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metal music reviews (new releases)

IHSAHN Ihsahn

Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 3 ratings
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As one of the pioneers of symphonic black metal with his innovative band Emperor, IHSAHN together with his buddy Samoth left the 90s as one of the most influential and popular black metal bands of the entire decade. While Emperor would stop making albums in 2001, IHSAHN focused on his side project Peccatum briefly but ultimately reemerged as a solo artist in 2006 with a shift to a more progressive avant-garde metal sound that still retained the core elements of black metal. It all began with “The Adversary” and some 18 years later IHSAHN is still cranking out quality experimental metal with his latest self-titled eighth album once again capturing the attention of the world of extreme metal.

Deviating significantly from 2018’s “Àmr” which saw IHSAHN approaching a more commercial sound at times, this eponymously titled release looks back to the Emperor years and rekindles the spirit of symphonic black metal only this time he replaces the synthesized embellishments with a fuller orchestral sound courtesy of advancements in sampling technologies. While orchestrated metal albums are hardly anything new, IHSAHN delivers a anew approach that eschews a mere symphonic backing and rather features two independent musical scores laid upon each other resulting in not only a more dynamic symphonic metal approach but also by spawning a secondary release that features the orchestral side of the equation exclusively.

Almost sounding like Emperor is playing over a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack of some sort, IHSAHN crafts his usual mix of nerdy progressive metal replete with all the avant-garde elements that makes him exist in a world of his own along with the black metal raspy vocals, thundering guitar riffs and percussion to match. The album that features 11 tracks at nearly 49 minutes is reminiscent of some of Dimmu Borgir’s later releases that offer an equal playing field for the orchestral musical score that oft soars above the black metal mania. And while the album sounds like IHSAHN has been accompanied by an entire philharmonic orchestra at times, the guest musicians only add up to three additional percussionists and a violinist leaving IHSAHN the chore of handling vocals, guitar, bass and orchestral sampling.

IHSAHN is actually quite a diverse album (would you expect anything else?) with varying tracks that features clean vocal led prog metal as on “The Promethean Spark” to full out raging black metal on such tracks as “A Taste Of The Ambrosia” but scattered throughout are tidbits of pure classical orchestration as heard on the opening “Cervus Venator” and the middle intermission “Anima Extraneae.” Tempos vary, dynamics vary and stylistic approach may but the gist of this is a mix of crunchy black metal in tandem with classical orchestrations. Tracks like “Blood Trails To Love” feature a mix of the clean vocal prog metal with the raspy more extreme black. While hinting at Emperor’s past glories, the metal on this release isn’t nearly as full throttle as such magnus opuses as “In The Nightshade Eclipse.”

Overall IHSAHN is a decent album but it’s a bit uneven with no clear stylistic approach really dominating. While that can become a good thing if the sum of the parts add up to something more profound, this album seems a bit scattered which at times reveals both the metal aspects and the orchestral ones seem to cancel each other out a bit. The novelty of orchestral metal has long worn off and the execution of this seems less than satisfying. The addition of dreadfully long moments such as the album’s 9-minute version of a ballad - “At The Heart Of All Things Broken” is actually really cheesy and i seriously would love to cut that entire track from the playing list.

The album seems to lose steam too much with half-assed percussion and metal that doesn’t get up to full force. The orchestral parts just seem to dance around and don’t really offer a very memorable experience either in a meaningful way. All in all it’s a decent album but hardly one of IHSAHN’s best. All the rave reviews about this bely it’s downsides. I was somewhat impressed on the first listen but more attentive listening sessions reveal serious flaws that i can’t shake. The patchiness of the album ruins its flow but as on all IHSAHN albums there are more than enough moments of triumphant victory. As a true fan i couldn’t imagine not owning this but it certainly won’t rank as a top contender for favorite IHSAHN releases.

SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of The Last Human Being

Album · 2024 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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Emerging from a long hiatus, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum make a triumphant comeback. With an orchestra backing them, absolutely pristine production, and themes as dark and foreboding as any they offered up on their original run of three albums, this is a purified and intensified take on their distinctive musical approach, a terrifying metal-in-opposition meditation on human extinction and other weighty topics which runs the full emotional gamut from ethereal beauty to apocalyptic terror.

Not only do the band sound like they've not missed a beat - and in fact, they never did with many of the members having continued to work with each other in Free Salamander Exhibit, perhaps nodded to in the opening track here. Moreover, they began working on much of this material in 2010-2011 (and SQPR, a This Heat cover, hails from as far back as 2004) and have been gently working on it ever since, meaning this album has been brewed, distilled, and refined over the span of a decade. The end result might be the best expression they've ever offered of their creative vision, a keystone which ties their body of work together and which in retrospect it feels like their earlier albums were building towards all along. With many of the band members equally adept at rock and classical instruments, and Nils Frykdahl giving Mike Patton a run for his money in terms of vocal acrobatics, the Museum deploys its full bag of tricks here expertly, everything used purposefully and thoughtfully to best effect.

For a group which started out resembling an avant-prog take on Mr. Bungle, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum have only forged ahead into yet stanger territory; here they make Mr. Bungle's most alienating moments seem outright smooth and approachable by comparison, but never become dryly technical, maintaining an impressive command of atmosphere and emotion for the whole 66 minute running time.

MEZZROW Summon Thy Demons

Album · 2023 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Summon Thy Demons" is the second full-length studio album by Swedish thrash metal act Mezzrow. The album was released through Fireflash Records in April 2023. Mezzrow formed in 1985 under the Necromancy monicker but changed their name to the current one in 1988. They recorded two demos under the Mezzrow monicker before being signed for the release of their debut full-length studio album "Then Came the Killing", which was released by Active Records in 1990. "Then Came the Killing" ended up being Mezzrow´s sole album release in their original run, as they disbanded after recording a 1991 demo. They shortly reunited in 2005 which resulted in the release of the "...Then Came the Video" compilation video release, but it wasn´t until 2021 that Mezzrow opted for a more serious reformation. Only two members remain from the lineup who recorded "Then Came the Killing" but 33 years down the line that´s perfectly understandable. The members who remain from the debut album are lead vocalist Uffe Pettersson and bassist/backing vocalist Conny Welén. New in the lineup are Jon Skäre (drums), Magnus Söderman (lead guitars), and Ronnie Björnström (guitars).

To my ears "Then Came the Killing" was close to being a Testament worship release, and while "Summon Thy Demons" is arguably a more mature, meaty, and heavy release, featuring influences from other more melodic thrash metal artists like Forbidden and Heathen too, Testament is still a big influence on Mezzrow´s sound. So it is in the field of the more melodic (yet still aggressive and edgy) Bay Area thrash metal sound that Mezzrow deliver their sharp thrashy riffs and rhythms.

"Summon Thy Demons" features a heavy, powerful, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well and fans of latter day Forbidden and Heathen releases shouldn´t be disappointed at neither the songwriting style, the high level musicianship, or the sound production values of the album. There are many similarities to what artists like those produce these days. So upon conclusion "Summon Thy Demons" is a welcome comeback release from Mezzrow and fans of the genre should find lots to appreciate here, although it´s doutbful they´ll find anything here they haven´t heard before...but that´s not really the point with this type of release now is it? A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

JUDAS PRIEST Invincible Shield

Album · 2024 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.55 | 9 ratings
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A swirling keyboard line introduces Panic Attack, the first song on Judas Priest's latest album, Invincible Shield - sounding nothing like any of the prior dabbling in synthesisers and more like they've been dipping a toe into the synthwave scene. No, it's not a radical shift in direction - just an atmospheric intro which gives way to metal fury once the song kicks into high gear, offering the most electrifying opening track on a Priest album since Painkiller.

And it never, ever lets up after that! After the excellent Firepower found Priest playing in a very direct, go-for-the-throat style which went back to basics, this one sees them elaborating the song structures a bit in a manner reminiscent of their 1970s material whilst still keeping the sound fresh, offering a sound with blends the fury and pace of Painkiller, the pristine production of their mid-1980s material, and the edge of transgression and defiance they've been offering up since the 1970s, encapsulating the best of all of their classic eras whilst still finding novel and exciting songs to play in this style.

A particular tip of the hat is needed for Glenn Tipton, who despite his Parkinson's still manages to contribute to the album, helping out with songwriting as he always has and putting in a few guitar solos here and there. Andy Sneap of Sabbat fame, who's served as Tipton's stand-in for the band's live shows ever since he stepped back from in-person performance, is credited with additional guitar, as well as fully taking on the producer's role (having co-produced Firepower), and he does a fine job of all these tasks, engineering the album to perfection as well as giving Glenn that essential backup. Given how key he's become to the band's activities these days, we should surely start thinking of Andy as Judas Priest's unofficial sixth member; he'd deserve it based on his contributions to this album alone, but combine that with his sterling work on Firepower and the grand job he does live filling in for Glenn he's surely become as crucial as any of the tenured band members.

Think of any other band who've been going as long as Priest, putting a new album out some 50 years after their debut; nine times out of ten, that new album's going to be a bit of a nostalgia exercise, a process of going through the motions which will appeal to ultra-fans but doesn't really offer much over their more compelling work they put out in their prime. Now look at Priest: it's easy enough to say that Invincible Shield beats the living daylights out of Rocka Rolla, that's a notably weak debut which more or less all of their albums bar for Demolition or Jugulator beat comfortably.

But for Invincible Shield to measure up credibly next to the likes of Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class, or Painkiller? That's astonishing - and yet I really think it does. Judas Priest are an inspiration to all the rest of us: if these lads can keep the flame burning after half a century, if Glenn Tipton can keep contributing as he does here despite his Parkinson's, then that's a challenge to all of us to face whatever challenges life throws at us with equal determination. Perhaps that conviction and self-belief - and confidence that their listeners can discover that same fire within them - which is Priest's true Invincible Shield.

DEFILED The Highest Level

Album · 2023 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"The Highest Level" is the seventh full-length studio album by Japanese, Tokyo based death metal act Defiled. The album was released through Season of Mist in April 2023. It´s the successor to "Infinite Regress" from January 2020 and it features the exact same quartet lineup who recorded the predeceding album. Defiled are by now one of the most prolific and dare I say legendary death metal acts from Japan, and they´ve pushed the boundaries of the genre more than once.

Stylistically the material on "The Highest Level" is technical and quite brutal death metal. Suffocation is not the worst reference, but Defiled have always had...and still have their own take on the genre. They play an interesting combination of almost hardcore punked and simple death metal and quite brutal and technical death metal, occasionally spiced up with some Voivod influenced dissonance. One of their greatest strengths is the pairing of the savage, raw, and primitive, and the more sophisticated and complex technical parts of the compositions. I struggle to remember any other death metal artists who sound like Defiled...and then again "The Highest Level" is actually their most "regular" sounding release yet, and I was initially a little disappointed that they sounded this normal. But when you dig a little deeper, "The Highest Level" still features quite a few unconventional and challenging moments, so Defiled haven´t completely forgotten what makes them stand out.

After releasing a few albums which have featured what I would deem near experimental sound production values, Defiled have now opted for a more (again) normal/standard for the genre type sound production. To some ears that´s probably a relief and an opportunity to give Defiled a chance again, if your ears weren´t able to appreciate the production oddness of the last couple of releases, but to my ears it´s a bit of a shame, as all the weirdness in regards to both the actual music, the performances, and the odd sounding production jobs of the last couple of albums, were the elements which made Defiled stand out on the death metal scene. So while "The Highest Level" is arguably another high quality death metal release from Defiled, it´s unfortunately their least interesting release in years...please bring back the weirdness. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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CROWORD The Great Beyond

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Based in Vienna but formed in the central Austrian city of Judenburg, CROWORD (often stylized as CroworD) is the brainchild of bassist Lukas Rappitsch who formed the band in 2012 after recruiting Martin Karner (vocals), Michael Karner (guitar), Florian Bogensberger (guitar) and Gabriel Cresnar on drums. They made somewhat of a splash with the debut EP “Manifest of Mortal Sickness” in 2016 and has been gaining momentum ever since but still doesn’t seem to be quite well known outside of its native Austria.

Inspired heavily by the Gothenburg scene of melodic death metal, this quintet has so far released two EPs and this sole full-length THE GREAT BEYOND which came out in 2017, features 12 tracks and adds up to just over 51 minutes of playing time. The album was produced in the band’s own studio with André Alvinzi who has worked with Insomnium and The Foresaken in the producer’s seat. The mastering was done by Jens Bogren of At The Gates, Opeth and Katatonia fame.

Sounding like a veritable mix of Amon Amarth, Dark Tranquility and perhaps a touch of Edge of Sanity, CROWORD delivers a convincing melo-death style that would make you swear they emerged from the southern lands of Sweden. The music features the typical melo-death characteristics of dueling guitar harmonies with distorted down-tuned riffing. The Amon Amarth comparison really ring true with lead singer’s Martin Karner’s deep guttural growling but the music isn’t quite as epic as that Swedish powerhouse.

While mostly an aggressive head banging journey from beginning to start, moments of clean guitar tones with slow melancholic moments do occur particularly on tracks like “Wall of Blackness (Part I) and (Part II).” Chunky riffs with blazing lead guitar solos underneath dominate the soundscape with a bouncy bass groove and diverse array of drumming styles. Generally speaking the band delivers the right mix of aggressive gnarly death metal with the typical melodic guitar sweeps in the vein of classic heavy metal. While as unintelligible as any guttural growly death metal, lyrics are inspired by medieval legends of the Alps and the works of Aldous Huxley, Michael Ende, Antoine Saint-Exupéry and Franz Kafka.

Overall this is a decent band that has absolutely nailed the classic Gothenburg melo-death sound but doesn’t quite add enough original imprints to make this stand out amongst the hoards of competition. Musically speaking these guys are incredibly talented and deliver this style of metal without flinching. It’s not exactly a clone of any particular band but sort of falls between the cracks of various Gothenburg metal bands thus sounding somewhat distinct but not instantly obvious that that’s the case. All in all this is certainly an entertaining listen and displays CROWORD as a veritable act that ready to hit the big time if only they could find some unique spin to break free from the somewhat generic approach they display here.

OBSOLENCE Inner Voice

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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OBSOLENCE (also stylized as ObsolencE) is an obscure metal band that comes from the eastern Polish city of Siedlce and has been around since 2014 but although still officially active has so far only released one single and this one EP titled INNER VOICE which came out in 2017.

This EP features five tracks at over 32 minutes of playing time and the band’s style is a mix of post-metal and atmospheric sludge metal along with a few death metal elements such as growly vocals and death-doom riffing. Progressive elements are also scattered throughout the mix. The music is on the slower side with a groove sort of like Tool or Incubus only with a lot more dynamics. The death metal moments remind me of Opeth’s early works.

Although the EP flows by at a very relaxed pace the moods shift from dreamy post-rock type passages with clean vocals to heavier death-doomy post-metal. All the tracks are well played but seem to revolve around the same basic idea making the EP a tad on the monotonous side however the pros are that the various tones and dynamics offer variations that are interesting.

On the positive side OBSOLENCE sounds a bit unique even though it often reminds me of some of the alternative and prog death metal bands of the 90s and the occasional reference to the death-doom sounds of Katatonia or similar bands. The band is pretty good at the mellower atmospheric parts but doesn’t deliver to my satisfaction with the death metal tidbits.

Overall this is a decent release that is somewhat unique however the music itself doesn’t really rise above average. It sort of just drifts along with some clean moments here and then some heavier there without really developing any particular song structures. While the band has all the sound effects down and the clear talent to pull it off at this point it lacks any sort of strong songwriting skills. Decent if you like deathened post-metal but nothing too overly exciting. Also i don’t find the vocalist has enough range to breathe life into the project.

TITANIUM Atomic Number 22

Album · 2016 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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TITANIUM is a power metal band from Ostrów Wielkopolski, Poland founded by Karol Mania in 2010 after he moved on from his previous band Abigail. Somewhat of an obscurity so far TITANIUM has released two albums and an EP first beginning with the “We Come To Rock!” EP in 2012 followed by the self-titled debut full-length in 2013. This second and so far final chapter of the TITANIUM saga, ATOMIC NUMBER 22 came out in 2016. The band is considered active but apparently on some sort of hiatus.

This is a typical by the books type of power metal band that consists of Ukrainian born Konstantin Naumenko (vocals), Karol Mania (guitar, keys, backing vocals), Jarek Bona (guitar), Paweł Gębka (bass) and Filip Gruca (drums) with the usual suspects of Helloween, Gamma Ray and Blind Guardian being the primarily influences. This album features nine original tracks plus the bonus Stratovarius cover “Eagleheart.” The album was released on the Japanese Avalon label which has many top dog metal bands including Pain of Salvation, Ark and Sonata Arctica.

While not dripping in originality, TITANIUM certainly displays a firm command of the demanding power metal genre. The band offers a crisp tight unit of thundering guitar riffs, pummeling bass and percussion and a more than competent vocalist with Konstantin Neumenko and the band delivers a high intensity style of power metal that is as heavy as the sturdy metallic element that the band is named after. TITANIUM delivers the expected power metal traits that include highly addictive melodies set to rampage mode in the instrumentation plus a few slower tender moments.

Naumenko’s vocal style is top notch and soars like an eagle with high octave performances that take your breath away. He got his feet wet in the Kyiv, Ukraine based power metal band Sunrise. Founder Karol Mania is the star of the show though with his excellent guitar work that doesn’t quite approach the neoclassical shredding of similar bands but is still way above average. He also handles all the keyboards, programming, orchestral elements and is the primarily songwriter and lyricist. While power metal can sound a bit generic, his songwriting strengths offer an interesting tweak on the limited power metal structure.

The album features 11 tracks that add up to 54 1/2 minutes with the usual power metal stylistic approach that has been the standard since Helloween’s classic “Keeper of the Seven Seas” masterworks however TITANIUM expresses its creativity in how it conveys these standard power metal sounds. Overall the production is excellent as well as the mixing and ATOMIC NUMBER 22 sounds like a true professional release. The tracks vary enough to keep the oft generic flow of power metal from creeping in and given that all the performers are at the top of their game, ATOMIC NUMBER 22 is a compelling release to experience.

True this won’t go down as one of the most cutting edge power metal albums out there but it more than makes up for it in its high quality instrumental interplay. Despite that the band has everything going for it and is actually one of the best power metal bands from Eastern Europe i’ve experienced so far with all the special ingredients that make power metal so dynamic. Scrumptious melodies, intricate solos, exquisite variations between tempos, dynamics and rhythmic cadences. With a bit more of creative infusion TITANIUM could actually soar into the top ranks of power metal. Highly recommended for fans of Scandinavian power metal such as Stratovarious or Lost Horizon.

REEFER Bow Before the Altar of the Drugs

Demo · 2013 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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"Bow Before the Altar of the Drugs" is the first demeo recording by Danish death/doom/stoner metal act Reefer. The demo was released through Smokedd Productions in February 2013. Reefer was formed in 2010 by drummer Inhalator (real name Eik B. Sørensen) and lead vocalist/guitarist Grim Reefer (real name David Buch Mikkelsen). The latter is quite prolific on the Danish death metal scene and is also known for his work with death metal acts Undergang and Phrenelith (among other projects). Bassist Weed Wizard joined in 2013, completing the trio lineup who recorded "Bow Before the Altar of the Drugs".

As expected from reading the title of demo this is some fuzzed out, crushingly heavy stoner doom metal but with brutal unintelligible growling vocals. It´s like listening to the bastard child of Electric Wizard and Mikkelsen´s Undergang. The latter influence is however only heard in the sleazy, gritty, and morbid sounding atmosphere and the vocals, as the instrumental part of the music is repetitive and slow stoner doom metal, of course with lyrics centered around Marijuana. It´s only a few times during the playing time that Reefer play some noisy fast parts, but they only last for a few seconds when they occur.

Featuring three tracks and a total playing time of 25:40 "Bow Before the Altar of the Drugs" is a relatively long demo and all tracks are 7-9 minutes long, giving the band plenty of time to play their ultra heavy riffs and rhythms over and over again. The sound production is of a good quality considering that this is a demo recording, and upon conclusion "Bow Before the Altar of the Drugs" is a decent quality release. There´s nothing here you haven´t heard before and Reefer won´t win any prices for innovation or for being the most intriguing stoner doom metal act on the scene, but they aren´t the worst either. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

UNDERGANG Søm til din ligkiste

EP · 2013 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Søm til din ligkiste" ("Nails for your coffin") is an EP release by Danish death metal act Undergang. The EP was released through Me Saco un Ojo Records in August 2013. It bridges the gap between Undergang´s second- and third full-length studio albums "Til døden os skiller" (2012) and "Døden læger alle sår" (2015).

"Søm til din ligkiste" features three tracks and a total playing time of 12:23 minutes. All material on the EP is exclusive to this release. "Obduction" ("Autopsy") and "Afrevne lemmer" ("Torn limbs") show Undergang playing shorter more direct old school death metal with a Swedish death metal influence not heard that much on earlier releases. It´s still rotten, filthy, and gore drenched death metal with low in the mix unintelligible growling and sometimes higher pitched juicy screaming vocals, but just slightly different from what came before.

"Rædselsfuld" ("Terrible") concludes the EP and it´s a longer and slower death/doom oriented metal track which is crushingly heavy and slugish, but no less brutal and slimey than the first couple of tracks. "Søm til din ligkiste" is well produced featuring the right gloomy, raw, and gritty production values, which perfectly suits the material.

Upon conclusion "Rædselsfuld" is the highlight of the EP and the two slightly faster and shorter tracks aren´t quite as developed nor as intriguing and varied as the longer closing track, but they are still good quality old school death metal and they both bear the unmistakable mark of being Undergang songs. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

FUNEBRARUM The Dead of Winter

Split · 2012 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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"The Dead of Winter" is a split release featuring one track by US death metal act Funebrarum and one track by Danish death metal act Undergang. The split was released in February 2012 through Doomentia Records. Both tracks were upon release exclusive to this split. "The Dead of Winter" was released as a promotion item to promote the two band´s European tour in February 2012.

Both Funebrarum and Undergang represent the filthiest, most cavernous, and organic type of old school death metal you can get your hands on, and both bands deliver good quality material here. "Delusions in the Sheltered Tombs" won´t disappoint fans of Funebrarum with its predominantly death/doom pace and brilliant morbid lead guitar work, and "Kloakkens Afkom" is a crushingly heavy and brutal death metal track too. The latter was recorded during the fall of 2011, so it was not recorded during the sessions for "Til døden os skiller", which was released only a week before this split. If you´re familiar with "Til døden os skiller", the sound producction on "Kloakkens Afkom" will also give that away, as it´s quite different from the almost simoultaniously released studio album. Upon conclusion this is a high quality split featuring quality exclusive material from both artists and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ENFORCED At The Walls

Album · 2019 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.64 | 3 ratings
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"At The Walls" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Virginia based thrash metal act Enforced. The album was released through War Records in July 2019. Enforced formed in 2016 and released two 2017 demos before being signed for the release of "At The Walls". While "At The Walls" is considered Enforced debut full-length studio album, it´s actually more a compilation album, as the album consists of remixed versions of the seven tracks from the two 2017 demos, and only two new original compositions. The tracklist opens with the two new tracks, then the three tracks from the second 2017 demo "Retaliation" and closing the album with the four tracks from the "Demo 2017" demo. The tracks are as a result presented in diverse order in terms of the time of recording.

Stylistically the material on "At The Walls" is aggressive, heavy, and punchy thrash metal with crossover influences. The crossover elements (hardcore tinged riffs and rhythms, brutal heavy breakdowns, riot gang backing vocals) are most prominent on the tracks from the "Demo 2017" demo, and less and less prominent on the more recently composed tracks. While the material are generally well composed and effectful, Enforced´s greatest strength is their aggressive and brutal delivery of the music. They are a well playing unit, handling both fast and heavy parts with equal conviction, delivering sharp riffs and screaming solos. The vocals are raw and shouting, and suits the instrumental part of the music well. I hear influences from artists like Slayer, late 80s/early 90s Sepultura, and various crossover/hardcore acts. A contemporary artists like Power Trip is a valid reference too.

While there is a difference in style between the most recent tracks and the earliest demo tracks, "At The Walls" is still a relatively consistent release, and the quality of the material is overall high. "At The Walls" is also well produced and upon conclusion it´s a promising debut album by Enforced. A few more hooks/memorable moments and a little more variation in the way the vocals are performed would have made "At The Walls" an even more interesting release, but a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

CATTLE DECAPITATION Cattle Decapitation / Caninus

Split · 2005 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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"Cattle Decapitation / Caninus" is a split release by US, California based deathgrind/death metal act Cattle Decapitation and US, New York based grindcore act Caninus. The split was released through War Torn Records in October 2005. Cattle Decapitation are known to most fans of extreme metal but Caninus are a bit more obscure...and rightly so, as their two lead singers are two pitbulls called Basil and Budgie (yes...their vocalists are two dogs...).

Cattle Decapitation takes us through six short and violent deathgrind tracks, which are pretty much in character with their other contemporary releases. So this is before they added more death metal elements to their music, the odd gnarly clean vocals, and became slighly more accessible. It´s good quality deathgrind, but that´s about it.

The Caninus tracks are downright bizarre. The instrumental part of the tracks are pretty standard grindcore, but it´s impossible not to crack a smile when the two dogs growl, snarl, and bark their way through the ten Caninus tracks featured on the split (they even perform a cover of Agnostic Front). A novelty act they may be, but this is damn funny and a crazy idea...I´m entertained.

This kind of split is a bit hard to rate as on one side you have some pretty standard quality material from Cattle Decapitation, and then you have this complete craziness from Caninus. I´ll go with a 3 star (60%) rating because of the entertainment level.

FLESHCRAWL Festering Flesh

Demo · 2021 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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"Festering Flesh" is a reissue demo recording by German death metal act Fleshcrawl. The demo was released through Xtreem Music in July 2021. Fleshcrawl formed in 1987 as Morgöth, but changed their name to Suffocation and released a couple of demos under that monicker before changing their name one final time in 1991 to Fleshcrawl. "Festering Flesh" is a reissue of the second demo recording the band did in February 1991 while still called Suffocation, but now re-released under the Fleshcrawl monicker.

All four tracks from the 21:27 minutes long demo would be re-recorded and included on Fleshcrawl´s 1992 debut full-length studio album "Descend into the Absurd", which of course provides this reissue under the Fleshcrawl monicker with a bit more credibility. These are actual demo versions of songs which would later be Fleshcrawl material.

The quality of the recordings is decent but pretty raw and rough around the edges, which of course isn´t unusual for a 1991 death metal demo. They probably even cleaned it up a little, so the original probably sounds even more raw and lo-fi. Stylistically Suffocation/early Fleshcrawl were pretty interesting as they played both fast-paced brutal death metal but often also took their music down the doomy depths. The versions of these tracks found on "Descend into the Absurd" are arguably better recorded and a little more mature, but these demo versions are still worth a listen simply because this is some really good quality old school death metal. A 2.5 - 3 star (55%) rating is warranted.

HELLVETO Autumnal Night

Album · 2002 · Pagan Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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HELLVETTO is just one of the many projects of the one-man act Filip Mrowiński better known as L.O.N (Light of Night) who operates out of Ostrołęka, Poland. Although HELLVATTO is his most famous alter ego, L.O.N. single-handedly also releases music under the monikers Blakagir, Neoheresy, Sarkel and Winds of Garden. Trouble getting along with others perhaps? The HELLVETO world began in 1995 followed by several demos and a split with Herrgorn before this debut AUTUMNAL NIGHT was released in 2002 on the Sanguinae Maremagnum label.

One of the most prolific artists in black metal, as HELLVETTO, L.O.N. released sixteen albums from 2002 to 2012 before dropping the name and changing it to Neoheresy. AUTUMNAL NIGHT set the stage for HELVETTO’s dramatic sound that mixed classical symphonic / orchestral elements with Pagan black metal. This debut features 10 tracks that add up to 52 1/2 minutes of playing time. HELLVETO handles all instruments including guitars, bass, drums, synthesizers as well as the orchestral arrangements with both raspy growls and clean vocal styles.

In many ways HELVETTO sounds like Summoning where the black metal is not the dominant feature but rather on an equal playing field with other elements in this case being the dramatic opera singing that often sounds like HELLVETO is being joined by a liturgical choir. The raspy vocals also remind a lot of Summoning’s Silenius however the orchestral classical segments make it sound like a black metal band ambushed an opera and then joined in. Other similarities can be made with Norway’s Limbonic Art as well as moments that remind me of early Nokturnal Mortem especially with the overlong “Intro / Switez” that is right out of the “Goat Horns” playbook.

I have mixed feelings about AUTUMNAL NIGHT. On the one hand it’s a very unique album that takes the classical orchestral sounds to levels most black metal bands wouldn’t even consider but to the point where they often dominate the album for too long. The compositions are well thought out and the dynamic flow of the album is quite intriguing but on the other hand the production and mixing is crap. Sure lo-fi works well for the more raw and brutal forms of metal but on AUTUMNAL NIGHT the black metal parts are set too low in the mix while the oft cheesy keyboards are set too high. Overall it’s an interesting release with lots of choral vocal styles offering a beauty and the beast effect with the raspy outrage.

While Ihsahn is getting a lot of praise for his 2024 release that mixes orchestral elements with black metal, many are unaware that HELLVETO was doing the same thing long ago however AUTUMNAL NIGHT was pretty much finding L.O.N. lingering in demo mode and his mastery of production and mixing would improve as time goes on. Musically i love this but the production is so wrong it hurts. Still though L.O.N. has proven to be a musical mastermind of both black metal and dark ambient styles for several decades now and seems he is in no danger of burning out any time soon. Sometimes the drifting into opera can be a bit too much but overall the orchestral classical moments are pleasant.

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