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It’s about that time again.  With a plethora of material passing across my virtual desk (hint: what is the meaning of life, they asked Deep Thought…), it’s only fair to air out the closets and give you fine folks my own well informed take on what’s floating around out there vying for your listening dollar.  So take heed, you may learn a thing or two…or at least share a few laughs.

Before we get this show on the road, I should note that a few months on, my appreciation for a number of previously reviewed acts has increased: Sepulchral Productions’ Monarque, Niege Eternelle, Gris and Sombres Forets, Nordvys’ Grift and Temple of Tortuous’ Kolp.

Most of these got a good review at the outset, but I still felt that was deserving of mention, given the onslaught of music that’s passed my way in the intervening months. Whether due to their more trancelike feel or no, I find these albums have made fairly consistent accompaniment to my workday, while other albums have come and gone in the interim. Cheers, all.

With that out of the way, onward to the festivities…

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Acherontas – Amenti – Ψαλμοί Αίματος και Αστρικά Οράματα (World Terror Committee)

More Watain worship, this time from Greece. It’s pretty good for the type, coming surprisingly close to the band’s obvious mentors in quality, and tapping into an Arabic/Egyptian motif as well. That said, matters never stray too far from template, making it another argument against stem cell research – how many clones do you need?  Depends how much you want to fill your cabinets with the stuff – you may love pasta, but after a while, you start to notice it’s all the same starch, the same flavor cut into different sizes and shapes. Being more into the meat than the potatoes half of the equation, I’m getting tired of seeing the same side of fries on my tray, every single time. Sure, they may be damn good and tasty, but enough already. Let’s have some variety for a change…an original thought, anyone?

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Altars – Paramnesia (Nuclear Winter Records)

Death metal with a dash of black metal flair and a lot of weird 90’s nu-metal going on. For the most part, their sound is more droning and trancelike than death metal, with flurries of tremolo picked notes. They also have a tendency to break off into slower instrumental sections which show that their drummer can actually handle a bit more than the usual triggered double bass and that horribly retarded blastbeat thing everyone seems to resort to whenever they’re lost as to how to handle keeping time to black metal guitars. Never have been impressed by that, never will be… That said, it’s still too weird for my taste, with a lot of dissonant, detuned atonal fiddling that brings the aforementioned 90’s scene to mind. Prong goes death metal or something.

So this begs a caveat. Death metal to me is Scott Burns and Morrisound or Tomas Skogsberg and Sunlight, with maybe a dash of Colin Richardson. For the most part, everything that’s come out under the banner of “death metal” post-1995 has been a disappointing regurgitation of what came before, with ever diminishing results. There are some definite exceptions (Deathchain, Mors Principium Est and early Tribulation come immediately to mind), but face it, guys…it’s pretty much over, and releases like this, while competent and certainly listenable, aren’t really going to change my mind. Certainly decent by comparison to what’s been coming out over the last 15 years, but no classic for the ages.

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Black Magician – The Pursuivant (Svart)

Tag another one to the occult rock checklist, complete with chugging Sabbath-style guitars, some very welcome Hammond organ, and a Cronos-like sprechgesang with a touch of a weird accent (which is funny in and of itself, considering they’re UK based). Title track and the instrumental “black henbane” are both rather good, but there’s a throwaway sandwiched in the middle called “grene knight” that wouldn’t be out of place on a latter day All About Eve record (and I mean after they lost all traces of their Siouxsie meets Gene Loves Jezebel roots). I’m guessing they were trying to be diverse, but blech. Looking forward to the next one, just skip the hippy dippy stuff next time around, guys.

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Castleumbra – Cthulu Wgah’nagl Fntagn (Nuclear Winter records)

OK, I admit it, any band coming in talking Lovecraft for a whole album has my ear right away. Sounding more than a bit like Carcass (albeit an ersatz version without Jeff Walker) keeps my attention. It’s a bit muddy and grindcorish at times, but I’m not talking production here, which is pristine – this is the sound they seem to be aiming for, all squishy and tentacled Elder Race. Almost good enough to get me to modify my earlier comments about the value of death metal since the passing of its heyday in the early to mid 90’s. Tag these guys onto my good list. Recommended.

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Church of Void – Dead Rising (Svart)

Some guy with a clogged nose, possibly three sheets to the wind, tharth drawling out thome thtuff that thoundth like a croth between lame-o era Metallica and Kyuss. I like the guitar sound, but it’s not urgent or oppressive enough to qualify for classification as doom. Too heavy for your average boring old “classic rocker”, too light and inoffensive for your typical extreme metaller, and not retro enough for your traditional metal fan. So who is this really designed to appeal to? Zakk Wylde fans maybe? Alice in Chains grunge holdovers?

Again, I like the guitar sound and a lot of the riffing (there’s a really cool one late in “the owls are listening” – you’ll know which one I mean immediately), but as a whole, the album never really hooks you, there’s no solos to speak of, and it generally seems to go nowhere, just sort of droning on like inoffensive background music. I’ve heard much, much worse, but this hasn’t exactly won me over either.

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Claes Andersson, Kalevi Seilonen, Erkki Kurenniemi, Otto Donner – Sähkö-shokki-ilta (Ektro)

Remember the (really) early 70’s? Everybody drugged out of their minds and looking for Van Danikenesque UFOs to come out of the skies and deliver us to space judgment or whatever?

Yeah, me neither, that was before my time too. But we’ve all heard enough early Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream to get the idea. Bleep, bloop, burble. Aren’t these wall-sized electronic tape loop units and proto synthesizers amazing? I imagine if you’re doing some heavy psychedelics, this will take you way out there, man…otherwise, no idea why this one is back out on the market.

Apparently this was the audio of a rehearsal for some sort of late 60’s/early 70’s poetry “happening”, though there doesn’t seem to be a lot of verse being recited. Bring out your oil lighting effects and pass the dutchie or lick the stamp, I guess…

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Deadlock – The Arsonist (Napalm)

Never mind the overly detuned guitars that are so low they sound like basses, what we’ve got here is yet another band who makes the mistake of thinking that they really need to continue that whole gothic metal “beauty and the beast” thing, when even the progenitors of the style have come to realize that the only parts anyone is actually listening to are the ones with female vocals. These guys have been kicking around since 1999 themselves, so you’d think they’d have gotten the memo.

As usual for the type, there are some really well done melodic parts to accompany Sabine Scherer’s pleasant radio friendly vox (think Nemesea gone really detuned and a whole hell of a lot angrier), alternating with thudding, plodding ephemera to show how “aggressive” the male grunt/puke vocals are supposed to be.

As with Battle Beast and the amazingly glaring elephant in the room that is “Anton Kabanen, ‘vocalist‘”, John Gahlert (who used to handle bass) needs to get back on the instrument and the hell off the microphone. More subpar screamo we don’t need…while talented bands with clean vocals are in high demand. Here’s to the band (hell, ALL bands out there) getting the message and letting the ladies do their thing.  Guys, here. Just kick back and have a beer. Kind of hard to grunt and growl with a mouth full of suds…

Split decision on this one. High marks for the Sabine/melodic parts of every song. Maybe someone should go back and re-edit the whole album so we can just listen to the good parts…

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Deiphago / Ritual Combat – Accept the Mark (Iron Bonehead)

Wow, is this MESSY! And I thought Brazil’s Mutilator and Chile’s Pentagram were sloppy…not quite sure what to say about Deiphago other than that they’re from the Phillippines and that they’re trying to do the whole South American blackened thrash thing. Does it work? hmmm…

Ritual Combat is straight up generic black metal out of sunny L.A. (because nothing says fogbound forests and wintry northern darkness like living in La La Land). It’s nothing special, but certainly competent enough, bar the singer’s attempts to be a cross between Hat and Pest from Gorgoroth and the drummer doing blastbeats on a punk drum (seriously, the tone on it says hardcore punk, not black metal). Not sure how these two bands got together for a split, they have almost nothing in common.

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Ensnared – Ravenous Damnation’s Dawn  (Nuclear Winter Records)

Off kilter riffing reminiscent of Grotesque. Unlike Grotesque, however, it doesn’t leave you listening to the guitars in stunned disbelief, wondering what the hell’s wrong with this guy to come up with riffs THAT screwed up (which is part of the fun, and sorely missed here).

Decent if reasonably generic blackened death metal of the type otherwise – if you really can’t get enough of Kristian “Necrolord” Wahlin and have worn out your copies of In the Embrace of Evil and Liers in Wait’s Spiritually Uncontrolled Art, you may want to tap this one next.

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Exitus – Statutum Est Hominibus Mori (Svart)

A re-release of the Finnish combo’s lone demo from 1990. Normally I really appreciate labels bringing out obscure bands from back in the day who never managed to get signed – there’s a whole lot of good stuff floating around out there that never got a wide release.  But there’s also some bands that just aren’t that special or impressive enough to have merited label interest, and that’s WHY they never “made it”. Exitus is one of those – not bad, certainly competent enough, but there’s just nothing whatsoever going on there. I listened to more than half of it before I realized I even had anything playing, it’s that generic…

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Falcon – Beer and Ribs (Ektro)

2 track single from what is apparently the same band that released the excellent Seven Day Run, namely Finland’s Circle. How a band that delivered such creative and strangely catchy hypnotic minimalism under their original moniker manages to drop a stink bomb like this on us is just one of those mysteries of life, I guess, though it is worth noting that Seven Day Run was a wholly instrumental effort.

With some really reedy, nasal and weirdly accented vocals, thin, college rock style guitars ala REM and suchlike, and some (deliberately?) stupid lyrics (“we got shotguns in the shack, and we will use them all before the sun goes down”??), they seem to be attempting to pass as a tongue in cheek US Southern rock meets alternative act (“sunset street” is quite Neil Young).

I guess all that workaday radio airwave pollution must seem pretty exotic to faraway Finland, I don’t know. I did like the sort of ring modulated keyboard on “beer and ribs”, but sheesh. Unless you’re a diehard “college rocker”, shun this one like the plague, and pray they go back to their more interesting roots.

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Front Beast – Demon’s Ways of Sorcery (Hell’s Headbangers)

Bizarro act sporting screamed vocals somewhere between earlier Burzum and Paul Baloff era Exodus, but without the energy and forward thrust of either band. They have this barely competent feel that gives the impression they’re quite new to their instruments, which brings to mind the dawn of German thrash ala (very) early Sodom and Kreator, but again lacking any of the aggression or mood those associations would seem to evoke.

It’s slow, barely competent, and boring, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for that, given all the ingredients present. It’s like baking bread without the yeast, or someone slammed the door when the cake was rising – should’ve worked, but the end result is quite flat and really only fit for an unceremonious discarding in the nearest rubbish bin.

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Fueled by Fire – Trapped in Perdition (Noiseart) 

Yeah! Old school 80’s thrash of the best kind, with just a touch of the heyday of death metal for good measure. Pulls Exodus level “ultra violent” riffing together with touches of Death Angel, Ripping Corpse and Dark Angel, and even a nod apiece to Pestilence, Morbid Angel and King Diamond (check out the Andy LaRocque tricks in the solos for “rotten creation” and “symbolic slaying”). Vocals somewhere between Believer, Ripping Corpse and Infernal Majesty, solos totally old school Slayer/Dark Angel, but done with Alex Skolnick’s playing ability…did these guys hail from San Francisco circa 1987?

One frigging song in and I’m already totally hooked…between these guys, Ranger and Kryptos, it looks like a good month for retro-traditional thrash! This could be another Reign in Blood or Darkness Descends, never mind that it wasn’t pulled together back in the day. Killer, 5 star stuff – these kids have their shit down pat.

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Hell – III (Pesanta Urfolk)

Oregon “sludge” doom metal. I didn’t really get it, though it was weird enough to merit some attention. There’s two very long tracks here, that’s all you get. When things finally get started (there’s a lot of wasted time building “atmosphere” or whatever bookending the meat of each track), what you get is guitars detuned enough that the strings were probably loose and rubbing against the pickups with some guy barking nasty black metalesque screams insults at you about God or whatever.

Reminded me of Abruptum’s first album, where “It” the dwarf was just screaming at random intervals while some clown going by the original moniker of “Evil” strummed awkward sounds from a similarly loose stringed guitar (and people called it “avant garde”, and praised how “tortured” it sounded – insert an “LOL” here in response). Then it fades into vague amusical “atmosphere” and mumbling again. Depends how much you liked early Abruptum, really…

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Heretic Cult Redeemer – S/T (Iron Bonehead)

Watain by way of Tribulation circa Formulas of Death. Listenable to be sure, but as with any formula (pun intended) continually diluted with each successive iteration thereof, it loses something in the translation. How many times are we going to hear this sound, before someone comes up with a new idea, or latches on to another band for stylistic inspiration? Nothing wrong with it, these guys have certainly put out a record that comes in par for the course, but enough already…

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Kriadiaz – S/T (Pavement Entertainment)

If you’re into the 90’s “metal” sound, this may be your cup of tea.  You know, that whole aggro/grunge inflected nu-metal thing, a strange and somewhat bastardized detour heavy music took during the decade of “alternative”, when dorks pushing their glasses up on their noses got their shot at mocking the cool kids they envied just a few years earlier (remember those ads making fun of guys who drove sports cars?)

Yeah, metal was a dirty word, a big joke, and a bit of an embarrassed “uh…yeah, I used to do that” for more than a decade thanks to these assholes). Yeah, I’m looking at you, Phil Anselmo and all the “NY hardcore” types, with “rap metal” and constipated fat guys croaking out screams over thudding and plodding caveman riffs.  Stations that used to play the real deal gave their entire rotations over to this stuff (and some still do…hello, WSOU).

Yeah, well, if you like that stuff, this is for you. COC meets Pantera by way of Exhorder with touches of Pissing Razors, Prong, Biohazard, Life of Agony, Alice in Chains, Linkin Park, on and on, ad nauseaum. Can you guess this isn’t my scene?

That all being put aside, the guys do have a sort of Zakk Wylde meets latter day Metallica “southern rock” inflected take on aggro/nu-metal, and the playing is on point, with some guitar leads that show they can actually play, despite their poor taste in musical subgenres to latch onto.

Look, most of my fellow metalheads jumped on this bandwagon as well; I still hear old diehards talking with tones of veneration about bands like Clutch and crying over Layne Staley. Not me. I hear some guy straining and screaming like that, I’m figuring he’s having trouble taking a shit.

Objectively speaking, Kriadiaz is quite good for the type, I could see heads bobbing along to catchy-for-the-style tracks like “feed the rats”, and if I have to sit through a band working this sound, this one would definitely be it, there’s certainly more going on than is usual with Pantera / Madball / Black Label Society wannabes. You make the call whether it’s worth pursuing or not.

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Kryptos – The Coils of Apollyon (AFM)

Wow, THAT woke me right the hell up!  Coming after my third Watain worshipper in a row today, hearing a riff with some old school energy behind it and a drummer actually driving the beat was more than just a breath of fresh air. 

Interesting tidbit: these guys are actually from India, which I believe makes them somewhat unique right there (quick, name off all the desi metal bands you can come up with in one minute!…well, Kim Thayil from Soundgarden, though that’s not metal, it’s grunge…John Prakesh from Shakra, though he self identifies as Swiss, as is the band he fronts…anyone else?).

The vocalist isn’t exactly the greatest, sounding a whole hell of a lot like Ron Royce from Coroner, but that’s hardly a ringing condemnation, particularly by the standards of what passes for vocals nowadays. The band itself takes sort of a high energy, aggressive 80’s thrash approach, which is pretty cool, particularly as they seem to be tapping more into the Euro-vein than the more standard Teutonic or Bay Area scenes. Sure, there’s some Maiden influence in there, but it’s more Mercyful Fate and Paradox than Testament or Kreator, with all the associations that brings. Yeah, I really liked this one.

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Leila Abdul-Rauf – Cold and Cloud  (Saadi Saati (SS-0°1), A Pesanta Urfolk Imprint)

Pesanta Urfolk tries to tap into latter day Projekt Records territory, with this weird ambient release. Enya meets Tangerine Dream at your local yoga studio. Lilias, Yoga and You would have used this as BGM, if anyone remembers that hoary televised masterwork… wayyyyy out in left field. Why am I reviewing this again?

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Leviticus – the Strongest Power  (Ektro)

Now here’s an odd one, and not just for the obvious reason. Ektro pulls out a Christian metal classic from the dustbin of history for re-release.

You heard that one right. But that’s not the issue…because they made a REALLY strange choice. I mean, if you’re going to pull a band from that long lost subgenre, don’t you think you’d be better served to select one of the better bands or albums therein? You know, the first Bloodgood album, Saint’s Warriors of the Son, the first Angelica record, Rez Band’s greatest hits, maybe even Sacred Warrior? 

But no, Ektro picked Leviticus, who was always sort of a third rater, and what makes matters worse, they didn’t even release their best album! 

Yes, folks, if you’re going to dig through the record bins in search of “white metal”, I strongly suggest when you hit the “L” section to grab yourself a copy of Leviticus’ I Shall Conquer, which not only has a much cooler cover (I mean, seriously – look at this thing! Who drew this, somebody’s 5 year old son?) but was actually a decent album if memory serves.

This one? Well, the first two tracks will decide you. If you somehow manage to eke your way past Hakan Andersson yelling a nasal “wake up, De-bo-rah! arise, Ba-ra-ka!”, let me know how you do with the rest. Even back in the day, I thought this album was shit. Time hasn’t really changed my opinion all that dramatically…though “on the rock” was a lot better than I recalled it being, and “I got power” is still probably the album’s main saving grace (pun intended).

Bottom line, the album holds up much, much better by today’s standards than it did then (I mean, seriously, look at the competition these days…even the least retro effort blows everything nowadays all to shit), but for an 80’s metal album, it’s always been mediocre at best (and that’s being generous). I’ve been making fun of “arise, Ba-ra-ka!” since this one was released, and that’s without having heard this record since…what, 1987?

To quote from “I love you”, “sometimes I laugh…(girlish “a ha ha” from Andersson follows)”

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Lonewolf – The Fourth and Final Horseman (Napalm)

Straight up power metal out of France. Production isn’t as overdone and glossy as usual, which is actually a good thing; the band is tight, songs are catchy for the style, managing to be anthemic without going over the top, and solos are short but impressive – the guy can actually play.

The only gotcha is that vocalist Jens Börner seems to have taken his inspiration from Pretty Maids circa Future World, so be prepared for some back of the throat Cookie Monster by way of Pee Wee Herman style gargling. “Dottie, who stole my bike? The Fourth and Final Horseman did! La la la la…”. But aside from him, this is a very good band and album, and well worth looking into. Highly recommended if tacky vocals don’t faze you.

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Lustre – Wonder (Nordvis)

Long, atmospheric and Burzumlike – think prison era. All instrumental, cheesy Daudi Bauldrsesque keyboards leading distorted guitars, bass and drums on some trance inducing epic tracks. Easily passed on, but great ambient background music.

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Lux Interna – there is light in the body, there is blood in the sun (Pesanta Urfolk)

Yep, we’re definitely in Projekt territory now. Somewhere in Voltaire’s general ballpark by way of Audra on a particularly mellow day. Hell, Sam Rosenthal himself even praised the band in a recent posting.

Remember the 90’s? Remember “alternative”, and all the crappy little bands they used to play on 120 minutes? If you don’t remember their names, and if they put out one song and dropped off the face of the Earth? This is one of those bands, it’s got that sound.

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Merkstave – S/T  (Pesanta Urfolk)

“Lament for lost gods” (which comes in two parts for some reason, though it’s essentially the same song and tonal center) starts off right, with a long trancelike intro eventually giving way to a funeral doom-style incredibly slow distorted riff. There’s a brief section that almost ruins the mood, where it turns into a high speed blastbeat fest with voices howling in the distance, but then when it fades away you sort of miss it, and it is sort of Lovecraftian in a way.

The only other song on the album, “spawn of a lower star” isn’t all that great by comparison, just straight up funeral doom. Not bad for such a short effort, just don’t expect to hear any vocals with your songs. I just hope he’s also the bass player or something – if they hired a vocalist to scream all of 6 lines on the entire record, he’s really getting a free ride…

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Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots – Double LP (Pesanta Urfolk)

OMG, they signed Voltaire! Oh, wait…close enough. Voltaire without the biting humor or the gypsy violin. Comes complete with really weird song titles. “Cassius Castrato the She-Male of the Men’s Prison”? “Goose Walking Over my Grave?” “Ragin’ Cajun”? Is this a David Heavener side project or something?

To quote from They Call Me Bruce, “Ah don’ geeet it”.

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Nazarene Whore / Nocturnal Evil – Invocations of Necro-Sodomy / Dark Realm Mysticism (Iron Bonehead)

I really liked the first band on this one, a sort of cross between early Burzum, Emperor circa Wrath of the Tyrant, and Sarcofago around INRI. What’s strange is that all 3 of their songs (that’s right, they get 3 of the 4 tracks on this split!) run barely a minute and a half. There are few vocals, it’s more screams and echoing ululations, but it WORKS, dammit. Good stuff.

Short end of the stick goes to our single song pals, Nocturnal Evil. Honestly, they try too hard to be all ooky spooky – maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for it, because it seems like it should be effective, but just wasn’t, and I can’t quite define why. That said, it’s good stuff – very underground and nasty, could easily have been a peer to bands like Goatlord back in the day. Overall, a very worthy split.

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Orne – The Conjuration by the Fire (Svart)

Finnish occult rock oddity that drags weird instrumentation and inappropriately proggy influences into the mix. While you do get some organ and mellotron, clean declamatory vocals, a dash of flute and thick but not overly distorted guitar, there are strong mellow folk overtones, Don Henley in the 80’s style sax (I kept hearing “you belong to the city” here) and a generally overly major key orientation. You’d be forgiven for thinking someone slipped a James Taylor record in the player by mistake, this is just strange and totally belies the cover or song titles for the most part. I asked for Devils Blood and Black Widow, but got Najee and Cat Stevens instead…

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Paria – Surrealist Satanist (World Terror Committee)

Third tier black metal of the more modern variety. I guess if you really dig Satyricon and Dimmu, this might make you happy – personally, I always found this style rather lacking.

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Perikato – Kovat Ajat  (Ektro)

Late 80’s style hardcore punk with some metal influences. I didn’t care for the movement then – despite how it sounds on paper, subgenres always worked better when you could easily call the dividing line in sound, look and style. When they all started to bleed together, it just didn’t work (which may explain a lot of today’s music scene). If you’re dying for a band as angry as Negative Approach by way of Verbal Abuse, but with a more gnarly underground metal vibe, this is your ticket…

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Rajayttajat – Awopbopaloopop Alopbam RAJA! (Ektro)

Now these guys have the right idea – Iggy Pop style, sloppy and not giving a shit punk of the Johnny Thunders/Richard Hell Heartbreakers school. Seriously – they even remembered to bring the 50’s rock and 60’s garage influences to the table – “amupallle pommin” and “fuck on” cross the Yardbirds, Stones and Seeds into one crazed, bluesy mess.

These guys really did their homework: there’s some of Japan’s Plastics in there, by way of Guitar Wolf (check out “raja & roll all night long”) and even a touch of the Dead Boys (“mita tapathuu”). Raw, messy, awesome, like punk really was back in the day. Did I say I love this album? Hell, I’ll probably still be cranking this one as you read…crack out the leather jacket and safety pins. Fuck it, let’s start a pit!

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Ranger – Knights of Darkness (Ektro)

Wow, this is a nice one too. Reminds me of Darkness circa Death Squad, but with the guy from Impaler on vocals (though Dimi Pontiac can really do those Agent Steel style high pitched howls!). Hyper aggressive old school 80’s Euro-thrash – underproduced, a little messy, where the band almost sounds like it’s going to collapse in on itself (think Possessed by Fire era Exumer). This is the stuff I was listening to back in the day when everyone else was following Bon Jovi or Motley Crue around – heavy, crazed, out of control, totally addictive. The real deal, kids. Come get your wake up taste.

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Sacrocurse – Sulphur Blessing demo (Iron Bonehead)

I wish I was Morbid Angel…I wish I was Morbid Angel…I wish I was Morbid Angel (click heels together 3 times).

Not bad, but falls far short of the mark, features the equivalent of Jeff Walker on vocals, and doesn’t have the benefit of Scott Burns production to carry them through the rough spots. Depends how hot you are on the style, not that Necrophobic, Immortal circa Blizzard Beasts and about a hundred other bands haven’t been there first. Bottom line? Worth a spin.

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Sangre de Muerdago – Deixame Morrer no Bosque (Pesanta Urfolk/Heathen Harvest)

Starts off sounding like Sono Morti (which it does on several instrumentals throughout the album), but then it dives straight into early Ulver territory with some surprisingly moody acoustic guitar and violin folk, with mournful chanted vocals. Fans of Bergtatt and Kveldssanger, apply here – it’s not that far off base from the glory days of Garm and company, just minus the more obvious black metal moments. Surprisingly good.

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Sargeist – The Rebirth of a Cursed Existence (World Terror Committee)

If, like myself, you’re a big fan of France’s Vlad Tepes and (earlier) Mutiilation, you’ll find yourself right at home here. Formed by Horna mainstay Shatraug (who handles both guitar and bass on most of the material here), this is a totally underground, evil sounding black metal that practically comes with a blast of hellish sulfurous smoke, it’s that nasty.  We’re informed that this CD contains all tracks previously released on comps and splits, including one they shared with Merrimack, so this is a lead pipe cinch of a purchase (particularly when you look up just how many of these they were actually involved with…good luck collecting ’em all otherwise).

Love this one…but then, I love Vlad Tepes, Mutiilation and Horna as well. Dimmu fans and “progressive” or “modern” black metal aficionados need not apply. Hell awaits…

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Scout Paré-Phillips – Fields of Ash 7″ (Pesanta Urfolk)

Joan Baez meets Buffy Sainte Marie and the spinning wheel spins and spins. I guess you could tag in Maddy Prior as well, though I prefer to remember her with Steeleye Span, who were much better than the material on display herein.  At least she’s sort of cute in a Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cum Suicide Girls sort of way.

While this sort of oddball, personal alterna-folk is way the hell outside my listening spectrum, this 7″ is so astronomically superior to her main band, it’s beyond belief. If you’re choosing between this one and The Sterling Sisters (see below), it’s no contest – don’t walk, RUN towards these Fields of Ash.

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Scythe – Subterranean Steel (RIP/Suspicious Activities)

hmm…well, it should work…fast, aggressive death metal with a modern black metal style vocalist. The band really likes to get all up in your face, like Morbid Angel by way of Watain, but on crack. So that’s a good thing, I guess…

The vocals don’t work, particularly not with this music. It’s hyperactive and violent, so I’m not sure that any sort of screamo vocalizations would have worked (death metal, Pantera style, or otherwise)…but black metal vocals were definitely not the right choice to go with here. They probably needed a Tom Araya, Paul Baloff or Sean Killian fronting this stuff, though it’s not really thrash…kind of hard to peg down.

I think this will be a sleeper; the sort of thing that you check out again a few months down the road out of boredom and decide, hey, you know, this was really damn good…but right now, I’m just going to say most of the elements work, just not together. Thrashers and particularly testosterone fueled death metallers will definitely want to check it out for themselves. Besides, you’ve got to give them credit for titling one track “The Grunting Dead”!

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Speedtrap – Powerdose (Svart)

Really, really old school speed metal with thrash and NWOBHM overtones complemented by 80’s underground style crap production. Clean if gravelly retro vocals, no pretense towards modernism whatsoever, which is a good thing. Feels like a band that should have been on a Metal Massacre comp or getting ripped off by New Renaissance Records back in the day. Yeah, I liked it.

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The Sterling Sisters – Hale (Pesanta Urfolk)

umm…Webb Wilder by way of Lady Antebellum? This is really going out on a limb. Country music with a sort of depressed folk tinge to it. The guy looks like Matt Smith in that Doctor Who episode where he informed us that “Stetsons are cool”, and is trying to sound like Hank Williams really, really hard.

The girl, see my album review preceding (Scout Pare-Philips – Fields of Ash) – her voice doesn’t mesh so well here as it did on her own material, so I’m clueless as to what the appeal would be to this act for anyone who’s had 5 minutes of exposure to real country or folk.  Seriously, put this on next to old Johnny Cash or Hank, much less Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention or Pentangle, you’ll laugh at the vast gulf separating the real deal from the poseurs.

What the hell? Totally lost on why I have this one in the queue…

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Stone Magnum – From Time to Eternity (RIP/Suspicious Activities)

Old school doom metal. Lo-fi production and gravelly, declamatory vocals somewhat akin to the likes of Trouble’s Eric Wagner and Mark Holz of Blacklist (of “sin sentence” fame), with maybe a touch of Paul Mahoney era Onslaught. They even had the courtesy to run the lyrics to each song when it plays (!)

It’s not breaking any new ground, but it’s definitely got the right idea. The only missteps are when the songs take more of a dip into stoner rock cum southern rock territory towards the end of the album. It’s subtle, but who needs it? Stick to the atmospheric and moody stuff and avoid those major key parts like the plague, guys. But speaking for the album as a whole? Not bad at all.

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Toiling Midgets – Live at the Old Waldorf, July 1982 (Ektro)

Well, it’s slow and a little sloppy, so I can see how it’s sort of classified as punk, but that’s really stretching the definition of the genre to its limits. Bob Dylan impressions (“before trusting Ricky”), distorted guitar drones, and a pretty mellow pace doesn’t exactly say punk show to me – even before California and the Huntington Beach Strut and the DC scene introduced the Reagan era to hardcore, punk was pretty out of control as a performance art form and audience participation event.

I can’t picture anyone doing more than sitting back with a drink, smoking a cigarette and chatting about Bunuel films while this band was onstage. Apparently the vocalist got booted out of Flipper, so that says a lot if you’re familiar with the punk scene back in the day – though at least they were known for being extremely confrontational and pissing audiences off!  Pass.

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Trial – Malicious Arts (Nuclear Winter Records)

2 song single that crosses early King Diamond with Agent Steel and Cerebus circa Too Late to Pray. Not bad at all.

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Triumph, Genus – Všehorovnost je porážkou prevyšujících (Iron Bonehead)

Black metal from the Czech Republic with strange vocals, but nowhere near as weird as Master’s Hammer. Seems to be tapping into Attilla Csihar (Tormentor/Mayhem) a bit on the vox, though the band is straight up Gorgoroth crossed with a bit of Taake style folkiness.

They used a bit of classical artwork for the cover (a moodily shot statue of an olympian), so that’s a plus in my book…though it did leave me wondering if they were planning to tap into Steve Ditko/Ayn Rand territory (remember when Mr. A or his slightly neutered major label analogue the Question took on the “evils” of modern art?).  Won’t even mention the homoerotic subtext, because I’m sure THAT wasn’t intentional…nonetheless, classy choice, I liked it.

Well produced if a bit too modern and in your face (might have been nicer with a more organic studio sound, but hey). Again, I liked it, though it’s more likely to be an occasional sleeper rotation than the first thing you reach for.

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Void Meditation Cult – Sulfurous Prayers of Blight and Darkness (Hell’s Headbangers)

Low toned, gargled snot vocals over lo-fi grinding guitars. You can’t really hear drums unless you jack it, so this is pretty much vocals with bassy toned guitar. What’s weird is the overdubs, where it’s obvious the lo-fi mud is just an affectation (jangling acoustic guitar and addtional snarls come in crystal clear over the top of everything).

Not very well done production wise, and I don’t mean that in the usual sense of “cool low-fidelity retro/cavernous/cathedrallike sound”. It’s just poorly done, period. That said, it’s still doomy and pretty gnarly, so they’ve got the right idea – just shove the vocals more to the back, pull the band forward, and if you’re going to go for the vintage underproduced black metal sound, go the whole hog, don’t fake it and chicken out halfway there. Not half as “evil” as it wants to be.

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