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metal music reviews (new releases)

CARCASS Torn Arteries

Album · 2021 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.46 | 11 ratings
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LightningRider
I don't normally listen to violent albums, but Carcass's ypical lyrics are just barely under the maximum level of lyrical violence I accept when I listen to a new album. I'm familiar with Heartwork and Necroticism, both of which are almost phenomenal. But this album pretty much just feels like a rehash of all of those strengths. Torn Arteries is pretty much Carcass saying, "this is what we do and even though all our best ideas have been used up, we still have good ideas." To be fair, those strengths are still healthy and apparent, allowing for a great balance between technicality, melody and brutality that Carcass is known for, especially in the longer and more progressive songs like "Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited," but every this this album did was already brutally outdone by Carcass's earlier aforementioned albums. Basically, it's a good album almost strictly for Carcass fans.

LEPROUS Aphelion

Album · 2021 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.75 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
LEPROUS still seems to be going strong after 20 years of existence and although the band led by lead singer Einar Solberg has been hailed as one of Norway’s greatest modern progressive metal bands, the last few albums starting with “Molina” have seen a massive shedding of much of the metal and taken on more standard progressive rock as its modus operandi. With the band’s eighth album to emerge in 2021, LEPROUS seems to de-emphasize the metal even further and adds all kinds of new sounds including but not limited to pop, funk, trip hop, electronica along with the progressive rock shining with a crispy clean production and the spotlight on Solberg’s passionate vocal delivery.

There are still metal sounds on board however the moments of djent and guitar heft are primarily limited to power chords and the scant guitar workouts that offer a bit of contrast to the otherwise new LEPROUS sound of crafting highly sophisticated art rock with strong pop hooks. Long gone are the days of unabashed metal freneticism as heard on “Tall Poppy Syndrome” and “Bilateral.” APHELION rather delivers an interesting and original hybrid between progressive rock, synthpop and what sounds like chamber rock. In addition the five official members who handle guitars, bass, drums and synthesizer includes a team of five guest musicians who offer the sounds of violin, cello and even a trumpet.

The result is an emotive display of ten tracks that in many ways follows both in “Malina” and “Pitfalls” in the mellowed LEPROUS years and for many a metal band gone this direction would’ve resulted in a total train wreck and scaring away of the fanbase, but LEPROUS proved long ago that this was no ordinary act and had the uncanny ability to tackle myriad sounds, timbres, textures and tones and fortify substantial composiitons delivered in a unique and oft unorthodox manner all without abandoning the pop sensibilities that have kept their music so addictive upon first experiences. Excluding the three year timespan between the band’s true debut “Aeolia” and “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” LEPROUS has also delivered like clockwork with a new album ever two years.

The band has released two singles off APHELION which means the point on the orbit of a celestial body that is farthest from the sun. The first was “Running Low” which shows LEPROUS in fine form in its new style with progressive rock hooks married with power chords, emotive synthesized atmospheres accompanied by the string section that delivers an excellent cello solo. With so much energy dedicated to the electronica wizardry and dedication to the perfect atmospheric ambience does tend to ignore the rock aspects much less the metal but with the second single “The Silent Revelation” the band does deliver a bit of rock guitar heft even if it seems like the odd track out on the otherwise sombre and earnest tracks tenderly crafted with the crooning moxie of Mr Solberg.

In many ways LEPROUS has followed some of the nu jazz artists from Norway such as Jaga Jazzist only it has left out the jazz but rather paints synthesized motifs around the borders of where certain jazz parts should fit. By now most older fans of LEPROUS have either adapted to the new style or thrown them out with yesterday’s trash. I do personally prefer the older more aggressive LEPROUS sound but i have to admit that these guys have done an excellent job reinventing themselves as a serious art pop rock band this late in the game. While on the mellow and even maudlin side, APHELION does a stellar job of mixing synthesized driven pop hooks with chamber rock mojo. Perhaps what turns me off most about the “new” LEPROUS is that Solberg’s vocals are almost set to permanent falsetto sounding something like a Norwegian version of Prince. I can live without the metal aspects but the vocal diversity? Needs more.

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM Primordial Arcana

Album · 2021 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Black metal bands come and go and seem a dime a dozen these days but once in a while there are trailblazers who take the metal world on a completely new journey. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM was once such the trailblazer by taking the atmospheric black metal of the 1990s and mixing it with dark ambient, progressive electronic and long drawn out compositions styles that emulated post-rock and even progressive rock. Led by brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver, the band put the USA’s Northwest on the map as a viable contender for Scandinavian nature worshipping black metal acts and made it clear that the region was not just about grunge!

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM cranked out four excellent albums in the aforementioned hybridized stylistic approach but then 2011’s “Celestial Lineage” dabbled in blackgaze and with the following “Celestite” pretty much abandoned the metal aspects altogether in favor of an electronic space ambient album with only traces of drone metal. This did not go over well with fans and the band has sort of been licking its wounds ever since and although WITTR returned in 2017 with the excellent “Thrice Woven,” so many new bands had come onto the scene that it seemed that this band sort of sputtered out of the race. 
Oh how finicky metal fans can be! Four years later WOLVES returns with its ninth overall studio album PRIMORDIAL ARCANA and makes a welcome return to the full-on atmospheric black metal from the past. While some are crying retrograde and others are castigating the band for backpedaling and relying too much on its past glories rather than innovation, the truth is WOLVES needed to re-establish itself as the atmospheric black metal band that it once was if it wanted to remain relevant in the black metal game. In recent years all sorts of metal bands ranging from Leprous, Haken and The Ruins of Beverast just to name a few have toned down their metal ferocity and in the process have alienated quite a few fans although they surely must have gained some new ones.

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM has suffered like many a popular band trying to experiment outside of their fanbase comfort zone but by no means has cranked out anything utterly unlistenable in its entire canon. PRIMORDIAL ARCANA reestablishes WOLVES as a viable atmospheric black metal band that deftly integrates the dungeon synth and electronic sounds into its Pagan black metal world which tackles eight atmospheric tracks that enjoy a sleek silky production as the mid-tempo compositions slink along alternating between the melodic keyboard hooks and the thundering guitar riffs and blastbeats. You know, the very stuff that made albums like “Diadem of 12 Stars” and “Two Hunters” stand out amongst the rest of the pack. However it’s not 2006-07 any longer and a new legion of black metal bands have taken things to even stranger and more innovative pastures and that’s exactly where PRIMORDIAL ARCANA falters.

There seems to be an opinion by many that unless any given band changes its sound or evolves in some way that the entire process is an utter waste of time. Well true that some bands that recycle an album for over 20 years are completely boring to my ears, the truth is that when a band like WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM never really exhausted the magnanimous bounty of their developed sound then it’s actually not a bad thing to retread and recapture those moments that worked so well. It’s even more amazing that WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM has been able to work its way back to over a decade and recapture the inspiration that made that period so innovative. While PRIMORDIAL ARCANA won’t win any awards for most creative or innovative album of the year, i do have to say that this is indeed an enjoyable slice of atmospheric black metal emphasizes the band’s strengths that have been proven to be a winning formula.

To my ears this is an excellent album that delivers everything you would expect from an icy cold Pagan black metal that emphasizes atmospheric ambience over all else and the compositions are tight and brilliantly laid out as well. Somehow despite a misstep with “Celestial” (which probably should’ve been released as an EP), WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM is like the Olympic gymnast who falls flat on his/her face only to get up and dazzle the audience with unexpected resilience. While it’s easy to criticize any given act for taking the easy way out and taking the path of least resistance, i have to wonder why anybody would consider retreading a brilliant blend of progressive black metal with electronic nuances an easy task to repeat. This album is simply flawless in its execution and will yield many return listens unlike some of the band’s most recent albums.

KATATONIA Mnemosynean

Boxset / Compilation · 2021 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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lukretion
With their latest release Mnemosynean, Swedish prog metal masters Katatonia take us on a trip down memory lane. This double-disc album is a compilation of b-sides, bonus tracks and remixes that span their entire thirty-year career, from the early days when they were a nascent death metal band trying to find ways to push the boundaries of the genre, to the current times where they are globally recognized as one of the frontrunners of the progressive post-metal phenomenon.

The album is cleverly organized in reverse chronological order, starting in disc 1 with several outtakes from the recording sessions of The Fall of Hearts, and ending in disc 2 with a track recorded back in 1994 immediately after the release of the band’s debut LP Dance of December Souls. Disc 2 also contains a handful of remixes, mostly of tracks from The Great Cold Distance, which nicely round off the album. The broad scope of the compilation gives listeners a fantastic bird’s eye view of the evolution of Katatonia’s sound over the years, which is a nice reminder of how far this band has come from their early death metal days. It also shows that the seeds of the band’s current sonic incarnation were sown long time ago, when already in the mid-1990s Anders Nyström and Jonas Renkse were experimenting with acoustic soundscapes and mellower musical forms, breaking away from the metallic assaults of the death metal canon.

The most remarkable aspect of Mnemosynean is that, in many cases, the quality of the b-sides included in the collection is as high as that of the tracks that found a home in the band’s full-length albums. As explained in the detailed track-by-track liner notes compiled by the band members themselves, the exclusion of these songs was often due to timing issues: several of the tracks included here were written late in the recording session of an album and there was simply not enough studio time to record them in time for the release of the record. In other cases, the songs were excluded because the band felt they did not fit well within the track-list of their current album, occasionally because they were slightly more left-field than your typical Katatonia’s song. Only in a rare few cases the band decided to leave them out because they did not like them much – as Anders Nyström openly admits for “Fractured”, for example.

The high quality of the material included in the compilation ensures a highly enjoyable and exciting listening experience, with plenty of highlights. “Vakaren” and “Sistere” are fantastic songs that take us straight back to the progressive leanings of The Fall of Hearts, and are as good as anything that you can find on that record. “Wide Awake in Quietus” is taken from the same sessions, but it has a more alternative rock feel that reminds me of The Pineapple Thief. This track also features a cool guitar solo from Paradise Lost’s Greg Mackintosh. Meanwhile, “Unfurl” is a Katatonia’s classic and a staple of their live concerts. It is astonishing to read that this track was coarsely put together by producer David Castillo in his apartment over his laptop computer. “Wait Outside” is another great song, taken from the Viva Emptiness recording sessions. Its three minutes effortlessly recreate the jarring sense of uneasiness that album is soaked in.

Elsewhere, things take a slightly quirkier and more unconventional turn. On “Night Comes Down” the Swedes give the Katatonia-treatment to a Judas Priest’s ballad from their 1984 album Defenders of the Faith. It is a sombre, melancholic track that feels surprisingly close to some of the material Katatonia have released on their most recent record, City Burials. “O How I Enjoy the Light” is another cover, this time by American singer-songwriter Will Oldham. Recorded spontaneously in 2001, this moving, largely acoustic track harks back to the sound of Tonight’s Decision, and is a powerful reminder of the breadth of Katatonia’s influences already back in the 1990s. I also want to mention “The Act of Darkening”, a dark meditation inspired by the Chernobyl disaster where the band experiments with acoustic ambiance and sophisticated vocal harmonies, in a similar way as they did on their acoustic album Dethroned & Uncrowned. The result is simply breath-taking, making this song my preferred track of the album.

Speaking of quirky material, it’s impossible not to mention “Scarlet Heavens” where Katatonia take an unexpected gothic turn. As Nyström explains in the liner notes, this song was recorded after the success of the band’s debut album Dance of December Souls, when Katatonia felt they wanted to explore new sonic possibilities. The end result was “Scarlet Heavens”, a song that sounds like a cross between The Sisters of Mercy and Type O Negative. While the band eventually did not follow up on this sonic experiment, it is fascinating to listen to it today.

As a long-time fan of the band, I had lots of fun listening to this compilation. So, should you plunk down your hard-earned cash for it? This is a pertinent question, given how most of the tracks included here have been released before in one form or another (as bonus tracks of the special editions of the full-length albums, as b-sides of singles, on EPs, etc.). So if you have been following this band for years, you may already own a large chunk of the material on offer here, as I do. Personally, I like the idea of having these songs all organized in the same physical release and I did greatly enjoy the “time travel” experience of going through the material in reverse chronological order. Plus, I did not already own all of these songs, so there have been a few pleasant surprises on this record too. The addition of insightful line notes written by band members and producers was also a definite bonus for me, and so was the detailed essay included in the booklet written by music journalist Eleanor Goodman. Ultimately, as it is often the case with these compilation releases, it comes down to personal preferences whether you see this as worthy purchase or not. But if you do decide to give it a spin, rest assured that this is a high-quality release, meticulously put together and containing some top-notch material from one of the most accomplished progressive post-metal acts out today – so disappointed you shall not be!

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

FEAR FACTORY Aggression Continuum

Album · 2021 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Aggression Continuum" is the 10th full-length studio album by US metal act Fear Factory. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in June 2021. It´s the successor to "Genexus" from 2015 and features the same trio lineup, who recorded the predecessor: Dino Cazares (guitars, bass), Burton C. Bell (vocals), and Mike Heller (drums). Much of the album was already recorded in 2017 (including Bell´s vocal parts), but the release of the album was postponed for a number of reasons, including financial and artistic differences and a lawsuit from two former members of the band regarding the ownership of the Fear Factory name. in 2020 Bell had had enough and left the band. Cazares decided that some of the drums should be re-recorded and the tracks should be remixed in 2020-2021 before the album could be released, but other than that the tracks were already recorded in 2017.

"Aggression Continuum" is not an album which will surprise anyone familiar with Fear Factory. In some ways I´d even go as far as calling the album a generic Fear Factory release. All the trademarks of the band´s style are here and accounted for. Angular chugging riffs and rhythms, sci-fi lyrics and atmosphere, Bell´s raw shouting vocals on the song verses and clean vocals on the choruses, futuristic synths, samples, and effects to further emphasize the sci-fi atmosphere. check, check...check. You decide if that´s a good or a bad thing, but in my opinion a little development of sound and a few surprises would have been welcome. This is pretty much the sound of stagnation. High quality stagnation, but stagnation it is...

Not many tracks stand out and the album is a consistent affair, both in terms of style and quality. A few highlights would have lessened the feeling of monotony which sets in about half way through the album, but again there´s nothing on the album which is of sub par quality or which isn´t an instantly enjoyable listen, but the spark and innovation of the early days seem long gone on "Aggression Continuum". Both the musicianship and the sound production are of a high quality, so no complaints there, although Bell´s voice and vocal performance seem to be stuck in the 90s. He hasn´t really evolved much since then and he still sings in about the same register as always and delivers melody lines which are pretty similar to what we´ve heard on preceding releases by the band. So upon conclusion you´ll be treated to more of the same and if you´re content with that then I´m sure you´ll find "Aggression Continuum" another great release by Fear Factory. Me...I´m so old I remember the fire, the passion, and innovation of the early releases, and how they revolutionzed the world of extreme metal, and although there certainly is quality here and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is fully deserved, this album is Fear Factory by the numbers.

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JUDAS PRIEST Turbo

Album · 1986 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.15 | 85 ratings
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Warthur
In all of Judas Priest's 1980s albums, a tension between their aggressive metal roots and more radio-friendly hit-making fare exists. Sure, British Steel might have the comparatively raw Breaking the Law, but Living After Midnight and United are poppier numbers. Point of Entry leaned harder on the pop-metal side of the equation, Screaming For Vengeance went easier on the pop and harder on the metal, and Defenders of the Faith found the two sides of their 1980s sound more or less in balance.

On Turbo, the scales shift way back towards the pop side of their sound, and as with Point of Entry this has meant it's not dated quite so well as British Steel, Screaming For Vengeance, or Defenders; there's a thick aroma of cheese here, with the band using synthesisers and studio treatments of their guitars more than they ever had before.

That said, I actually think it succeeds better at this than Point of Entry did. Of all of Priest's attempts to go radio-friendly, this is certainly the most polished and hookiest. Just try not to sing along to Turbo Lover, if you don't believe me. I think Screaming For Vengeance showed the best of their purist metal side at the time, but as far as forays into finely-honed, studio-enhanced, synth-infused pop-metal go, Turbo is far more compelling than a lot of the material in this sort of vein that would issue forth in the 1980s; I'd rather listen to it than the vast majority of then-contemporary glam metal or hair metal.

If it's not your thing, then sure, it's not your thing - but let's not pretend that this was some sort of unexpected, unprecedented betrayal by Judas Priest of their earlier sound; there'd been an undercurrent of this sort of accessible, sing-along stuff in their repertoire for a good long while by the time they made this, Turbo just happens to be the album where they decided to concentrate on that aspect of their sound, and I think it's for the best that the band were open to putting out albums which put one side of their sound or the other under the microscope rather than sticking right to the middle of the road all the time.

METALLICA Garage Inc.

Album · 1998 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.41 | 98 ratings
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Vim Fuego
The 1990s saw Metallica start the decade as thrash metal’s biggest band. The band and genre was somewhat niche, and not particularly well known outside metal and alternative music scenes. By the turn of the millennium, Metallica had become the biggest band in metal bar none, and was surpassed in popular music by only a handful of artists, but in creating new music thrash metal had been left far behind. “Garage Inc.” as a covers and B-sides compilation album lays bare the influences mixed in to Metallica’s thrash metal roots which made “Metallica”, “Load”, and “Re-Load” the albums which led the band to world domination.

Disc 1 of this double album is freshly recorded covers. These run the full gamut of Metallica’s musical tastes, and some work better than others. Metallica can do punk, and do it well. We know this because of their covers excellent of The Misfits, and Anti-Nowhere League’s utterly filthy “So What”. However, Metallica aren’t too good at Discharge, with “Free Speech For The Dumb” and “The More I See” bookending this disc. These versions are too… clean. Discharge’s originals are scuzzy and discordant, from a band on the verge of starvation. Metallica just can’t reproduce the same feel. It’s hard to sound desperate when you’re a multi-millionaire living comfortably. Bob Rock does big, fat, and comfortable as a producer, with the latest in studio technology at his fingertips, while Discharge would have been recorded as quickly as possible on zero budget. The guitars are too warm, and too big. The bass doesn’t have enough distortion. And Lars just can’t play D-beat drums. Still, without Discharge, thrash metal wouldn’t have been thrash metal.

Metallica’s love of NWOBHM band Diamond Head is well known, so a Diamond Head song was inevitable here, and while “It’s Electric” is no “Am I Evil?”, in the same vein as that famous cover, it’s not far removed from Metallica’s own style.

Covering Black Sabbath isn’t always as easy as it seems. Slayer stumbled with their version of “Hand of Doom”, and Megadeth’s “Paranoid” is almost an unintentional parody. Metallica don’t fuck it up as badly as those covers, but “Sabbra Cadabra” isn’t particularly impressive. They just can’t reproduce Sabbath’s whacked-out stoner groove.

The first really impressive track here is “Turn The Page”, originally by Bob Seger. It’s a brooding tale of life on the road. James Hetfield’s vocals and the ruminating main riff seem to be an indicator of where “The Memory Remains” came from.

“Die, Die My Darling” is a welcome addition to the existing collection of Misfits covers. It’s not near as rough as “Last Caress/Green Hell” recorded a decade earlier, but it retains the boisterous energy and wicked dark humour of the original.

The inclusion of Nick Cave and The Bad Seed’s “Loverman” is the biggest what-the-fuck on the whole album. The original switches between minimalist restraint and raucous post-punk anarchy, and Metallica doesn’t attempt to pull it off, but instead smooths out the rough edges and makes it their own. Cave’s introspective oblique lyrics are somewhat different to the Metallica norm, but like “Turn The Page”, the song illustrates James Hetfield’s varied vocal abilities.

The five song Mercyful Fate medley is more traditional fare. The songs don’t exactly merge seamlessly, and of course there’s no King Diamond helium vocals, but it’s 11 minutes of 80s satanic metal goodness.

Blue Öyster Cult don’t often get the love they deserve, even though they are the band who wrote monster rockers like “Godzilla”, “Burnin’ For You”, and “Don’t Fear The Reaper”. “Astronomy” isn’t one of those monster rockers, but Metallica turn it into one.

“Whiskey In The Jar” is the best song on the first disc. It’s a boisterous, catchy party anthem, and a new take on Thin Lizzy’s take of the traditional Irish folk song.

“Tuesday’s Gone” was recorded during a radio broadcast in 1997 with a number of guest musicians, including members of Alice in Chains, Corrosion of Conformity, Lynyrd Skynrd, and even Les Claypool on banjo, and… it’s fucking tedious. Yep, it’s an all-star acoustic jam that’s an all-star acoustic bore. It also indicates where Metallica found the Southern rock and country influences which popped up on the Load albums.

Disc 2 is older stuff which already existed, but was sometimes hard to come by until this release. The first five tracks come from “The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited”, which had been out of print for the best part of a decade, and dedicated collectors had been paying exorbitant prices for copies of it. The E.P. also featured the first recordings of Jason Newsted with Metallica. This sloppy spontaneous recording is a little rough around the edges, but that’s a big part of it’s charm.

The next pair of NWOBHM covers were initially recorded as B-sides for the 12” vinyl version of “Creeping Death”, released as a single in 1984. The epic “Am I Evil?” is Metallica’s most famous cover, and is so well known it may as well be their own song. Diamond Head have done very well from it over the years, with Metallica’s cover helping revive their career and earning the band a decent sum from royalties over the years too. The other song is “Blitzkrieg”, originally by Blitzkrieg, is an up-tempo blitzkrieg of a song (is that too many blitzkriegs?), and it’s choppy riffing shows how influential the NWOBHM was on thrash metal.

“Breadfan” (originally by Budgie) and “The Prince” (originally by Diamond Head) were B-sides to the 1988 single “Harvester of Sorrow” may have been another couple of Metallica’s favourites, but these are two of the lesser tracks here, and aren’t particularly exciting.

In 1990 Elektra Records marked the label’s 40th anniversary by releasing a compilation of covers by their current roster of artists from their historic catalogue of artists. Metallica’s contribution was a version of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy”, which didn’t need much tarting up to make it a thrash metal song. It was later used as the B-side for the “Enter Sandman” single, and it also won Metallica the consolation Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 1991.

“So What” is Metallica’s most notorious cover. The filthy song by Anti-Nowhere League was originally a B-side for their own single “Streets of London”, and had at one stage been seized as an obscene publication in the U.K. The simplistic structure of the song and it’s exaggerated profane lyrics make it a lot of fun, and it remained a live staple for many years.

“Killing Time” by Sweet Savage is another NWOBHM cover, another B-side, and another not particularly remarkable song.

There are four Motörhead songs that aren’t exactly live, but were recorded during a rehearsal for a live performance in 1995. The performance was to celebrate the legendary Lemmy’s 50th birthday, where all the members of Metallica dressed as Lemmy and banged out some Motörhead tunes. A recording of the live performance would have been better, even if it was technically worse, because these four songs are flat and lifeless, especially “Too Late, Too Late”. Even a really rough recording of a live performance would have had more energy, and maybe a bit of spirit which is missing here.

Overall, the entire album is something of a mixed bag. The new tracks on disc one show a surprising breadth of musical likes and influences, and despite a couple of missteps is about as good as cover albums ever get. The second disc gathered together in one place all the covers recorded for various different releases, which was something of a relief for fans of the band struggling to collect them all.

That it followed the relatively poorly received Load albums (relatively – "Load" and "ReLoad" have both sold more than five million copies, as has this album) may contribute to how "Garage Inc." is perceived, but it is still a strong release in Metallica’s catalogue.

GLASGOW Zero Four One

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1985 I was working in the center of the universe, which is Eastbourne, where the busiest day of the week was Thursday, Pension Day! To say I spent a lot of time either bored or on the train to London is something of an understatement, but then lo and behold a rock band decided to come to town! In March of that year, we were graced by Uriah Heep in full flow, and I was right at the front, loving every second of it. But before we got to Uriah Heep there was a support act who I never thought of again until I was offered this promo. Yep, back in 1985 the support act was Glasgow, and here we now have a reissue (with an additional track) of their sole 1987 album. Apparently, they were offered a deal by Neat Records earlier in their career but turned it down as they had such self-belief that they would get a better and bigger deal, which of course didn’t happen. After this album and a few singles, the band broke up.

They did not make much impact for me on the night, but I do remember thinking that in many ways they were a perfect warm-up act in that they played melodic hard rock in a style not too dissimilar to the current version of Uriah Heep (this was the Pete Goalby/John Sinclair version which released ‘Abominog’, ‘Head First’ and ‘Equator’), but there was nothing really special about them which would make them outshine the headline act. The quartet have a guest keyboard player in Don Airey, but I would never have guessed he had been involved without reading the press release as he is just providing some simplistic harmonies at times. The drums are solid and hit hard, the bass does ist stuff, but although the songs are never anything special, there is no doubt that the highlight of the band is guitarist Archie Dickson who shines throughout. Singer Mick Boyle has a very NWOBHM voice, but he is often slightly disconnected with the band or even slightly off key. He might have been able to get away with it somewhat in a live environment but here it is quite off putting.

Definitely one for collectors only, who will certainly appreciate this being made available again for the first time in a large number of years.

METAL CHURCH Metal Church

Album · 1984 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 42 ratings
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UMUR
"Metal Church" is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US power metal act Metal Church. The album was released through Ground Zero Records in July 1984. Ground Zero Records was the band´s own label and "Metal Church" is the only album ever released on the label. "Metal Church" saw a more widespread release, when Elektra Records picked it up for a 1985 reissue. Metal Church was formed in 1980 under the Shrapnel monicker but changed their name to Metal Church in 1982. The band released no less than four demos (the first was released under the Shrapnel monicker) before releasing their debut album. The band was originally located in San Francisco, California and was therefore a seminal act on the burgeoning speed/thrash metal scene in that area, but guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof moved to Washington State in 1981 and found new members for the lineup.

Stylistically the music on the album is US power/heavy metal. Some tracks are traditional heavy metal tunes while others are slightly more hard edged US power metal tracks, featuring some occasionally thrashy riffing. The musicianship is brilliant and the listener is treated to an organic and hard pounding rhythm section, hard edged heavy metal riffs and blazing guitar solos, and a strong vocal performance by lead vocalist David Wayne. While the instrumental performances are high class on all posts, it´s Wayne who elevates the music to excellence. He has as strong voice and a powerful delivery. Able to sing both raw and more melodic when that is required.

The album opens with four high quality tracks in succession. "Beyond the Black" and "Metal Church" are both hard and heavy US power metal tracks, "Merciless Onslaught" is a short and fast-paced instrumental, and "Gods of Wrath" is a power ballad type track (which is strongly influenced by Led Zeppelin). At this point in the listening process everything just reeks high class and my jaw has hit the floor a couple of times during those opening tracks. The remaining part of the album (four originals and a cover of "Highway Star" by Deep Purple) are high quality tracks too, but to my ears they don´t quite reach the brillance of the first four, so the album is frontloaded with the best tracks.

"Metal Church" features an organic, raw, and powerful sounding production, and it is one of those rare albums where almost everything just feels right. Everything fits together seamlessly, and considering that this is a debut album the quality of the musicianship, the sound production, and the songwriting are of a much higher quality than you could possibly expect from an act releasing their first album. This is a case of the demo years spend in rehearsal rooms paying off big time. The only minor issue here is the slight inconsistency in the songwriting department, but that is a minor issue, and as all tracks on the album are high quality material it doesn´t matter that much. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

CORONER Grin

Album · 1993 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 19 ratings
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UMUR
"Grin" is the 5th full-length studio album by Swiss thrash metal act Coroner. The album was released through Noise Records in September 1993. It´s the successor to "Mental Vortex" from 1991. "Grin" is generally an album which divide the waters, because Coroner changed their musical direction quite a bit on this album. The signs were already there on "Mental Vortex (1991)" though, as that album introduced a more cold and clinical sound, as opposed to the more organic sounding first three albums.

"Grin" further explores the colder and more clinical sounding thrash metal style of the predecessor, but adds a repetitive industrial element and generally features less focus on technical thrash metal playing and a little more focus on groove (although Coroner are of course as well playing as ever, and there are still quite a few technical details to be found on the album). "Grin" features a bleak atmosphere, and the Tom Morris produced, Morrisound Studios recorded production, suits the material perfectly. The sound is a bit dry, but it´s both powerful and detailed.

The album opens with the short intro "Dream Path" and then "The Lethargic Age", which to my ears is a pretty bad choice for a first track. "The Lethargic Age" is one of the least powerful and least interesting songs on the album, but once "Internal Conflicts" kicks in, things begin to look a little brighter. The rest of the tracks on the album are a bit up and down in quality and catchiness, but "Grin" is generally a good quality release by Coroner. Other than "Internal Conflicts", I´d mention tracks like "Serpent Moves" and "Paralized, Mesmerized" as some of the standout tracks on the album. The tracks are generally pretty long, most of them ranging from 6 to 8 minutes of playing time, but the new repetitive element of the band´s sound makes this necessary.

As always the musicianship is on a high level. Marky Edelmann is a skilled drummer and he plays some pretty interesting rhythms on the album. Lead vocalist/bassist Ron Broder occasionally sounds a bit more restrained when singing on "Grin", than his more raw vocals on the preceding releases, but his vocals are more powerful on some tracks than on others. Guitarist Tommy Vetterli plays some creative thrash/heavy metal riffs and some absolutely brilliant guitar solos.

So upon conclusion "Grin" isn´t as different sounding from the preceding part of the band´s discography as many fans make it out to be. The overall atmosphere is a bit darker/bleaker and there is an emphasis on groove here not heard on previous releases, but at the end of the day this is still unmistakably the sound of Coroner. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

NECROVATION Necrovation

Album · 2012 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Necrovation" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Necrovation. The album was released through Agonia Recrods in June 2012. There´s been one lineup change since the band´s debut full-length studio album "Breed Deadness Blood" from 2008, as Necrovation have added a second guitarist to the ranks in Fredrick Almström, effectively making them a four-piece on this eponymously titled sophomore album.

"Breed Deadness Blood (2008)" featured an old school, yet quite adventurous, Swedish death metal style, and the material on this 9 track, 47:00 minutes long album continues and further develops that style. It´s raw and filthy old school death metal, but there is a level of sophistication and creativity in the songwriting that isn´t standard for the genre. Thankfully not in an arty farty progressive kind of fashion, but more in a way to make the music an adventurous and dynamic listen. I´m reminded slightly of some of the releases by fellow countrymen and contemporary artists Tribulation (their first two albums) and Morbus Chron.

The material on the album are generally well written and as mentioned above quite intriguing and adventurous, but it doesn´t mean the music is perfect through and through. Personally I could have wished for a few more instantly catchy and memorable riffs or vocals phrases, but for all its old school death metal glory "Necrovation" isn´t the most accessible release, and that´s both a good and a bad thing, probably depending on the ears who listen to it.

"Necrovation" features a raw, brutal, and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts too, and upon conclusion "Necrovation" is a worthy follow-up album to "Breed Deadness Blood (2008)". The pairing of old school death metal authenticity and above standard creative songwriting ideas, work pretty well and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

MORTIS DEI Last Failure

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Last Failure" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Polish death metal act Mortis Dei. The album is a self-released effort released in March 2009. It´s the successor to "My Lovely Enemy" from 2006 and it features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Stylistically Mortis Dei pretty much continue the predominantly mid-paced heavy and groove laden death metal style of "My Lovely Enemy (2006)", and "Last Failure" feels like a natural successor in terms of quality and style. The band incorporate melodic leads when that is needed and "Last Failure" is as a result fairly varied. Compared to the predecessor the vocal style has changed from relatively intelligible growling vocals to pretty much unintelligible growling vocals, which to my ears is a bit of a shame, as that type of growling vocals don´t really suit the music too well. It´s not a major distraction and the vocals are well performed, but I prefer the vocal style on "My Lovely Enemy (2006)".

"Last Failure" features a powerful, brutal, and clear sounding production, which suits the music well. It´s not a raw old school organic sounding production job, but the material aren´t old school death metal either, so that type of production probably wouldn´t have suited the material on the album. Upon conclusion "Last Failure" is another decent effort from Mortis Dei. There´s nothing groundbreaking or surprising here, but it´s a good solid quality release and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

OBSCURA Diluvium

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 11 ratings
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UMUR
"Diluvium" is the 5th full-length studio album by German death metal act Obscura. The album was released through Relapse Records in July 2018. It´s the successor to "Akróasis" from 2016 and features the exact same quartet lineup who recorded the predecessor.

The material on "Diluvium" continue the technical/progressive death metal style of "Akróasis (2016)" and it´s the sound of Obscura as they´ve sounded on the last couple of releases. Busy and high energy technical death metal with progressive ideas and strong jazz/fusion leanings. High in the mix fretless bass playing, high speed precision drumming, and powerful sharp death/thrash riffs and blistering lead guitar work. "Diluvium" is a very melodic release, but on the other hand it´s also nicely aggressive and brutal when that is called for. The vocals are predominantly snarling and aggressive growling, but there are some robotic clean vocals featured throughout the album too.

While the musical foundation of the tracks are similar or in other words the tracks are coherent in style, there is still good variation between tracks and within tracks. Tempo changes/time signature changes, different riff styles, varied lead guitar work, and loads of different rhythm patterns. There is generally a very good balance between the elements which make up the tracks, and Obscura are also successful at striking a balance between challenging playing/adventurous song structures and catchy moments/accessibility. So while this is not easy music to listen to, it´s not technical for the sake of it. The technical playing is a means to an end, and the songwriting is in focus in terms of creating something that the listener can relate to and instantly enjoy.

"Diluvium" features a clear, detailed, and powerful sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. Every detail is audible in the mix, and that´s what busy layered music like this requires. So upon conclusion "Diluvium" is yet another high quality release from Obscura. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

MY DYING BRIDE The Thrash of Naked Limbs

EP · 1993 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 6 ratings
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Warthur
After Martin Powell had served as session violinist on My Dying Bride's debut album and the preceding EP, The Thrash of Naked Limbs marked his entry as a full member of the lineup, with his violin contributions adding a distinctive touch to the material here which helps My Dying Bride stand apart from labelmates Paradise Lost and other explorers of the death-doom subgenre.

Between this and the odd keyboard contribution, things seem to be drifting somewhat in the sort of gothic metal direction which Paradise Lost had at this point gone a little further in exploring, but by and large the centre of gravity is still within the realms already explored on As the Flower Withers. If you dig the sound of early My Dying Bride, this will make the EP (or its compilation appearance on Trilogy) a tempting proposition, offering 18 minutes of beautifully grim mope-metal.

BORKNAGAR Empiricism

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.55 | 19 ratings
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lukretion
Released in 2001, Empiricism marks a fine return to form for Borknagar after two albums (The Archaic Course and Quintessence) that were far from the level of quality the Norwegians had reached on the splendid The Olden Domain. After Quintessence, ICS Vortex, who had sung on both previous albums and played bass on Quintessence, left the band to concentrate on Dimmu Borgir and was replaced by the talented Vintersorg on vocals and Tyr (who had played live with Emperor and Satyricon) on bass. The change of line-up was very beneficial for Borknagar, not because ICS Vortex is a bad vocalist (to the contrary, he’s excellent), but because Vintersorg seems to fit much better the sonic masterplan of band leader Øystein G. Brun. His singing is more epic and less extravagant than ICS Vortex’s, which is a better match for Borknagar’s progressive/folk blend of extreme metal. Tyr’s performance is also very notable, with some excellent parts on bass and fretless bass, including a few solos. The rest of the line-up for this album is comprised of Øystein G. Brun and Jens F. Ryland on guitar, Lars A. Nedland on keyboards and Asgeir Mickelson on drums.

The fact that we are in front of a much stronger record than the previous two is already apparent from the opening pair of songs, “The Genuine Pulse” and “Gods of My World”. On both songs the songwriting is lean and direct, with some excellent guitar riffs and leads intertwined with Nedland’s great barrage of vintage keyboards. The song structures explore different themes and sections, but they are always anchored in instantly recognizable choruses and melodies, that help the listener keep track of the journey. The arrangements add just enough layers to make the music interesting without overburdening it with excessive complexity. Fast and aggressive parts are complemented with grandiose mid-tempos giving the music an epic and majestic tone, reminiscent of the atmosphere one can find on Dimmu Borgir’s Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, but with an added dose of quirkiness and folk allure. The overall impression is that on the new album Borknagar have finally achieved the right balance between their various facets (black metal fury and melody; progressive experimentation and accessibility), which is a huge improvement over The Archaic Course, for example.

The individual performances of all musicians involved in the album are outstanding. Vintersorg is excellent, both when he uses his epic clean vocals and when he resorts to his grim growls. Both styles are nicely balanced through each song and fit well with one another. Tyr offers a very melodic bass presence which constitutes an exceptional rhythm section together with Mickelson’s varied and sophisticated drumming. Brun and Ryland’s guitars nicely complement one another, which is again an improvement over previous albums where one had the impression that Borknagar had not yet figured out how to make the two guitars work together. Lars A. Nedland’s performance also deserves tons of praise. On Quintessence he had already demonstrated to be a very talented musician, but his role on that album was perhaps a bit disconnected from the rest of the band, with the result that occasionally his keyboard parts were sounding a bit out of place and forced. Nedland is perfectly integrated in the band now, and it is great to hear his always tasteful choice of keyboard sounds, varying from vintage Hammonds to futuristic synths.

Probably a lot of these improvements come down to the longer time the band actually spent in the studio, honing the songwriting and recording the songs (two months compared to the few weeks of previous releases), and to the excellent sound production by Børge Finstad (who will go on to produce several records in this genre, with Borknagar, Solefald and Wind). The guitars and drums sound great, with lots of bite and edge. There is a lot of space and dynamics in the sound that let each instrument come through when necessary, even Tyr’s bass – which is an instrument that often gets sacrificed in this type of music. This spaciousness does not at all come to the cost of power, though: the album can pack a punch or two when needed. Again, the record is excellently balanced in its various facets.

While there is a lot to like on Empiricism, the album does contain a couple of dull moments, with slightly more nondescript songwriting. This is the case especially in the second half of the record, where we have tracks like “Inherit the Earth” and “Liberated” that are borderline fillers. Fortunately, the good moments greatly overweigh the bad ones, and tracks like the opening duo, the progressive tour de force “Soul Sphere”, and “Four Element Synchronicity” stand tall as great example of the talent of these six musicians. The latter song is particularly remarkable for how modern it sounds still today, 20 years after it was first recorded: this track could have been taken from one of the recent albums of Leprous (before their progressive-pop turn) or Ihsahn, showing how visionary and forward-looking Borknagar were back then (or perhaps how backward-looking the progressive metal scene is today!?).

In summary, Empiricism is a strong album, marking a definite return to form for Borknagar. After Quintessence, I had started to wonder whether Borknagar were perhaps a “one album” wonder, which after the excellent The Olden Domain were destined to drown in mediocrity. Empiricism proves me wrong. It is not quite at the level of excellence of The Olden Domain, but it gets damn close and is definitely a highly recommended listen if you are into progressive extreme metal.

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