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metal music reviews (new releases)

AVATAR Hunter Gatherer

Album · 2020 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
One never knows what one is going to get with Avatar, as while they may have started life as yet another Swedish death metal act, they have broadened their horizons greatly since then. Their last album, 2018’s ‘Avatar Country’ was the second-largest independent album in North America upon its debut, reaching #4 (Hard Music Albums), # 8 (Rock Albums), and #25 (Billboard 200 Current Albums) with one major rock outlet even declaring it a heavy metal ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’. While I can never see myself going that far, there is no doubt there is something both strange and compelling about their music.

In 2020 they released their eighth studio album, ‘Hunter Gatherer’, which saw them record with all of them playing in the studio together as if they were onstage, and then putting it down on two-inch tape. When they go for it they really hit hard, but in “A Secret Door” we get groove/death metal along with Roger Whittaker-style whistling, guitars being played like mandolins, huge riffs and hooks which sees them move into the likes of Linkin Park. It is commercial but given what they are doing it really shouldn’t, as there is no way this mess should work, yet it does. Some bands have tried to move out of the Swedish death scene and failed miserably, yet these guys really have managed to bring something together which is mixing loads of many styles and somehow having it all make total sense while also never really settling. One never knows what is going to happen next as they can be in full flight and then drop into some keyboards or just blast along and never change, coming across more as power metal than anything else, but always with a heavy bottom end. Fans of the band have become used to never knowing what each album is going to sound like, and while I cannot speak for the whole of the back catalogue I can see that this one is worth checking out as it brings together nu metal, groove metal, melodic death, industrial, and the kitchen sink.

HEATHEN Empire Of The Blind

Album · 2020 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Empire Of The Blind" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash metal act Heathen. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in September 2020. It´s the successor to "The Evolution of Chaos" from 2010 and while it hasn´t been 19 years like it had been between "Victims of Deception (1991)" and "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)", 10 years between album releases are still a lot of years and a long waiting time for the faithful and dedicated fans. Not surprisingly there have been a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as bassist Jon Torres has been replaced by Jason Mirza and drummer Darren Minter has been replaced by Jim DeMaria. Guitarists Lee Altus and Kragen Lum, and lead vocalist David White, remain from the lineup who recorded "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)".

Apparently 10 years between album releases and changing the rhythm section haven´t changed much, because "Empire Of The Blind" more or less sounds like it could have been released a year after "The Evolution of Chaos (2010)" and it could easily have been released by the exact same lineup, although Heathen seem to have gone for a slightly more concise songwriting approach on this one, as the tracks are generally shorter than on the predecessor.

Stylistically Heathen play a melodic yet still powerful style of thrash metal. White can both sing raw and more melodic, sometimes even touching US power metal styled vocals. He definitely wouldn´t be out of place on an Iced Earth album or anything in that vein. The instrumental part of the music is technically well played, varied, and very interesting in terms of the powerful playing rhythm section, the razor sharp thrashy riffs, but also the many melodic leads, harmonies, and guitar solos. The guitar work on the album is nothing short of amazing.

The material is well written, varied, and effective, and "Empire Of The Blind" also features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production (courtesy of Zeuss), which suits the material perfectly. In other words a consistently strong and high quality thrash metal release. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

THE DEAD DAISIES Holy Ground

Album · 2021 · Hard Rock
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
The Dead Daisies have had a revolving door of members since their eponymous debut in 2013, the only ever present member being Australian guitarist David Lowy. Practically a who’s who of hard rock, members who’ve come and mostly gone include bassist Marco Mendoza, vocalist john Corabi, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Doug Aldrich, drummer Brian Tichy and drummer Deen Castronovo as well as some high profile guests like Slash and Jimmy Barnes. The band have so far released four never less than solid studio albums, the pick of the bunch for me being 2016’s Make Some Noise. After 2018’s Burn It Down vocalist John Corabi and bassist Marco Mendoza jumped ship. A great loss to any band but the perfect time to bring in Glenn Hughes, replacing both of them in one go. Hughes and Aldrich already have history, the guitarist having played on one of his solo tours back in 2015 I believe it was, one of the dates in Newcastle I was lucky enough to have seen.

It’s clear from the off that bringing in Hughes was the smartest move the band could have made. As soon as the title track Holy Ground kicks in its apparent that he’s had a big influence on the band’s sound. Of course there’s his vocal. I’ve long held the belief that his powerful and soulful delivery is the finest in rock but on a musical level a lot of the songs could have sat comfortably on many of his solo albums. Holy Ground is undoubtedly the bands finest album to date but all the credit can’t be given to Hughes who with one or two exceptions has made his strongest albums in band settings – Trapeze, Deep Purple, Hughes/Thrall and most recently Black Country Communion. The Dead Daisies are on fire here with eleven songs of hard hitting rock bursting with big riffs and powerful hooks backed by top notch musicianship. Every song here is a killer, even the seemingly obligatory ballad Far Away that closes the album which Hughes’s soulful vocals fit perfectly and Aldrich reels off perhaps his best guitar solo on the album. There’s also a cover of Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole. The Daisies seem to have at least one cover on every album but here they make the song their own adding power to the original and also featuring Castronovo sharing vocals, a fine singer in his own right.

It’s perhaps on the other nine tracks where the real gems lie though where the band really kick ass, heavier than they’ve ever been. The songs, mostly mid-pace, have plenty of groove and are driven along by the powerful Hughes/Castronovo rhythm section overlaid by Aldrich and Lowy’s crushing and infectious riffs. Favourites include Like No Other (Bassline) for strongest hook and a pummelling dirty bassline and perhaps Hughes’s finest vocal performance on the album. Then there’s Unspoken, the first song unveiled by this line-up and a grand statement of intent that really made me very impatient to hear the rest. Righteous Days is another highlight for the same reasons that I’ve already mentioned above but as I already said, every song here is a killer.

In view of the many line-up changes this band has had and Hughes seems to get itchy feet fairly often, I really hope this incarnation can hold it together for a few more albums as they work so well together and it’s hard to see how they could improve on this formula they’ve developed. An early contender for album of the year for sure.

THERION Leviathan

Album · 2021 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It’s hard to believe that THERION began as a somewhat generic sounding old school death metal band when it was founded by Christofer Johnsson all the way back in 1987 but after a sluggish beginning which step by step morphed into full-blown symphonic metal by the time the 1996 album “Theli” wooed the critics and hi brow metalheads into the cult, THERION had done the unthinkable and crafted a brilliant new metal sound that took metal music further into the world of Western classical and opera than ever attempted. The results were riveting and brilliant and catapulted the band to international fame.

THERION kept this momentum going all throughout the 2000s with one excellent album after another that slightly reinvented the overall recipe laid down on “Theli” however beginning with “Sitra Ahra,” Johnsson was obviously getting bored with the band’s signature sound and started experimenting and while the albums thought the 2010’s were interesting, they lacked the focus and enthralling hybridization effect that album’s like “Secret Of The Runes” and “Gothic Kabbalah” had so perfectly captured. This all led up to the band’s most ambitious effort yet, 2018’s triple album “Beloved Antichrist” which tamped down the symphonic metal a few notches and instead delivered a whopping 3-hour rock opera.

While the project sounded like a good idea in writing, the results were very lackluster as the album lacked any sort of cohesive gratification despite exhibiting brilliant performances in bits and pieces. The album was a huge flop and fans were wondering if perhaps THERION should call it a day and go start a philharmonic orchestra somewhere in an undisclosed location in the Swedish countryside. The fiasco that was “Beloved Antichrist” pretty much kept fans wondering what THERION’s next move was going to be and finally in 2021 we have a new album that makes it all so clear just what that next move is. In short THERION has proposed another ambitious project only this time it will disperse its grandiose visions in a three album set that will be released by the following LEVIATHAN sequels in 2022 and 2023.

This is basically what we call damage control as Johnsson is obviously not going to disband the profitable cash cow called THERION which has an international following and dedicated fanbase. LEVIATHAN (bad album title considering the mega-popular Mastodon album) pretty much backpedals to the band’s style around the turn of the millennium and could easily fit anywhere in between “Vovin” and “Sirus B.” What is presented here is a tried and true and very well performed collection of eleven tracks with an impressive lineup of various vocalists, both male and female sopranos delivering divine operatic performances accompanied by sizzling metal guitar, bass and drum backing. As always at this point in THERION’s career, this is a big budget production with a great number of guest musicians and extra instrumentation that includes hammond organ, violin and lots of drumming diversity.

As far as a THERION album goes, LEVIATHAN is indeed a return to form and pretends that the whole “Beloved Antichrist” backlash was just a bad dream however at the same time these grounds have already been covered and no matter how well these tracks are performed (and they are perfectly executed), it just feels like THERION has gotten stuck in a certain moment in its career that it will never escape from due to the fact that the band is popular and therefore obligated to kowtow to the fanbase. Despite these apprehensions to continue down a more experimental path, as a true THERION fan myself, i’d prefer to have the band release experimental flops like “Beloved Antichrist” than to retread that which has already been accomplished two decades ago. THERION will always be a band i have a soft spot for so i can never rate an album this beautifully performed very low but it certainly doesn’t get any extra love for creative growth. This is about as THERION by the books as it gets still though LEVIATHAN is quite an enjoyable album.

VOIVOD The End of Dormancy

EP · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The End of Dormancy" is an EP release by Canadian progressive/thrash metal act Voivod. The EP was released through Century Media Records in July 2020. It´s a 3 track, 22:31 minutes long release, featuring a version of "The End of Dormancy" from "The Wake (2018)" (the band´s preceding album release) with added trumpets, saxophone and trombones titled "The End of Dormancy (Metal Section)", a live version of the same track and a live version of "The Unknown Knows" (the studio version of that track is featured on "Nothingface (1989)"), recorded at Montreal Jazz Fest 2019. A video was also released for the new brass version of "The End of Dormancy".

The inclusion of the brass arrangement to "The End of Dormancy" works really well and gives the song a bombastic quality. Voivod experimentet with string arrangements on "The Wake (2018)" (on "Iconspiracy" and on "Sonic Mycelium") and now with a brass arrangement on "The End of Dormancy", see them come out as victors. I´d not give that trend up just yet as those experiments definitely provide some spice to Voivod´s already adventurous songwriting approach. The live version of "The End of Dormancy", which also features the brass arrangement, and the live version of "The Unknown Knows" are both well performed and both also feature a good quality live sound.

Listening to the same track twice on a release (although in two different versions), is seldom something which pleases my ears and I can´t say this EP changes that. So while the quality of the performances, the material, and the sound quality of both the studio track and the two live tracks are of a high quality, the EP as a full listening experience does suffer slightly from the live version of "The End of Dormancy" directly succeeding the studio version on the tracklist. I think it would have worked better if "The Unknown Knows" had been placed between the two versions of the title track. So there´s nothing wrong with the content of the release, but a good tracklist flow is important too, and that´s where this EP score low. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still fully deserved.

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ANGRA Rebirth

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 34 ratings
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lukretion
Rebirth: it would have been hard to find a more fitting title for Angra’s fourth full-length album, the first after the band split in two and was left for dead at the time by many specialized magazines. Singer Andre Matos and the entire rhythm section comprised of Luís Mariutti and Ricardo Confessori departed to form Shaman, leaving guitarists Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt to pick up the pieces. The duo recruited Felipe Andreoli (bass), Aquiles Priester (drums) and Edu Falaschi (vocals) to try and keep the Angra ship alive. But the album does not feel like a rebirth just in terms of its revolutionized line-up. It is also a musical rebirth, after a record, Fireworks, that was probably too ambitious for its own good and ultimately felt a bit like a mixed bag.

Rebirth does not waste any time to let the listener know that things have changed. In this sense, opener (after the obligatory orchestral intro) “Nova Era” is a strong statement of intents. The Brazilian folk experimentations of the past line-up are considerably toned down (though they still surface on a couple of songs) in favour of a more direct and fast-tempo speed/power metal approach that immediately showcases the talents of the new line-up, particularly of drummer Aquiles Priester and singer Edu Falaschi. Although Falaschi does not have the unique charm of Matos’ voice, his range is impressive and his crystalline delivery shows that Angra have found an excellent substitute for their iconic former singer. Elsewhere the album moves in more progressive territories, with songs (“Millennium Sun”, “Unholy Wars”, “Running Alone”) built around complex structures, tempo changes, extended instrumental passages, and great orchestral arrangements, courtesy of Günter Werno from German prog metallers Vanden Plas.

These tracks are what elevates Rebirth above the standard power metal sound that one can find aplenty on albums released in the late 1990s / early 2000s. At the same time, the music is more streamlined, direct and powerful than what typically characterizes a prog metal release. In this way, Rebirth walks the fine line between the two worlds, pleasing fans of standard European (and especially Italian) power metal as well as those of more progressively-inclined bands like Queensrÿche and Dream Theatre.

In large part, Rebirth is a success story as the tunes are pleasant, accessible and at the same time sufficiently varied and multifaceted to keep things interesting. But, as a prog metal aficionado, I cannot help but miss the drive to experiment and push things forward and in unexpected directions that had characterized the earlier work of the band. It is particularly songs like “Acid Rain”, “Heroes of Sand” and “Judgment Day” that haven’t aged very well: lacking a strong melodic presence and deprived of interesting forward-thinking moments, these tracks fall a bit flat and bog down an album that remains nevertheless better than average.

[Also posted on progarchives.com and metal-archives.com]

EQUAL MINDS THEORY Equal Minds Theory

Album · 2011 · Mathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
There are some pretty bleak places in the world. Places so bleak i can’t even begin to imagine how horrible it must be to grow up there. The city of Norilsk, Russia has to be one such location situated above the Arctic Circle and the center of the largest known nickel / copper / palladium mining scene in the entire world. Combined with incessant frigid cold, darkness and air pollution i would imagine that young Russians growing up there would either turn to drugs and alcohol to cope or to take the different route of escapism through an art form. The quartet of Anton (guitar), Vlad (bass), Vova (drums) and Sasha (vocal) chose the latter path when they formed the sludge punk / mathcore band EQUAL MINDS THEORY in 2005.

Having had enough of the remote frigid lands of the midnight sun, EQUAL MINDS THEORY wisely relocated in the city of Moscow where it has become one of Russia’s leading noisemakers in the vein of other mathcore monsters like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Psyopus, Converge and early Car Bomb. So far this band has released a few EPs but only this eponymously titled 2011 release counts as a bonafide full-length with a running time of 37 minutes exactly. This band is all about pent up energy release with caustic explosive delivers of grindcore, hardcore punk and mathcore bombastically erupting like a failed nuclear bomb factory having a Hiroshima styled meltdown.

The beauty of EQUAL MINDS THEORY though is that despite the unrelenting rage through sound, the band is no one-trick pony delivering a monotonous one-dimensional presentation of angsty youth dressed up in techy nerdiness. This album of eleven tracks features a nice variety of stylistic shifts, varying tempos and dynamics that include glacially slow melodic guitar licks that feature electronic atmospheres and unexpected breaks. The band engages in the tried and true dissonance effect where the guitars are out of tune and a creepy atonality creates a darkened atmospheric presence much like the endless Arctic Russian winters of the band’s origin.

“Bad Moon” for example is a slow atmospheric murkiness like a frigid Arctic river trickling through ice floes however “The Flood” showcases the band at its most bombastic with frenetic dissonant guitar attacks at quickened tempos and rhythmically complex time signature brutality. Sasha delivers the usual core metal style of vocals with growly screams at top decibalage while the triumvirate guitar / bass / drum action of the Anton / Vlad / Vova provides a pummeling blitzkrieg attack of mathcore achieving its utmost ferocity. While this would surely become stale if overdone, the band has grasped the need for diversity which is provided in abundance.

Elements of sludge metal ( a nice core hybridizing style of metal) provide the basis for the slower oft doomy processions. The album, like most of the mathcore ilk, provides short but condensed bursts of energetic orotundity but the closing track “The Icebreaker” deviates from the rest of the album by cranking out a sluggish 14 minute behemoth which serves as a creepy atmospheric comedown from the monstrous attacks that precede (although it’s intense in a sludge metal way). All in all, Norilsk should be proud as it spawned a captivating energetic breed of youth determined to chisel its way through the permafrost and into the throes of the modern dark recesses of one of extreme metal’s most exclusive enclaves of extremity. As far as mathcore albums go, this one is excellent in how it juxtaposes many elements together to craft a compelling album’s worth of material.

ANTAGONIST Вечность Смерти

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
One of the many modern extreme metal bands to emerge from the vastness of the Russian Federation, this band ANTAGONIST comes from the far eastern city of Vladivostok and formed in 2017 with the members of Dmitry Strobykin (bass), Roman Kim (drums), Tatiana Markova (guitar), Andrey Primachenko (guitar) and Roman Kayukov (vocals). This seems to be a popular name for metal bands as there is a tech trash band from Wisconsin, USA, a California based metalcore band and yet another thrash metal band from Germany. While this was forgivable before the advent of the search engine, all i can ask myself is why would a band take a name that has been used in such abundance?

This ANTAGONIST for some reason uses an English moniker but has released its debut album Вечность Смерти (BYESH-na-ya SMYER-tee) which means “Eternity of Death” in the Russian language with all the track titles and lyrics in Russian. Whatever the case, ANTAGONIST is a ferocious band that performs a thrash metal infused mix of death metal and does a fairly decent job in cranking out ten strong tracks which hover around the 43 minute mark. This is pretty much by the books thrashy death metal with the emphasis on melodic hooks but done so bombastically with twin guitar ferocity and slower breakdowns between the rampaging riff monster attacks.

In fact the breakdowns are out of the metalcore playbook but for the most part the thrash metal riffing made more intense with blastbeats and other death metal elements dominates Вечность Смерти. The band is quite competent and performs this style of music like a champ but in the creativity department this is pretty mediocre as it sounds like a generic blueprint rather than a band that has found its own voice however ANTAGONIST doesn’t really sound like any other band particularly either. To my ears the rampaging metal style is more akin to tech thrash giants Vektor with some deathcore elements thrown in. Some thrash guitar solos also join in.

The guttural growling vocal style of Roman Kayukov is perfectly done but becomes a little monotonous as does the compositional one-dimensionality of this album. Not a bad listening experience when you just want to zone out to some kick ass death metal with thrash and core elements but there really isn’t anything on Вечность Смерти that invites a return visit. Perhaps a welcome live band for a remote setting such as Vladivostok but if ANTAGONIST wants to compete on the now global market, these guys need to step up their game a bit. The musicianship is certainly there.

ИМПЕРИЯ Наёмники

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Coming from the city of Temryuk, Russia which sits just across from the southern Ukrainian enclave of Crimea, the band Империя ( Imperya ) which means “Empire” is one of those bands that formed all the way back in 1995 but never had the chance to release any product until recently. Apparently the brainchild of the duo of Roman Aguryanov (guitar) and Alexander Aguryanov (vocals), the band offers little info about its history but has had many lineup changes over its 25 years of existence.

While remaining an independent band, Империя ( Imperya ) has finally released its so far only album in 2019 titled Наёмники ( Nah-YOHM - kee ) which translates into “Mercenaries” which are of course soldiers of fortune who fight for a cause and often resort to violence. This band is obviously not interested in a greater international audience since all song titles and lyrics are in the Russian language but in the modern world where foreign languages add an exotic flair, i suspect that many non-Russian speakers will still be interested.

What we have here is Russia’s answer to Amon Amarth as Империя ( Imperya ) delivers a convincing and competent version of melodic death metal with local folk flavors fortified with catchy melodic hooks and death metal bombast complete with the growly vocals however Империя ( Imperya ) is certainly no one-trick pony and does a great job at implementing various tempos and dynamics to keep this short album of just under 31 minutes from becoming too derivative or in any way stale.

While the main melo-death flavors may remind of Amon Amarth, the band is talented enough to offer various personal stamps such as the call and respond differing vocal styles on “Безымянный” and the ferocity displayed on “Славим” showcases the band’s tight knit all out assault with the twin guitar attacks of Kiril Kucherenko and Roman Aguryanov whizzing around the bombastic rhythm section of bassist Petr Lemeshtenko and drummer Eldar Mekhtiev.

While i would hardly declare Империя ( Imperya ) a band to get hugely excited about at least in the terms of creativity, for those who love the melo-death sounds of bands like Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Insomnium and of course Amon Amarth, Империя ( Imperya ) does deliver a high quality album that is in the same league as its predecessors probably due to the fact that the core members have been at it since as far back as 1995 when this style of melo-death was coming of age.

THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER Miasma

Album · 2005 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Miasma" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Michigan based death metal act The Black Dahlia Murder. The album was released through Metal Blade Records in July 2005. It´s the successor to "Unhallowed" from 2003 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Cory Grady has been replaced by Zach Gibson.

The material on "Miasma" pretty much continue the melodic death metal style of "Unhallowed (2003)". It´s sharp, predominantly fast-paced and energetic melodic death metal, and features both deep growling vocals and high pitched screaming vocals. It´s all delivered by skilled musicians who are more than capable of handling their instruments with great conviction and passion. At 10 tracks and 33:48 minutes of playing time "Miasma" doesn´t overstay its welcome and the relatively short playing time is perfect for this release. The Black Dahlia Murder simply don´t write varied enough material for much longer releases. It´s a criticism which sounds much harder on paper than it is actually meant, because if you give "Miasma" enough spins, the tracks begin to stand out a bit more. Ultimately a bit more variation between tracks could have made "Miasma" a more memorable release though (the same can be said about most of the band´s albums).

With that out of the way each track featured on the album is still an incredibly powerful and catchy listening experience on an individual level. Not a single track is of a sub par qaulity to the rest, and the consistent quality of the tracks and the skillful delivery of the material are some of the greatest assets of the album. "Miasma" features a powerful and detailed sound production too, which is another great asset and upon conclusion it´s a high quality album through and through. The lack of variation between tracks is a minor issue, but not enough for me not to grant the album a 4 star (80%) rating.

SEANCE Awakening of the Gods

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Awakening of the Gods" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swedish death metal act Seance. The album was released through Pulverised Records in January 2009. Seance were formed in 1990 and released two studio albums before disbanding in 1998. Three of the five members who played on the band´s second full-length studio album "Saltrubbed Eyes (1993)" reunited in 2008: Miqūe Flesh (drums), Tony "Toxine" Vargfrost (guitars), and Johan Larsson (vocals, bass). They added second guitarist Rille Rimfalt to the ranks and recorded "Awakening of the Gods" as a four-piece.

Stylistically Seance pretty much pick up where they left off on "Saltrubbed Eyes (1993)". It´s relatively diverse death metal, with quite a few thrash metal influences in the riffs and rhythms (and even the occassional traditional heavy metal/hard rock influnced moment), but also a few nods towards deathgrind. The latter is a minor part of the band´s sound, but there are a couple of fast blasting parts featured on the album, which point in that direction. It´s not an album which follows a particular style/scene sound (for example old school Swedish death metal, or the more technical US variant), but it´s not a unique sounding release either. The vocals are deep growling, but the growls are unfortunately a bit one-dimensional in style. The instrumental part of the music is very well executed.

"Awakening of the Gods" features a raw and powerful sound production, and the songwriting is also of a decent quality. That doesn´t mean that it´s an outstanding release by any means, but it´s a solid release, which is enjoyable enough while it plays. It´s pretty much the same feeling I had listening to their preceding releases. Solid death metal, but not outstanding. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

PYREXIA Age of the Wicked

Album · 2007 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Age of the Wicked" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, New York based death metal act Pyrexia. The album was released through Unique Leader Records in January 2007. It´s been 10 years since the release of "System of the Animal" from 1997, but while the band didn´t release anything in those years other than the "Cruelty Beyond Submission" compilation in 2004, they were far from inactive as they teamed up with Trevor Peres (Obituary) in 2000 and released "The Cleansing (2001)" album under the Catastrophic monicker. It was a relatively short lived project though and band leader/guitarist Chris Basile soon opted to continue with the Pyrexia name instead. Basile is the only remaining original member of the band, and in fact he is also the only remaining member of the lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Somehow the material on "Age of the Wicked" still sound like Pyrexia though. Brutal technical death metal with a hardcore edge. The latter is as dominant an influence here as it was on "System of the Animal (1997)". An integral part of the band´s sound. While Pyrexia are probably tired of being compared to Suffocation, it is the most obvious reference, although the hardcore influences are more audible when it comes to Pyrexia. The vocals are for example not conventional growling, but more a combination of growling and deep aggressive hardcore shouting (no screaming core vocals) and many of the heavy grooves are also hardcore influenced, although they are presented in a death metal context.

The material on the 10 track, 30:04 minutes long album is relentless in its intensity and brutality. It´s like being punched in the face throughout the full playing time. There´s not a second wasted on breathers, and it´s almost impossible to sit still while being treated to one aggressive and groove laden brutal track after another. It´s sharp, it´s hard edged, and it´s furious and raw...but it´s also a bit one-dimensional. Not that the band aren´t good at incorporating tempo changes and breaks, but it´s still not an album where the tracks stand out much.

It´s not a major issue and the band have also wisely kept the playing time at half an hour, which means the album doesn´t overstay its welcome, but a little more variation and hook laden moments wouldn´t have been a negative. "Age of the Wicked" features high level musicianship and a raw and well sounding production, so while there is a small issue with the songwriting being a bit one-dimensional, it´s still a quality release deserving a 3.5 star (70%) rating.

MEGADETH Countdown to Extinction

Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 122 ratings
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UMUR
"Countdown to Extinction" is the 5th full-length studio album by US thrash/heavy metal act Megadeth. The album was released through Capitol Records in July 1992. It´s the successor to "Rust in Peace" from 1990, which was an album, which received a lot of critical acclaim. While the material on "Rust in Peace (1990)" were primarily written by lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine, "Countdown to Extinction" features more contributions from the rest of the band and it´s obvious the lineup of Dave Mustaine (vocals, guitars), Dave Ellefson (bass), Nick Menza (drums), and Marty Friedman (guitars) had now settled a bit more into the role of a permanent band. "Countdown to Extinction" went on to become Megadeth´s most commercially successful album, selling more than 2 million copies (US double platinum status).

Stylistically the material on the 11 track, 47:31 minutes long album is generally less thrash metal oriented and not as fast-paced as the material on its predecessor. There are quite a few more traditional heavy metal elements and more focus on melody on "Countdown to Extinction" than the case was on "Rust in Peace (1990)". When that is said Megadeth were never the most savage thrash metal act on the scene, and all preceding releases also feature a healthy dose of tradtional heavy metal elements and focus on melody. This time around it all just sounds a bit more planned and structured, which means the tracks are generally instantly accessible and catchy. That doesn´t mean this is simple music by any means. The songwriting is very sophisticated, and there are many intriguing compositional details featured throughout the album. The lyrics are also quite interesting, dealing with topics like politics, environmental/social issues, and consequences of crime/punishment.

The musicianship are on a high level on all posts. Mustaine´s voice and singing style will always be an aquired taste, but he arguably provides the band´s music with something unique. He has audibly honed his skills on this release, and he now "sings" more than ever. The rhythm section play organic and sharp, the riffs are powerful and delivered with skill and precision, and the lead guitar work is stunning.

One of the greatest assets of "Countdown to Extinction" is that each and every track featured on the album stand out, and while tracks like "Skin o' My Teeth", "High Speed Dirt", and especially the iconic "Symphony of Destruction" are probably some of the most known tracks off the album, all tracks are highlights worth a mention. You honestly can´t say that about that many album releases. While every track is unmistakably the sound of Megadeth, there is also great stylistic diversity between the tracks. Some are relatively fast-paced and energetic like "Skin o' My Teeth", "High Speed Dirt", and "Ashes in Your Mouth", some are mid-paced and heavy like "Symphony of Destruction" and "Architecture of Aggression", some feature great focus on melody like "Foreclosure of a Dream", "This Was My Life" and the title track, and some feature twisted humour and a different take on thrash/heavy metal like "Sweating Bullets" and "Psychotron".

"Countdown to Extinction" is produced by Dave Mustaine and Max Norman and the album features a clear, detailed, and powerful sound, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion "Countdown to Extinction" is another high quality release by Megadeth. They already left a bit of their frenetic fast-paced thrash metal sound behind on "Rust in Peace (1990)", but "Countdown to Extinction" is an even less thrash metal oriented release. At least in the respect that it´s a much heavier and only occasionally fast-paced album. Megadeth haven´t however lost any of their appeal here, and although "Countdown to Extinction" overall was the most mature and sophisticated release by the band up until then, there is still plenty of aggression and heavy riffs featured on the album to satisfy most thrash metal fans. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.

OVERKILL Immortalis

Album · 2007 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.29 | 17 ratings
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"Immortalis" is the 15th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash metal act Overkill. The album was released through Bodog Music in October 2007. It´s the successor to "ReliXIV" from 2005 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Tim Mallare has left and has been replaced by Ron Lipnicki. Randall Blythe (Lamb of God) guests on vocals on "Skull and Bones", singing with Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. A promotional video was shot for "Skull and Bones".

Stylistically the material on "Immortalis" continues the thrash/groove/heavy metal style of "ReliXIV (2005)". "Blitz" sounds as driven and rock´n´roll badass as ever with his rough voice and screaming vocal style, and the rest of the band also deliver their parts with the right amount of conviction and passion. This is obviously a skilled and seasoned band playing and right from the opening track "Devils in the Mist" to the closing track "Overkill V" we´re treated to high level performances.

The material is well written too and compared to the predecessor, "Immortalis" features a few more tracks which stand out. This along with a relatively well sounding production, makes "Immortalis" one of the better albums in the less remarkable part of Overkill´s discography. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

DROTTNAR Stratum

Album · 2012 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.55 | 3 ratings
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"Stratum" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Norwegian extreme metal act Drottnar. The album was released through Endtime Productions in October 2012. It´s been six long years since the release of "Welterwerk (2006)", and I was beginning to think that Drottnar had folded, but they return on "Stratum" with exactly the same quintet lineup who recorded "Welterwerk (2006)".

Stylistically the material on "Stratum" continue in a similar technical black metal style to the style on "Welterwerk (2006)". The world war II themed lyrical concept is gone here though, and the lyrics on "Stratum" are more focused on despair and philosophy. The latter with a Christian angle, although the lyrics aren´t preachy or tasteless praises to the Lord. They do suggest though that believing in something greater than yourself could be a way out of the despair and sadness of this world. Wether you believe in that attitude or not, I think it´s a fair opinion and personally I don´t feel like I`m being preached to.

I remember listening to "Welterwerk (2006)" and experiencing a sense of disbelief that I was listening to a technical black metal release. That´s not something you´ll hear everyday. Not that black metal can´t be well played and quite technical in nature, but it´s seldom one of the primary focuses of the style. Drottnar are a very different beast though and there is great focus on technical fusion influenced playing on both "Welterwerk (2006)" and on "Stratum". Although not as obviously jazzy (nor as insanely complex), a black metal version of Atheist isn´t the worst comparison I could make. The unfortunately rather obscure Polish band Shadows Land is another valid reference.

Drottnar are not only a very well playing unit, handling quite technical playing with what seems like ease, but they also write some pretty intriguing music. Loads of tempo changes and breaks, odd fast-paced technical moments (which sometimes remind me of early Mastodon), dissonance, and the rare more atmospheric section. The vocals are a blackened type of aggressive snarling. "Stratum" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sounding production too, so upon conclusion it´s a high quality release by Drottnar. I´m not sure why it took 6 years to release (apparently it was already recorced in 2009), but it was worth the wait. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

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