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VARATHRON Glorification Under The Latin Moon

Live album · 2020 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Co-founded in 1988 by Stefan Necroabyssious, the band's vocalist and sole original member, Greek black metal band Varathron has been on a steady release schedule since 2004's ‘Crowsreign’, but for some reason have never put out a live album until now. Recorded on August 4th , 2019 in São Paulo during the final show of their "30 Years Of Darkness Tour", the setlist includes songs from throughout their career, including the entirety of the 1993 album ‘His Majesty At The Swamp’, to more recent songs, taken from 2018’s ‘Patriarchs Of Evil’. Alongside Rotting Christ and Necromantia, Varathron are seen as one of the founding fathers of the Hellenic Black Metal scene, and with 30 years already behind them there is no sign whatsoever of them mellowing out just yet.

This is classic black metal, and they utilise backing tracks with vocals and the odd keyboards to provide additional emotion and atmosphere, and if one were to remove that and the vocal style, one would possibly describe the music as being quite different as it is highly complex, technical and (dare I say it) melodic. This shows just how easy it is for genres to become confused as there are plenty of people who will say they do not like black metal who could very easily get into this album which crosses over many different styles from tech into power. They know how to use dynamics, and switch styles throughout so there is a great deal of contrast, which means that all aspects of their music come across with real power. Black metal live albums can somewhat suffer through lack of depth, as it loses some of that intensity, and while that is also the case here that can be somewhat mitigated by just turning it up. Yet another really solid release from the Greeks.

RAVEN Metal City

Album · 2020 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1980 I was just 17 years old, and deeply into the NWOBHM. There was no doubt in my mind that one of the best bands around were Raven, and I loved their single “Don’t Need Your Money”. When they released their album, I was unable to get it anywhere locally and in frustration actually found the number for Neat Records and rang them to complain! I was appeased when they told me I could order it directly from them as there was no HMV’s local to me, so I sent off my cheque and when ‘Rock Until You Drop’ arrived it came with badges and stickers, which promptly went on my singles boxes. I loved everything about the band, from the over-the-top bass and high-pitched vocals of John Gallagher, the attack of his brother guitarist Mark, and the pace of the songs, all driven along by Rob “Wacko” Hunter. These days many metalheads are not even aware of the importance of this band and their “athletic rock” which was the direct precursor of thrash, and not only do many bands cite them as a major influence but they were the first band to take Metallica on tour.

It is safe to say they have never achieved the success they so richly deserved, but even though they have been through a few drummers over the years, the Gallagher brothers are still fighting strong, and as they work towards their 50th Anniversary (formed in 1974) they are not slowing down or changing their approach any time soon. In 2017 drummer Joe Hasselvander, who had been in the band for 20 years, suffered a heart attack just before a series of US/European dates. The band completed the dates with a series of drummers, and when it was obvious Joe would be unable to return any time soon, they brought in one of these, Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) as his permanent replacement. This 2020 album is their first for 5 years, and while many of their disciples have changed beyond recognition from their early days, this is still Raven doing what Raven do best, rocking hard and fast. True, there are times when there is more polish than there used to be, but Mark’s vocals are still passionate as ever, his basslines are still often insane while Mark is still hitting the riffs like he always has, daring the band to slow down, and Mike has happily settled into his new role.

This is classic Raven for the 21st century, and I for one cannot stop smiling and turning it up that little bit more. 40 years on from their classic debut , and the boys are still determined to "Rock Until You Drop" – “Don't think you can make it, Don't think you want to try, Sit back in your easy chair, And the world will pass you by, Life is what you make it, That's what people say, You've got to get it together, Make it your own way.” They are still staying true to their own words.

GOJIRA Fortitude

Album · 2021 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Rising again like its namesake icon, the French extreme metal band GOJIRA is back with its seventh studio album FORTITUDE which finds the band further exploring hitherto unpursued sonic palettes like few others in the world of metal who more often than not become fairly cozy in a comfort zone. This head banging quartet of Joe Duplantier (vocals, guitar), Mario Duplantier (drums), Christian Andreu (guitar) and Jean-Michel Labadie (bass) has never been one to rest on its laurels and although GORJIRA has taken a somewhat more accessible, dare i say even more commercial route on its previous album “Magma,” somehow this quartet successfully maintains its core integrity of infusing the disparate metal subgenera of death metal, groove metal and alternative metal into one cauldron of hot steaming sonic sensationalism.

It’s been a five year break since “Magma” and the metal world has changed a lot getting even weirder and more diverse but somehow GORJIRA continues the path of exploring new sonic textures while maintaining the energetic chugging drive, extraordinary musical dexterity and metal hybridism. What’s new on FORTITUDE is that the band takes the previous alternative metal approach that debuted on “Magma” and branches out into myriad directions thus creating a delightful mix of moods, dynamics and rhythmic bombast unlike any other album in its canon. While the progressive excesses of the first two albums have long been tamped down as well as the epic progressive feel of the following pair of albums that followed, FORTITUDE still stays connected to all those previous eras while exploring a more varied range of timbres, tones, echo effects and production values.

While many have long written off this band as some sort of sellout, i personally find these later albums to be quite dynamic as they provide instantly catchy metal hooks in the classic sense while exploring various detours into moments of clean vocal progressive rock, Pantera-esque groove metal as well as the intense urgency of a Rage Against The Machine album most likely courtesy of engineer Andy Wallace who worked with that band as well as Nirvana thus giving that angry 90s grunge feel at times. And of course it wouldn’t be a GOJIRA album without a plethora of polyrhythms where barrages of guitar riffs, pummeling percussion and bantering bass grooves provide crushing metal monstrosities while Joe Duplantier brazenly belts out his soul crushing screams.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference for FORTITUDE is the production and the heavy uses of atmospheres which provides the perfect counterpoint to the galloping grooving guitar riffs and the incessant guitar sailing that accompanies. As far as tempo changes go, FORTITUDE may not embrace the chaotic free-for-all proggy complexities as “Terra Incognita” and “The Link” but still manages to squeeze in a few oddball time signatures between the steady rhythmic drive as well as delivering extreme curve balls as heard on the tribal percussion dominated title track accompanied by unorthodox wordless vocal harmonizing which actually serves as an intro to the following track “The Chant.”

When all is said and done i can totally understand why many may not be too thrilled with these easier listening experiences of GOJIRA when compared to the epic and experimental sounds of yore but as far as an accessible melodic metal album is concerned, GOJIRA does an excellent job keeping FORTITUDE engaging from beginning to end in my book. These songs are not only catchy but crafty and creative with subtleties that may require a few spins before really sinking in. I think i actually prefer this one to “Magma” as that previous album didn’t quite have the repeat visit enjoyability but this one has just enough ear wormy hooks to signify a respite into its majesty! While i wouldn’t call FORTITUDE my all time GOJIRA album by any means, i’m actually quite surprise how much i love this one. What will this monstrous band come up with next? Will we have to wait another five years? Chances are a new phase of the band will begin.

TRIBULATION Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Album · 2021 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 3 ratings
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"Where The Gloom Becomes Sound" is the 5th full-length studio album by Swedish metal act Tribulation. The album was released through Century Media Records in January 2021. It´s the successor to "Down Below" from 2018 and features no lineup changes since the precessor.

Stylistically "Where The Gloom Becomes Sound" pretty much continues where "Down Below (2018)" left of. Dark, melancholic, and atmospheric gothic tinged heavy metal, featuring blackened snarling vocals. The vocals aren´t extreme in nature, but they are raw and snarling. Tribulation come from a past playing both aggressive death/thrash metal and progressive death metal, so it was quite a change of pace when they released the 2015 goth metal influenced album "The Children of the Night". "Where The Gloom Becomes Sound" is now the third album from Tribulation in a similar style, so it must probably be concluded that they´ve now settled and feel completely comfortable with the sound they play.

...and play it well they do. There hasn´t been much development since "Down Below (2018)", but Tribulation deliver their brand of gothic tinged heavy metal with both great passion and conviction. It´s obvious these guys are skilled musicians and that they also know how to write an effectful and memorable song. If I have to mention an act which in many ways have a similar approach it would be fellow countrymen Tiamat, although Tribulation are slightly darker and more heavy. One of the great assets of the music are the many well played lead parts and harmonies, which provide the album with a suiting dark and melancholic atmosphere. Most of the album goes by at mid-pace but some tracks are slower and touches doom metal territory.

"Where The Gloom Becomes Sound" features a dark and gloomy sounding production job, which is professional and suits the album well, but sometimes becomes just a little too dense and murky. Some of the riffs could have stood a little sharper in the soundscape with a slightly more clear sounding guitar tone. Other than that and maybe the fact that the vocals are slightly too one-dimensional in nature, "Where The Gloom Becomes Sound" is a high quality release through and through. Fans of the two direct predecessors should find this one a great listen to. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ENRAPTURE Another Green Drought

Album · 2021 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Released in January 2021, “Another Green Drought” is the debut studio album by Norwegian progressive post-metal band Enrapture. From the off, it is clear we have a trio of skilled musicians who play as a tight unit and display a high standard of song writing. The material has a progressive structure in parts with varying time signatures and rhythmically complex arrangements throughout.

One highlight of the album is the opener “Badlands” which pummels the listener with a healthy dose of powerful, crunchy riffs, aggressive, technical drumming and harsh screamed vocals. The penultimate “Groundswells” is another highlight which boasts riff after riff of killer sludge before building into an atmospheric epic.

The album is of a consistent quality throughout but the greatest joy for me is the successful juxtaposition of the brutally heavy side of metal and the uplifting qualities of post-rock music which does not always work for me. On this release, it’s truly majestic and transports me between heaven and hell and sometimes to both simultaneously – the best example of this is showcased in “Floodwaters and the Desert” which features a dreamlike soundscape overlain with a mixture of harsh screaming, some clean vocals and delightful mix of heavy and uplifting lead guitar parts.

Highly recommended to fans of Intronaut, Mastodon and Tool.

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SCHIZOID LLOYD The Last Note in God's Magnum Opus

Album · 2014 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Another one of those bizarre and utterly unique avant-garde metal bands in the vein of Mr Bungle, Sigh and Unexpect, SCHIZOID LLOYD may get lumped into good company but sounds like no other. This Dutch band was formed in Haarlem in 2007 and soon won the Rob Acda Award which allowed these circus freaks to release its first EP titled “Virus” in 2008. Assisted by Ayreon and Within Temptation producer Oscar Hollemann, SCHIZOID LLOYD received a few positive reviews for its bombastic experimental metal that was part Queen, part Frank Zappa and part Mr Bungle all the while incorporating as many other inspirations as possible.

It took a few years but the band that featured Remo Kuhlmann (guitar, lead vocals), Ruben Kuhlmann (drums, keyboards, backing vocals), Thom Lich (guitar, vocals), Daan Divendal (keyboards) and Guus van Oosterum (bass, vocals) to release its first full-length titled THE LAST NOTE IN GOD’S MAGNUM OPUS in 2014 but hasn’t been heard from since despite no official announcement of breaking up (as far as i’m aware.) Having signed to the infamous Blood Records which specializes in all things metal especially in the experimental realms which includes Sigh, maudlin of the Well, Lykathea Aflame, Ihsahn and Thy Catalfalque just to name a few, SCHIZOID LLOYD couldn’t have found a more perfect fit but in reality sounds very unique in its approach despite similarities.

While some avant-garde metal these days drifts off into bizarre jaggedly atonal soundscapes and more alienating than inviting to the uninitiated, SCHIZOID LLOYD successfully crafts its composiitons with strong melodic hooks that come right out of the classic Queen playbook along with a crisp production job that allows the myriad elements of death metal, progressive rock, folk, Pink Floydian space rock, symphonic touches and even circus music along with a tiny bit of hip hop to exist side by side with really nothing sounding forced and cliche in the least. For the careful listener you will hear all kinds of references to many, many artists of the past including not only the most obvious Queen but also Faith No More, System of a Down, Opeth, Gorguts, Leprous and what many deem the band’s closest genetic relative Diablo Swing Orchestra yet curious there is no jazz, no swing and no opera!

THE LAST NOTE IN GOD’S MAGNUM OPUS features ten tracks and extends past the 57 minute mark and through its run takes the listener on a roller coaster ride of wild adventurous metal-infused progressive rock and metal. The opening “Suicide Penguin” is probably the most instantly addictive as it opens with a classic Queen bombast as its compositional fortitude and adds all kinds of slick elements to give SCHIZOID LLOYD an equally instant uniqueness which is definitely something not so common in modern music where there are literally a thousand clones lingering about. Like many of these metal hybrid albums where metal is only one ingredient, it’s best to consider this album a progressive rock album that implements generous doses of metal at key moments and although such extremes such as death metal are present, they are fairly rare occurrences with just as much time dedicated to classical piano (“Film Noir Hero”) and bizarre musical counterpoints all the way through with special props to circus music and avant-prog Zappa influences.

For all the creativity on display here it would amount to nothing if the compositions weren’t delivered properly and completed with the competency of a great lead singer and excellent musicians. THE LAST NOTE IN GOD’S MAGNUM OPUS excels in all those regards with lead vocalist Ruben Kuhlmann displaying an excellent command of his multi-octave vocal range more in the vein of Leprous than any other band but still not exactly a clone. Despite the eclectic nature of this band the instruments are still pretty much limited to guitars, keyboards, bass and drums although a sitar is used occasionally. A dense and clustered work for sure, SCHIZOID LLOYD is definitely an acquired taste for seasoned proggers who crave some of the most adventurous music that can be found but the newbie need not be worried due to the instantly accessible melodies and vocal harmonies that prevent a specialized club membership to gain access to the album’s secrets. All in all pretty cool album!

PORCUPINE TREE Tarquin's Seaweed Farm

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1989 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.58 | 2 ratings
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"Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" is the first studio release by UK artist Steven Wilson under the pseudonym of Porcupine Tree. The album was released through No Man's Land in January 1989. It´s a compilation of recordings from the mid-80 to 1988, and they were originally only released in a very limited number on cassette tape. Strict catalogizing would probably say this is the debut full-length studio album by Porcupine Tree, but it should probably be considered a demo album instead. Tracks 1 - 7 on the album and a re-recorded version of track number 8 "Radioactive Toy" would appear on "On The Sunday Of Life... (1992)" (the official debut full-length studio album by Porcupine Tree).

The material on the 15 track, 77:17 minutes long demo album is psychadelic rock at times strongly influenced by the early Pink Floyd releases. It´s an adventurous sonic journey from minimalistic ambience, to odd spoken word passages, to more regular sounding psychadelic space rock flows. Tracks like "Jupiter Island", "Radioactive Toy", and "Mute" are quite entertaining, but there are several parts of the album which feel uneventful and as a listener it´s hard not to become a little impatient when Wilson opts to spend more time with psychadelic experimental noodling, than on producing memorable songs.

For a "bedroom" recording, "Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" is relatively well sounding, although the programmed drums don´t really do the music any favors. They are simplistic and a little one-dimensional. So upon conclusion "Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" is an album featuring both great promise but also featuring more amaturish tendencies. Which is of course completely understandable at this early stage of Wilson´s career. I see this as more of a novelty recording that it´s nice to have heard to understand where Wilson came from than anything I´ll return to and listen to repeatedly. A 2.5 star (50%) rating is warranted.


Album · 2003 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 19 ratings
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Something I’ve always found a bit perplexing about The Link is that there’s not much backstory behind it. Gojira’s debut Terra Incognita has plenty of interesting tidbits to its name, such as how frontman Joe Duplantier lived in a secluded cabin for two years while coming up with inspiration for the record, or how the interlude “04” was intended by Joe and his brother Mario to be a birthday present for their mother. But The Link is… just The Link. Even the cover art - while indicative of the more tribal elements on the record (we’ll get to that) - is very unassuming. As such, its popularity and significance are often dwarfed by the records that sandwich it. Terra Incognita is the brutal and aggressive fan-favorite debut, and From Mars to Sirius is the breakthrough album that brought them significant acclaim in the wider metal community. But that doesn’t mean we should be forgetting about The Link.

Not in the slightest. On top of being a necessary stepping stone for Gojira’s progression, it’s also quite possibly the strangest and most experimental record of theirs to date. You’ll find the usual helping of groovy chugs and double bass worship, but it’s all topped off with the aforementioned tribal elements as well as a more “mystical” overall vibe. Right from the title track, you’re thrown into an otherworldly environment full of droning vocal inflections, hypnotic grooves, and wood block percussion; suddenly, the world crafted by Terra Incognita has expanded and become an even more diverse place to explore. Death metal sections are still present on The Link but they’re used much more sparingly this time around to make room for an expanding palette of influences. Whether it be the beautiful ambient interlude “Torii”, the doom metal-inspired riffs of “Inward Movement”, or the lengthy post-metal mini-epic that is “Dawn”, the unpredictability of The Link’s tracklist goes a long way in describing its appeal to anyone who’s a bit bored with the current iteration of the band’s sound.

Yet the surprise comes in just how well the songs flow into each other. You’d think so many disparate elements being put together would cause some massive consistency issues, but such is not the case with The Link. Even at this stage, Gojira were great at knowing what transitions and dynamics to use at the right times. A perfect example would be the one-two-three punch of “Connected”, “Remembrance”, and “Torii”. Technically, only one of these is a full-length song; however, all three of them flow into each other so well that you’d might as well treat it as one single eight-minute track. “Connected” opens up with some light tribal drumming that opens the gates for the death metal fury of “Remembrance”; in turn, the amazing breakdown of “Remembrance” fades out to set the stage for the lovely “Torii” to take place. Meanwhile, you can perceive “Wisdom Comes” as the band letting out their final blast of death metal aggression before the expansive and slow-moving “Dawn” moves in to bring The Link to a fitting close. While I’d argue From Mars to Sirius is even more well-constructed because it uses a concrete narrative to tie the songs together, this album is no slouch either.

As one would expect from a Gojira album, the performances here are absolutely stellar. Joe and lead guitarist Chrisian Andreu have wonderful chemistry together, especially on the heavier tunes. “Wisdom Comes” is especially noteworthy, as the duo perform dual tremolo-picked harmonies to create a sinister vibe that compliments the intense riffs nicely. Mario and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie are also perfectly locked-in on The Link, providing just the right balance of groove and technicality for those heavy songs while showing incredible restraint on the softer ones. In a 2005 interview with Hard ‘n’ Heavy Magazine, Mario said the sessions for the album represented “a period during which I wanted to play fast: I was starting to master well the grind parts and the double bass pedal”. This is definitely evident in fast cuts such as “Remembrance” and “Wisdom Comes”, which feature the most impressive double bass work and rapid-fire blastbeats that he’d ever played up to this point; the fact that the rest of the band could keep up and hold their own so well against his drumming is pretty damn impressive.

Admittedly, I’m quite tired of The Link being considered the red-headed stepchild of Gojira’s catalogue (well, according to the fanbase, it’s either this or Magma). It has a plethora of fantastic songs, a unique atmosphere, the most experimental writing of the band’s career, and some of their most technical and intricate playing to top it off. It set the stage perfectly for Gojira’s heyday, and it remains an incredible record in its own right.

LED ZEPPELIN Physical Graffiti

Album · 1975 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.85 | 91 ratings
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This one seems to be among the best loved Zeppelin albums by fans, as well as a favorite among double albums. Yet, I don't really hear what's so great about it... besides Kashmir, of course. And then, perhaps it's Kashmir in great part the one that makes it sound bad, since the rest of the album sounds nothing like it, so much that it actually sounds out of place within the album... or else, perhaps the order of the songs within the album were not well chosen. I think Kashmir would have sounded much better at the end of disc two, which has many songs that go better with it, and which I particularly like better, and take the last two songs from that disc for disc one, giving the whole album a much stronger end, and making both discs sound much more coherent within them.

THE MARS VOLTA De-Loused in the Comatorium

Album · 2003 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.50 | 5 ratings
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In the world of progressive punk = pronk, perhaps nobody pulled it off better and more dramatically than THE MARS VOLTA. Sure the Cardiacs may have popularized the unthinkable fusional possibilities but at the heart of their sound was a zolo art pop approach that took catchy infectious melodies and nerded them out big time. THE MARS VOLTA on the other hand went for the prog jugular with highbrow concept albums and sprawling soundscapes that mixed post-hardcore, psychedelic rock, progressive electronica and even Latin jazz. The band seemed to have come from nowhere with its lauded debut DE-LOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM which despite almost no promotion still managed to make the top spot on favorite lists when it arrived in 2003 from its sheer boldness to take prog and punk to incredible new heights.

Riding the wave of the 90s prog revival that flourished, El Paso, TX based THE MARS VOLTA arose from the ashes of the up and coming post-hardcore band At The Drive-In, which was at the verge of crossing over into the mainstream but the bored duo of vocalist and lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala along with guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López grew tired of their bandmates unwillingness to experiment and instead opted to go it alone. THE MARS VOLTA spent the next 13 years releasing one mind-altering experimental album after another beginning with what many consider their best, the abstractly titled DE-LOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM. While this duo’s former bandmates would form the post-hardcore Sparta and dwell in the world of generic uninventiveness, Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López were hell bent for leather to craft some of the most bizarre constructs of psychedelic post-hardcore enveloped in the reverie of classic 70s prog extremities.

This is one of those albums that has just as bizarre of a story behind it as the music presented. While the song titles, lyrics and overall themes are just as abstract and surreal as the album cover art, the album’s concept revolves around the tale of Cerpin Taxt, a man who enters a week-long coma after overdosing on a mixture of morphine and rat poison and is indirectly dedicated to the death of Bixler-Zavala’s friend Julio Venegas who was an El Paso artist. Ironically the album coincided with the death of another close friend and collaborator Jeremy Michael Ward who was a founding member of THE MARS VOLTA as the sound manipulator that gave the band that extra edge over the competition much in the vein of other production rich artists like Porcupine Tree and Riverside. Ward was found dead after a heroin overdose which was the moment when the due of Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López took a cold hard look at their own drug habits and went cold turkey. The duo henceforth put its energy into crafting material for THE MARS VOLTA which apparently paid off.

While Bixler-Zavala and Rodríguez-López would be the only two consistent members and main creative contributors to THE MARS VOLTA, this debut showcases what was truly a band effort with Jon Theodore on drums, Isaiah Owens on keyboards, a guest appearance of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass and is the only album to feature the now deceased Jeremy Michael Ward who produced the myriad effects and sound manipulations. The album also found extra help from Lenny Castro providing the Latin jazz percussion, John Frusicante also of the Red Hot Chili Peppers contributing additional guitar parts and synthesizers and acoustic bass parts from Justin Meldal-Johnson. The album also attracted a ridiculous amount of producers mixing and mastering personal as well as the legendary Rick Rubin joining Rodríguez-López in the producer’s seat. In other words, there was a LOT of effort put into this densely packed hour’s run of fine-crafted musical output and the efforts were quite triumphant in their delivery.

Although the simplified formula of THE MARS VOLTA is to juxtapose brash post-hardcore guitar riffs, bantering bass grooves and a tumultuous percussive drive that sat equidistantly between metal and punk, the band excelled at filling the connective tissue of transitions with extremely psychedelic and surreal electronic motifs that completely broke free from Earth’s gravitational pull and took a trip into the spaced out world of artists such as Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. While sonically oft tied to the post-hardcore of At The Drive-In, the lay out of the composiitons was much more akin to the heavyweights of 1970s progressive rock thus earning THE MARS VOLTA as one of the best newer prog bands to usher in the 21st century for its innovative approach that actually suited the oft abused term “progressive.” Add to that the emo bellowing wails of Bixler-Zavala’s vocal style and you’re in for one unique musical experience.

While the above mentioned formula straddles the album’s hour long run, the 12 minute plus “Cicatriz E.S.P.” takes things even further as the opening proggy post-hardcore beginning morphs into one of the most surreal electronic free floats into the astral plane outside of that famous deleted scene from Avatar. This truly is one of the most unique albums of the 21st century that runs the gamut from highly pyroclastic displays of post-hardcore orotundity to the saucerful of secrets escape from reality that takes a ride on the astral side and craft some of the trippiest electronic sequences since the early Krautrock and progressive electronic scenes of decades prior. THE MARS VOLTA was by no means an easy band for me to get into. Bixler-Zavala’s vocal style is very much an acquired taste and although the music has always resonated especially in the complex compositional approach, the vocals took me a lot longer to jive with but after the proper acclimation i find they actually serve the music quite well and keep it in the world of totally unique and idiosyncratic. True that DE-LOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM may seem weird for the sake of weirdness but after considerable attention paid to the details, i can only glean a inexplicable admiration for the amount of detail to every single second of this album’s run. In other words, this is a utterly brilliant!

SYMPHONY X The Divine Wings Of Tragedy

Album · 1996 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 98 ratings
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"The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, New Jersey based power/progressive metal act Symphony X. The album was released through Zero Corporation in Japan in November 1996 and through InsideOut Music in Europe in March 1997. It´s the successor to "The Damnation Game" from 1995 and features the same quintet lineup as the predecessor. "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" was the breakthrough album for Symphony X and is by many considered among their finest works.

Symphony X have honed their songwriting craft considerably on this release (compared to the two preceding album releases), and they have also upped the use of progressive metal elements, although they still retain strong European power metal/neo-classical leanings, and are also firmly grounded in the more raw and thrash infused US power metal style. The latter mentioned style is on full display on the opening track "Of Sins And Shadows", which features incredibly heavy thrashy (almost brutal) guitar riffs and heavy pounding rhythms, which are not the order of the day on most European power metal/neo-classical or progressive metal releases. It´s a muscular track showing Symphony X at their most raw and punishing. When that is said "Of Sins And Shadows" still features melodic neo-classical keyboard/guitar themes and a melodic anthemic chorus, so there is a good balance between the raw and the melodic on that track.

The same can actually be said about all the material on the album, although the melodic sensibility and the degrees of rawness and the number of heavy riffs/rhythms vary from track to track. Some of the highlights are "Of Sins And Shadows", "Sea Of Lies", "Candlelight Fantasia"l, and "The Accolade". Especially the latter deserves a special mention for the wealth of intriguing compositional ideas and beautiful and strong epic melodies. This is pure musical brilliance to my ears. Many would probably count the 20:42 minutes long title track among the highlights of the album, but I disagree with that sentiment. Although the track features many high quality elements (the opening choir section is for example great) and strong and powerful sections, it´s a bit of a compositional mess, with an instrumental middle section which doesn´t really work that well.

Other than the generally high quality compositions the greatest asset of "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is the high level musicianship. Lead vocalist Russell Allen can´t be praised enough for his commanding delivery and versatile voice. He can sing both high pitched and melodic and mid- to low register raw and clean vocals. His performance on this album is outstanding. The rhythm section are strong playing too and bassist Thomas Miller even gets to shine a couple of times during the albums playing time with some lead parts. Michael Pinella is obviously a classically trained keyboard player and his busy neo-classical playing perfectly compliments the ditto busy guitar playing of Michael Romeo. The latter is a world class guitar player, who masters many different styles from brutal groove laden thrashy riffs, to strong melodic hooks and great acoustic/clean guitar moments, to blistering solo work.

"The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" features a relatively well sounding production, which suits the material well. I say relatively well sounding production, because it´s not a perfect production. The drums for example don´t feature the most powerful production values, and they come of a little thin sounding in the mix and the distorted guitar tone is also a little odd sounding a times. It´s as if it´s sometimes played through a wah-pedal, but not on purpose. The minor production complaints aside, "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is still a perfectly listenable album and most listeners probably won´t even notice or be bothered by the mentioned flaws.

Upon conclusion it´s perfectly understandable why "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" became the breakthrough for Symphony X. While the first two albums showed promise, this one fully delivers on that promise. High level musical performances and clever compositional ideas. On top of that Symphony X have a unique sound and a musical identity which immediately set them apart from the pack. Sure the neo-classical influences scream Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, but that is just one elements of the band´s sound. Mix it up with the darkest and most heavy moments of Dream Theater and add a premier league US power metal vocalist to the potion and you have "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy". Not a perfect album, but it´s close. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

KING CRIMSON In The Wake Of Poseidon

Album · 1970 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 38 ratings
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"In The Wake Of Poseidon" is the 2nd full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act King Crimson. The album was released through Island Records (UK) and Atlantic Records (US) in May 1970. It´s the successor to "In the Court of the Crimson King" from October 1969. There have been quite a few lineup changes since the predecessor as Ian McDonald (keyboards, reeds and woodwinds) and Michael Giles (drums, percussion, backing vocals) both left King Crimson following the band´s first US tour in late 1969 and Greg Lake (vocals, bass) was also on his way out the door to form his own band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Lake agreed to record vocals for the album though, and he performs vocals on all tracks but "Cadence And Cascade" (where the vocals are performed by Gordon Haskell, who would subsequently replace Lake as the band´s lead singer/bassist). Michael Giles was recruited as a session drummer, and brother Peter Giles, who was part of the earliest King Crimson lineup recorded the bass parts. Also as a session musician. "In The Wake Of Poseidon" also features guest/session appearences by Mel Collins (saxophones, flute) and Keith Tippett (piano).

McDonald leaving was the main catalyst for Giles and Lake also jumping ship, as McDonald was the main composer of the material featured on "In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)" and there were doubts in which direction guitarist Robert Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield would take the music. As it turned out the material on "In The Wake Of Poseidon" are in many ways very similar in style to the material on "In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)". The heavy and saxophone driven "Pictures Of A City" sounds like a sibling composition to "21st Century Schizoid Man" and the title track has a similar melancholic and epic atmosphere and a similar structure to "Epitaph" from the debut album. "Cadence And Cascade" is this album´s "I Talk to the Wind". So there is no arguing Fripp and Sinfield played it safe as far as sound and style goes. Fortunately they also challenged themselves and produced two tracks which are quite different from the material found on the debut album in the jazz rock influenced "Cat Food" and the slow building multi-layered 11:38 minutes long ambient/atmospheric instrumental "The Devil's Triangle", which is like listening to a gloomy, simplistic, and ominous sounding "Bolero". It´s a bit too long for its own good, and slightly uneventful and tedious too, but at least the band tried something new and different here.

"In The Wake Of Poseidon" is a well produced affair and the production provides the music with the right conditions to shine. Considering the relatively short time between the debut and this album, and the fact that the band´s main composer left (although he is credited as co-writer on "Cat Food" and "The Devil's Triangle") along with half the lineup who recorded the debut album, "In The Wake Of Poseidon" actually came out pretty great. It´s a ultimately a strong release, featuring high quality material, and stellar musical performances, and if you can look past the fact that many of the tracks on the album sound like they are made from blueprints of tracks from the debut album, there is a lot to enjoy here for a fan of progressive rock. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

SUFFERING HOUR In Passing Ascension

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Out of all the styles of metal that have evolved over the decades it seems that the death and black metal camps have become the most productive with countless new bands crafting new methodologies of creativity infused with elements of outlying musical genres and hitherto unexplored hybridization. While war metal began all the way back with Blasphemy in the early 90s which basically mixed the aggressive fury of old school death metal with the atmospheric mindfuckery of black metal, the two have proven time and time again to make a compelling dynamic duo of torturous metallic fury and with myriad modern record labels ranging from Dark Descent to Blood Harvest cranking out the legions of new acts.

SUFFERING HOUR is among the newer bands in this current wave of blackened death metal that borrows the immediacy of classic Morbid Angel with the angular dissonance that jars the senses a la Incantation and adds elements of atmospheric doom and gloom right out of the black metal realms along with moments of pseudo-progressiveness with off-kilter time signature deviations, extended playing times and an overall focus on an album’s run experience over the strength of any particular track. This band that consists of Dylan Haseltine (vocals, bass), Josh Raiken (guitar, vocals) and Jason Oberuc (drums, vocals) was formed in the Minneapolis suburb of Forest Lake and IN PASSING ASCENSION is the debut which emerged in 2017.

Talk about a gluttony of excess! It seems that so many bands are so talented these days that it’s really hard to keep up with it all and SUFFERING HOUR is just one more band to craft exquisitely designed musical dread in the form of blackened death metal which ticks off all the boxes in the proper proportions. For this kind of music it’s almost mandatory to create a short introductory mood setting intro in this case the opening “Insufferable Scorn” which immediately yanks your consciousness out of the benevolence of sanity and plunges it deep into the dark recesses of a hellish soundscape dominated by atonal doomy guitar riffs, murky atmospheric frightfulness and slinking rhythmic cadences.

After the proper tone has been set the first fully fueled metal track “For The Putridity Of Man” cranks things up a few notches and goes for the death metal gusto with fully fueled chugga chug action and freewheeling frenzies of dissonant sound clusters bantering the senses with high octane intensity. While true that what SUFFERING HOUR performs here may not be exactly groundbreaking at this stage in the metal timeline, where the band succeeds brilliantly is in crafting an album’s worth of aggressive modern blackened death metal that allows enough diverse elements to keep the album from hitting any brick walls. “The Abrasive Black Dust” for example perfectly punctuates the muddled murky madness with an occulted melody of sorts that is dressed up with delightfully designed riffing motifs that oscillate like swells from the sea with the proper amount of distorted feedback bleeding into every nook and cranny culminating in the album’s highlight, the near 9-minute monster “Procession To Obscure Infinity.”

Ugly is certainly the new beautiful in the world of unhinged brutality in the world of modern day death metal and in the case of SUFFERING HOUR is met with an arsenal of creative tricks and trinkets that are intelligently designed to enhance the whole shebang rather than derail. The band mastered the art of balance on IN PASSING ASCENSION and eschewed the pitfalls of adding filler simply for the sake of making a longer playing time. There’s something about the classic playing time of around 40 minutes that is in the human psyche and by sticking to this principle, the overbearing intensity of the album resonates rather than enervates. Add to that the extraordinary musicianship of this trio and it’s no wonder by SUFFERING HOUR received so many plaudits from the world of the underground metal scene when this was released. This is recommended to those who love those dissonant spidery guitar workouts in the vein of Deathspell Omega, Ad Nauseum, Gorguts and similarly minded techy black death.

KING CRIMSON In The Court Of The Crimson King

Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 88 ratings
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"In the Court of the Crimson King" is the debut full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act King Crimson. The album was released through Island Records (UK) and Atlantic Records (US) in October 1969. King Crimson officially formed in November 1968, but the history of the band began in August 1967 when brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass) recruited guitarist Robert Fripp and formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Although the trio were clearly skilled composers and gifted musicians, they only managed to release a couple of singles and the 1968 "The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp" album, before disbanding as a consequence of a lack of commercial success. Maybe disbanding isn´t the correct word to use though as Giles, Giles and Fripp more or less just sequed into being King Crimson with the departure of Peter Giles and the addition of Ian McDonald (keyboards, reeds and woodwinds), Greg Lake (vocals, bass) and Peter Sinfield (lyrics, illumination).

"In the Court of the Crimson King" is quite the adventurous and progressive musical journey and it´s obvious that especially the addition of Ian McDonald and his contributions on the mellotron and the flute had a major impact on the band´s sound. Lake doesn´t have the most distinct sounding voice, but his delivery is pleasant and suits the music perfectly (helped along by the incredibly beautiful melody lines and abstract psychadelic lyrics, which sometimes also feature more direct political/social references). The musical influences are many and ranges from heavy blues rock, jazz, to classical music. As mentioned above the album is a journey, and as a listening experience it´s best appreciated in full. From the ultra heavy opening track "21st Century Schizoid Man", which not only features a proto-doom metal riff of crushingly heavy proportions, but also a pretty complex saxophone driven jazz rock middle section and a couple of avant gardish moments. Not that it´s a contest but "21st Century Schizoid Man" is arguably heavier and also pre-dates the proto-doom metal riffs on Black Sabbath´s February 1970 debut album.

Opening the album with such a noisy, heavy, and incredibly busy track, the mellow nature, soaring beautiful melody lines and soft folky flute playing on "I Talk to the Wind" do come as a bit of a surprise to the listener, but the effect of light and dark and heavy and mellow are contrasts often used on "In the Court of the Crimson King". "Epitaph" follows and it´s an epic track featuring massive and effectful use of the mellotron. I feel like Lake is telling me a dark and gloomy fairytale about the end of the world, and I´m moved by the words and how they are performed. There´s a little glimmer of hope, but ultimately the narrator (Lake) isn´t holding on to any illusions.

The next track is "Moonchild". The 12:11 minutes long track is divided into two parts. The first part only last around 2:30 minutes and it´s a beautiful and gloomy folky opening to the full track. The almost 10 minutes of remaning playing time of "Moonchild" are not quite as interesting to my ears. In fact it more or less just sounds like the band improvise and play little noodly bits of notes. It´s uneventful, quite tedious, and a little pointless, not to mention that it seriously disrupts the flow of the album. Thankfully the album closes with the the effectful and epic "The Court of the Crimson King". The mellotron is again used to great effect and the there is a great ominous atmosphere surrounding the track, which suits the mood of the rest of the album.

It can not be argued how important and monumental the release of "In the Court of the Crimson King" was for the progressive rock movement. It´s one of the seminal releases of the genre and of course mandatory listening for those interested in late 60s/early 70s progressive rock. It features everything you could wish for on a progressive rock album. Heavy riffs, acoustic guitar parts, jazz rock influences, epic mellotron driven moments, organic folky parts with flute, majestic and beautuful vocal melodies, and a healthy dose of musical experimentation. The latter unfortunately is a bit too much on "Moonchild" and the improvised section of that track does drag my rating down a bit. Had that part of the album featured something equal in quality to the rest of the material on the album, "In the Court of the Crimson King" would have been a sure 5 star (100%) rating from me, but as it is, a 4 star (80%) rating it is.

FUNEBRE Children of the Scorn

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 3 ratings
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"Children of the Scorn" is the debut full-length studio album by Finnish death metal act Funebre. The album was released through Spinefarm Records in 1991 and is on an interesting sidenote produced by Timo Tolkki (later of Stratovarius fame). Funebre were formed in 1988 and released two demos before releasing the "Brainspoon" EP in 1990. The band were relatively short lived and after releasing "Children of the Scorn" they disbanded. Although never commercially successful or reaching other than obscure underground recognition, Funebre are widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the Finnish death metal scene along with artists like Abhorrence and Convulse.

Stylistically the material on "Children of the Scorn" continue the old school death metal style of the 1990 "Brainspoon" EP, but while the EP was a relatively amaturish release, Funebre have stepped up on "Children of the Scorn" and deliver a good quality performance. The playing is solid, The sound production is suitably raw and organic (the guitars feature a slightly unpleasant distorted tone, but other than that the sound production suits the music well), and the songwriting is for the most part inspired and intriguing. Funebre don´t have the most unique sound, but they deliver their music with both passion and great conviction.

While this isn´t exactly doom/death, one of the greatest features of the music are the many crushingly heavy doomy parts. Funebre understand how to vary pace though and also put in a couple of hooks along the way, so for an old school death metal release, "Children of the Scorn" is relatively varied. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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