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Everyone’s favorite European metal labels (all 8 of ’em!) have kept busy since I posted the 3 part Spring Roundup music reviews a while back, so here we proudly present another batch of indie, underground and raw black, stoner, power, pagan and traditional metal on tap for your delectation.  Be prepared to be scared…

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Ancient Crypts – Devoured by Serpents (Iron Bonehead)

Prominently noted that this is a tape, so one wonders whether the current odd craze for VHS will spill over to such lo-fi ephemera as the cassette tape (those of us who lived through sound dropouts and loss of fidelity over time, tape snags, squealing, playing at faster or slower speeds than intended and snapped tapes know better).

The 4 song EP itself is rather strong for a retro-minded death metal act, with Testimony of the Ancients-era Patrick Mameli (Pestilence) or Considered Dead-era Gorguts style vocals atop a sound that evokes Death circa Scream Bloody Gore, a dash of that Rick Rozz Massacre feel, and Suffocationesque note squeals in a simplistic, straightforward Grave like song structure.

The title track even has hints of Death Breath in there, though the copy I was given seems to cut out abruptly before “between the mortuary remains” sounds like it should end, resulting in an awkward jump between track 2 and 3.  Interesting, and quite recommended to old school death metal fans looking for a long overdue fix.

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Arkhamin Kirjasto – Undead Priest of Holy Trinity of Death (Ektro Records)

Chanted harmony vocals over thin, fuzzbox guitars and drums in a reasonably spare sounding, Morbid Visions-era Sepultura cavernous reverb mix.  This would be fantastic if it didn’t revert to a more Alex Krull-like cookie monster style vocal on the verses – not offensive at all, just a bit of a letdown.

I’d have thought this more special if they’d retained the former, ala Ghost (at least before the atrocity that was Infinitessimum).   “The Nomad” is more uptempo, 1st album Bathory speedily chugging Motorheadesque thrash that seems promising until you realize the song’s not actually going to go anywhere.  “Spellbound and tortured” falls somewhere between that sound and more recent Darkthrone, and thus works better, but is marred by a sorry attempt at a whole step transposition key change (note to all musicians: this is ALWAYS a bad idea – CF Bon Jovi, Skid Row, etc. etc.  It never works).

Overall, a band with some real promise that one hopes subsequent releases will come a bit closer to achieving.  I liked it.

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Ash Borer – Cold of Ages (Pesanta Urfolk)

Rather lo-fi, symphonically oriented black metal with 16m tracks and a lot of drama.  The vocals are literally utilized as part of the instrumentation, buried lower than the guitars in the mix and so non-prominent that I’m unsure as to whether any actual lyrics are being spoken, or if they’ve got more of a John Tardy vocal ululation thing going on.

As a fan of underground black metal and blackened thrash, I certainly liked it; more discriminating listeners may have a different opinion.  Check it out and decide where you stand…

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Beyond – Fatal Power of Death (Iron Bonehead)

We’re specifically informed that this is “Beyond (Germany)”, so I guess there’s more than one band with this rather generic and (let’s face it) somewhat unoriginal moniker floating around out there.  But don’t let that fool ya – this is some pretty killer old school blackened thrash, once again tapping into the bottom of a well-style mega reverb of the earliest Brazilian thrash acts like Sepultura, Sarcofago and Vulcano, but here accompanied by some serious Morbid Angel meets Dark Angel influences.   Picture Trey and Jim Durkin growing up in Brazil back in the day, and you might get something like this.  Unfortunately, the drumming often devolves into that sort of Sarcofago drum machine-like grindcore blastbeat nonsense, but it’s pretty cool overall, with a very dark and “evil” vibe.  I dug it.

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Bolzer – Aura (Iron Bonehead)

3 song slab of grimness from Switzerland.  Not as good as the bands discussed so far, but nothing to sneeze at either.  Less discriminating fans may dig it more than I did.

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Brutus – Behind the Mountains (Svart Records)

Old school, 70’s heavy rock influenced doom/stoner hybrid that taps into the whole Sabbath meets Mountain vibe.  Not my thing, really, but they do have the right idea.  If you’re a big “classic rock” fan, you may enjoy this one –  it’s certainly better than the overrated likes of Mastadon, but by the same token, it’s no Monstermagnet by a long shot.

They seem to have a thing for Scooby Doo, as their best song is about driving around in a van dubbed the “Mystery Machine”.  Paging Norville Rogers…Zoinks!

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Death Karma – A Life Not Worth Living (Iron Bonehead)

Wow, the production is pretty bad here.  Those of you who’ve had bands back in the day, you know when you try to record a rehearsal on one of those little boom boxes, and make the mistake of leaving it in front of the speaker?  Yeah, that.  Everything is fuzzed out with an unpleasant way into the red level scratchiness to it – guitars, vocals, drums.  The bass and snare don’t so much throb and pound as they sound like someone dropping an exposed electric wire into a bowl of cake mix.  FITZZZZZZZT!

It’s sort of black metal meets blackened thrash, but sounds more death metal-like.  But that production isn’t cool, it just offends the ears.  Hard to judge the music through all the extraneous noise, though they seem fairly standard for the typical Hell’s Headbangers signing, so if you’re particularly immune to crap production, check it out, it doesn’t seem to be too bad otherwise.

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Death Trip – Pain is Pain, the Complete Death Trip (Ektro Records)

hmm.  Sort of postpunk but with more distortion than you’d expect.  There’s a very stilted manner to the way the vocalist intones the lyrics that makes me think they’re Japanese in origin, so that Boredoms influence I’m picking up makes sense.  Japanese punk was always more about visuals than the sound produced (see also Visual Kei as a genre), so don’t expect much here.  It’s odd, but more akin to Iggy Pop on a particularly mellow day doing a cover of “Death Valley 69” with Thurston Moore.  Mercifully brief.

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Goatess – S/T (Svart Records)

More stoner rock.  Not half as good as Brutus, but same rules apply for those into this scene.

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Gris – L’Ame Enflamme, L’Ame Constelle… (Sepulchral Productions)

Middle-fi melancholic black metal with a strong debt to shoegaze and darkwave.  If Miki from Lush or Sam from pre-Scavenger Bride Black Tape for a Blue Girl got really into satan, we’d probably wind up with something akin to Gris.

There’s a bit of the pagan folk influences Ulver brought with them to their first two albums present as well, with acoustic guitars, electric violin and flutes taking prominence at various junctures.  I liked it well enough, though it was hardly a “Burning Love, Heavenly Love”.  Atmospheric and mournful.

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Hexenhaus – Jumelan Kosto (1983-87) (Ektro Records)

Gothic rock meets postpunk, very reminiscent of Joy Division meets the Electric Prunes and more than a dash of early Banshees (or later, The Birthday Party) thrown in to the mix.  If you’re into British music shows from the 80’s like Top of the Pops, Old Grey Whistle Test and Something Else, you’re familiar with the style.

Interestingly, the earlier and later tracks are far superior to those in the middle – tracks 6-9 sound like crap production wise and lean closer to a UK Subs-ish sort of punk.  Bar that little detour, this is very much up my alley, bringing to mind bands as ostensibly far removed as The Jam and Danse Society.  Very cool, very recommended.

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Hopeajarvi – S/T (Ektro Records)

Aggressive yet jangly and melodic guitars akin to Dinosaur Jr. or Matthew Sweet with a young Mick Jagger on vocals.  “kiinostaa” comes close to Sonic Youth in a lot of respects.  It’s weird.

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Impiety – the Impious Crusade (Hell’s Headbangers)

Total Necrophobic worship (which means two steps removed from Morbid Angel worship).  Very aggro and decent for the style, but doesn’t stand out in any real way.  On the other hand, we have…

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Impiety – Vengeance Hell Immemorial (Hell’s Headbangers)

…which is much better, at least for the first two tracks.  Here they have their own somewhat unique identity, and it’s cool enough.  Unfortunately, the next 7 tracks are extreme lo-fi demo material that’s literally too crappy sounding to listen to for very long.  By the time we get to “dragon oath diabolus”, while the quality is still pretty rough, it’s so much improved you wouldn’t believe it.

The rest of the album’s pretty good, though “blessed are the borachos” is just a bunch of drunken metalheads screwing around (no music), and “outronomicon” is an ersatz Survivor “eye of the tiger” followed by the amazingly mature sound of some guy taking a leak.  Thanks, guys.  Reminds me of when Sarcofago, Treblinka and Nattefrost saw fit to have us listen to somebody throwing up on their respective records.  Really?  That’s all you have to say for yourselves?

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Intoxicated – Rock N’ Roll Hellpatrol (Hell’s Headbangers)

If you can put up with the sub-Cronos vocals, this is a pretty cool high-energy USBM record akin to Maax: leaning almost entirely on the first Bathory album and its two influences, Venom and Motorhead.  No complaints there, though like Maax it’s hard to classify – is it really black metal, or even blackened thrash?  Or is it good time biker band aggro rock at a speedy tempo with the distortion pedal jacked up?

Tracks like “sex, drinks and satan”, “metal porno slut” and “slutanic speedmetal” pretty much show where these guys heads are at.  Maybe someday you’ll wander into some Midwestern biker cum strip bar and run into these guys over a keg or two.  Good stuff for what it is.

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Jussi Lehtisalo – The Complete Solo Works (Ektro Records)

Weird mix of ambient and musique concrete, with jackhammer noises and the sound of nails dropping off a ladder or something and not a hell of a lot going on musically.  Fans of Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage or Edgard Varese might not even appreciate this one.  Fail.

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Kolp – the Outside (Temple of Torturous)

Very overdriven, rather lo-fi Mutiilation inspired black metal.  I like who they’re copping from, so I like this too.  Trancey and good to kick back to on a gloomy day.

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Kuolemanlaasko – Uljas Uusi Maailma (Svart Records)

By the numbers death metal that doesn’t stray very far from the template, though it does play with some odd Sigh-inspired keyboard sampled trumpet sounds and a black metal vocal style on “ikuini” and “roihusydan” is just Native American style tribal drums and chanting.  Surface-minded types may argue this somehow makes them different, but trust me, it’s making a silk purse from a sow’s ear – it’s the same death metal template we were digging on back in 1990 with a pair of earrings and a new pair of shoes.  Some of us know that it’s the exact same girl, and she didn’t even try to fix her hair different.  I guess if you’re desperate.

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A Life Divided – The Great Escape (AFM Records)

The sort of radio-friendly, pop-punkish, industrial-lite “metal” that gave us bands like Evanescence, Lacuna Coil and suchlike.  Not bad at all, and certainly melodic and catchy.  It all boils down to whether you’re in the mood for this kind of thing or not.  Vocals are clean, and I kept making mental associations between Jurgen Plangger and Good Charlotte for some reason (though he or a backing vocalist does tap into Gothminister territory here and there for effect).

Nothing to write home about, and teenagers will doubtless find it incredibly deep and tapping into their very souls with its profound lyrics and dramatic expression of the inner pain they’re going through with dating and exams.  The rest of us, it depends on whether you’re looking for something innocuous to put on as background music or not.

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Lux Interna – There is Light in the Body, There is Blood in the Sun (Pesanta Urfolk)

A far less impressive take on Sono Morti’s eerie, sparse gothic western soundscapes.  Stick with the original and blow this one.

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Manegarm – Legions of the North (Napalm Records)

More pagan metal with a dash of black metal to it.  Depends on how big a fan you are of the style.  As a more casual fan (more into the likes of Primordial and Leaves Eyes than, say, Tyr or Turisas), this really didn’t do much for me.  Your turn…

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Masterplan – Novum Initium (AFM Records)

Decade plus old German power metal act which featured Jorn Lande (whose Symphonic I reviewed here) for most of their releases, now sporting Rick Altzi in the frontman role.   Typically for an AFM signing, it’s full of big choruses and quite melodic and radio friendly if not downright catchy, though the booze-soaked gravelly morning after rasp doesn’t really do it for me.

Whoever was sequencing the album sure knew what they were doing, though – all the good stuff is right up front – “the game”, “black night of magic” and the likely single “keep your dream alive” form a hat trick of superior Joe Lynn Turner/Graham Bonnett era Rainbow style AOR that bolsters the comparatively weaker tracks that follow enough to merit a recommendation.

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Nunslaughter – Nunslaughter/Antiseen
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Nunslaughter – The Devil’s Congeries vol. 1 (Hell’s Headbangers)

And now we come to a whole shitload of releases from Hell’s Headbangers long running pet band, Nunslaughter.  Competent if often unspectacular USBM with that typically American boozy biker aspect (think Maax or Intoxicated for the general idea) as opposed to the more traditional, atmospheric feel of the European or French Canadian style yet strangely lacking the blackened thrash feel of any number of Hell’s Headbangers signings.

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The split with Antiseen finds the band in practically a death metal mode, but shows them head and shoulders above the band they’re paired with, who owe more to skinhead punk meets Zodiac Mindwarp in sound.  Yeah, seriously.

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The Christmas EP is a lot more fun, with “deathlehem” being by far the favorite and most likely to wind up on one of my infamous holiday comps for friends.  There’s tracks on here that remind me a lot of Killjoy’s delivery on the better Necrophagia releases (you know, when Phil ‘Anton Crowley’ Anselmo was in the band handling guitar?  Only good thing the man ever did musically…).

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The Devil’s Congeries is the first in a series of compilations of old 7″ releases.  They’re sounding very old school death metal here.   Pretty good, though later in the proceedings we get a very low quality recording of a live show and an even worse set of demo tracks that are so buried in tape distortion, it may be the single worst sound recording ever committed to CD!  That said, the vocals are also the throatiest, and remind one of the first Nihilist demo if not the first Amon recordings, so it’s somewhat of a mixed blessing (or curse, as the case may be).

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Oliva – Raise the Curtain (AFM Records)

Jon Oliva from Savatage goes whole hog on the Styx, Yes and ELP influences thing and delivers some very 70’s Farifsa organ inflected prog rock.  Interesting, I guess, but never was much of a fan of the British end of the prog equation – too stiff and boring, while being really, really happy sounding for whatever reason.  Not my bag at all.

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Silent Leges Inter Arma (Eisenwold Tonschmiede)

One gets the impression they’re trying to be Immortal, but things really derail somewhere along the line, putting this more in the realm of such overhyped yet unimpressive acts as Satyricon, though hardly even that good.  There’s an odd propensity towards American rock style that dominates as well, with prominent string bends and quavers…it’s weird.  In the end, it’s not really black metal at all, in my estimation.

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Sombres Forets – La Mort du Soleil (Sepulchral Productions)

There are albums that seek a sustained mood, and albums that stay in the general orbit of a particular pedal tone or key.  Then there are albums that never change the damn song.  This is a clear case of the latter.  Lengthy builds of ambient piano culminating in discordant, noisy cymbal crashing drumming and overly forefronted Burzumesque screams, then back again.  It literally sounds like the exact same song over and over, with slight variations – same key, same everything.  These “Sombre Forests” echo with mood music for the disturbed.

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Suidakra – Eternal Defiance (AFM Records)

Dramatic trumpet fanfares lead one to believe we’re getting into the sort of territory occupied by pre-Leone/Turulli split Rhapsody or Gloryhammer, though it doesn’t QUITE get there. There’s some male/female clean vocal sections in a number of the songs, and when these are combined with the uptempo double bass driven (almost black metal) feel of several songs, the mix works pretty well.

On the other hand, the snarl/shouted vocal style that alternates with that is wayyyy too generic to actually work in any respect, and when the two clean vocalists are left alone on cheesy Clancy Brothers-style folk ditties, it’s just…nah.  A very schizophrenic effort, almost as if the band can’t quite decide who they want to be.

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Urijuhla – S/T (Svart Records)

Clean, mellow Kajagoogoo vocals over odd, ever shifting backing – one track sounds “desert kisses” era Siouxsie and the Banshees, another sounds almost smooth jazz, others are straight acoustic folk, another sounds like 80’s top 40 radio (think Naked Eyes or Phil Collins)…weird.  How did I wind up with this oddity again?

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Unaussprechlichen Kulten/Godless (Chile) (Iron Bonehead)

Both bands offer straight ahead death metal with a dash of BM feel to spice up the mix.  Godless may be the more confident of the two, or at least sports better production, but neither is all that memorable or stands out from an ever increasing crowd by much, despite the excellent Lovecraft reference…