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FARAZ ANWAR Tale Of The Lunatics

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Pakistan is a geographical spot on the map that many of us Westerners are woefully ignorant of except for the occasional news blurbs casting this ancient region in a negative spin. This region of the world is actually quite fascinating not only for its multi-millennial history but as it turns out, for its modern contributions to the world as well. Musically speaking when one thinks of Pakistan (if one thinks of it at all), the immediate musical genre that comes to mind would be the qawwali with perhaps Pakistan's most famous musical export Nusrat Ali Khan as the nation's ambassador in the musical sense. While ethnic music is pretty much celebrated in every culture of the world, i have to admit that i wasn't aware of the fact that progressive metal has been a thing there for quite some time now.

Guitarist FARAZ ANWAR has been on the scene for quite a while as a member of the Karachi based Dusk and also his other band Mizraab. Both bands have been dabbling in the world of progressive metal since the mid-1990s and as a solo artist ANWAR released his debut "Abstract Point Of View" as far back as 2001. Although it took sixteen years between the last two albums, ANWAR returns only two years later with a followup. TALES OF THE LUNATICS is a concept album that tells the tale of a fictional angel named Afaiel who was sent to this 3D Earth by his master to be a human being. The album is an interesting mix of spoken word narration (in English) with ANWAR's stellar guitar works that range from a sensual Eric Johnson tone-rich blues oriented style to more aggressive shredding.

While primarily a guitar oriented release, TALE OF THE LUNATICS also features some excellent precision, divine choirs and chorus as well as some orchestration that is placed in the right places. While the term progressive metal can mean different things, in this case the album is very much a mix of slower symphonic prog moments with heavier prog metal alternating between intricate passages that allow ANWAR to showcase his guitar playing skills. Basically narrated vocals introduce an overarching theme and the instrumental interpretation ensues. Well i should say mostly instrumental because a few vocal tracks do occur such as on "Throw Your Swords." I should mention this this album is solely performed by ANWAR who handles not only guitars but bass, keys, drums as well as vocals.

Well i'm simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed at the same time with this one. While the concept is an interesting one and the narrative is pretty intriguing, i can't say the musical accompaniments match the magnanimity of the intent. No doubt that ANWAR is a gifted musician who can master all instruments set in front of him. My main problem is that the music doesn't convey the message of the storyline. Musically speaking this is a mix of Dream Theater, Kansas, other prog metal acts and a bit of Middle Eastern and local Pakistani flavors. There's even a few neo-prog moments however nothing really seems like it fits the narrative and therefore it seems like the whole concept was an afterthought than rather being the impetus for the entire album experience.

This is a fun album but i guess i expected more from the whole thing. It's really just an average prog metal experience with a better than average concept that doesn't quite gel with the musical performances. The most impressive track is the closing "Lap Lost" which features a more diverse roster of ideas and musical mojo. I'm torn between this album as i like a lot of what it represents and the musical skills showcased but i can't quite gel with the vocal performances nor can i get over the fact that i've heard this type of prog metal a million times prior. Overall this is a pleasant enough experience but not one that invites me to return time and time again. There is much room for improvement and i hope ANWAR continues to pursue a more sophisticated compositional development protocol. Good but not essential.

ARTIFICIAL BRAIN Artificial Brain

Album · 2022 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 5 ratings
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Tech death metal is one thing and progressive death metal is another but sometimes the two trajectories cross paths like a supply stop on the silk road so many centuries ago. ARTIFICIAL BRAIN has the perfect moniker for the modern world where A.I. threatens to become self-aware and take over the planet as we carbon-based lifeforms become expendable commodities but i digress. This Long Island, NY band has been around for just over a decade now and has tackled the dilemma of how to evolve death metal into the next phase like many a band struggling to take its compositional fortitude beyond the beefy machismo of incessant physicality.

Ever since Gorguts upped the ante there’s been a sort of arms race to seamlessly merge the world of progressive rock with the technical brutality of death metal and while many have failed in this daunting task, some like ARTIFICIAL BRAIN seem to have been born for this task. This quintet of deathly noise makers is unusual in that it features six members which includes the occasional use of a saxophone :o No worries death metal stalwarts, this is pummel your friggin’ brains out central with no signs of jazzy interludes interfering with the mission of unleashing blackened death metal riffage from the depths of Hades through sonic portals via modern technology.

I must say that this set of ten tracks successfully employs all the benefits of brutal death metal characteristic well with the progressive underbelly of a rock in opposition convention without sacrificing the lamb of death metal standards. Tough tightrope act i know but ARTIFICIAL BRAIN on its third and eponymously titled album seem to pull it off remarkably well after a tech death focused debut and a blackened atmospheric sophomore release. On this third installment of the ARTIFICIAL BRAIN universe everything comes together very well with a bizarre merging of the savagery of extreme metal bombast with a keen sense of rhythmic turbulence that is as unrelenting as a prostitute in the red light district of Amsterdam (OMG have you been there?)

This album really nails the holy trilogy of melding black metal, death metal and progressive rock into a holy union. Whether animals were sacrificed to achieve that remains a mystery but somehow this group of Long Islanders found the stabilizing elixir of sound to make this disco-death mess work so well. Everything is balanced perfectly with the tones, timbres and extremes of death metal in the sonority perfectly blending with the progressive compositional doughtiness. This album packs a punch for sure and is that really a tree emerging from the forest and giving the middle finger? Oh how my imagination gets out of control sometimes. Just listen to the track “Embalmed With Magma” and then you’ll get the gist of how this band has totally created a prog / death metal chimera of unthinkableness.

While a lot of death metal can sound the same to those not indoctrinated into its stealth bombing of the senses, close attentive listens can be quite rewarding since the genre demands a careful inspection of its mechanical underpinnings to differentiate it from a multitude of similarly hyperactive speed freaks. To perform such antics at these breakneck speeds is impressive indeed and ARTIFICIAL BRAIN has either sold out to A.I. to make this album possible or is indeed a very talented posse of carbon-based human lifeforms that has done its homework in constructed a chimera of utmost beauty blackened by the harshness of aural ugliness. Well, any way you slice it i’m in. What really works about this is a) the growly vocals are low in the mix b) the production is stellar and c) the musicianship is above average. Not a masterpiece of the ages but an excellent proggy death metal experience for sure.

ODD FICTION Puzzle Machine

EP · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Metallo-zeuhl is in the house!!!

Coming from an undisclosed sector of France, ODD FICTION first emerged in 2012 with the lineup of Thomas Ripa (guitar, vocals), Léo Goudaroulis (drums, percussion) and Bastoul (bass) as a straight forward punk band but with the arrival of Gabriel Gadré (bass) and Pierre Cruz (guitar) the band caught the math rock bug and started crafting more progressive punk compositions that would end up on the band’s debut “La Vie Des Clown” in 2017. That album was fast and frenetic something like Gordian Knot meets The Flying Luttenbachers.

Fast forward to 2022 and ODD FICTION finally releases a followup titled PUZZLE MACHINE albeit in the form of a so-called EP but considering the album was about 37 minutes long and this one is just over 27, we’re only talking the difference of a single track or two. In the five years since ODD FICTION’s last release the band has tamed its sound considerably. No longer a loose canon flailing around like one of Weasel Walter’s projects, the band adopted the stabling genre of zeuhl to its mix which changes the band’s overall sound considerably. This EP features five tracks that all pack a punch.

The world of metal has been the slut of the music world having cross-pollinated with about every genre of music possible but until recently i haven’t really heard the hardcore prog genres such as zeuhl commingle with extreme metal. The Brazilian band Papangu which also formed in 2012 was first metal zeuhl hybrid i’ve heard with its 2021 “Holoceno.” I guess metallo-zeuhl is here to stay. And why not? The zeuhl style of jazz-rock has a very pleasing rhythmic stability that allows all kinds of improvisation to evolve around a steady beat that keeps the artist from completely losing the listener. Just listen to the previous release and then this one. See what i mean?

While zeuhl is a forgiving prog genre for its ability to adapt to just about everything, that by no means that every artist can pull it off. ODD FICTION seems to have been made for this gig! While the debut album was competent and engaging, this one is much more fun as it not only employs the bubbling rhythmic drive of the jazz-rock world invented by Magma but it offers an extreme form of metal to accompany these rhythms that actually works. That means that the metal is subordinate to the zeuhl’s stronger gravitational force however the band delivers all the intensity of a skilled tech death metal band as well as dropping the metal altogether and delving into metal-free avant-prog / math rock angularities.

Overall this is an impressive little gem of an EP with stellar instrumental interplay and playful creativity. No vocals on this one but the clever use of oscillating guitar riffs and Jannick Top inspired bass antics along with jazzy drum rolls with and without the intensity of extreme metal is highly satisfying. It’s like Christian Vander spawned a bunch of punks and they went all metal on him! Is it zeuhl? Is it math rock? Is it metal? Well, it’s all of the above of course! This is a very dynamic hybridization that doesn’t really let one genre or the other dominate. It’s all perfectly balanced for a brilliant performance. At least as a French band, it’s like Christian Vander keeping his influences in the family so to speak. This is a band i very much look forward to hearing more from.

SIGH Shiki

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.68 | 7 ratings
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When it comes to strange and twisted experimental metal, few have been as weird and long lasting as Japan’s SIGH that started out over 30 years ago as a symphonic black metal band when it was propelled into the limelight with the help of Mayhem’s Euronymous. Through the decades this band has increasingly added more elements to its sound with each album unexpectedly taking you into a completely different and oft uncharted territory within the overarching metal paradigm. Having existed in a weird twilight zone where black metal, progressive metal, symphonic prog, jazz-fusion and psychedelia meet, the band had always looked abroad for inspiring musical forces but beginning with 2018’s “Heir To Despair” at long last realized there have been some interesting sounds to mine from the homeland all along and thus Japanese folk music was fair game. Something about that album didn’t quite gel for me though so i wrote it off as a fluke.

SIGH has been the brainchild of Mirai Kawashima (vocals, keyboards) and his wife Dr. Mikannibal (vocals, saxophone) and has featured a rotating cast of supporting musicians over the decades. With 2022’s SHIKI Kawashima has not only adopted more homegrown folk sounds but for the first time in the SIGH playbook has employed the Japanese language to narrate a concept album based on an ancient Japanese poem that along with the album cover art represents Kawashima’s inward perspectives on his native Japanese culture. Along for the ride in this episode of the SIGH show is guitarist / bassist Frédéric Leclercq who has played with DragonForce, Kreator, Denied and many other bands. Also on board is percussionist Mike Heller who has also been a tour de force in the metal world having played with Fear Factory, Raven, Malignancy and a host of others. The band is topped off a bassist simply presented a 藤並聡.

In many ways SHIKI is the aggregate achievement of SIGH’s long and varied musical palette. Starting off with a psychedelic ambience the track “Kuroi Kage” ushers in a doom metal stomp before the track typifies SIGH’s black n roll musical heft with Kawashima finally joining as Japan’s answer to Captain Beefheart with his schizoid raspy vocal style undecipherable to all but those fortunate enough to speak Japan’s native tongue. The album progresses by quickening the pace with “Shoujahitsumetsu” revisiting past black metal frenzy territory allowing Kawashima to find himself uttering lyrics like a Japanese mad rapper. In the album’s 46 minute run the tracks are beautifully forged to reflect SIGH’s long established commitment to Western song structures but this time augmented with Japanese folk musical textures ranging from backing vocal chants to beautiful sounds effects from instruments such as the hichiriki, taishogoto and shamisen.

While one could very well compare SHIKI to album’s like “Imaginary Sonicscape” for their bold incorporation of a multitude of musical influences, the focus has completely shifted with SHIKI making it a more streamlined and showcases a musical procession with a purpose beyond the shock value of being weird for weird’s sake (don’t get me wrong, i do love that too!) The album almost comes off as a dramatic musical with Kawashima’s vocals conveying the anguish and grief of some tragedy that due to linguistic alienation is conveyed through his vocal tirades that sound like the Japanese equivalent of Captain Beefheart having a temper tantrum at times. Add to that a stellar production, engineering and mixing job that allows the metal heft to perfectly coincide with the nuances of electronic, ambience and psychedelia all neatly sewn together. Through this tightrope act, SHIKI manages to maintain a thunderous energetic uproar with various strains of metal ranging from doom, black and thrash along with quieter moments of transcendence that result in satisfying polarized mood swings.

Unlike any of SIGH’s previous albums, SHIKI sounds epic in scope and perfect in execution. This is an album that is paced perfectly to allow heavy metal bombast to coincide perfectly with trippy psych-fueled electronic intros, outros and midterm breathing spaces. The influence of Japanese folk musical motifs is also incorporated into the very chord progressions that comprise the compositional flow and the use of the Japanese language gives the album a completely different rhythmic drive than any previous album. I’m very happy that bands from around the world are choosing to use their native tongue in lieu of the ubiquitous English for that very reason. Just when it seemed like SIGH was ready to go stale on us, this unique act has found a new lease on life and with the newly incorporated sounds and themes of the vast world of Japanese culture could very well be around for another 30-some years. This one was a true surprise and is one of my top album picks for the calendar year of 2022. What an amazing comeback from this legendary band. SHIKI is without a doubt this band’s best album yet.

SOILWORK Övergivenheten

Album · 2022 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Övergivenheten" is the twelfth full-length studio album by Swedish melodic death metal act Soilwork. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in August 2022. It´s the successor to "Verkligheten" from 2019 although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the 2020 "A Whisp of the Atlantic" EP. There´s been one lineup change since "Verkligheten" (2019) as bassist Taylor Nordberg has been replaced by Rasmus Ehrnborn (guitarist David Andersson recorded the bass on "A Whisp of the Atlantic" (2020).

If anyone had hopes that the progressive songwriting of "A Whisp of the Atlantic" (2020) would be continued on "Övergivenheten", they will be left disappointed (although closing track "On the Wings of a Goddess Through Flaming Sheets of Rain" does feature a slightly more adventurous songwriting approach than the remaining tracks on the album). Instead Soilwork have opted for the most melodic, accessible, and at times even mainstream oritented songwriting of their career. Of course there are still elements of death metal here and there, and lead vocalist Björn "Speed" Strid can still scream out his lungs and occassionally deliver a death metal growl, but he sings a lot of clean vocals here, and arguably a few more than usual. It´s not so much the vocal part of the music which has changed though, but more the overall songwriting approach. Sometimes to a point where it sounds like Soilwork are in the process of preparing to enter the Eurovision contest. That´s how catchy, melodic, and polished some of these tracks are. It´s sometimes to a point where it´s sounds like it´s leftover material written for Strid and Andersson´s AOR rock band The Night Flight Orchestra, put through the melodic death metal grinder.

Any Soilwork album deserves to be listened to and only judged after several listens, because they are usually deceivingly accessible and polished, but underneath that polish there are layers of sophisticated harmonies, melodies, choir arrangements, and just a generally high level songwriting approach. "Övergivenheten" is no different from it´s direct predecessors in that respect. Soilwork have maybe gone a little too much overboard with the glitter and polish on this one, considering that two of them already have The Night Flight Orchestra to explore more accessible and melodic musical territories, and I do miss a little more raw power and aggression, but on the other hand it´s impossible not to be floored by how catchy these songs are.

"Övergivenheten" features a well sounding production job, although my ears don´t always agree with the drum production. It´s a purely subjective observation though, and nothing which affects my rating too much. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts and if you think you can enjoy and album´s worth of the most accessible and mainstream oriented version of Soilwork, "Övergivenheten" will give you just that in a high quality fashion. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

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SIEGES EVEN Playgrounds

Live album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 3 ratings
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"Playgrounds" is a live album release by German progressive metal act Sieges Even. The album was released through SPV Records/Inside Out Music in July 2008. It succeeds the release of the band´s seventh full-length studio album "Paramount" from September 2007. It was the last release by Sieges Even before they disbanded. They split-up in mid-2008, so they were probably already disbanded when "Playgrounds" was released.

The material featured on the album was recorded during the tour supporting the release of "Paramount" (2007), and the 10 song tracklist features no less than 5 tracks from the album. The remaining part of the tracklist comprise 3 tracks from "The Art of Navigating by the Stars" (2003) and 2 tracks from "A Sense of Change" (1991). So "Playgrounds" only features material from three out of the band´s seven full-length studio albums, and predominantly focuses on the last two studio releases. The show is incredibly well performed. All instrumental performances are brilliant and lead vocalist Arno Menses delivers his lines with great conviction and skill. It´s sometimes to a point where you´re in doubt if this was truly recorded live, but there are some audience noises here and there to make sure this sounds like an authentic live release. Menses also speaks to the audience on a few occassions, telling which song they are about the hear, making a joke about one of the songs being a hit in Lichenstein, because it sold 3 copies...etc.

The track selection works fine and there is a focused red thread throughout the show in terms of flow. While the tracks from the two preceding studio albums work well it is still nice to hear "The Waking Hours" and "These Empty Places" performed by this lineup of Sieges Even. I´m temped to say that these versions are better than the original studio versions. "Playgrounds" features an organic, powerful, and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and upon conclusion it´s a high quality swansong release by Sieges Even. Hopefully one day I´ll be forced to revisit this review and delete the word "swansong". A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SATYRICON Rebel Extravaganza

Album · 1999 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 17 ratings
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"Rebel Extravaganza" is the 4th full-length studio album by Norwegian black metal act Satyricon. The album was released through Moonfog Productions in September 1999. It´s the successor to "Nemesis Divina" from 1996, which was a very successful release for Satyricon, considerably heightening their profile on the international black metal scene.

Following up a successful release is always a difficult task, and Satyricon chose to do the only right thing, which was to write and record a totally different sounding release to "Nemesis Divina (1996)". A "Nemesis Divina" number 2, would probably have pleased some fans of the band, but a release like that would always have been measured aganst its predecessor and would probably have been regarded the lesser release. With "Rebel Extravaganza", Satyricon have created a bleak, harsh, and cold sounding black metal release which is pretty unique sounding in their discography. Some people hear an industrial influence, but I suspect it´s the harshness and coldness of the sound production, which make people hear that, because the actual music does not feature industrial influences. This is dark, aggressive, and raw sounding black metal through and through. Definitely the band´s most harsh release up until then.

Most songs on the 10 track, 60:38 minutes long album are pretty long (two even exceeding the 10 minutes mark) and they are generally not easily accessible although all feature recognisable vers/chorus structures, but they also feature many other sections, which make most of them relatively challenging listening material. The word progressive will probably be misunderstood if used here, but I´ll risk it and call some of the material on "Rebel Extravaganza" progressive inclined. The almost 11 minutes long "Tied in Bronze Chains" which opens the album is for example quite the elaborate song, featuring many different sections.

Upon conclusion "Rebel Extravaganza" is a bold and quite adventurous black metal release by Satyricon and it´s overall a high quality album. It´s not through and through the most consistent release, and a few more memorable moments and tighter song structures could pretty surely have made for a more accessible and catchy listen. Satyricon went in the other direction on "Rebel Extravaganza", which is pretty much as uncompromising as they get, and there is a great charm to the harshness and savagery on display here, which can´t be denied. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SEPULTURA Nation

Album · 2001 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.34 | 24 ratings
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UMUR
"Nation" is the 8th full-length studio album by Brazilian thrash/groove/alternative metal act Sepultura. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in March 2001. It´s the successor to "Against" from 1998 and is the second Sepultura album to feature lead vocalist Derrick Green, after the departure of original lead vocalist/guitarist Max Cavalera in 1996. "Nation" was the last Sepultura album released through Roadrunner Records, as the band didn´t feel the label gave them enough promotional support (a scheduled filming of a music video for "One Man Army" was for example cancelled).

Stylistically "Nation" is pretty much a continuation of the hardcore influenced groove/thrash metal style of "Against (1998)", featuring the occasional ethnic tribal rhythmic moment. Green expands on his already varied vocal arsenal, and in addition to delivering his aggressive raw snarling also sings some clean vocals. The album opens with the heavy groove laden "Sepulnation", and it´s a strong opening to the album. From then on Sepultura treat the listener to many different variations of their style and they can certainly not be accused of being one-dimensional in their songwriting approach. The songwriting is generally pretty creative, and in the end that turns out to be both a strength and a weakness. A strength because "Nation" is a varied and entertaining release throughout, and a weakness because it simply sticks in too many directions and ultimately leaves me wishing for a more stylistic consistent approach. Had that been the case, it´s my conviction that "Nation" would have been an overall stronger release.

The musicianship is strong on all posts, and "Nation" also features a powerful and well sounding production job, so upon conclusion it´s a relatively strong album release by Sepultura. It´s pretty similar in style to "Against (1998)" and I´ve always felt that the two were more or less sibling releases. Also in terms of quality and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is therefore deserved.

SODOM Persecution Mania

Album · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 29 ratings
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"Persecution Mania" is the 2nd full-length studio album by German thrash metal act Sodom. The album was released through Steamhammer Records in December 1987. It´s the successor to "Obsessed by Cruelty" from 1986 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as guitarist Destructor has been replaced by Frank Blackfire. The original vinyl release featured 8 original tracks and a cover of "Iron Fist" by Motörhead, while the European CD version featured a re-recording of "Outbreak of Evil" (the opening track from the 1985 "In the Sign of Evil" EP) and the material from the March 1987 "Expurse of Sodomy" EP as bonus tracks. The cassette version only featured the 9 vinyl tracks and the re-recording of "Outbreak of Evil".

"Persecution Mania" is quite the leap forward for Sodom in terms of memorable songwriting and better musicianship. It´s still a very raw and aggressive sounding thrash metal release (sometimes bordering early death metal), but the songwriting is audibly tighter, more sophisticated, and generally more interesting than the band´s early releases. The addition of Blackfire to the lineup meant a lot. His playing skills were on a high level and his writing contributions also meant the band had more options and weren´t as limited as before.

The band play fast and aggressive thrash metal riffs and rhythms, but they are also capable of slowing down and playing heavy sections too. Lead vocalist Tom Angelripper plays some powerful and heavy bass lines and his vocals are sandpaper raw and snarling, spitting out apocalyptic lyrics about politics, war, and religion. "Nuclear Winter" opens the album in great style and with that song the dark and aggressive tone is set for the remaining part of the album. Not all tracks are equally sophisticated or interesting, but they are all quite effective and designed to pummel the listener.

"Persecution Mania" features a raw and dark yet detailed sound production, which suits the material well. Sodom were still in the early stages of their career at this point, but "Persecution Mania" is actually surprisingly mature sounding, especially compared to their early raw and unpolished releases. It´s not that they didn´t develop their sound further in the subsequent years, but "Persecution Mania" is pretty much the blueprint for the releases to come. A 3.5 (70%) rating is deserved.

SODOM Expurse of Sodomy

EP · 1987 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Expurse of Sodomy" is an EP release by German thrash metal act Sodom. The EP was released through Steamhammer Records in March 1987 and bridges the gap between the band´s debut and sophomore studio albums "Obsessed by Cruelty (1986)" and "Persecution Mania (1987)". The material from the EP are included as bonus tracks on the original European CD version of "Persecution Mania (1987)", and on later re-releases of said album. At the time of original release, the 3 track, 14:50 minutes long EP worked as a teaser release for the album release of "Persecution Mania (1987)" later the same year.

Stylistically "Expurse of Sodomy" is also closer in style to the raw an aggressive thrash metal style on "Persecution Mania (1987)", than to the proto-black/speed/thrash metal sound of "Obsessed by Cruelty (1986)". The sound production is raw and powerful, yet detailed and well sounding and the addition of guitarist Frank Blackfire to the lineup (he replaces Destructor) has meant a lift in quality of the musicianship and songwriting. These guys can play and they can also write an effectful thrash metal tune.

As a consequence of the material from the EP being included on most versions of "Persecution Mania (1987)", the relevance of "Expurse of Sodomy" as an individual release has decreased over the years, but upon original release it was an EP showing great musical progress compared to the early releases by the band. It´s definitely a successful bridge builder between the early releases and the band´s future sound, and more importantly it´s a good quality release deserving a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

SIX FEET UNDER (FL) 13

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.45 | 6 ratings
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"13" is the 8th full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Six Feet Under. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in March 2005, only about 6 months after the release of it´s predecessor "Graveyard Classics 2" from October 2004. "Graveyard Classics 2" was not an album featuring new original material though, but instead Six Feet Under playing the entire "Back in Black (1980)" album by AC/DC. So "13" is the first release with new original material since "Bringer of Blood" from 2003.

Stylistically the material on "13" is unmistakably the sound of Six Feet Under. Predominantly simple and mid-paced old school death metal with some heavy grooves and a brutal growling (and occasionally higher pitched screaming) Chris Barnes in front. If you are familiar with the preceding releases in the band´s discography you´ll find few surprises here. The quality is relatively high throughout though, and most tracks feature memorable riffs, rhythms, or vocal phrases. As usual the lyrics are about violence, death, and gore.

"13" features a well sounding production job, the band are well playing, and as written above the material are generally well written and relatively memorable too, so upon conclusion "13" is another quality death metal release from Six Feet Under and fans of the band and old school death metal in general should find a lot to enjoy here. It´s not that it´s a revolution, but it´s a solid release and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

THE STOOGES Metallic K.O.

Live album · 1976 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 1.50 | 1 rating
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Warthur
Buyer beware - the original release of Metallic KO, the one whose track list is reflected above, was mislabelled, with only the second side actually coming from the final Stooges show and the first side hailing from a worse-sounding gig at the same venue from some four months earlier. So for this purpose, my rating of this will be based on that issue - go look at my review of Metallic 2xKO, one of several versions of the release to include the full final show (and, in its 2CD configurations, the full version of the earlier show too), for my thoughts on that.

Really, though, if you are enough of a collector to want this material, the best way to get it these days is on Cherry Red's You Think You're Bad, Man? box - a modestly-priced 5CD collection which will get you both those shows, plus three others, coming to about as much Raw Power-era live Stooges as anyone could possibly want.

SCARDUST Strangers

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 3 ratings
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bardberic
This review was originally written for RateYourMusic, but I decided to then move it to the Progarchives, now I've decided to copy the review here to the Metalmusicarchives. The review was initially formatted for RYM, so it may look a little unusual here, and I made some minor changes to actual score and the reasons behind it (I had a whole section on the individual track ratings, which doesn't exist on the Metalmusicarchives, so I removed it, plus some other changes). The review still gets its message across here though!

Let me preface by saying that Israel has a very strong progressive metal scene, and it's quite distinguishable, too as many of the bands have influenced one another separately from the larger European and American prog scenes, due to the country's isolation from them. It's similar to how Japan's progressive metal scene has a very distinct sound due to the country's distance from Europe/America. Many Israeli artists work closely with each other, and it's a very tightly knit group of musicians with a local fanbase small enough that the artists often recognize their fans by name/appearance - metal is still quite underground in Israel. With that said, Scardust really seems to be leading the pack at the moment, and this is especially noticeable now due to their recent performance at Wacken. While Orphaned Land is still Israel's largest metal act, they're in a whole different ballpark as the rest of the prog metal in the country, predating the majority of them and actually acclaiming mainstream (by metal standards) success and playing a different style of prog (although even they seem to be heading in the same direction as the rest of the Israeli underground prog scene), but I digress. With Scardust, they epitomize the eclectic theatrical sound for which Israeli prog is known.

Think "Disney metal;" I've heard people call them that before - very upbeat and theatrical with a wide array of influences in a cohesive, yet diverse package. What Scardust has that other Israeli prog metal acts haven't seemed to quite develop yet is refinement - that is a completely polished and confident sound that belongs to them, and them alone.

Edit - 2023 revision: Speaking of "Disney metal," well, well, well... I have just the surprise for any metalhead Disney fan :) You can thank me later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7lS9VQ7840&t=0s

The brains of Scardust largely belong to Noa Gruman and Orr Didi, both classically trained musicians who studied together at performing arts school. Noa claims to have been singing since before she began speaking, and from the beginning of the band's career Noa has proven to be quite a special singer, with many fans comparing her to the greats, such as Floor Jansen (under whom she studied for a while) and Simone Simons. Orr Didi, on the other hand, has been called a musical genius by many people with whom he has worked, including but not limited to Patty Gurdy, who makes an appearance on this album (more about that below). While Orr mostly handles the compositions, Noa mostly handles arrangements and lyrics, with input from other band members of course.

Now for some background information about the album. In 2017 Scardust completed their crowdfunding campaign for their debut album Sands of Time and recorded it and released it in the same year (and I was fortunate enough to attend the release concert as I was interning at an Israeli company that summer). This album was met with a very strong reception. In 2018, they promised to release an album within the next year, however, due to an intense touring schedule in 2019, they couldn't finish the recording before the end of the year. In 2019, they met Patty Gurdy and went on tour with her in the UK. During this period Noa and Patty would form a tight friendship with one another which would lead to them working together on various projects, and coincidentally, they both made an appearance on Ayreon's album Transitus and Alestorm's album Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum. While the compositions and majority of the recording was done in 2019, including but not limited to Noa's trip to the UK to record a children's choir (she claims her flight was only $30 from Tel Aviv to England), they planned for the album to be released in early 2020, with a live show featuring Patty Gurdy to accompany it. Everyone knows what happened, however, in early 2020 with the pandemic situation. Mere days before Patty were to fly to Tel Aviv to play at the live show, record her parts of the album, and play in the music video for the song "Concrete Cages," on which she made her appearance, the flights between Israel and Germany (and the rest of the world for that matter) were cancelled and she was unable to come to Israel for the show. What she did manage to do, however, was play with Scardust live at their pre-release show in Tel Aviv via Zoom, and due to capacity limits at the venue because of the pandemic, they played a pair of shows side-by-side to accommodate all of their fans. She ended up recording her parts of the album at her home studio, while videochatting Noa, in tune to the rest of the world. It would not be until March 2022, two years later, that Patty would actually make her trip to Israel for the music video and a live show.

The Scardust members eventually had to pay for the recording of the album out-of-pocket, largely due to being unable to perform to fund it. The ironic part about all of this is that this album, "Strangers" is all about isolation and estrangement, something we all felt during these tumultuous times and a large chunk of this album had been recorded while the musicians were in isolation like the rest of the world. They were able to release the album in October of 2020, before the end of the year.

The album utilizes the musical concept of theme and variation, such that the album is based around the first musical theme with which it begins as a way to play on the theme of familiarity and estrangement. It started out as a classical piece originally recorded by Orr Didi back in 2017 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG-m7qXKpvE). The songs are organized in an arch form - that is the album consists of five pairs of songs and an overture. Each of these pair of songs were recorded as one long piece and separated at the end of the editing stages, then put on opposite ends of the album to create a familiar sounding second half of the album, as a way to keep better the listeners' attention. The album, therefore, may be listened to the way it is, or the songs could be listened in their pairs.

The pairs are organized as such:



Break the Ice............................................................................(Mist)

.....Tantibus II...............................................................(Addicted).....

..........Stranger...............................................................(Gone)..........

...............Concrete Cages.......................................(Huts)...............

....................Over................................................(Under)....................

....................Under................................................(Over)....................

...............Huts.......................................(Concrete Cages)...............

..........Gone..............................................................(Stranger)..........

.....Addicted..............................................................(Tantibus II).....

Mist............................................................................(Break the Ice)

Therefore, if you notice similarities between the songs within each pair, that was done deliberately. It is especially noticeable, in my opinion, with the Concrete Cages/Huts opus. I actually recommend listening to the album in both its official release order, first, and to each pair of songs as pairs, second. I think it helps enhance the experience.

Strangers is very modern sounding progressive metal album. It has a somewhat thick and layered guitar sound with fairly groovy riffs. The album uses a lot of modern classical, as well as other styles of western classical music, such as baroque, to create a very fanciful and sophisticated sound, that isn't as prevalent on prog today as it was 20 years ago. In this regard, despite the modern sound and production, Strangers takes us back to the era when classical-driven progressive metal reigned king. The largest influences at play here are obviously Symphony X, with the occasional neoclassical metal riffage and classical-oriented progression (as pointed out above), and Dream Theater, with very distant power metal roots and heavy use of pianos and occasional foray into avant-garde territory. I've heard people compare "Strangers" with Rush's "Moving Pictures," and I would agree with that due to similarities with the synthesizer/keyboard and bass. With the more modern sound of this album, Amaranthe comparisons may also be made due to the variety in the vocals (provided by a single woman, no less), and the pop sensibilities - especially on the song "Gone." I suppose Arch Enemy could also be a distant influence here, as well. As mentioned below, this album even crosses into Unexpect territory.

Now for the review:

"Strangers" is the best progressive metal album I'd heard in 10 years, since Israel's very own Orphaned Land released "The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR" in 2010. "Strangers" is cohesive and refined, yet eclectic and ambitious, while creating a brand new sound for itself that melds old school prog with modern prog. And when I say prog I mean progressive metal, not this pseduo-prog pro; that seems to be oh so common nowadays (which isn't necessarily bad, per say). The album showcases elements of celtic folk music, funk, modern classical, jazz, avant-garde metal, amongst other styles, wrapped within its progressive and symphonic metal exterior. All of these elements are brightly displayed in the opening overture.

Every member of the band here shines at one point or another. While many people would call Noa the star of the show, I personally would give that accolade to both Itai Portugaly's keyboard playing and Yanai Avnet's bass playing. How often is it that a band actually puts their bass player at the forefront of the mix? Scardust does and I love actually being able to hear what the bass player is doing. and on this album, he's doing some incredible things. The song "Gone," gives each member of the band a solo in which their strengths are sharply showcased. Noa, of course, showcases the variety of styles she can sing (in rapid succession at that). Yoav displays his ability to play polyrhythms with syncopation and provide a solid foundation for the band to play in odd time-signatures. Yadin displays his incredible virtuosity and ability to play with speed and style (his playing is distinct enough that I could recognize that he was the guitarist on Tillian's album "Lotus Graveyard"). Yanai displayed, also, his virtuosity, but also how well he can play grooves yet retaining a unique sound. Itai displays his incredibly dynamic and eclectic style that allows the band to be as diverse and multifaceted as they are, here. And by diverse and multifaceted, I mean I can make a dozen or so Unexpect comparisons here.

Lyrics on the other hand, are a bit harder with which to resonate. They are, in very Israeli style, not exactly... well subtle. Quite in your face, actually. I suppose for many European listeners, this may not be as much of a problem as we in the Anglosphere will perceive them. Due to the lyrical themes, which are nothing original - we've all heard the "we are isolated," etc. motif before - and can come across as cringeworthy, but if you're like me and don't care as much about the lyrics as the music itself, it's not so much of a problem as it just does not maximize the potential the band has to offer here. My only real complaint with the singing is the five seconds of rapping Noa does in "Over" and the fact that Noa is maybe a bit too technical and sometimes sounds like she's on autotune (and knowing Noa, she'll likely take that as a compliment), and we know she is not.

Unlike most prog (as mentioned above), nowadays, the songs here do not meander much, except for the tracks "Over" and "Under" which I think are the weakest points of the album.

The only true problem for me on the album is the mastering. While the Yonatan Kossov's mixing is very good - it's dynamic, clear, and the instruments stand out well, especially the bass, as pointed out above - I'm not a fan of how loud the mastering is. I've never been a fan of Jens Bogren, who provides the mastering here. Frankly, I wish most bands would stop hiring him as I feel he masters the music way too loud and as a result, they lose their dynamic range and becomes muddy and unclear. This is definitely the case here. At times, the music just seems needlessly loud and the otherwise great production job seems buried under the mediocre overlay that Jens has created here. This album clocks in at a DR of 7, which is better than a lot of other albums in this genre, but it still does sound a bit muddy at times (even Symphony X's "V - The New Mythology Suite," which is a very comparable album to this one, only has a DR of 6, yet somehow sounds better than "Strangers") - the best way to describe it, I suppose, is that the sound feels like it got constrained and can't project itself as well as it should; however, it is not as bad as Orphaned Land's "Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs" (which shares Hellscore as its choir [conducted by Noa herself] with "Strangers") which was actually mixed by Jens Bogren. With "Strangers" I absolutely can tell that the album was mastered by him due to his trademark sound, which I dislike.

Overall, this album is somewhere between a 4.0 and 4.5 - an easy 4.5 if not for the iffy mastering work here. While the tracks on their own aren't as incredible as the album as a whole, the cohesiveness of the album earns it extra points. Due to the fresh air this album breathes, and the impeccable musicianship here, I am giving it a 4.5 rating, despite the master from Jens DR 6 Bogren.

Ultimately, this album is a very strong recommendation for progressive metal fans, of both modern and old school. While "Sands of Time" was a tribute to Scardust's influences, combining the sound of Symphony X with Epica, predominately, "Strangers" displays the sound Scardust has crafted on their own.

ASPHYX Last One on Earth

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 12 ratings
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"Last One on Earth" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Dutch death metal act Asphyx. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 1992, only little over a year after the release of the band´s debut full-length studio album "The Rack (1991)". "The Rack (1991)" featured the three-piece lineup of bassist/vocalist Martin Van Drunen, guitarist Eric Daniels, and drummer Bob Bagchus, but the sessions for "Last One on Earth" saw the former getting fired after completing his vocal tracks, and new lead vocalist/bassist Ron Van Pol being brought in to record the bass tracks.

Stylistically "Last One on Earth" continues the ultra raw old school death metal sound of "The Rack (1991)". It may even be a more unpolished and savage release than its direct predecessor featuring a production job straight out of hell. The guitar tone is so distorted and murky, that it´s not always audible which notes are being played, and the soundscape is generally very noisy and incredibly brutal. If you thought "The Rack (1991)" was a raw sounding death metal release, try listening to "Last One on Earth".

The high level brutality of the music and rawness of the sound production, however also means the material come off a little one-dimensional, and Martin Van Drunen´s distinct sounding voice and tortured growling vocal style is also a bit of an aquired taste. With the opening track "M.S. Bismarck" Van Drunen introduces war themed lyrics, which would become a reoccuring lyrical theme throughout his career (both upon his return to Asphyx but also on his other projects Hail of Bullets and Grand Supreme Blood Court). "Last One on Earth" also features occult/anti-Christian lyrical themes.

Upon conclusion "Last One on Earth" is probably one of the most raw sounding death metal releases I have listened to in my time, and although I perceive myself as a huge fan of old school death metal, this album has always been a challenge for me to get through, because of the extremity of the sound production and the unrelenting brutal assault of the music. It´s not fast-paced and brutal death metal like Suffocation or Cannibal Corpse, but a much more primal version of the style, predominantly staying in mid- to slow paces and very rarely speeding up the tempo. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

TYPE O NEGATIVE The Origin of the Feces

Live album · 1992 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 2.57 | 10 ratings
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"The Origin of the Feces" is a live album release by US, New York based heavy/doom/goth metal act Type O Negative. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in May 1992. It bridges the gap between the band´s debut full-length studio album "Slow, Deep and Hard" from 1991 and their sophomore full-length studio album "Bloody Kisses" from 1993. It´s a bit unusual (although it´s been done before by other artists), to release a live album, when you only have one studio album out, but Type O Negative were never the band to do things in a conventional way. Although "The Origin of the Feces" is credited as a live release, it´s actually a live in the studio recording with added crowd noises. In typical sarcastic fashion, frontman Peter Steele even has arguments with the fake audience (who screams back at him "You Suck") and suddenly the concert stops in the middle of the album because a bomb threat is called in. All manufactured for the entertainment of the listener, and it works.

The original version of "The Origin of the Feces" (which featured a cover artwork with a picture of Steele´s anus) predominantly features re-arranged versions of tracks from "Slow, Deep and Hard (1991)", where the titles of the tracks have been altered. In addition to those tracks the album also features a cover of Billy Roberts' "Hey Joe" (titled "Hey Pete" here) and the Type O Negative original "Are You Afraid", which is exclusive to "The Origin of the Feces" (the song never saw a regular studio version release). Reissues of "The Origin of the Feces" feature a different cover artwork (a black and green portrait of 1493 painting "The Dance of Death" by Michael Wolgemut) and a cover of "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath in a regular studio recording. Type O Negative put their own spin on "Paranoid" and make the song their own. The pace is much slower than the original, and they incorporate the main riff from "Iron Man" too. So while it´s still obvious that it´s "Paranoid" being covered, Type O Negative succeed in doing what any artist who covers another should aspire to, which is making another artist´s song their own.

"Are You Afraid" is a short, dark, and goth tinged track, which points forward to the sound Type O Negative would bring to the table on "Bloody Kisses (1993)", while the material off "Slow, Deep and Hard (1991)" are unconventional doom/hardcore tracks. They have been re-arranged here, and some of them are considerably shorter than the originals. Other than that the biggest changes involve changing some words, choir arrangements, and at one point singing in a British accent. "The Origin of the Feces" features a decent quality sound production, and while it´s not the most interesting release by Type O Negative, it´s still a quality release which is a greatly entertaining listen. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

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