep in from time to time. Production is also top notch and powerful sounding, as expected. Songwriting is generally fast-paced, intense and plain fun, with the occasional slower track and one ballad to offer up some variety. This is the kind of album, though, where you won’t be surprised very often, but it’ll keep you consistently entertained, with excellent riffs, some great melodies, powerful vocals and just some really fun, highly addictive songs.

Following a brief intro, the title track kicks in and is very similar to the title track of Among the Dead, with everything from the lead riff to the chorus feeling oddly familiar, to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it much at first, but over time it has grown on me. Anyone who hasn’t heard the previous album should be entertained immediately, as it’s a fast paced, hard hitting power metal track, with fun verses, thrashy riffs, and a strong, catchy chorus. On the more interesting side, “Final Warning” is a slower building track, featuring a pummeling main riff, heavy verses which march along at a decent pace, and a light, melodic chorus, which picks up the pace as it goes along. It has great, emotional lyrics about destroying the Earth, and is a very good song overall. My favorite song on the first half, and probably the whole album, is “Cold Chains of the North” a fast, hard-hitting track which has more of those thrashy riffs, as well as a frantic, but very melodic chorus, with some pretty cool gang vocals, and some excellent lead vocals from Martin. It’s a very fun, catchy and highly energetic track, which just gets everything right.

Keeping the momentum going, “Wrong Turn” has some of the thrashiest riffs on the album, along with hard-hitting verses, and a basic, but the very fun chorus. Two more speedy tracks are up next, with “Bones and Gasoline”, which has soft, melodic passages during the intro and verses, which remind me a bit of some classic Metallica songs, while the chorus is speedy and fun, and “Old Habits Die Hard”, a more melodic but very speedy track, where Martin uses some of his harsh vocals throughout, and does a great job, as always. Both songs are straight-forward, and pure fun, just like pretty much every song on the album. The lone ballad of the album is “Judgement Day”, which has some beautiful, melodic guitar work, calm verses where Martin uses some of his softest vocals ever and sounds great, and another powerful, epic chorus. It has a great solo in the second half, but the highlight comes a bit before that, with a more intense, yet still melodic section, with some of the best vocals on the album, along with the line “recreate a world without hate, and bring me back to 1998”, which cracks me up every time I hear it.

Moving into the final sequence of the album, “To Hell and Back” is another frantic, hard-hitting track, with some very heavy and intense verses, as well as one of the more traditional power metal choruses on the album. It’s yet another very energetic, highly addictive track, of the sort the band excels at in this stage of their career. My favorite of the final four tracks is “One More Bullet”, a slower, heavier metal based track, with heavy verses, and an intense, but very melodic and catchy chorus, with more nonsensical, but fun lyrics and the guitar solo near the end is really cool, as well. The track has a classic heavy metal feel to it, in an awesome way and is one of the catchiest and most addictive tracks on the album. The last full speedy track on the album is “The Devil’s Path”, another thrashy power metal track, with a great mix between clean and semi-harsh vocals, as well as more excellent thrashy riffs, and a fun chorus. The track sounds pretty similar to “Tornado of Sickness” from the previous album but still manages to be great in its own way. Closing out the album is “Out of Nowhere”, another classic heavy metal sounding track, with more laid back, but enjoyable verses, and an upbeat, very fun chorus, with some excellent vocal melodies. It speeds up towards the end and gets very epic during the final run through its chorus, before closing out softly and ending the album on a high note.

Iron Fire is one of those bands that will probably never get the attention they deserve, but they manage to consistently put out great, hard-hitting power metal albums at least once every few years, and Beyond the Void is no exception. It largely builds on the more modernized, somewhat thrashy sound they started on Among the Dead and offers up the kind of heavy, energetic and highly addictive power metal the band specializes in, while also mixing in a bit of classic heavy metal on some tracks. Fans of the band’s previous album should love this, while fans who prefer their earlier albums may again be disappointed, but anyone unfamiliar band and looking for some hard hitting, fun heavy/power metal with a slightly modern twist, should definitely give this one a shot, as it’s definitely one of Iron Fire’s finest works to date!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/10/iron-fire-beyond-the-void-review/

TÝR Hel

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Some bands are able to consistently deliver excellent albums every time they enter the studio, striking a perfect balance between being familiar enough to keep fans happy, while also adding in new elements and changing just enough to keep things fresh each time. One such band is Faroese power/folk metal band Týr, who are set to release their first album in about five and a half years. I was introduced to them on their fifth full-length album, By the Light of the Northern Star, which served as somewhat of a transitional release for the band, moving away from the progressive folk sound of their early releases and into more of a power/folk direction, with some fairly minor prog elements. The album instantly left me impressed, while the two follow up releases The Lay of Thrym and Valkyrja were both equally amazing, and so the band seemed to be on an unstoppable run. They’ve taken a long time to produce a follow up to Valkyrja, and have gone through some lineup changes, including the departure of longtime second guitarist Terji Skibenæs, who has been replaced by Attila Vörös, but their eighth full-length release, Hel, is finally ready to be unleashed, and unsurprisingly, it’s another fantastic release, with a perfect mix of old and new.

For the most part, Hel continues along the path of its three most recent predecessors, with the speedy power metal elements remaining a major focus, while the folk elements are largely found in the guitar melodies, and the prog elements are still there, but not as prominent as on their first four albums. However, this release is at times a bit more epic and adventurous than the band’s three previous releases, with a couple of lengthier tracks, as well as an increase in instrumental sections, some of which are on the more folk-infused side, while many tracks have a lot of tempo changes and other surprises, so it’s certainly a diverse and complex album, with a lot going on. Performances are strong across the board, with the guitar work being as melodic and epic as ever, while new drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann fits in perfectly, and of course vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Heri Joensen is the start of the show, as always, being in top form with all of his duties.

Týr has always been great at writing consistently excellent songs, while still having enough variety to keep things fresh from track to track, and so it’s absolutely no surprise that Hel proves to be yet another highly varied album, with no less than amazing tracks. It starts off with the incredible opening track, “Gates of Hel”, which starts off with some nice acoustic folk guitar work, before the rest of the band kicks in and the music becomes heavier. The opening verse provides the first surprise of the album, with some pretty epic death growls, which have a slight folk feel to them, and then Heri switches to his ever smooth, yet epic clean vocals for a speedy, very fun and melodic chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album. The track is mostly fast-paced, though it does have some slower sections during the verses, and while the vocal sections are the highlight, especially the chorus, the instrumental work is top notch as well, with the solo section in the middle being very melodic and well done. It’s easily my favorite track on the album, though that’s not to say things go downhill afterward.

Next is the more simple, but very fun “All Heroes Fall”, a more typical speedy power metal track, which would have fit perfectly on any of the previous three albums. It alternates between slow and speedy passages during the verses, before going full throttle during an epic chorus, and it has some nice melodic guitar work throughout, including a great guitar solo in the middle. It’s a fairly simple, yet very fun track, overall. Next is “Ragnars kvæði”, one of two songs sung in the band’s native Faroese tongue. Along with the closing track “Álvur longer”, it’s said to be based off of a traditional Faroese folk ballad, and that’s certainly easy to believe, as it’s a very beautiful, very melodic track, with some epic folk melodies and tribal drums during the verses, as well as an absolutely fantastic chorus, where Heri delivers some of his softest vocals. The band clearly put in their own flourishes to spice up the track, with an epic and absolutely incredible speedy passage in the second half being the main highlight, and it’s another stunner of a track, overall. Despite having a strange looking name, “Garmr” is sung fully in English, and is a speedier track, with more epic melodies, and a very fun chorus. It’s another track that would fall perfectly in line the past three albums, moving along nicely during the verses, before fully speeding up and become very epic during the chorus.

One of the early release singles is “Sunset Shore”, a nice ballad, which has had very light and melodic guitar work throughout, as well as some epic, powerful vocals from Heri during the chorus. It’s a calm, beautiful track, with some excellent melodies, and it has a strong folk feel throughout, so it definitely feels more in line with the band’s earlier work, while still being epic and fun in its own way. It has a very cool heavy section near the end, which leads to an excellent, but brief, solo, and a great final run through the chorus. Speeding things up again is “Downhill Drunk”, another fairly straight-forward song, which moves along at more of a gallop during its verses, with some pretty heavy guitar work, before opening up with some great melodies and more speedy tempos during its fun, very catchy chorus. One of the more complex and more eventful tracks on the album is “Empires of the North”, which has many tempo changes throughout, and it manages to pack a lot of memorable moments into just over five minutes. It has some mid-paced passages, a slow, but the epic chorus, some very speedy passages, with a strong folk feel to the guitar work, and it has an absolutely beautiful, and fairly lengthy guitar solo in the middle. It’s definitely one of the more progressive tracks on the album, and it manages to be consistently exciting throughout.

Moving into the second half, “Far From the Worries of the World” is pure fun, very upbeat track, as its name would imply. It moves at a slightly slower pace during its verses, with strong folk melodies, before speeding up with a very fun, epic chorus, which certainly lives up to its name by being incredibly happy and serving as a great escape from any frustrations the world may bring. It’s a fun track, overall, with an epic, long instrumental section in the second half, and it’s definitely one of my favorites here. Next is “King of Time”, a rather slow building track, which starts off soft, with some very folk-infused guitar work early on. It stays slow for a while, with some epic melodies, before speeding up and delivering an incredibly epic, melodic and super catchy chorus around two minutes in, and from there it remains a fun, highly engaging track, with some excellent guitar work. Of course, the first single released from the album is “Fire and Flame”, a highly energetic, fast-paced track, with slow, heavy verses, and a very fun, catchy chorus, It’s another track that would have in great on any of the previous three albums, though it has an epic guitar solo in the middle, with an equal amount influence from folk and classic heavy metal. It’s a very fun track, overall, so it serves as a great single.

Nearing the end of the album, “Against the Gods”, is another track that starts off a bit slowly, with a more subdued opening verse, with some powerful vocals, as well as a very melodic and epic chorus, before speeding up during the second verse, and not letting up from that point on. It proves to be a hard-hitting, intense and very energetic track once it gets going, with one of the best choruses on the album, as well as some excellent drum beats. Another one of my favorites is “Songs of War”, which starts off with really epic neoclassical shredding, which leads into a fast-paced, slightly folk-infused opening verse, and then into a slower, even more, folk-infused chorus.

It’s another track which alternates nicely between slow and speedy passages, with an equal amount of power metal folk, and it has more great melodies and guitar work, though those shredding parts are easily the highlights, with the solo section being particularly amazing. Closing out the album is “Álvur kongur”, the second of two tracks sung in Faroese. Its origins as a folk ballad are much less obvious compared to “Ragnars kvæði”, despite some nice acoustic work early on, and a soft opening section, as it speeds up considerably once it gets going, and actually stays fast paced for most of its duration. I’ve never heard the original, but suffice to say, the band obviously must have changed it a lot, as it’s a fun, upbeat track, with a very epic, catchy chorus, though it still has a very distinct Faroese folk feel to it, and it does have some softer passages, here and there. It’s a very epic track, overall, with some amazing guitar work, and it’s certainly a great way to close out the album!

Týr is one of those bands that just always seems to deliver, and they’re currently on a long winning streak, with Hel being equally as impressive as any of the band’s previous releases, largely sticking to the more power metal focused sound that began on By the Light of the Northern Star, while still retaining a ton of the bands traditional Faroese folk elements, as well as having some more progressive arrangements and more extensive instrumental sections compared to their past three albums. This has resulted in an epic, highly diverse album, which is sure to please longtime fans of the band, while anyone looking for some great power/folk metal, is also highly recommended to give the album a listen, as the band’s ever-distinctive sound is on full display here, and works just effectively as ever. It may have taken a long time to come out than previous releases, but it was certainly worth the wait!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/03/tyr-hel-review/

SEVENTH WONDER Tiara

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has been eight years since the last album from Seventh Wonder, but they are finally back with their fifth studio album with just one line-up change from ‘The Great Escape’. I am not really sure why it has taken so long for them to release this, but I presume the blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of singer Tommy Karevik who also joined Kamelot with whom he has released three albums. But they are back, and in many ways it is almost as if they have never been away. This is very polished melodic rock with symphonic overtones and great vocals (yes, I know they are often classed as prog metal, but while this is a great album, prog metal it isn’t).

Tommy Karevik is recognised as being one of the best frontmen around, and here he is being given the perfect playground. Given that bass player Andreas Blomqvist, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and drummer keyboard player Andreas “Kyrt” Söderin have all been in the band since 2000 it should be no surprise they lock in well, while drummer Stefan Norgren (ex: Lion´s Share) drives the music along with a much more powerful and dynamic approach to many in this field. This is melodic and powerful, and far heavier than would often be expected from bands on the Frontiers label. Let’s hope it isn’t quite so long until the next one.

NECROPHOBIC Mark Of The Necrogram

Album · 2018 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Mark Of The Necrogram" is the 8th full-length studio album by Swedish melodic black metal/blackened death metal act Necrophobic. The album was released through Century Media Records in February 2018. It´s the successor to "Womb of Lilithu" from 2013, and as the case also was between the release of "Death to All (2009)" and "Womb of Lilithu (2013)", there have been quite a few lineup changes between the release of "Womb of Lilithu (2013)" and "Mark Of The Necrogram". Guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck, who left before the recording sessions for "Womb of Lilithu (2013)", have now returned and have replaced Fredrik Folkare and Tobias Sidegård. Sidegård also performed lead vocals on "Womb of Lilithu (2013)", and his lead vocalist spot is taken by Anders Strokirk on "Mark Of The Necrogram". The only two remaining members from the last album are drummer Joakim Sterner and bassist Alex Friberg.

Despite the many lineup shuffles in the band´s history, they have remained surprisingly consistent in sound and in the quality of their output. This is a band with a signature sound and they stick to it. Sure they´ve evolved slightly over the years, and their albums don´t sound exactly the same (although there are many similar features on all releases), but there is a strong musical vision which Necrophobic have remained true to throughout their career. Occult/anti-Christian themed melodic death/black metal. Contemporary artists like Dissection and Unanimated are valid references. So it´s especially the vocals which are a blackened snarl, while the instrumental part of the music is closer to melodic death metal (of the darker and most raw kind).

"Mark Of The Necrogram" pretty much continues down the same path Necrophobic have travelled for many years, and there aren´t any surprises to be found on the album. The material is well written melodic blackened death metal and you can pick any track from the album and call it a quality track in the style. Like most Necrophobic albums, "Mark Of The Necrogram" become a bit of a one-dimensional listen only a couple of tracks into the album though, which isn´t a major issue, but it´s still an issue that the band aren´t able to vary their songwriting and sound more than they do. The whole album more or less passes by without any particular standout moments to hold on to and mention afterwards. So consistency can both be a strength and a weakness, and if you crave album variation it´s definitely a weakness in this case.

"Mark Of The Necrogram" features a professional and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and the musicianship is also on a high level on all posts, so upon conclusion it´s another quality melodic blackended death metal release by Necrophobic. The above mentioned lack of variation brings my rating down a little, but it´s still a strong release in the genre and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ARENA Double Vision

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The uncertainty of ARENA continuing after the departure of vocalist Rob Sowden left fans wondering if the band would ever return with new material but after a six year absence the band recruited Paul Manzi as the lead frontman and put all doubts to rest that ARENA was still in it for the long run. Three albums in after their comeback in 2011 with “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” the band returns in 2018 with the 9th studio album DOUBLE VISION and no this is not a collection of Foreigner covers! After the comeback, ARENA beefed up the heaviness and toned down the progressiveness becoming more of a crossover prog act than the bona fide powerhouse neo-prog outfit that they had evolved into leading up to “Contagion.” Unfortunately the following “The Unquiet Sky” continued to tamp down the progressiveness and focused more on tightly delivered melodic rockers that only added touches of atmospheric rivers of synthesizers and eschewed lengthy grandiosity and virtuosic outbursts.

DOUBLE VISION comes three years after “The Unquiet Sky” and after all the negative feedback regarding that album, the band wisely revived more of the progressive aspects however they also kept the heaviness churning and in fact create one of the most rockin’ albums of the band’s existence. While bassist John Jowitt rejoined the band for “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” he quickly departed and was replaced by Kylan Amos. DOUBLE VISION enjoys the same lineup as “The Unquiet Sky” which allowed the current lineup of Clive Nolan (keyboards, backing vocals), Paul Manzi (vocals), John Mitchell (guitars, backing vocals), Kylan Amos (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums) to conjure up the organic chemistry needed to perfect all the proper elements to make this third phase of ARENA’s career as vivacious and relevant as the first two. In that regard DOUBLE VISION definitely steps things up from the rather lazy predecessor that pretty much sounded like a “Seventh Degree Part 2”.

First noticeable difference between DOUBLE VISION and the other two Manzi led albums is that his vocals have improved remarkably. It almost sounds as if he’s been taking voice lessons in order to improve not only his dynamic delivery but he has expanded his vocal range and covers more diverse grounds. Same goes for the compositions themselves. While the band not only beefs up the prog factor, there was obviously more attention paid to crafting more addictive melodic hooks that develop into a larger frame of pleasantly unfolding prog fueled rock that wends and winds through six strong tracks that culminate in the grand finale, the whopping almost 23 minute long epic “The Legend Of Elijah Shade” which consists of six parts strung together to create one of those delicious slices of overweening pompous prog that true believers will eat up like kids in a candy store.

Now granted, ARENA are not interested in deviating from their established neo-prog style that they have been changing subtly throughout the band’s near quarter century career. The strength is in the almost impeccable consistency that sticks to the playbook and only tweaks it enough to create a few unexpected twists and turns but the real bravado is in the excellent melodic developments and how they are strewn together in a series of soft and revolving heavy passages that result in synth-laden, guitar heavy crescendoes. DOUBLE VISION, while not deviating from the established playbook, does however crank out seven stellar tracks that not only rock the house but implement the proper dosages of holy progginess with all that excellent delivery of piano runs, keyboard glides and atmospheric haziness that Nolan so judiciously generates.

Out of the three albums that have featured Manzi, DOUBLE VISION is the best one yet and finds the band effortlessly melding the many phases of ARENAS existence into one beautiful album that includes the more sophisticated compositional prowess of albums like “Contagion” but also some of the melodramatic Marillion inspired 90s sounds from “Immortal?” Add to that the heightened awareness of casting the proper metallic spell and the perfectly placed bombastic parts in conjunct with the synthesized streaming operatic moments amount to ARENA’s best album of the decade. True that nobody will find any surprises not already included int he ARENA playbook but when an album contains no weak tracks and each one is constructed so uniquely and placed in the proper sequence which amounts to such a glorious listening experience then who really cares if this is the most original album ever to hit the prog scene. Sometimes high quality over originality wins the day and DOUBLE VISION certainly made the quality a top priority. A triumphant return to form!

DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
DREAM THEATER sure has had an amazing run throughout their three decade career which began all the way back in 1989 with the debut “When Dream And Day Unite.” Lauded for the following “Images And Words,” this Boston turned NYC based band was one of the key players in reviving the slumbering progressive rock scene and ground zero for bringing progressive metal into the larger public consciousness. Lo and behold, despite all the turbulence of the ups and downs throughout their career and just as many misses as hits, the band returns 30 years after their debut with their 14th studio album DISTANCE OVER TIME which continues the stability of the 21st century lineup which includes many of the legends: James LaBrie (vocals), John Petrucci (guitars), John Myung (bass) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards). And continuing the DT ride since his debut in 2011 is Portnoy’s replacement Mike Mangini on drums.

As with many of the progressive metal bands that have come and gone since DT’s early 90s triumph on the music scene, this band too has had to find that delicate balance between crafting compositions that are accessible to a large dedicated fanbase with finding the room to experiment and expand into newer arenas. And much like many more progressively oriented bands DT has found that it strayed a little left field from what the fanbase expects of them and such is the case with the previous album “The Astonishing” which found the whole plethora of responses ranging from opinions as the band’s absolute worst album ever and should be hurled into the trash bins to the other extreme of those who absolutely adore extremely lengthy rock opera infused pompousness in their prog metal. Fortunately the band seems to have their fingers on the pulse of the situation and always seem to bounce back after dodging the career crashing bullet that plagues bands who have achieved such popularity.

And so it is. DISTANCE OVER TIME seems like an album that was designed to reel the fans back to some of the classic aspects of the band, namely progressively constructed compositions that are based on strong melodies, tight performances and technical wizardry to shock and awe, well at least for those who have not become inured to this now tried and true style of prog metal playing. DREAM THEATER also forged their new creation so that it could be performed in live settings in conjunct with the 20th anniversary of the 5th studio album “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory,” which still remains one of the band’s most respected and popular albums of the entire DT canon and while DISTANCE OVER TIME certainly doesn’t outshine its 90s predecessor, it certainly does revive a sort of musical mojo of heavy no-nonsense metal delivery not heard since 2003’s “Train Of Thought.”

For all the bloated excess of “The Astonishing,” DISTANCE OVER TIME takes the opposite extreme. While the former was a behemoth double album that sprawled ten minutes past the two hour mark, the latter sits comfortably under the 57 minute run and is the shortest album since the band’s debut 30 years ago. Likewise the tracks are streamlined into more digestible chunks with none extending past the 10 minute mark and only “At Wit’s End” coming close at 9:20. From a business perspective, this was a very wise move as it allows prog metalheads the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with what attracted them to the band in the first place without having to dedicate excessive quantities of time and effort to pierce the impenetrable veil, not to mention the annoying fact that when DT releases an album of such overweening length, many tracks contain more padding than a tween’s first training bra. For complex music with a technical flare, shorter is always the answer, at least for an album that lacks epic transcendental qualities.

Admittedly, DREAM THEATER is a band i’ve had a love / hate relationship over the years and i suspect many share this sentiment given the high / low ratings of their albums that checker the canon as high ratings alternate with low ones. For me, DT still found their heyday in the 90s and peaked with 2002’s “Six Degrees Of Turbulence” and everything thereafter has pretty much been a somewhat stagnate retread, albeit a competent one of the former glory. In this regard DISTANCE OVER TIME firmly falls into that camp. The band members as brilliant as they are continuously fail to evolve past their classic “Awake” sound that implements the punishing guitar antics fortified with keyboard wizardry, operatic vocals and percussive bombast and although DT crafts a roster of pleasantries that tick off all the expects boxes on the checklist. The band seems to alternate between exploring new territories that don’t connect with the audience and then retreating to the status quo with no additional surprises.

In the end, DISTANCE OVER TIME successfully dishes out nine well crafted tracks that flow together fairly well without over-sappifying into wretch-inducing ballads and are displayed in rather well constructed vocal rhythmic passages augmented with blistering face melting technical wankery. This is what makes DT an interesting listen time and time again when they focus on these more intense aspects of their sound. However, DISTANCE OVER TIME will offer no surprises, no deviations from anything that has come before and the touched by the gods magical mojo of earlier albums like “Images And Words” is still a fading memory of the past. So once again, DT delivers a competent album that stands up well amongst the less talented contemporaries but in comparison to the band’s own majesty of their history, doesn’t really muster up enough goods to really get overexcited about. Generic to the hilt but generic performed in fully fueled DT excellence of course. While the album may make some waves in the here and now of 2019, i very much doubt that DT will be celebrating THIS album 20 years from now.

DARKWATER Human

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sweden has produced a lot of great melodic prog over the years, with some of my favorite Swedish prog bands being Seventh Wonder, Evergrey and Wolverine. One really unique and special band that had gone under my radar until recently is Darkwater, a band who’s been around since the early 2000s, but they’ve only released two albums up to this point. I gave their second release, Where Stories End, a listen recently and was immediately impressed by the band’s unique brand of melodic prog, which has some of the atmosphere of a band like Evergrey, as well as some of the technical musicianship and more complex songwriting of Dream Theater, while also putting in some of their own special touches, to help create their own fresh sound. Their third full-length release, Human, is due for release this coming week, and it continues where the band left off over 8 years ago, building on their unique sound while pushing it further with some new elements to help create their best album yet

One thing the band specializes in is managing to balance perfectly between heavy riffs, big melodic choruses, and some more subtle atmospheric sections. All of these elements are in place in some way or another on all of their tracks, and they’re always blended together in very effective ways, with Markus Sigfridsson providing some excellent guitar work, both on the heavier side and with some excellent melodic solos, and with keyboardist Magnus Holmberg setting the tone wonderfully with his symphonic keys, which generally have a dark tone to them, but still manage to sound beautiful at times, and they certainly do a great job of creating atmosphere. Another important element is vocalist Henrik Båth, who has a warm, deep voice, which fits in with the music perfectly. He sings with a lot of emotion and provides a powerful, yet very smooth performance throughout the album.

The band at times remind me of Evergrey at their best, with their ability to mix some very heavy riffs with some dark and foreboding keys, but they tend to have more extended instrumental sections, as well as some more complex arrangements. At the same time, their music is certainly more accessible and more melodic than the likes of Dream Theater, and so the band manages to create their own sound that fits them perfectly, drawing some influence from other bands, while still managing to stand out. Human expands on their sound in a big way, offering up more variety and more intensity than their previous album did, while still continuing to provide listeners with everything they’ve come to expect from the band.

Everything is expertly performed and produced, but of course, the most important area is the songwriting, and that is where the band has really come through on this release. One of the best tracks is the opener, and second single, “A New Beginning”, and it actually lives up to its name, as it manages to feel equal parts fresh and familiar, in that it maintains the general sound of the band’s previous work, while being faster paced and a bit heavier than usual. It introduces some light power metal elements, which appear on and off throughout the album, and help add an extra layer to the music, to go along with the increased symphonic elements, which were already there on Where Stories End, yet feel a bit more prominent this time around. This track opens up with some nice piano before the symphonic keys take over, and then the heavy guitars kick in and the track takes off at a pretty fast pace, with some very heavy riffs. This keeps up throughout the opening verse, which charges ahead with some of the band’s heaviest, speediest material ever, though this eventually gives way to a slow, soft and very melodic chorus, where Henrik’s excellent vocals and the more atmospheric elements of their music began to take over. The track alternates very fluidly between these two styles, with some more softer portions later in the track, while also delivering some more heavy guitar work and speedy tempos during a great instrumental section. It’s an excellent track overall, and a great indication of what to expect from the album on the whole.

The band goes back to more familiar territory with third single “In Front of You”, a slow but very hard hitting track, which opens up with some heavy, chugging guitar work, before claiming down for some atmospheric verses. The chunky guitar work returns for the chorus, which is intense, but very well sung and very memorable, and while the song is definitely one of the heaviest and darkest here, it still sneaks in some great melodies, especially during an excellent solo in the second half. Next is a brief interlude, “Alive (Part I)”, which has some soft guitar work, ambient keys and very soft and beautiful vocals from Henrik. Unsurprisingly, it gives way to the lead single, “Alive {Part II}”, which is one of the best on the album, as well as being very clearly a Darkwater song through and through. It has some nice lead guitar work, some excellent melodies, and some very nice atmospheric keys, as well as slight symphonic elements to help add some extra flavor. It isn’t overly fast, but it moves at a nice pace during the verses and instrumental sections, but the highlight is the chorus, where Henrik delivers a very powerful and extremely emotional performance, while the lyrics are also inspirational and very well written. It’s an excellent track overall, and a perfect indication of what to expect from the album.

Following one of the more accessible tracks, we have the longest on the album in “Reflection of a Mind”, a much slower moving, more melodic track. It has some excellent ambient keys and symphonic elements throughout, with some excellent, softer verses that help build up the tension, while the chorus is rather subdued, but very melodic and well sung, as always. The track stays soft throughout, aside from a brief burst of heaviness in the second half, but it’s another very emotional track, with very good lyrics and excellent vocals from Henrik, and slightly sped up last run through the chorus is amazing. Next is one of the shorter tracks, “Insomnia”, and it’s another one that has some minor power metal influence, moving at a pretty fast pace during its chorus. It starts off slow, with some dark and heavy riffs during the verses, before picking up the tempo a bit before the chorus, and then the chorus itself is fast, heavy and very fun, while still having some nice atmospheric keys. It’s another track which strikes a nice balance between being heavy, melodic, atmospheric and emotional, and it manages to blend everything together perfectly, while also including some cool, folk-influenced melodies in the second half, which is pretty interesting. It’s probably my favorite on the album, due to how addictive it is, though there are no less than great tracks on the album…

Next is “The Journey”, which is a slower, more introspective track, and one which makes great use of symphonic keys and more ambient keys. It has an epic feel to it, but in more of a dark and sinister way during the verses, before opening up for a lighter, very melodic chorus, with some very powerful and emotional vocals. It’s yet another track which seamlessly blends heavy, melodic and atmospheric passages, with the verses being very intense, the instrumental sections being complex and a bit foreboding, while the chorus is very accessible and melodic. Another one of my favorites on the album is “Burdens”, which starts off with some soft, yet very atmospheric acoustic guitar work, before eventually picking up the pace a bit and allowing for some more heavy guitar work. It’s another fairly mid-paced track, with some great guitar work and excellent keys throughout, but the highlight is the chorus, which is very melodic and has some of the most emotional vocals on the album, before giving way to some very heavy and sinister guitar work. The band’s tone blending is on perfect display, yet again, with the heavier sections serving as a perfect contrast to the very melodic chorus, while the ambiance is strong throughout, to help make it another addictive, yet very well crafted track.

Nearing the end, “Turning Pages” is another very atmospheric track, which reminds me of a lot of Evergrey in places. It opens up with some very soft keys, before picking up the pace and becoming one of the heavier tracks on the album, with some pretty epic symphonic keys in the background. It moves at a pretty good pace for a while, before slowing down again, and it’s another track that alternates fluidly between heavy, faster passages, and slower, more melodic passages while being pretty creepy and atmospheric throughout. It’s some of the chunkier guitar work that reminds of Evergrey, but in a good way, as it’s very well done and very intense, while still fitting in with the dark tone of the track. Closing out the album is “Light of Dawn”, which is unsurprisingly a more calm and melodic track, while still having some heavy guitar work in brief bursts. It’s another track where the atmospheric keys are a highlight, along with some soft and very emotional vocals from Henrik. The chorus is light but very powerful, and the lyrics are excellent once again. It’s a track which has some great vocal melodies, while also being fairly complex and having some excellent instrumental work, with an absolutely beautiful solo in the middle. It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes out the album very nicely.

While Darkwater may not be as well known as some of the other great prog bands in their country, they are certainly every bit as worthy of attention, and Human shows them stepping up their game, with some more atmospheric, melodic and at times very heavy songs, which are enhanced by strong vocals, and some very emotional, well-written lyrics. It’s an album that does have its share of fun and flashy moments but also manages to be very subtle at points, and it’s clearly a lovingly crafted album, with a ton of little details in each track. All fans of the the band’s previous work should love this album, as it’s clearly their best yet, while many fans of melodic prog looking for something with good atmosphere, heavy riffs, and a strong, emotional vocal performance, are also highly recommended to give this a listen, as it’ll almost certainly be one of the best albums of its kind released this year. This band likes to take their time making music, but as long as they can keep producing music of this caliber, the wait will always be worth it!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/24/darkwater-human-review/

ANCIENT BARDS Originne - The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
I don’t know what the reason is for it, but it seems like Italian metal bands have some kind of special knack for writing amazing melodies. Some of my favorite albums over the past few years have come from the likes of Rhapsody of Fire, Elvenking, Temperance and Derdian, with all those bands standing out for their unbelievable ability to write catchy choruses with insane melodies pretty much at will. One other band, I’ve been following for a long time that has a similar ability is Ancient Bards, who instantly impressed me with their debut The Alliance of the Kings, which marked the beginning of their ongoing concept, The Black Crystal Sword Saga. It was a very fun album, filled with speedy, energetic power metal with some symphonic elements, which were greatly enhanced on the next album, Soulless Child, which saw the band push their sound much further and become really epic, in the same vein as later Rhapsody albums, while still retaining the fun aspects of their debut, to help make it a truly special album.

Sadly, I was a bit let down by their next release, A New Dawn Ending, which both failed in delivering the kind of climax its name would suggest, while also going perhaps a bit too far with more ambitious songwriting, resulting in the band’s first album that felt a bit uneven, with some great moments and some forgettable moments. I was hoping the band would rebound with their next release, and so when Origine – The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2 was announced, I was ready to give the band another shot, with hopes that they could recapture their former glory. Now that Origine is here, it has not only won back my fandom for the band, it has proven itself to be their best work to date, bringing back a lot of the fun, catchiness and huge melodies of their first two albums, while still being a bit bolder at times, and certainly being one of their most varied releases.

Newcomers to the band can expect something fairly similar to Rhapsody, except with the warm but powerful voice of Sara Squadrani in the lead role, as opposed to a male vocalist. Musically, the band plays the same kind of speedy, epic and very melodic symphonic power metal, though they push quite a bit further with the symphonic elements than the aforementioned band has done recently, especially with the ever-present choir vocals, which are extremely epic and help give a cinematic feel, along with the orchestral elements. However, while their previous release favored longer tracks and more progressive arrangements which sometimes pushed the power metal elements into the background, Origine is back to being a more straightforward release, with most of the tracks being very upbeat and heavy, while still having varied songwriting and a ton of surprises. Like their counterparts, they’ve managed to have perfect sound production, with the symphonic elements, choirs, lead vocals, and the metal instruments all being given a ton of space and everything sounds powerful and crystal clear, which is obviously required for an album with so much going on.

The biggest area that disappointed me on A New Dawn Ending was the songwriting, as the performances were all amazing across the board, as usual, but the actual songs were uncharacteristically hit and miss. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here, as every song on this album is absolutely perfect from start to finish. The album certainly gets off to a strong start, with even the opening narrative track having a memorable first line, and the music and narration go together nicely. However, the first true song is lead single “Impious Dystopia”, which is the kind of fast paced, hard hitting track the band excels at. It moves at a frantic pace during the verses, forcing Sara to sing while barely having a chance to catch her breath, but she sounds as smooth, melodic and powerful as always. During the first verse, fans are treated to some pretty cool growls from new guitarist Simone Bertozzi, who has brought some new elements to the band, both with his growls as well as adding some slightly heavier guitar work than normal, with the first example of this coming during a section after the first chorus, where it almost sounds like a metalcore breakdown, except in a much more epic way that somehow suits the band perfectly fine. These little bursts of inspiration took time for me to get used to, but over time I’ve come to love them, and I find they help add a new element to what would already be an amazing album. Both Simone and longtime guitarist Claudio Pietronik do an excellent job throughout the album, striking the right balance between fresh and familiar. The track also has an excellent solo section, with some amazing melodic guitar work, though the highlight of the track is Sara’s vocals, with the main chorus being amazing, very catchy and extremely melodic, and then the final run through is absolutely awe-inspiring, with some very powerful and emotional vocals, that help turn an already amazing song into one of the band’s absolute best to date.

Following up such a strong opening is tough, but second single “Fantasy’s Wings” does a great job of it. This track is a bit more relaxed, and it has a slight folk influence to some of the melodies, making great use of the orchestral elements throughout. It moves at a nice pace, without ever fully speeding up, and it does a nice job alternating between soft and louder sections, though it never gets particularly heavy. It’s another track which showcases Sara’s amazing vocals, which are paired up with some cool backing growls during the chorus. It has an excellent instrumental section, with the orchestral elements taking over for a while, before giving way to a big, epic solo, but the highlight is again the final chorus, with the choir vocals starting things off in an epic way, before Sara comes in and kills it once again. In a somewhat similar vein is “Aureum Legacy”, a track which starts off softly, before the orchestral elements take over for a while, and then it settles down into near ballad territory, with some soft, but excellent vocals during the verses. It’s another track which alternates nicely between soft and heavy passages, and it has yet another amazing chorus, with some very emotional, yet powerful vocals, which of course only gets better during the final run once again. The song speeds up near the end, with an epic instrumental section, followed by choirs and then the track finally closes with a speedier, even more, epic final run through the chorus, which is absolutely stunning.

One thing Ancient Bards have excelled at from day one is their ballads, with tracks such as” “Lode al Padre” and “All That is True” being among my favorites by the band, as well as being among the best ballads I’ve ever heard on any kind of metal album. This time around, they’ve offered up “Light”, the third single for the album. It’s a more simple track compared to some of their other ballads, but it’s still absolutely beautiful, with some nice symphonic arrangements and some great piano melodies from keyboardist and main songwriter Daniele Mazza, giving way for Sara’s ever-enchanting voice to steal the show. As always, she sings very softly and beautifully during the verses, before opening up in a big way during the chorus, and then in the second half of the track comes a very emotional and beautiful guitar solo, followed by some very powerful vocals to close out the track.

After a couple of soft and relatively slower tracks, the band brings the energy level back up to the max on “Oscurità”, It starts out quietly again, with some epic symphonic arrangements accompanying Sara’s vocals, but then things get dialed up to the max in a hurry, with the full band kicking in, and the tempo quickly picks up. Once the songs get going, it’s the kind of speedy power metal track the band has been great at since their debut, except with a slightly harder edge to it, and the second half has some crazy instrumental work from both guitarists, as well as some growls thrown in here and there, to help make it more epic. It feels like a perfect blend between old and new, overall. Two tracks later is a cinematic interlude track, “The Hollow”, which is dominated by epic symphonic arrangements and choirs and is a pretty cool track, which comes in between the two tracks on this album that feel the most like the band’s debut. First is “Titanism”, a very speedy track where the main melody sounds very similar to some of the band’s past work, while even the verses and chorus feel familiar, while still being fresh enough to work on their own. It’s an extremely fun and catchy track, of the kind the band has always excelled at. On the other side of the interlude is “Home of the Rejects”, which is similar in tone, though it sounds a bit more fresh, due to some slightly heavier guitar work. Both tracks are excellent, though, and both have amazing choruses and instrumental work, as always.

Closing out the album is the near 15-minute epic “The Great Divide”. I’ll admit I was nervous going into it the first time, because while the band had been pretty good at longer tracks in the past, I found the two longest songs on A New Dawn Ending to be a bit disjointed and somewhat ruined by excessive narration, but thankfully this time around, they managed to put together their best epic length track yet, and one which has several huge moments throughout, and has several tempo changes and surprises, including some guitar work early on that sounds very similar to DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni’s style, a huge, cinematic chorus with a great use of choirs, an epic growled section, a really epic cinematic interlude, and of course a ton of great instrumental work throughout. However, the most important is, the song stays coherent throughout, managing to pack in a ton of big moments without ever losing focus, or getting bogged down by anything excessive. It effectively ends up feeling like a track that actually earns its epic length, as opposed to being either a normal track stretched way past its limits, or a mish-mash of ideas haphazardly thrown together. Similar to the recent Rhapsody album, the only bit of narration on this track comes right at the very end, and while it is hilariously cheesy, it at least isn’t distracting, due to its placement at the end, and so it doesn’t take away from what is easily one of the band’s best songs to date.

After A New Dawn Ending, I was a bit worried about the future of Ancient Bards, and whether or not they would potentially drift further away, trying so hard to outdo themselves that they lost the fun and magic of their first two releases. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened at all, as instead the band has managed to strike the perfect balance between bringing back a lot of the fun, energetic power metal and huge melodies of their first two releases, while still throwing in some surprises, as well as producing easily their best epic length track to date. Fans of the band are sure to love Origine, while symphonic power metal fans, in general, are highly recommended to check this release out, as it manages to slightly edge out Soulless Child to be their very best release to date. In a time where Ancient Bards and Rhapsody of Fire, two bands with similar sounds, have released two albums so close to each other, one may wonder who the winner is. The answer for that one is very easy: All fans of symphonic power metal, in general, are the winners, as getting to hear such masterful albums of this type so close together is the kind of huge treat that doesn’t come along very often. Hopefully, the band continues to do what they do best on future releases, so all remaining installments of The Black Crystal Sword Saga can be as epic as this one is!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/23/ancient-bards-origine-the-black-crystal-sword-saga-part-2/

QUEENSRŸCHE The Verdict

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
Queensrÿche have been on a hell of a hot streak since they got former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in and started a band called Rising West, playing material from Queensrÿche’s first EP and first 4 albums, following the departure of their long time legendary singer Geoff Tate.

When they changed their name from Rising West back to Queensrÿche, and released their self-titled album in 2013, (with great tracks like ‘Where Dreams Go To Die,’ ‘Redemption’ and ‘Vindication’), it was an utterly excellent batch of material and the ensuing live shows saw the band energised and revitalised in one of the best late-career renaissances in the history of Metal (up there with the likes of Kreator and Accept for later-year triumphs). The following album Condition Human was a strong follow-up that kept up the quality.

As you can imagine, their third album since this revitalisation, 2019’s The Verdict, is my most anticipated album of this year. When they dropped the pre-release tracks, such as ‘Man The Machine,’ ‘Dark Revierie’ and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ it was every bit as good, if not better, than Condition Human’s pre-release tracks like the excellent ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Hellfire.’

With all these expectations I had built up in my head, I was fearful I had built it up too much and set myself up for disappointment.

After having listened to it both via streaming while I waited for the postman, and on CD repeatedly after delivery, I am happy to inform you that not only is it not a disappointment, but rather it is the best Toddryche album to date. Arguably the band’s best album in a very long time at all, Todd or no Todd.

Even from myself, who doesn’t dislike any Queensrÿche album, (even the controversial ones), this ranks easily in the top half of their discography, top quarter even! I hate statements like “it’s the band’s best album since…’’ but in this case, it really feels true.

The production, (once again by ‘Zeuss’) is brilliant. All instruments are clear and distinct, you can hear the bass at all times, you can separate each guitar from each-other and the drums sound fat and powerful. Speaking of drums; Now that singer Todd La Torre is also playing drums this time around as well as his singing duties while classic drummer Scott Rockenfield is on paternity leave, you also get some drum styles you don’t usually hear on a Queensrÿche album. (Have a quick listen to ‘Launder The Conscience’ and ‘Light Years’ and listen to the beats to see what I mean).

The press prior to this saw Whip telling everyone that this was their heaviest and most progressive album in a while. Usually statements like that are always wrong. Strangely though, again, in this case, it really feels true.

There are some nice heavy moments on here; such as the aforementioned pre-released tracks, ‘Man The Machine and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ as well the very crunchy ‘Inner Unrest’ amonst others, and furthermore, there are some great proggy moments; such as ‘Bent,’ ‘Portrait’ and ‘Inside Out.’ There’s moments that recall the middle-eastern vibes of their American Soldier and Tribe albums, there’s some of the bass-driven textured stuff like their underrated Operation Mindcrime 2 album, and there’s some of the trippy expansive stuff reminiscent of their Promised Land album.

As well as the heavy and proggy stuff, there is just loads of great, catchy, accessible Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal material that has been the core thing tying all of the band’s albums together to date. You can hear bits that sound like the last two albums, like calssic material such as Rage For Order and all sorts of new things as well.

There’s so much great bass guitar parts and lots of space for Todd to show off his impressive vocal range. Album upon album he pushes it further, showing off more and more styles and becoming more of his own thing and moving away from the Geoff Tate style, but still staying close enough that it always sounds quintessentially Queensrÿche. (Take that vocal style and mix it with those really distinctive guitar leads, and you’ve got Queensrÿche in a bottle.)

Overall; its yet another strong Queensrÿche album, but more than that, it is an interesting album, with a strong production, a great range of material, and some of their honestly best material in years, even if they have already been on a very strong run.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE The Eighth Mountain

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s always exciting to see a band deliver something truly special when all the odds seem to be stacked against them. One of my favorite albums of all time is Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes From a Memory, an album which could have been the end for the band if it had been a failure, following the negative reception and behind the scenes problems with Falling Into Infinity, while many other bands have also managed to deliver some great albums in similar situations. Italian symphonic power metal legends Rhapsody of Fire are the latest to fall into this category.

Once considered one of the all-time greats of their genre, producing such masterpieces as Legendary Tales, Dawn of Victory and Power of the Dragonflame, the band has gone through a lot of turmoil in recent years, starting with the departure of multi-instrumentalist and main composer Luca Turilli, which led to the solid but somewhat underwhelming Dark Wings of Steel, followed by an excellent return to form in Into the Legend. Just as the band seemed to be back on their feet, they ended up parting ways with longtime vocalist Fabio Lione, who has since reunited with Turilli to start their own new version of Rhapsody, with their debut planned for release later this year.

With keyboardist and songwriter, Alex Staropoli left as the only remaining original member (though guitarist Roberto De Micheli was around during the band’s early days as Thundercross, before leaving in 1993 and then returning in 2011,) things looked pretty grim for the band. It only got worse from there, following the release of Legendary Years, a re-recordings album featuring tracks from the band’s first five albums, as well as the first release to feature new singer Giacomo Voli and new drummer Manuel Lotter. It was very poorly received, with the general consensus being that Voli is a good singer, but he didn’t fit well on the classics, while the overall sound production and performances just weren’t up to par with the originals.

I’ll admit, I was very close to counting the band out for good around that point, and I doubt I’m the only fan of the band to do so. However, I was willing to give them one last chance to see how their first new album with their current lineup would turn out, and things looked more hopeful as soon as the first single “The Legend Goes On” was released, as it felt like a return to the fun, simpler sound of the band’s first few releases, while also feeling fresh. I was hoping it would be an indication of what to expect from the full-length album, but now that the Eighth Mountain has finally arrived, I have to say, my expectations haven’t been met: They’ve been greatly surpassed!

Ever since Staropoli took over as the band’s main songwriter, it’s felt like he’s been wanting to recreate the fun and energy of the band’s early days, still incorporating symphonic elements as always, but not going as fully overboard with them as the band had been on their last couple of albums with Turilli. Into the Legend came pretty close, aside from a couple weaker tracks, and now The Eighth Mountain feels like it’s fully accomplished the mission, bringing back the more simple sound of the band’s early days, while still sounding fresher, more energetic and more exciting than the band has been in a very long time. Obviously, the symphonic elements are still in full effect, with the album featuring the use of a full orchestra and two full choirs, but they feel more fluidly integrated into the music, instead of overpowering everything else, which allows the rest of the band to shine through.

And shine they do, with De Micheli, in particular, delivering easily his best performance since returning to the band. He delivers some heavy, energetic riffs throughout the album, as well as performing some very melodic and beautiful solos, and of course there’s some of the classic neoclassical shredding which falls perfectly in line with what the band was doing in their early days, particularly on the epic, super speedy track “Clash of Times”. Obviously, Staropoli is impressive, as well, with his keys being the main focus as always, providing some nice backdrops throughout the album, and adding a ton of atmosphere and feeling to the tracks. I’ll also say, while I agree with the criticisms against Legendary Years, the production here is as strong as ever, with everything coming through clearly and sounding powerful, so whatever went wrong on that release, it certainly didn’t happen this time.

Following a brief intro, the album officially kicks off with “Seven Heroic Deeds”, the kind of speedy, high energy track fans have come to expect from the band. It has some heavy, yet melodic guitar work, with slight hints at neoclassical shredding early on, as well as some fun verses, a very epic chorus, featuring heavy use of choirs, and overall it strikes a perfect balance between the metal elements and the symphonic arrangements.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Voli’s vocals, which also make a strong first impression, as he delivers a fiery performance during the verses, fluidly alternating between the kind of melodic, soaring vocals fans would expect, as well as some more intense and powerful vocals, especially on the second verse, where he briefly teases at some extreme vocals, and nails them. He especially shines on the chorus, where he shows his range perfectly, going from epic high notes to deeper notes, which is some he does wonderfully throughout the album.

Fans may already be familiar with the next couple tracks, as both were recently released as singles. First is “Master of Peace”, a fast paced track which kicks off with some heavy rhythm guitar work, which carries on through the verses, where Voli shows off his range some more. The highlight of the track is the spectacular chorus, which is equal parts epic, melodic, powerful and absolutely beautiful, featuring some of Voli’s best vocals on the entire album, where he just knocks it out of the park, though the wonderful, very melodic solo later on is also amazing. The second in this set of singles is “Rain of Fury”, which showcases some epic symphonic arrangements early on, and moves at a very furious pace throughout the verses, giving way to another melodic and absolutely sensational chorus. It’s the kind of epic, speedy and melodic the track the band has always specialized in, and while I prefer the previous track slightly, both tracks are both amazing on their own, as well as a great indication of what to expect.

The momentum continues with “White Wizard”, a track which begins with some soft and beautiful keys, before the rest of the band joins in and the pace picks up a bit. It’s not quite as frantic as the previous three tracks, but still moves along at a nice pace during the verses, before picking up big time for what may actually be my favorite on the chorus on the album, as the keys and symphonic arrangements are especially effective here, while Voli’s vocals are as powerful and melodic as ever, and the chorus itself is just insanely catchy and fun, and so it’s simply a magical chorus, overall. The brief instrumental interlude, later on, is also great, and overall, the track is one of my favorites on the album.

Following four amazing tracks, the band slows down briefly on “Warrior Heart”, a classic medieval folk-infused ballad along the lines of “Forest of Unicorns” from the band’s debut. It’s a relaxing and beautiful, yet still epic track, where Voli again shines with some deep and very soft vocals, which carry the verses well, before opening up with some epic and powerful vocals during the choruses. The folk instruments are also very beautiful, and the track is instrumentally very calm and relaxing, while still being very entertaining.

The pace picks up again and doesn’t slow down much for a while, starting with “The Courage to Forgive”, a more progressive and epic track. After an extended intro, the track gallops along at a mid-pace for a while, before speeding up for another spectacular chorus, with excellent use of the choirs, as well as more great vocals from Voli. The track does a great job of alternating between slow and fast passages, a trend which continues on “March Against the Tyrant”, the first of two longer tracks on the album. It starts off with some blistering lead guitar work, before slowing down and delivering a very nice extended soft section, featuring more very soft vocals as well as the return of medieval folk elements. The track builds up momentum for a while, slowly getting heavier as it goes along, and then it speeds up for yet another incredibly epic chorus, featuring heavy guitar work and some more outstanding vocal melodies. From there, the track stays heavy, but it continues to alternate nicely between fast and mid-paced sections, with some great instrumental work, both from the band and orchestra. I’ve struggled somewhat with the band’s longer songs in the past, but this track is a clear winner, and stands as my favorite here, thanks to its excellent arrangements and chorus.

Fans of classic Rhapsody are sure to love “Clash of Times”, another fast and furious track, which features some of the best guitar work on the album. It maintains an intense pace throughout its verses and chorus and is amazing throughout but the highlight of the track comes around the halfway point, where De Micheli goes all in with epic neoclassical shredding, and the result is absolutely brilliant. The hits just keep on coming with lead single “The Legend Goes On”, another track which strikes a perfect balance between heavy guitar work, epic symphonic arrangements and keys, frantic tempos and an outstanding, very catchy chorus. Following that is the second and final ballad, “The Wind, the Rain, and the Moon. It’s a beautiful track, heavily dominated by orchestras and vocals. It has a slight film score feel to it, with the orchestras providing a beautiful backdrop, while Voli delivers some of his softest and most theatrical vocals on the album, once again stealing the show, especially during the chorus.

Closing out the album is the over 10-minute epic, “Tales of a Hero’s Fate”. I’ve mentioned before that Rhapsody epics can be very hit and miss, so expecting them to nail two on one album may be too much to ask for, right? Wrong! The track begins with more heavy guitar work and epic symphonic arrangements before the music suddenly turns darker and were treated to some very sinister sounding growls, which actually sound pretty awesome. The track stays speedy throughout, with another great chorus, where the choirs are used to great effect, and it’s an amazing track overall, with strong vocals from Voli, as well as some great instrumental passages, which range from very heavy to very beautiful, dramatic and melodic, and for the first 8 minutes, it’s an absolutely perfect Rhapsody epic, moving from highlight to highlight, without losing focus or repeating itself too much, as some of their past epics have done. After around 8 minutes, the song effectively ends, as the album closes out with some narration from the late Christopher Lee. I usually dislike narration in music, as it can be distracting, and Rhapsody, in particular, have been known to overuse it a lot in the past, but thankfully, in this case, it only appears right at the end of the album, so it isn’t as distracting as it could have been, and the song is still given more than enough time to fully develop, so the narration ends up feeling like a nice epilogue to a truly outstanding album.

When I heard Fabio Lione had left Rhapsody, I thought for sure that would be it for me, as I figured there was little chance of the band recovering from losing so many important members, at this point. Going into The Eighth Mountain, I told myself I would have been happy if it was just a solid release, but it unexpectedly turned out to be an absolute masterpiece, the likes of which can easily stand up to any of the band’s past works. Longtime fans of the band may be in for a shock when they hear just how epic, energetic, melodic and at times beautiful this release is, while anyone looking for great symphonic power metal is highly recommended to give this a listen, as it’s easily the best album of its kind released in quite some time. It’s the kind of truly shocking and invigorating release that instantly cheers me up every time I listen to it, and I can only dare to hope that the band could possibly deliver more epic releases of this caliber in the future!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/17/rhapsody-of-fire-the-eighth-mountain/

BLOODBATH The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn" is the 5th full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Bloodbath. The album was released through Peaceville Records in October 2018. It´s the successor to "Grand Morbid Funeral" from 2014 and it´s the second Bloodbath album to feature Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) on lead vocals. There´s been one lineup change since the predecessor as guitarist Per "Sodomizer" Eriksson has been replaced by Joakim Karlsson.

"The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn" continues the old school Swedish death metal style of the predecessors, but there is an added coldness to the band´s sound, that I don´t recall hearing before. I wouldn´t call it black metal by any means (this is through and through a death metal release), but the colder and more harsh sound of the music on "The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn" do occasionally point in that direction, which is already heard on the opening "Fleischmann". It´s nice to hear that an established act like Bloodbath haven´t forgotten that the most interesting artists make sure to evolve and develop their core sound throughout their career. The slight death´n´roll influenced main riff on "Wayward Samaritan" is another standout moment on the album, which is a bit different from what we are used to hearing from Bloodbath.

Not to worry though, if the above new elements don´t sound like your poison, because that´s just what they are...elements of the core old school death metal style, which Bloodbath as always deliver with fierce conviction and passion. Add to that clever songwriting and high level musicianship and "The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn" is yet another high quality death metal release by Bloodbath. The album also features a raw and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly, so upon conclusion a 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

GRISLY The Spectral Wars

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The Spectral Wars" is the debut full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Grisly. The album was released through Xtreem Music in September 2018. Grisly was founded in 2014 and features the three-piece lineup Dennis Blomberg (bass), Henke Lundgren (drums), and Rogga Johansson (guitars, vocals). Especially the latter is quite prolific on the Swedish (and the international) death metal scene with his many different projects: Down Among The Dead Men, Paganizer, Demiurg, and Ribspreader, just to mention a few of the projects he is (or has been) involved in.

So it´s not really a surprise to find Johansson involved in yet another death metal project. And what´s even less surprising is that the music style on "The Spectral Wars" is old school Swedish death metal, as that´s the style of music many of Johansson´s projects are based upon. In the case of "The Spectral Wars" it´s the most simple and predominantly mid-paced old school Swedish death metal style that Grisly have chosen to play.

There´s nothing particularly original about the content of the album, but it´s certainly both well performed and well produced. The first couple of tracks actually filled me with great joy and left me with a "hell yeah" on my lips, but it´s like the band either run out of ideas, or the music style becomes a bit too one-dimensional fast, because about halfway through the album I can feel my thrill fizzing out. Not that the latter part of the album is bad by any means, and I´m still entertained while the album plays, but the promise of the first couple of tracks is not completely fulfilled. "The Spectral Wars" is still a good quality death metal album though and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PYREXIA Unholy Requiem

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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"Unholy Requiem" is the 5th full-length studio album by US death metal act Pyrexia. The album was released through Unique Leader Records in September 2018. It´s the successor to "Feast of Iniquity" from 2013 and features several lineup changes since the predecessor as there have been changes on both the lead vocalist, the drummer, and guitarist positions in the band. As always it´s guitarist Chris Basile who has held the flag high and assembled a new lineup. Basile is also credited with recording, mixing, and mastering "Unholy Requiem".

Stylistically "Unholy Requiem" sounds unmistakably like the preceding releases by Pyrexia. It´s brutal technical death metal, but with strong hardcore leanings, which is basically the music style the band have played since their formation in the early 1990s. The focus on ultra heavy hardcore grooves was something new and different in death metal back then, but nothing out of the ordinary today. Being one of the seminal artists to use hardcore grooves in death metal doesn´t mean you are except from trying to develop your sound or to forge an unique style, especially when being around as long as Pyrexia have been, and I think the band neglect to do that here. "Unholy Requiem" doesn´t feature a very original sound and it could just as easily have been released by one of the other thousands of bands playing this style.

"Unholy Requiem" features 8 tracks and a total playing time of 25:08 minutes, so this is a short and raw release, but with music as brutal as this, a short playing time isn´t always an issue. Pyrexia are a well playing act and the material are generally well written and effective too, but it´s not exactly hook laden and catchy, but again with music as brutal as this it´s not to be expected.

"Unholy Requiem" features a decent production job (the vocals are slightly too high in the mix), but it´s not a sound which elevates the music beyond what is standard in the genre, and that can be said about most features on the album. The songwriting, the musicianship, and the sound production are all of a standard quality and little on the album reaches excellent territories, but that´s more or less the story of all the preceding releases by the band too. It´s hard edged, brutal, and technically well played and definitely entertaining while it plays, but also pretty soon forgotten after it has ended. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 7 ratings
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DippoMagoo
When I first started getting into metal, one of the very first bands I checked out was American progressive metal band Dream Theater. They were the ones to really get me into prog, as I enjoyed many of their albums, starting with Octavarium, Awake and Train of Thought, before eventually checking out their full discography and loving most of it, with Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, in particular, being one of my all-time favorite albums. While I’ve become a fan of many other prog bands over the years, DT are the ones who started it all for me, and so every time they release a new album I get excited, waiting with bated breath to hear what they will come up with next. Their previous release, The Astonishing, was an extremely polarizing release, to say the least, as it took the band in a much lighter, more rock-infused direction than normal, being a massive 2+ hour concept album that at times even felt like a Broadway musical. I personally loved it and considered it to be possibly their very best effort to date, but to say most fans disagreed with me, would be a major understatement. Following such a divisive release, it’s no surprise that the band decided to re-think things a bit, which led to a tour where they focused on classic releases, particularly their breakthrough album Images & Words, and then when it came time to release a new album, they looked to the past to help create a new release that could hopefully win back folks who were disappointed with the previous release. That upcoming release, Distance Over Time, is now almost here, and while it’s been teased as a “return to the roots”, it has turned out to be an album that has the elements fans would expect from the band and does a solid job of providing some entertaining songs, but it doesn’t quite capture the magic of many of the band’s classic releases, nor does it push their music forward in a significant way.

If I could describe Distance Over Time with one simple phrase, it would be “back to the basics”. Compared to The Astonishing and some of the band’s other more ambitious releases, this one feels surprisingly simple and straight-forward, focusing on all of the band’s main aspects at their surface level, without digging too deep or without throwing in too many surprises. Fans who’ve been disappointed with some of the band’s recent albums may enjoy this one a bit more, as it’s by far their heaviest release since at least Black Clouds & Silver Linings, with almost every song having some pretty heavy, chunky lead guitar work from John Petrucci. At the same time, the band has always done a great job of mixing together heavy and melodic passages, with all of their classics featuring a perfect blend of the two, and so obviously that is still true of this release, with Petrucci providing some excellent melodic guitar work to go along with the heavier passages, as well as some typically excellent keyboard work from Jordan Rudess. I find the band is at their best when allowing one element of their music to dominate for a while, without losing sight of the rest of their sound, which is something they’ve pulled off wonderfully in the past, while this release doesn’t really go one way or the other for very long on most of the tracks, instead opting to blend heavy and melodic passages together near seamlessly. This has led to some mixed results, with some tracks pulling it off a whole lot better than others. One thing’s for sure, though: Petrucci and Rudess, along with bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini, are exceptional musicians, among the absolute best in the world with their respective instruments, and so everything is performed to perfection, with the sound production being equally flawless.

One surprising aspect of Distance Over Time is its length. Looking through the band’s discography, it’s their shortest album since their debut, When Dream and Day Unite, and is only their third release to clock in at under an hour (excluding bonus tracks, that is), which is quite surprising for a band known to make their albums over 75 minutes. Even more surprisingly, it joins the aforementioned debut and The Astonishing to become just their third release in 14 albums to not have any tracks over 10 minutes (though the latter can be disqualified from this, as it’s a concept album meant to be treated as a whole, where the other two are entirely song focused.) For a band known to make epic, long and complex tracks, this comes as quite the surprise, to say the least. With all things taken into consideration, it feels to me like the band went out of their way to make a more accessible album, without turning to outside sources as they did on the previously ill-fated Falling Into Infinity. There’s still plenty of excellent, highly technical instrumental work, of course, and a few tracks do have some of the more complex arrangements longtime fans would expect, but it definitely feels like the band has stripped their sound down to its bare essentials at this point, which has made for an entertaining, but somewhat disjointed album. Songwriting is fairly hit and miss, though most tracks are at least solidly enjoyable, and it certainly isn’t as wildly inconsistent as the likes of Systematic Chaos, Octavarium or the aforementioned Falling Into Infinity. However, the most disappointing thing about this album to me, is that by going back to the roots of their sound in such an extreme way, it feels like they’ve both ignored any of the evolution they’ve gone through over the years, as well as taken away a lot of the things that make their music so special.

Another area where the release is a bit mixed is the vocals. Unlike many fans, I’ve always considered James LaBrie to be an excellent singer, and he has contributed heavily to some of my favorite works by the band, with The Astonishing, in particular, is one of my favorite performances from him to date, as it allowed to really showcases many different aspects of his voice, and he was clearly fully invested in the lyrics, which led to some amazing vocals from his all around. On this album, I find his vocals to be a bit all over the place, though some of this has to do with an increased use of vocal effects on his voice, which seem more noticeable than usual, as well as the fact that some of the vocal melodies on this release just aren’t that great, unfortunately. However, there are still some tracks where he gets to shine, and there are moments where he’s clearly invested in the lyrics and gets to deliver some great vocal melodies. If anything, his vocals, like the album, on the whole, are simply a bit more inconsistent than I’d like, though they’re still quite good, more often than not.

And of course, the most important aspect of any album is the songwriting, which is where this album is solid, but not up to par with any of the band’s best releases, or even most of their albums in general. Unlike most fans, I’ve quite enjoyed each of their past several releases, with Systematic Chaos being their last release I would consider less than great. This album is considerably better than that one, thanks to the songwriting never falling as low as that one did in places, but it still rarely reaches the heights the band is capable of. They sure were spot on with their picks for lead singles, though, with opening track “Untethered Angel” being a very fun, hard-hitting track that strikes a perfect balance between heavy and melodic, while “Fall into the Light” is just as good. The former opens with some very melancholy guitar work from Petrucci, before quickly exploding and turning into a heavy mid-paced track, with the keyboards lending a dark atmosphere to the proceedings. Vocals are solid during the verses and pick up big time during the chorus, which speeds up and has some excellent vocal melodies, managing to be very catchy and melodic. As always, the track has an extended and highly impressive instrumental section in the middle, as well as a very nice outro performed mostly by Petrucci. The latter track is almost the reverse of the opener, in that it starts out with some very heavy riffs, clearly inspired by Metallica, as many of Petrucci’s riffs are, before speeding up and turning into a pretty fast-paced and fun track during the verses. Once the chorus hits, though, the track slows down and gets very melodic and atmospheric, with some excellent vocal melodies and more strong vocals from LaBrie. The track does an excellent job of blending metal and rock, with some excellent soft passages in the second half, where Petrucci showcases some beautiful, highly emotional guitar work, to go along with the already soft chorus. In between those two tracks is the slightly less successful “Paralyzed”. It’s a more modern sounding track, opening with some very heavy, modern sounding riffs. It moves along at a rather slow pace and feels pretty basic throughout, like the kinda song that could be played by some random band off the streets. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a solid track, as the verses are solidly engaging, and the build-up to the chorus is great, but overall, the track just feels like it’s far beneath the band’s capabilities, with the end of the chorus, in particular, being incredibly underwhelming, and it only gets worse at the end of the track, when it becomes highly repetitive and annoying. The verses and a really good instrumental section, with more melodic and beautiful soloing from Petrucci, are enough to salvage the track, but not nearly enough to make it particularly special or memorable.

Moving along, the band follows up “Fall into the Light” with another excellent track in “Barstool Warrior”. This one has a very classic DT feel to it, with some very melodic guitar work that definitely would have fit in great on Images & Words, mixed in with some even more beautiful melodies where the guitar tone feels similar to the outro to “The Ministry of Lost Souls”, which is one of my personal favorites by the band, despite being on a largely uneven album. The track is fairly laid back throughout, being one of the band’s more melodic and more prog rock infused tracks, but it’s very beautiful throughout, with some excellent vocal melodies and a very strong chorus, as well as the always great instrumental work. If the band wanted this album to be a return to the roots then this track is definitely one of the best cases of them pulling that off to perfection. Next is “Room 137”, the first song written by Mangini since he joined the band. In fact, with Mangini and Myung contributing to the lyrics, that leaves Rudess as the only member not to do so on this album, which is interesting, as the past three releases have been largely written by Petrucci, with a song here and there written by LaBrie, so I guess it’s nice to see this album being more of a team effort. Anyway, “Room 137” is, unfortunately, the worst track here. It starts off inoffensively enough, with more dark and heavy guitar work during the first verse, which only gets better during the second verse where its enhanced by some excellent backing keys. The chorus is also pretty decent and very atmospheric, and obviously, the instrumental section is great. Sadly, there’s one vocal section that pops up a couple times, where it sounds like LaBrie’s attempt at the intro to the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and between bad sound mixing and just poor arrangements in general, the result is unbearably bad, and is easily one of the worst things I’ve ever heard from DT. It’s bad enough to completely ruin an otherwise solid (if not great) track. Thankfully, that is the only real dud of the album, and things pick up again with “S2N”, another very classic DT sounding track, mixed in with some weird voiceovers near the beginning. Once it gets going it’s a mid-paced track, with some fairly heavy guitar work, though it has a slight rock feel to it. The track moves along at a nice pace, being fun and somewhat upbeat, but not particularly fast. It has a great chorus, as well as some excellent keyboard work from Rudess throughout, and it has a very heavy, outstanding outro from Petrucci, that helps close things out in a great way.

Moving towards the end, the band delivers an absolute masterpiece in “At Wit’s End”, which is one of the tracks written by LaBrie. I mention that only because it’s by far the best-sung track on the album, with some very emotional lyrics, as well as a strong, very powerful performance from LaBrie, where he’s clearly fully invested in the lyrics. The track, which is the longest in the album, clocking in at 9:20, is very much a mini-epic, in that it packs in about as many highlights and surprises as one would expect from a lengthy track, without actually going over 10 minutes. It opens with a long, hard-hitting intro from Petrucci, before slowing down with a nice, melodic opening verse, which then gives way to an amazing, very melodic and beautiful chorus, where LaBrie is in absolute top form. The pace picks up for a heavy, very intense second verse, with some very hard-hitting riffs, and this gives way to a kind of secondary chorus, which is also very nice, though much more intense than the main chorus. After that, we get an excellent extended instrumental section, with some of the best work from Rudess on the album, as well as more excellent shredding from Petrucci, and then the music calms down for a bit, leading to a very nice almost ballad-like sequence, with more very soft and excellent vocals, and of course more amazing guitar work, and then the track has an extended intro, with more great vocals and melodic leads, before a long, dramatic fade out. It’s definitely the kind of complex, dynamic and highly engaging track I love from the band, and it’s easily the best on the album.

Following the longest on the album, we have the shortest in “Out of Reach”, a nice ballad with some more soft and melodic guitar work, as well as some strong vocals from LaBrie. It has a very strong chorus and is a nice track overall, but it feels like it just starts to pick up steam, before suddenly fading out and then ending, before it has time to fully develop. Closing out the album is “Pale Blue Dot”, the second longest track on the album. It isn’t quite as epic as “At Wit’s End”, but it’s still an excellent track in its own right. It opens with some nice ambient keyboards as well as some voiceovers, which lasts for around a minute, before some more chunky guitars kick in, as some more epic keys from Rudess, which have a slight symphonic feel to them. The song stays heavy during the verses and moves along at a good pace, though the highlight of the track is the epic symphonic keys from Rudess, which actually get even better as the song goes on. The chorus is rather subdued, but also very nice. It’s a fairly straightforward track, with a fairly standard structure, though it has an excellent, extended instrumental section in the middle, as well as one last amazing outro from Petrucci to close out the album. The digipak version of the album has a bonus track called “Viper King”. It’s a rather upbeat and fun track, with a bit of a classic rock feel to it. In fact, I initially wondered if it was a cover track, but it’s actually an original, written by LaBrie. It’s a fun, fast-paced track, with a really catchy chorus. It’s another more accessible track, which doesn’t really showcase the band’s talents, but for a bonus track it’s a lot of fun, so I can’t complain.

I always have high expectations for Dream Theater, and while Distance Over Time is a very good release, overall, it doesn’t fully meet those expectations. I’ve admittedly been a bit hard on the album, so much so that the final score below may be hard to believe, but that’s large because I love the band so much and I expect better from them. With that being said, as a “back to basics” sort of album, it’s a highly enjoyable release, and it certainly contains traces of all the elements fans of the band have come to love, even if it doesn’t have anything over 10 minutes, or any instrumental tracks. The songwriting is a tad more inconsistent than I’d like, but there’s definitely more winners than losers here, with even the worst track being mostly fine outside of one huge misfire, while the four best tracks are all amazing, and every bit as good as I expect from the band. Overall, it’s an album I’m sure any longtime fan of the band will enjoy, and those disappointed with the direction the band took on The Astonishing will most likely enjoy this one a lot more, while any prog fan who’s somehow never heard of the band should find this a good enough place to start, as it has all of the band’s main elements, while being a bit more accessible than most of their other albums. Personally, I hope this more restrained approach is a one-time thing and that they dial up the epic again next time around, but for what it is, I’d still take it over anything from most other prog bands, so it’s still a winner, in my book.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/09/dream-theater-distance-over-time-review/

MALEVOLENT CREATION The 13th Beast

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
It was very sad news last year when it was announced that Malevolent Creation vocalist Brett Hoffmann had passed away after a battle with colon cancer. The 13th Beast, their 13th studio album naturally, comes only 6 months after his passing suggesting that the current line-up was already in place before his death. There’s been plenty of musicians through the ranks of Malevolent Creation over the years and there’s a completely new line-up here since 2015’s Dead Man’s Path with original guitarist Phil Fasciana the only person left.

Fortunately as is immediately apparent on opener End The Torture that it doesn’t seem to have made a lot of difference to the overall sound of the band. The 13th Beast continues their tradition of aggressive Death metal with thrash overtones. It’s all pretty full on relentless stuff with only occasional dips in tempo but the albums stuffed with great riffs preventing any feeling of monotony setting in. You’ll find a few less than stellar albums in the bands mid-period but the last few albums have all hit the spot for me and The 13th Beast follows suit and is as good as anything they’ve released in the last 10 years to my ears. Whilst few songs particularly stand out this is more a mark of the overall quality than any particular weakness in any of them though End The Torture and The Beast Awakened may just be my pick of the bunch for no other reason than the strength of the guitar riffs.

All the new guys do the name justice and play really well with drummer Philip Cancilla being particularly impressive with his dexterity on the usual array of blast beats, fast fills and speedy double kick patterns. New vocalist Lee Wollenschlaeger, who’s also on guitar, has a lower register than Hoffmann and more one dimensional in his delivery but is certainly an adequate replacement.

No great surprises here then but Malevolent Creation’s reputation thankfully remains intact with a great death metal album to get the year off to a good start.

CANCER Shadow Gripped

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Shadow Gripped" is the 6th full-length studio album by UK death/thrash metal act Cancer. The album was released through Peaceville Records in November 2018. B>Cancer formed in 1987 and were part of the early UK death metal scene along with artists like Carcass, Benediction, and Bolt Thrower. They released four studio albums before disbanding in 1996. They reunited in 2003 and released the "Corporation$" EP in 2004, and the full-length studio album "Spirit in Flames" in 2005. Cancer disbanded again in 2006, but reunited once more in 2013.

So "Shadow Gripped" is the second comeback album Cancer have released in their career. "Spirit in Flames (2005)" didn´t exactly stir up the ocean, so it´s probably taken the band a few years to lick their wounds and come up with a new comeback plan. Lineup wise "Shadow Gripped" features the original three-piece lineup, who recorded the band´s debut album back in 1990: John Walker (vocals, guitars), Carl Stokes (drums), and Ian Buchanan (bass).

Stylistically it´s also an obvious stab at going back to the roots, as Cancer play a pretty basic death metal style with the occasional thrash metal leanings. It´s not exactly "To the Gory End (1990)" number two though, and it´s audible that a lot of water has run under the bridge since the early beginnings of the band. "Shadow Gripped" features a dark and not very dynamic sound production, and the fierceness and brutality of the early releases of the band aren´t present here. Or at least only in small doses. "Shadow Gripped" does feature some catchy moments (particularly the shout/growl along choruses on seveal of the tracks), but overall it comes off a bit flat and uninteresting.

I know words like those read really negative, and they of course aren´t meant as positives, but it shouldn´t be read as if "Shadow Gripped" is a bad quality release, because it certainly isn´t. It´s just not a death metal release which stands out in the vast number of releases which come out every year, and considering the legendary status of a band like Cancer I simply expect more from them. It shouldn´t come as a surprise of course, as Cancer have changed their style with each release though the years, and not always with great end results. "Shadow Gripped" is more interesting than its direct predecessor, but doesn´t reach the quality of the band´s early output and therefore a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

CYNIC Humanoid

Single · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Humanoid" is a digital one-track single release by US progressive metal act Cynic. The single was released through Season of Mist in January 2018. It´s the first release with new original material since the band´s third full-length studio album "Kindly Bent to Free Us" from 2014. I expected the single to be a successor to a new studio album in 2018 but at this point (January 2019) a full year later, Cynic still haven´t released their fourth full-length studio album. Since the release of "Kindly Bent to Free Us" there´s been a major lineup change as drummer and founding member Sean Reinert left in 2015. He is replaced here by Matt Lynch, who has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Stylistically "Humanoid" sounds a bit more like the progressive metal oriented material on "Traced in Air (2008)", than the more progressive rock oriented material on "Kindly Bent to Free Us (2014)", but it´s not a particularly heavy track. Paul Masvidal only sings using his clean voice, and his almost sedated and slightly melancholic vocal style is probably as much an aquired taste as always. He has the sort of voice and singing style which would fit perfectly on an alternative rock album.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, and the sound production is professional and detailed, so while "Humanoid" to my ears isn´t a mind blowingly great track, as it brings little new to the Cynic palette, and therefore doesn´t stand out much in their discography, it´s still a good quality atmospheric progressive metal track like only Cynic can make them. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

TARDIGRADE INFERNO Mastermind

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Coming from the musically rich city of St Petersburg, Russia is the extraordinarily zany and creative band TARDIGRADE INFERNO which formed somewhere around 2016 and released one self-titled EP and has been somewhat quiet for a few years. The year 2019 has barely had time to warm up and the band finally unleash the very first debut full-length MASTERMIND which displays the band’s unique mix of alternative metal with dark cabaret circus music. Add in sprinklings of death metal, thrash and power metal and you have one of early 2019’s most promising new acts.

The word “TARDIGRADE” can refer to either a variety of slow-moving microscopic invertebrates or it can simply be an adjective that means slow-moving or slow in action. I have no friggin’ idea how this applies to this band since this is high energy metal and there is relatively little info about this band on the net as i can’t even find any sort of biography whatsoever, however i can say that this band has found a unique sound right off the bat. However if i had to compare TARDIGRADE INFERNO to any other band it would definitely be Diablo Swing Orchestra as it has the same cartoonish feel and the singing style of lead vocalist Darya Pavlovich sounds a lot like both AnnLouice Lögdlund and Kristin Evegård of DSO.

Musically though this band doesn’t break out the jazz instrumentation or even circus accordions but rather delivers a metal music heft piled on top of dark cabaret and circus melodies alongside the bouncy festive rhythms that are associated with the greatest show on Earth. The metal bombast is mostly carried out by the power chord slapping staccato style accompanied by circusy keyboard runs but different metal variations come into play however mostly in an alternative metal down-tuned power chord rampage. While Darya Pavlovich’s vocal range stays more in clean vocal cabaret mode, she occasionally screams in metal style reminding me of Arch Enemy for short stints but unfortunately not nearly enough! The circus bounces are always under the surface despite heavy metal thunder stomping fast numbers or slower subdued moments.

While i’m constantly reminded of Diablo Swing Orchestra, TARDIGRADE INFERNO isn’t nearly as daring and out there and is rather restrained in comparison. While the music is definitely quirky and playful it doesn’t change the sound up nearly often enough although there are moments such as on the title track where death growls and guitar solos enter the picture, otherwise Darya is pretty much on cutesy Gwen Stefani mode and reminds me a bit of the 90s band No Doubt only with more metal bombast. While a band to look out for as the members become more comfortable with this stylistic fusion approach, this debut is a great start with elements of ska, gypsy swing and the dominant dark cabaret sounds keeping the album infectiously catchy and light-hearted without skimping on the metallic angst.

Favorite song: “We Are Number One”

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, knowing little about a band’s past, and their legacy can be a good thing in helping me to enjoy their newer releases without any expectations or preconceived judgments. Such was the case with American thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam when they released their 2016 self-titled release, which served as my introduction to the band. With nothing else to compare it against, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy, intensity, and overall strong songcraft the veterans were able to deliver on what appeared to a comeback album of sorts. I’ve since briefly checked out some of their past works, and suffice to say, their first two albums, Doomsday for the Deceiver and No Place for Disgrace, are considered classics for a reason, being pure, raw thrash at its finest. Unfortunately, things went downhill after that, with some of their later albums incorporating elements of heavy metal and groove metal, with varying success, and between that and constant lineup changes, nothing the band has done since has even come close to matching their first two releases. It wasn’t until 2016, with their aforementioned self-titled release, that the band finally seemed to be back on track, as it was a full on return to their thrash roots while having a more modern and more polished sound. With that release serving as a great introduction to the band, I was excited to see what they would do next, and thankfully their upcoming 13th full-length release, The End of Chaos, is almost upon us, and it’s certainly a treat!

Like its predecessor, The End of Chaos sees the band continuing with a full thrash sound, except that where the previous release still contained faint traces of their heavy and groove metal elements, this one is nothing but pure thrash from start to finish, rarely letting it up or slowing down in the slightest. If anything, it feels even closer to the band’s origins, while still being as polished and having the modernized sound of its predecessor. There are some slight tempo changes on some tracks, and some of them move at a more moderate pace, but for the most part, this is pure straight-forward, speedy and very hard-hitting thrash, with some excellent riffs, great solos, and fun choruses. There are times where the band injects a bit of extra melody into the songs, which is a nice touch, and overall the album strikes a perfect balance between heavy, uncompromising thrash, while still being accessible and having some excellent vocal lines. It has a very “dumb fun” feel to it, with some of the lyrics being pretty silly and kinda dumb, but in a way that works well for the genre. Thrash obviously isn’t known to have particularly well thought out lyrics, and this album is the same, so fans can expect a ton of F-bombs, a strong tough guy attitude, lots of anger, and just overall nonsense, but in a fun way that fits the music quite well. There’s nothing overly complex or experimental here, as it feels like the band just wanted to make a pure thrash album, and in that regard, they sure succeeded, as the album is consistently great and it moves at a fast pace throughout, with one crushing riff after another.

One thing I especially enjoyed on the previous album was the voice of Eric “A.K.” Knutson”, as he has a very deep, very powerful voice with a ton of grit to It, and it fits the music perfectly. He’s certainly changed a lot over the years, as his voice has become much lower and deeper, but he retains the same power and intensity as ever, and he certainly sounds just as great on this release as he did on the previous one. There are bursts where he tries singing a bit higher, and these are the only times on the album where his voice feels a bit strained, as he just can’t quite pull it off convincingly anymore, but aside from that, he does a great job throughout, and his lower register is certainly as awesome as ever.

While I greatly enjoyed the self-titled release, I found it had a couple spots where it dragged just a bit, as it seemed to peak early, lose a bit of momentum and then it got back on track again in time for the end. The End of Chaos doesn’t have that same problem, as while it does get off to an excellent start, once again, it manages to stay very consistent, with its biggest highlights being spread pretty evenly throughout the album. Opener “Prisoner of Time” is certainly one of my favorites, as it starts off with a nice jam session for the first 40 seconds, before going full throttle and never looking back. Once the song gets going, it settles into a nice rhythm, moving at a moderate to slightly high tempo, with the kind of hard-hitting riffs one would expect from the band, before opening up a for a strong, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Eric really shine. Next is “Control”, a faster song with some even harder riffs, where the band masterfully demonstrates their thrash chops. It moves at a relentless pace through its verses, with some especially nasty riffs during the lead into the chorus, which proves to be one of the most melodic and most catchy on the album. It also has a nice solo section in the middle and is a very fun track overall. The first single is “Recover”, a slightly more melodic track, which still moves at a nice pace and has some great riffs during the verses, as well a nice but very brief solo. My only problem with this track is the chorus, which has a nice main melody, but it keeps repeating the same line over and over, and that’s something I don’t quite like, unless it’s on a particularly hard-hitting thrash chorus, which isn’t the case here, as it’s more melodic, and it just gets too repetitive for my tastes. The song is still great, overall, though.

Next is one of my favorites in “Prepare for the Chaos”, another faster-paced track with some particular punishing riffs. It has an excellent lead into its chorus, with some very hard-hitting riffs and some simple but fun vocal lines, before the chorus itself proves to be more melodic and epic. The verses are very fun, with the second in particular being a perfect example of the kind of “dumb fun” lyrics I was talking about, almost falling into guilty pleasure territory, except the music itself is far too great for it to fully earn that description. The momentum keeps up with “Slowly Insane”, a brief but extremely fast and very aggressive track, with some of the best, most classic thrash sounding riffs on the album. It’s a pure thrasher from start to finish and has an excellent extended solo section, where the two guitarists really get to show off their skill. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. After that is the darker, but still heavy “Architects of Hate”, which moves at a good pace during its intense verses, before slowing down for a darker, more sinister chorus. It’s not as immediately engaging as some of the other tracks here, but it’s still a great track in its own right. The second single of the album is “Demolition Man”, and it’s another one of those very simple, yet fun, pure thrashers, where the lyrics are kinda silly, but in a fun way that works out well. It’s also another example of strong, heavy verses paired with a melodic and very catchy chorus.

Moving towards the end of the album, “Unwelcome Surprise” is my absolute favorite, as it’s a frantic, very heavy and very powerful track, with excellent thrashing riffs, powerful vocals, and a stupidly catchy (and maybe just plain stupid, but awesome) chorus, where Eric constantly proclaims “I bet you didn’t see that one coming”, and no, I probably didn’t, as it’s certainly an awesome and ridiculously fun track. It has excellent verses, a great instrumental section and probably my favorite chorus on the album, just because of how silly, yet fun it is. After such a big highlight, “Snake Eyes” proves to be solid, but not quite up to par with its predecessor. It’s still as fast, hard-hitting track, though, and it has some excellent riffs and is generally a ton of fun to listen to, I just find it doesn’t really stick with me much in between listens. The only other song here I have the same issue with is “Good or Bad”, a song which alternates nicely between slow verses and a fast chorus. I find the verses enjoyable, but the chorus just doesn’t really hit me the way most other songs on the album do, and Eric’s vocals feel just a bit strained compared to normal, so I usually end up forgetting about the track when I’m not listening to it. In between those two is “Survive”, which does not have that problem at all, as it has a somewhat slow, but very melodic and catchy chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album, as well as some fast, heavy and intense riffs during the verses. Closing out the album is the short but awesome “The End”, another very hard hitting track, which moves at a blazing fast pace during its verses, before giving way to a slow, melodic and very enjoyable chorus. It’s a great track and it closes out the album in strong form.

I may not have much experience with Flotsam and Jetsam, but I certainly enjoyed their previous release a lot, as well as the bursts I’ve heard of their first two, and The End of Chaos is definitely another killer release, featuring just under 50 minutes of pure, hard-hitting thrash from start to finish. It picks up where the self-titled release left off, and if anything it’s even faster paced and more aggressive throughout. If this album is any indication, 2019 could be a great year for thrash, and either way, it proves again that Flotsam and Jetsam still have a lot left in them, so hopefully, they can keep the momentum going for a few more albums yet!

originally written for myglobalmind.com:https://myglobalmind.com/2019/01/06/flotsam-and-jetsam-the-end-of-chaos-review/

BORN OF OSIRIS The Simulation

Album · 2019 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Necrotica
Back in 2011, Born of Osiris performed an admirable feat: they brought a heightened sense of futurism and adventure to a then-stagnant genre. The Discovery was an incredibly welcome breath of fresh air that, unfortunately, will always cast a shadow over the band’s subsequent work because of its ambition. Still, they certainly keep trying and trying to recapture the spark that The Discovery gave off and Tomorrow We Die Alive regrettably lost. After all, the concept of taking deathcore into more experimental and adventurous avenues is something that I’ll always be behind. By all means, let’s take the genre somewhere that forces it outside of its comfort zone! And besides, many of these substantially “djentier” deathcore and modern metalcore bands have usually been the ones who continue to push the boundaries, stemming from artists such as After the Burial and Veil of Maya. Well, luckily, Born of Osiris’ new effort The Simulation sees them back in action with their best album since The Discovery. Granted, there’s really no more death metal in there. For that matter, many of the songs ride a low groove that sees them moving even further into djent territory than before. So why does The Simulation work so well?

Because it has a runtime of only 25 minutes, which means it has less time to pack in all of its exciting riffs and experimentations before quickly getting the fuck out. As such, you’re greeted by enough twists and turns to make your head spin. There are a few quiet moments of atmosphere throughout, such as the frantic little symphonic intro of “Disconnectome” or the entirely of interlude “Recursion,” but for the most part, these moments of space and contemplation are constantly butting heads with the meaty riffs underneath. By far, the best section to feature this conflict comes from the outro of “Silence of the Echo,” whose melodic solo lends the heavy chugs and power chords with a beautifully spacy counterpoint. It actually reminds me of The Faceless’ Planetary Duality days, and that’s not the only moment that made me think of that album. Every time “Disconnectome” breaks into a melodic solo or goes through a hyper-fast blastbeat section, it really does sound reminiscent of the sci-fi tech-death from that era of The Faceless.

Thankfully, Born of Osiris don’t forget their roots on The Simulation, paying plenty of homage to what made them a household name in deathcore while still continuing to experiment with their formula. If I had to pick out the best change this time around, it’s that the guitar leads or more fluid than ever. “Analogs in a Cell,” “Silence the Echo,” “Disconnectome,” and “Cycles of Tragedy” are all imbued with fantastic soloing that both technically impresses and constantly shifts between neo-classical and jazz fusion stylings. Also, the variety in the drumming is really impressive from time to time; “Disconnectome” in particular (yes, I know I’m bringing up this song a lot) features a ridiculous amount of tempo shifts, and they’re all surprisingly tasteful and natural despite how abrupt they are. The Simulation isn’t a perfect album - the slower tempos can become pretty one-note, and the short runtime obviously means some people will want a bit more meat - but it’s definitely the most solid album the band have put out since their initial heyday. It’s a really fun little adventure that - much like Reign in Blood - is very easy to replay again and again because of its lean length and addictive riffing.

SKINLESS Savagery

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Savagery" is the 6th full-length studio album by US, New York based death metal act Skinless. The album was released through Relapse Records in May 2018. Skinless have been active since 1992 but disbanded in 2011. They however reunited in 2013 (with a couple of lineup changes) and released their 5th full-length studio album "Only the Ruthless Remain" in 2015.

Stylistically "Savagery" is a combination of brutal technical death metal and more groove laden core influences. So it´s probably an album that old school death metal purists won´t be satisfied with, but those who enjoy brutal grooves in their death metal may find something of interest here (it actually says a lot about the influences on the original material here, that Skinless have opted to cover a Crowbar track as a bonus track). While the band occasionally play fast, most tracks are kept in groove laden mid-pace and occasionally slower paces. The vocals are a combination of deep unintelligible growling and higher pitched screams and the occasional use of an aggressive shouting vocal type.

"Savagery" features a raw sound production, which suits the music pretty well (although maybe slightly too murky in the end), and the musicianship is on a high level on all posts, so "Savagery" is a quality release on most parameters. It´s not an album I remember much from when it´s finished though, and it´s in the songwriting department Skinless could improve. It´s not that there aren´t tempo changes and generally good variation within tracks, but there aren´t that many hooks to hold on to and the effect laden brutal growling style becomes a bit one-dimensional after a while (it´s definitely a nice breather when they use the other vocal styles). A 3 to a 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
Mirai Kawashima's come over a little Ian Anderson. Not to a full Jethro Tull-ish extent, mind - but there's an outbreak of flute and piccolo on this Sigh album that's just as interesting an addition to their sound as when Dr Mikannibal first brought her saxophone onboard. For a good long while, the sound of Sigh has been guided in part by the particular direction that Mirai's wanted to take his multi-instrumentalist experimentation in; just look at the credits for this and their past few albums and you'll see how much he's changed his portfolio from release to release. So the addition of flute this time around may sound like a small thing, but as an extra ingredient in Sigh's bizarre mashup of classic metal and black metal and progressive rock, it ends up being an interesting through-line which ties the album together.

WARREL DANE Shadow Work

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Shadow Work" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US heavy metal artist Warrel Dane. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 2018. It´s the successor to "Praises to the War Machine" from 2008 and features a completely different lineup, to the set of musicians who recorded the predecessor. Dane recruited solely Brazilian session musicians to record the instrumental part of the album, and also travelled to Brazil to record the album. While recording the album Dane tragically died of a heart attack in December 2017 (aged 56), forcing the label, the Brazilian session musicians, and the producer to finish the album without Dane. Fortunately Dane had already recorded quite a few vocal parts, and while "Shadow Work" may not be exactly what Dane had envisioned, had he been alive to finish the recordings of the album, 8 tracks and 41:43 minutes of music was still recorded and deemed of a high enough quality to be released.

"Praises to the War Machine (2008)" featured a more polished and formulaic songwriting style than what many fans had probably expected from the then Nevermore (and former Sanctuary) frontman, and that was probably what Dane wanted to do in 2008, but 10 years later (and a bad band break-up of Nevermore and a reformation of Sanctuary), Dane was obviously a bit more pissed off and in a dark mood, because stylistically "Shadow Work" predominantly sounds more like the fastest and heaviest of Nevermore´s output, than the somewhat tame material on the debut solo album.

As this is a vocalist solo album, it´s not surprising that Dane´s vocals are one of the focal points of the album, but other than that it´s not obvious that this is a solo album at all, because there are also some skilled and convincing instrumental performances featured on the album, and there is left plenty of room in the songwriting for guitars, bass, and drums to shine. In fact the instrumental performances deserve a mention. Dane hired some highly professional and skilled musicians for the project and everything is executed with great power and sharp precision. At times you almost forget that this is not Nevermore playing. Both in terms of the high level musicianship but also because of the overall songwriting style (of course no one plays on the level of or reaches the heights of Jeff Loomis, but there is definitely some great playing here). Heavy thrashy riffs and blistering solos, dark atmospheres, and deep melancholy are some of the album descriptions.

"Shadow Work" opens with the short "Ethereal Blessing" which works as an atmospheric intro, before all hell is unleashed with the next trio of tracks "Madame Satan", "Disconnection System", and "As Fast as the Others". Actually most of the album are in this pretty dark and heavy mode, and the band even manage to make The Cure cover "The Hanging Garden" sound really aggressive and hard edged. There are melodic choruses and motifs during the album, but they aren´t that many until you reack track number 7, which is the power ballad type track "Rain" (which doesn´t stay in power ballad mode throughout the track), and the closing behemoth of a progressive metal track in "Mother Is the Word for God". At 9:31 minutes this track has quite a few minutes to build and develop into a monster progressive metal track. Not completely unlike the title track on Nevermore´s 2005 album "This Godless Endeavor".

Considering the unfortunate circumstances under which "Shadow Work" ended up being completed, I´d say this has turned out really well. The tracklist is maybe slightly uneven, but it´s an overall feeling I have of the listening experience, and it has little to do with the quality of the material featured on the album, because this is high quality dark power/thrash/progressive metal through and through. The sound production is also professional and well sounding so a 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

...let´s take a minute and remember all the the great releases, lyrics, and vocal performances Dane has given us since the mid-eighties...this is a world class heavy metal singer signing off. Here´s my hope that more people in the future will discover how truly great he was.

ACID WITCH Black Christmas Evil EP

EP · 2018 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Detroit, MI based ACID WITCH has been around now for over a decade after having formed in 2007 and have released three full albums to date: “Witchtanic Hallucinations (2008),” “Stoned (2011)” and “Evil Sound Screamers (2017).” While the band has found itself on the radar of the underground metal scene they haven’t exactly become a household name…. yet. In addition to the three full-length releasees ACID WITCH has been a tad more prolific in releasing shorter length EPs mostly during the Halloween season but the year 2018 finds a new strategy, that is Halloween at Christmas time!

Yes, indeed. ACID WITCH don’t crank out a bunch of wimpy Christmas tracks that totally go against their dark imagery and occult leanings, not one bit. With this two track release titled BLACK CHRISTMAS EVIL EP, the band sticks to their standard death doom metal mix of grunted shrieky vocals, slow plodding riffs with heavily distorted guitar heft. This is definitely the type of music that will get you on Santa’s naughty list and lumps of coal in your stocking but really, who cares when there’s Christmas music like this tailor made for true metalheads!

“Black Christmas” begins with vocal samplings, much like a White Zombie album of the 90s with creepy sound effects and some spoken dialogue that discusses Christmas traditions before the thundering waves of death doom strike with a vengeance. No Christmas niceties allowed as Shagrat regurgitates some of the most deliciously sinister vocal performances of his entire career as he gleefully narrates a tale of the holiday season gone evil. Nice touches of keyboards augment the evil that has taken over like Voldemort at Hogwarts.

Starting with some jingling bells and a somewhat jazzy schizoid bass line, a few archival vocal samplings gleefully narrate the possibilities of Christmas evil as the second track “Christmas Eve (You Better Watch Out!) begins. “You better believe in Santa or he will slay you” is brilliantly uttered from the narrator before the chugging death doom assault begins. This is great! I can’t help think that Spinal Tap with their 1992 lauded “Christmas With The Devil” has passed the baton to a new generation of Christmas blasphemy!

Tired of faux Christmas tributes where bands that profess to be badass suddenly make music that your grandma would go gaga over? Well, here’s some Christmas music to slay all that phony baloney cheerful holiday spirit. This is the type of stuff i want to hear during the holiday season and if the Grinch had this when he was still in scrooge mode surely he would’ve listened to this in his cave on the top of the mountain turned up to 11! The Whos down in Who-ville would not like it a lot. Santa with a switchblade! Oh yeah!!!!

RAVEN Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live In Aalborg

Live album · 2019 · NWoBHM
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
1979 was Year Zero for a new musical movement in the UK, and a term was coined by Deaf Barton which perfectly summed it up, NWOBHM. I was 16 at the time, listening to Tommy Vance on a Friday night, reading Sounds music magazine, and trying to buy as many singles and albums I could of the phenomenon. One of the issues I had was I lived in a small town in the West of England, and it was incredibly hard to get hold of material. So much so that I wrote to Neat Records asking how I could get hold of their material as no-one stocked it near me! I was soon the envy of my mates as they sent me stickers and badges to try and make up for it, all of them emblazoned with the logo of one of my favourite bands, Raven. There are a few singles from that time which have gone down in history, Iron Maiden’s “Soundhouse Tapes” and Def Leppard’s “Getcha Rocks Off” are just a couple. But in the North East Neat Records were becoming THE label, with one incredible release after another. Within their first ten singles was the debut by Tygers of Pan Tang, Fist, Venom, Blitzkrieg and “Don’t Need Your Money” by Raven (who incidentally were also the first band on the label to release a second single, as well as the first album).

Raven had decided to speed everything up, something they called athletic rock, and was a huge impact on the scene which followed – that both Metallica and Anthrax were given their first touring opportunities with Raven was no surprise to anyone. Over the years the Gallagher brothers (John, bass/vocals and Mark, guitar) have kept the flag flying for their style of metal, and for much of that time drummer Joe Hasselvander has been at the back, but shortly before their 2017 US tour he suffered a heart attack, putting an end to his active music career. After a few temporary replacements, it was quickly decided that Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) would be Raven’s new drummer. They settled in to doing what they do best, blasting uncompromising metal into the masses, and when they left the stage at Skråen in November they were presented with a digital copy of the gig they had just performed. What made this unusual is that none of the band were aware it was being recorded, so it was a case of turning up, plugging in, and blasting it out without any thought to what it might mean from a recording aspect.

The band has been in existence now for some 44 years, and although I can’t speak for the very early years, what is playing now is a beefed-up version of the same band I fell in love with back in 1980. These guys are showing no sign at all of slowing down, or going down a different path, this is a band still playing “Faster Than The Speed of Light” and meaning every single word. It is harder and faster than it was when they were 30 years younger, and this set is essential to anyone who enjoys this style of music. It is brutal NWOBHM. Turn it up, play it loud, and party as if it 1979, not some forty years later. I may be seeing this with rose tinted glasses given how much I loved this band in my youth, but when metal is a brutal, raw, and bloody excellent as this, then it demands attention.



OPETH Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Live album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On 11th May 2017 Opeth played the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado, and it has now been released DVD, Blu-Ray and vinyl formats. I was rather late coming to Opeth, but still remember when ‘Ghost Reveries’ came to my attention in 2005 – their 8th studio album – and was absolutely blown away. Since then they have moved further into the progressive field, but in its truest sense, as they mix old school early Seventies organ-dominated progressive rock with death-influenced metal, often in the same song. There is no point in trying to work out what genre is the right place to fit Opeth as Mikael Åkerfeldt threw the rule book away long ago, if he ever owned a copy in the first place, and that is certainly debatable.

Harmonies and gentle baritone vocals can give way to death growls, and heavily commercial songs can turn into metallic monsters with little or no warning. There is a huge sound to the band, incredible to think that the noise is being created by just five people. It is bombastic, heavily over the top, yet can also fall into pure folk if that is what is needed. The band are in full control, and they take the crowd with them at all times. At one point Åkerfeldt tells the crowd that it is being recorded, but that if they then buy the album any mistakes will have magically disappeared!

There really isn’t any other band like Opeth, so if you are a fan then you simply must have this. And if you’re not, why not give a try anyway?





ANTIMATTER Black Market Enlightenment

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The Liverpool, UK based ANTIMATTER has been the long time project of Mick Moss who took the reins after fellow founder Duncan Patterson parted ways in 2005 leaving Moss as the sole director of the project’s destiny. While the earlier albums were a quirky mix of dark electronica with Goth rock-tinged trip hop graced with feminine goddess vocals, the newer releases since 2012’s “Fear Of A Unique Identity,” has found Moss going more into the alternative rock arena with the complexities getting more sophisticated leading him into the progressive rock world. It’s been three years since “The Judas Table” and ANTIMATTER is back with BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT which continues the trend of mixing borderline heavy alternative rock / Goth metal with progressive almost neo-prog symphonic splendor.

While the previous album had a more stripped down effect, BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT expands the dimensions of the elements set forth once Moss essentially went solo. This album’s theme is that of drug addiction and tackles the extremely heavy subject matter in the lyrical department while creating a dark and lugubrious musical backdrop to push it forward. The material is some of the most complex that ANTIMATTER has done with a sense of melancholy that hangs over the album like a lingering black cloud but very effective indeed as the impeccably produced mix and excellent compositions create one of the rare instances where Gothic rock and progressive rock work so well together. This is surely one of the most tense listens of the year as it walks a tightrope between complete emotional breakdown and a sense of suppressed rage waiting to explode but somehow keeps its cool throughout its run.

While Mick Moss is the sole member who plays acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass and provides vocals, BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT also adds four extra musicians providing flute, saxophone, drums and a traditional Iranian bowed string instrument called the kamancheh (also kamanche, kamancha or qamancha.) There are also two female vocalists that provide a feminine touch on backing vocals. While the creepy mid-tempo music adds an almost shoegazy sort of guitar distortion with Moss’ Gothic vocal style leading the way, the Middle Eastern percussive drives and the kamancheh take the music to an eerie new world where various strains of reality intersect in an unfamiliar way. The synthesizer rich darkwave atmospheric overcast keeps this one in the clouds like a perpetual brain fog that is tuned into some foreign radio station that is set to sadness.

Like most Gothic related music whether it exist in the extremities of metal or the more sensual touches of the Nick Cave camp, this music is eerily romantic and fragile. While the music generally creeps along, the Middle Eastern drumming can become energetic especially on tracks like “Essential,” and while the guitar heft is mostly reserved as an atmospheric generator with echoey distortion, it is also implemented to create some metal riffs that chug along to add a sense of crescendo to the mostly stoic and detached emotional tug of war. Moss’ vocal style is very limited as he sings in a low register but has mastered the art of eking out emotional responses with subtle vocal vibrato and tantalizing trills. While BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTMENT has been accused of moving more to the world that Anathema (which ironically ex-founder Duncan Patterson played in) has carved out and there is some truth to that, the mood remains more reserved and much more dependent on the darkwave synthesizer dominated atmospheric touches to convey its overall plan.

With utterly addictive composiitons that are instantly catchy and a nice interplay between the sensual acoustic, heavy electric and atmospheric elements, BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT qualitatively connects the listener to the subject matter and draws you into the bleakness of the grimy world of substance abuse. The instantly catch tracks will hook you immediately but the sophisticated and subtle mix of the swirling storm of sonic interplay will keep you coming back for more. This album is considered heavier than previous ones and offers just enough bombast to create the perfect corrivalry of musical elements. ANTIMATTER is not only back but seems to be getting better with each new album. Favorite track: “Between The Atoms” which also happens to be the longest.

BUCKETHEAD Missing My Parents

Single · 2018 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD went from one of the most prolific artists in the music industry to relative scarcity in 2018. While three albums may sound like a lot for most artists, it pales compared to the dozens he released a few years back. The year 2018 has seen less studio time and a chance to hit the road and reconnect with the fans on a personal level.

Something strange has happened in 2018 as well. With the album “5-13 10-31,” BUCKETHEAD seems to have dropped the PIKE series, at least it’s not listed on the album. In BUCKETHEADLAND, anything is possible so never count your chickens until they hatch.

Even in the most drought stricken years for BUCKEHEAD music, the chicken lover always seems to find two occasions to release something new. That would be Halloween and Christmas, however this year for Halloween we didn’t get a countdown of a gazillion ambient and experimental albums but rather a mere single, “Mirror In The Cellar.”

The same goes for Christmas 2018. No full album, just this one track titled MISSING MY PARENTS. It seems BH lost his family a while back and is feeling a tad nostalgic this holiday season and although i still am lucky enough to enjoy my parents in the flesh, this track certainly makes me wonder how empty it will feel without them.

As with the other tributes to his parents (“Pike 65 - Hold Me Forever (In Memory of My Mom Nancy York Carroll)” and “Pike 150 - Heaven Is Your Home (For My Father, Thomas Manley Carroll)”) this single is in the extremely mellow and contemplative mood with clean guitar sounds, ambient atmospheric gentle sweeps and overall sorrowful mood setting without any percussive instruments.

It is a very slow track that creates a loving heart-felt melody that really exudes the pain our chicken loving friend is feeling, that of a loss that one never totally gets over no matter where life takes you. We’ve all been there. This single won’t blow you away musically and does sound like many similar releases but it does pierce the heart with in a lugubrious docile manner. Poor BH needs a hug :(

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Automata I

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 7 ratings
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BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME return in 2018, three years after their progressive metalcore extravaganza “Coma Ecliptic,” and unleash a completely new strategy as far as marketing their new product. While the band’s albums have always run on the lengthy side more often than not exceeding the sixty minute mark, for this followup, BTBAM released their new material as a two-part combo that was released as two separate albums four months apart. This first installment AUTOMATA I came out on 9 March 2018 with “Automat II” following on 13 July 2018. While this was an irritant for many to have to wait for the conclusion of a metal tale that is essentially two chapters of the same book, others like myself simply waited until both were released so that i could listen to them instantly in their proper order.

While linked by the daedal conceptualization that revolves around the ability to view the dreams of others, the two albums stylistically differ quite substantially from one another. AUTOMATA I nurtures the more traditional sound that BTBAM has crafted subsequently as the band has crafted more progressive metal elements into their metalcore bombast whereas “Automata II” is the much more experimental of the pair. Both albums are relativity short by BTBAM’s standards and serve more like two separate EPs but they have been marketed as two bona fide albums that constitute a greater whole. AUTOMATA I clocks in at 35:13 and “Automata II” at 33:12. With so many bands releasing an album with an extra disc of bonus material, it’s surprising that BTBAM went the opposite direction and split this essentially single album into half.

Since the band has enjoyed a rather stable lineup of the same five members ever since 2005’s “Alaska,” BTBAM has consistently evolved their progressively tinged metalcore into ever more sophisticated progressive and experimental extreme metal that simply builds upon what came before. For those familiar with “Coma Ecliptic,” AUTOMATA I continues the same intricate weaving of pummeling guitar riffs, progressively designed compositions with time signatures run amok and the ever changing dynamics and tempos that jump from bombastic progresso-core madness with the expected screamed vocal style to the softer passages that implement clean guitar sweeps, soaring atmospheric embellishments and melodic clean vocals that hypnotize before the pendulum swings back to the erratic distortionfest and metalcore mania.

AUTOMATA I consists of six tracks that lyrically tackle the concept of dreams being broadcast for the purpose of entertainment. While the lyrics themselves are quite nebulous in their intricate design, the album allows the listener to explore the ramifications of such technologies that could possibly be used to induce, record and even weaponize dreams for the purposes of overall control. Musically, AUTOMATA I delivers the usual extraordinary daring and tight musicianship that isn’t afraid to tread some of the most progressive pastures that the band has embarked upon to date. The secret of BTBAM’s longevity is that the band has successfully gaged the evolutionary threshold of the fanbase and only deviates a certain degree as not to alienate the followers.

To the uninitiated AUTOMATA I may not sound significantly different than the series of progressive metal dominated albums that have emerged since 2012’s “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” but careful repeated spins finds AUTOMATA I has plenty of its own personality to set it apart from its predecessors. Of course, this album displays the unmistakable unique style that only BTBAM can generate, that is that intense surreal swirling about of the most extreme metal with atmospheric psychedelia and angular convoluted progressive rock in all its escapist tendencies.

Within the six tracks, the pacing is impeccably designed. The dynamic shifts from aggressive to serene allow the attention span never to wander far and the excellent production allows every tiny sound to come to life which makes this a bona fide 21st century musical sci-fi experience. While “Condemned To The Gallows” starts off with clean guitar arpeggios with lush keyboards and electronic vocal effects, the album ratchets up quickly to the metalcore crescendos that weave in and out of the musical flow. While every track holds up well and integrates into the larger framework, the highlight comes from the closing dual pomp of the brief ambient “Gold Distance” in conjunt with the ten minute finale “Blot” which goes for the gusto with some of the craftiest mix of sitar sounds, eccentric keyboard riffing and superb guitar riffs and soloing as it sallies forth down an extreme labyrinthine journey with some of the most soaring melodic vocal deliveries on the album.

There seems to be a general consensus that AUTOMATA I is the weaker of the two installments, however after several spins of these two well-crafted mini-albums, i have come to the conclusion that these two segregated segments of the overall storyline are of roughly equal standing. While “Automata II” is the one that takes BTBAM into completely unexplored arenas including the territory of swing jazz that falls into the Diablo Swing Orchestra camp, AUTOMATA I as a traditional BTBAM progressive metal album is simply outstanding in its delivery from beginning to end. Perhaps the main complaint would be that it plays it too safe and doesn’t deviate too far from previous albums, but despite snuggling up in its comfort zone, nevertheless cranks out six seriously fine-tuned compositions that shows that the band are still on top of their game and in full control of their musical output. This is an excellent followup to their their never-ending progressive metalcore legacy.

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Automata II

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 5 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME have returned after a three year hiatus that follows 2015’s “Coma Ecliptic.” Instead of releasing a single lengthy album which has pretty much been their formulaic approach for most of the band’s almost two decade career, in 2018 BTBAM return with a completely new approach and that is take what could easily be a single album with a theme that lyrically tackles the concept of dreams being broadcast for the purpose of entertainment and divides it into two separate albums. The first of these albums “Automata I” was released on 9 March 2018 and continued the more traditional sounds that BTBAM has crafted ever since they launched a more sophisticated progressive metal infused version of their metalcore sound. This second edition AUTOMATA II had to wait four months to find its way into the fans’ musical conclusion of what was launched earlier in the year. This one came out on 13 July 2018 but personally i waited until both were released so i wouldn’t have to have that annoying four month gap. Sort of like binge watching a TV series after it has ended.

While “Automata I” was more of a continuation of the progressive metalcore cauldron of complexities that has been a BTBAM staple ever since 2012’s amazing “The Parallax II: Future Sequence,” AUTOMATA II is the far more experimental of the two having been compared to albums like “Colors” for its unapologetic labyrinthine journey into as many musical styles possible. While there are grains of truth to this comparison, AUTOMATA II in reality is unlike any other BTBAM release as it finds fertile new grounds to construct its esoteric and eccentric musical edifice upon. While each album essentially an EP length by BTBAM standards, they have been marketed as bona fide full albums that provide two sides to the unifying concept that revolves around the unnerving thought of dreams being broadcast simply for the purpose of entertainment. While the lyrics are vague and only poetically and pointillistically fortify the overall theme, the album does confront the listener with the uncomfortable possibilities of covert technologies being used for behavior control and other means. “Automata I” clocks in at 35:13 and AUTOMATI II at 33:12.

While AUTOMATA II is the shorter of the pair, it is without doubt the more experimental and adds myriad elements to its four tracks that have never been explored by the band. While the opener “The Proverbial Bellow” opens with the immediate jarring freneticism of angular guitar riffs and organ runs, the thirteen minute track evolves quickly as it shifts into Pink Floydian space rock that echoes to aspects of “Dark Side Of The Moon” albeit with a more caffeinated tempo. Despite being just a mere slice of the never-ending changes that emerge, the track shifts from the lushly embellished metalcore outbursts to the clean vocal progressive metal effluences that trade off without warning. Instantly noticeable is how AUTOMATA II takes extreme liberties in virtually every aspect of the musical procession with traditional BTBAM elements shapeshifting into bizarre new creations as well as completely new sounds. “Glide” begins with a Mediterranean Cafe style accordion piece that segues into a lush classical piano and back again. While only a short intro for “Voice Of Trespass,” it is unlike anything BTBAM has ever attempted.

“Voice Of Trespass” is also quite the surprise as it tackles the familiar swing jazz metal that fans of Diablo Swing Orchestra will know quite well. In fact, it sounds a little too much like DSO with a series of gypsy grooves, vocal calls and responses and Django Reinhardt-esque guitar riffs alongside the sultry swing timbres emerging from the baritone sax, trombone and trumpet. A true surprise and although a little too DOS derivative for its own good, still performed exquisitely well. The closer “Grid” is the highlight (both albums save the best for last) as it concludes this double album journey with an alternating mix of some of the heaviest metalcore aspects with clean vocal dominated alternative metal passages and sweeping guitar licks that could fit into the best modern neo-prog album’s agenda. However despite the silkiest sweetness generated by the clean vocal segments, “Grid” contains some of the most bombastic extreme metal sequences of the entire two album experience and its rather unique how quickly and frequently these two extremes trade off, mix and meld on their musical playground.

So after all is said and done, despite the horrible decision to separate the release date of each of the two albums and frustrate the fans of this instant gratification world we have constructed, the two albums that have emerged won’t disappoint as each has its own distinct personality while hosting a unifying concept that inextricably binds them like fraternal twins with different birth dates. BTBAM prove themselves to be masters of their own unique brand of progressive extreme metal and only continues to build upon the edifice of the more metalcore based foundation that launched their career nearly two decades ago. While there seems to be a general consensus that AUTOMATA II is the better of the two albums because of its more bold and daring attempts to break free from the established BTBAM paradigm, i personally find the two albums to be on equal footing. “Automata I” may be the less experimental but it is the better album in terms of ratcheting up the band’s already established paradigm in a more consistent manner whereas AUTOMATA II despite the deviation from the norm also has moments that find the band sounding more like other bands than themselves. For me this all balances out so as a whole i find both albums of this concept to be excellent but flawed. One thing is for sure, BTBAM are in no danger of burning out soon.

TERRORIZER Caustic Attack

Album · 2018 · Deathgrind
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Caustic Attack" is the 4th full-length studio album by US death metal/grindcore act Terrorizer. The album was released through The End Records in October 2018. It´s the successor to "Hordes of Zombies" from 2012 and features an almost completely new lineup compared to the lineup who recorded the predecessor. The only remaining member is drummer Pete "Commando" Sandoval. New in the lineup are vocalist/bassist Sam Molina and guitarist Lee Harrison (drummer with Florida death metal act Monstrosity).

It´s seldom an album title describes the music on an album as well as "Caustic Attack" does, but the album title promises exactly what Terrorizer deliver on the album. A vicious caustic deathgrind attack. Sandoval has a powerful and distinct sounding drumming style, which drives the music forward in an aggressive and technically well played fashion. The riffs are played with razor sharp precision but not without a human touch, and the growling vocals suit the music well. The latter do become a little one-dimensional about half way through the album, and a little more variation in that department could have made the album even more entertaining, but it´s not a major issue.

Some sections have an old school Morbid Angel feel to them, but this is not an album that otherwise sounds like Sandoval´s former band. Terrorizer already early on carved a niché of their own by incorporating grindcore, hardcore, and crust punk elements to their death metal sound, and those influences are still heard on occasion on "Caustic Attack", and adds to the fact that the album is relatively varied (considering the core style). The material on the 14 track, 43:52 minutes long album are also pretty catchy and several of the tracks feature hook laden vocal phrases to growl along to. So while this is undeniably really extreme music, there is actually a good deal of memorable moments on the album (an example is the heavy opening section of "Crisis"), and that´s not necessarily something you encounter very often when listening to deathgrind releases.

"Caustic Attack" features a powerful, raw, and brutal sound, which suits the material perfectly. The drums are especially well produced, and the listener is able to hear each drum stroke clearly throughout the album. Upon conclusion "Caustic Attack" is a high quality deathgrind album. It´s fiercely aggressive, relentlessly brutal, and just reeks class in all departments. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

VENOM Storm the Gates

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
I simply can’t stop lamenting the fact that one of extreme metal’s foremost pioneers has simply decided to artistically tread water for the last few decades now. Venom will always be well-regarded in the metal community for the innovative leaps forward they took for thrash, black metal, and death metal, but once the early 90s hit, there was simply no place for a band who suddenly became tragically behind the times. Everybody had already heard faster, harder shit by that point, and it would probably have been advisable for Venom to go harder and faster than ever before. Or, at least, experiment a little. Venom did neither of those things, instead opting to go for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy for years to come.

And sadly, this philosophy continues into 2018’s Storm the Gates. What we get is a dull platter of incredibly lightweight, meat-and-potatoes heavy metal with some of the most pedestrian riffs you’ll hear this year. Things do start off pretty promisingly, with suitably aggressive and thrashy riffs kicking off the decent “Bring Out Your Dead,” and I will admit that Cronos doesn’t sound half bad for his age. Unfortunately, you’ll soon find out that his voice has no range here. It’s the same semi-guttural, semi-constipated shout throughout the entire thing, with an occasional half-assed attempt at sounding melodic thrown in. This is something of a minor tragedy, as more diverse vocals could have mitigated the issue of boring songwriting; unfortunately, it’s not the case here. It’s all in one ear and out the other, and it starts sounding awful during songs like “Beaten to a Pulp,” in which his Cronos’ voice starts blending in with the guitar work to create a muddled mess in the production values. Venom have always taken pleasure in making poorly-produced music for the sake of aesthetics (this was one of the defining features of their early work, in fact), but the riffs here aren’t punchy or interesting enough to justify the ugly mix of Storm the Gates.

The latter of those two issues is the main reason the album is such a letdown. Even for the standards of modern Venom, this material just isn’t interesting. There are barely any standout tracks, because the same formula of “let’s play some thrash riffs, add a few faux-demonic 80s-Slayer squealing solos, and top it off with the most generic Satanic lyrics we can scrounge up” is repeated ad nauseum, to the point that I completely forgot where I was on the tracklisting quite a few times. I will, however, cover a few of the only highlights that stood out from the rest. “The Mighty Have Fallen” is probably the best song on offer, mostly because of the increased aggression of the riffing and double-bass-driven speed metal drumming. It’s not the most original thing in the world, but hearing that downtuned guitar sound spit out some black metal-inspired tremolo is pretty satisfying. There’s also a creepy atmosphere that pervades “I Dark Lord” and sets it apart from the rest, breaking the pace to serve up some slower riffs that are occasionally interspersed with a sprinkling of clean guitar leads. It sounds pretty cool. But is this enough to salvage the album as a whole? No. I’ll leave it at this: if you just want to hear some competently played riffs and aren’t too concerned with variation, you might get your fix in some way or another with Storm the Gates. But with countless death metal and thrash metal bands doing their schtick better than they are, why would you bother?

COFFIN FUCK Silent Night

Single · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Short and anything but sweet, this is 2018's Christmas offering from Coffin Fuck. This is "Silent Night" as you have never heard it before.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composition of "Silent Night". The words had been written in 1816 by Father Joseph Mohr, which schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber put to the now famous melody two years later. The original German version is a song of beauty and contemplative charm.

And then two centuries later, Coffin Fuck violated it's corpse.

If you've never heard these guys before, here's a quick description: imagine lo-fi home recorded death metal which rips off Christmas tunes and adds silly comic book violence death-growled lyrics, done by three guys wearing stupid Christmas sweaters. The music isn't very good, but it's fine for a bit of a giggle at Christmas.

The joke would wear thin if Coffin Fuck ever got serious and released more than just a Christmas single a year, as they have done for almost a decade, but it's only once a year, it's mercifully short, and it's a tradition which I want to see continue.

And extra kudos to the Coffin Fuckers... er... lads from Coffin Fuck for not falling back on the obvious "Silent night, violent night" rhyme!

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