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Well, it’s that time again, when enough releases have passed my way to deliver what’s becoming something of a monthly tradition, rounding up music of all sorts from any number of labels in the metal/punk/gothic axis (and more than a few that fall somewhat outside those designations as well).

This time around, I decided to make it a little easier on y’all, and sorted by label.  So if you’re a diehard fan of, say, Hell’s Headbangers, all the bands falling under their general aegis this month can be checked out in one easy skim (makes it easier if you’re ordering direct from the label, as well).

So if you’re set, strap yourselves in, take a deep breath, both hands on the wheel, and let’s kick this one into high gear…

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Mörkö  – Itsensänimeävä (Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions)

Chanted vocals that while sparse, still manage to bring to mind Vintersorg and early Ulver.  There’s some black metal tremolo guitar going on, but just as much really sparse, experimental Tangerine Dream-like synthesizer nonsense in the mix.  There’s even a track (“nesteen iuo”) where somebody’s literally talking throughout, in either Castillian Spanish ala Paul Naschy or Brazilian ala Jose Mojica Marins.  Umm…yeah.  Thanks.

Is it some weird ambient project?  A black metal band?  Who the hell knows?  Interesting, competent enough, certainly worth a play or two, but I’d certainly have to wonder about anyone who went around talking this one up.  It’s quite bizarre…

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Darkmoon Warrior – Nuke ‘Em All (World Terror Committee)

Simplest way to describe this one is Killjoy from Necrophagia on vocals (not literally, but you get the idea), and some very punk inflected uptempo death metal.  If you said “huh?”, you’re not alone, but it works quite well.  This is the best oddball syncretist underground metal band I’ve discovered since Maax (the Motorhead of black metal).  Like Maax (or to a lesser extent, Intoxicated and Joel Grind’s Yellowgoat Project), on the one hand this is definitely what it says it is (blackened death metal), and yet it’s very much a straightforward, fist pumping punk/metal hybrid on another.

I guess if you consider the case of recent Darkthrone you get the idea pretty well: ostensibly black metal, but mixed liberally with punk and traditional metal influences.  There’s as much early Darkthrone, Hellhammer, Gorgoroth (check out those “sung” portions in “satanification”, for one) and Immortal in there as there was Genocide and the Circle Jerks, and in the end, it’s all good.  And while this sort of crossover sound seems to be limited to the US, these guys actually hail from Germany, so go figure.

Modern, but with a strong retro underground feel, Nuke ‘Em All will certainly hold us over until the next Warhammer record, to say the least…  This one’s a keeper for sure – now go snag a copy for yourselves.

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Valkyrja – The Antagonist’s Fire
(World Terror Committee)

Swedish black metal of the Watain school, not bad for the admittedly quite limited type.  But really…AGAIN?  How many acts are going to try to do this sound?  Look, they are or at least were a good band (though the only songs on Wild Hunt worth listening to were the two where Danielsson sings clean…the rest kinda bit the big one – no idea what the hell they were thinking there).  So in that respect, if you’re really desperate to keep that sound going, maybe all these soundalikes and wannabes out there isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Me, I’d rather hear something more underground and nasty, more like the stuff we were hearing in the earliest dawnings of the death and black metal scenes, when they still called all this stuff “thrash”.  This sound is a bit too polished, and not as exciting as early Gorgoroth or the original wave of Norwegian black metal acts – it was cool for a while, but enough already.

Maybe from here on out reviews of this sort of band will refer to “Watain version 2.5” and so forth.  Just from what I’ve heard over the past few months, we’d already be up to version 10.7 or thereabouts…like ’em or no, just how many of you guys out there are desperate to sound just like this ONE freaking band?  Sheesh…

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Germ – Grief (Eisenwald)

If you heard last year’s Loss, you sort of know what to expect here – spare, desolate soundscapes punctuated by the same high pitched banshee wail over and over (albeit at random intervals).  Sometimes you even get a little singing in the background, as part of the atmosphere more than in the forefront.  Where the two releases diverge is in that Grief is much more aggressive (keep in mind, this is speaking very much in a relative sense), with noisy/jangly near-black metal drone guitars and a guy who actually knows how to work the kit (check him out, he’s surprisingly good for the sort of music they’re doing here).

Loss, I listened once or twice and forgot all about it.  This time around, you’ve got “butterfly”, “the stain of past regrets”, “memorial address” and “it’s over…”, all of which are quite Niege Eternelle (speaking of that band’s goofy “cri du guerre”, which is rather akin to Germ in that respect).

HUGE improvement, I actually liked this one in more than a few spots.  Show ’em your appreciation.

 

Austere – Withering Illusions and Desolation (Eisenwald)

Atmospheric, overly distorted ringing arpeggiated chords and a slow, near Burzum approach that despite originating from New South Wales, Australia is more properly placed in the more Gallic Sepulchral Productions/Les Legions Noires modality.

Mournful to an extent, but a bit too energetic and (dare I say it?) upbeat for fans of Xasthur, Shining or what have you to start self-cutting to.  Oh, and the band (all two of ’em) apparently broke up 3 years ago.

As I noted previously, I really enjoy the Sepulchral house style (makes great accompaniment for the endless wasted hours put in at the day job), so hats off to Eisenwald for digging this one up for reissue.

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Slutvomit – Swarming Darkness (Invictus Productions)

Umm…what was with the pseudo-“angel of death” intro, there, guys?  The air gets sort of sucked out of the room like someone’s taking a deep breath, then a guy does a Tom Araya scream backed by a bent and vibratoed guitar high note, immediately breaking into a primitive blackened death metal riff akin to Sarcofago sharing members with Suffocation (at least in terms of the drumming and Morbid Angelesque stuttering off-tempo full stop punctuation).

The music doesn’t slow down for a second – “morbid priest (of hell)” is about as mellow as it gets.  The vocalist is more like a teenager yelling than the usual growl/shriek/scream thing, which actually gives it a bit more appeal – think Anialator or Scott Ruth from Ripping Corpse, if not East Rutherford NJ’s own Savage Death here.  It’s kind of messy, and it has a strong tube amp sound (i.e. there’s a surprising hollowness to the guitar tone).

I liked it, certainly different enough to stand out from the same old, same old.  Plus they hail from Seattle, so take THAT as a huge retroactive fuck you, grunge capitol of the world…

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Manifesting – Descension Through the Seven Forbidden Seals (Invictus Productions)

Another band starting the album with chanting.  Let’s hope this one works out better than Malignant Aesceticism did…though the chanting kinda sucks by comparison, so I guess you can’t have it all.  From Minnesota, which sorta means the Midwest…Juggalo territory!  Woo woo!

I get the impression these guys are trying to be more “serious” about their occultism, given that one of the pictures they provided was of their personal sigil (LOL).  The cover similarly goes all Goetia on ya, so right there, that’ll set listeners running – a few towards, others away.  At core, they’re a downtuned, slow death metal band ala Grave, but with vocals so suffused in reverb they could pass as a sort of black metal act.

Four songs bookended by the aforementioned chanting bit.  It’s well recorded and “evil” and spooky enough in an ooga-booga sense to pass muster with an old school death metal fan like myself, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure how often I’ll be pulling this one out.   Now if they’d only cover Twiztid’s “the juggalo song”, they’d be a sure bet…

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Abyssous…Smouldering  (Iron Bonehead)

From the opening gong of “entering the cave”, with its long Casio keyboard mysterioso theme, you get the impression this is going to be something special, and this German death metal act out of Saxony does not disappoint.  Old school to the core despite tracing their lineage only as far back as 2011, this album falls somewhere between an underproduced take on early 90’s Swedish death metal with a touch of Morbid Angel or Ripping Corpse influencing the off kilter guitar riffing.

The music alternates between a more straightforward, almost Rick Rozz approach (tremolo picked chunky barre chords 4 to the measure, crazed whammy bar soloing) and the more spastic, speedy sort of thing bands like Grotesque and the aforementioned Erik Rutan acts have gotten fans accustomed to.

Certainly nothing new and innovative going on here, but for old school fans who find themselves less than impressed with much feted acts and stylistic variants that came up after the heyday of the genre through to the current day, this is a breath of fresh air (or should I say, the familiar mouldering stench of a freshly unearthed tomb?).

Positively suffused with the more “evil” and atmospheric air of death metal when anyone actually cared about the scene, this is one hell of a flashback – only Nicke Andersson and Scott Carlson’s Death Breath project hit the nail quite so squarely on the head, and they were both from the glory days of the scene themselves.  Recommended.

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Mamiffer & Circle – Enharmonic Intervals (for Paschen Organ) (Ektro)

Electronic and krautrock fans missing desperately the wall sized synthesizer sounds of the Moog and suchlike of Tangerine Dream, early Kraftwerk and Amon Duul already know Ektro Records is their go to label for modern iterations of more of the same.  This one, which involves members of Circle is no exception.

I don’t know anything about the specifics of a Paschen organ, but this is essentially the same territory charted by E-Gruppe Lux Ohr – spacey, droning trance music for those inclined to meditation and waking beta wave REM states and the jokers, smokers and tokers who emulate them.  Definitely has the potential to knock you for a loop of a trip should you be seeking such.

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Lord Fist – Wordless Wisdom of Lord Fist (Ektro)

Finnish take on Cauldron.  It’s retro, quite melodic, focused on guitar lines over straight chunky riffing, and very obviously a three piece.  The guitar work is appropriately busy, the vocals are clean and, interestingly enough, pushed to the background in the mix, the drumming is competent, and like Cauldron, the band’s influences are pleasantly obscure – none of that top 40 of metal bullshit, they’re pulling from stuff most of us forgot (if we ever heard ’em in the first place).  Sure, it’s mostly 80’s metal, but there’s a dash of 70’s heavy rock feel as well – I’m actually hearing Heavy Load in there, so that should say something right off the bat.  More, please.

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Death Hawks (GAEA Records)

OK, here’s the deal.  “Cain go home” is Morricone spaghetti western, with Allesandro Allesandrini-like whistles and sparse guitars.  Boy, someone must have heard my interview with Vladimirs‘ side project Sono Morti, because they’re certainly tapping into the same sound and vibe here.  But then we move on to “blind daughter of death,” which is pure 60’s/early 70’s folk – think Joni Mitchell and “woodstock” here.  “Grim eyed goat” is obscure late 60’s psychedelia, somewhere between mellower efforts of the Jefferson Airplane and HP Lovecraft (the band).  “Black acid” follows suit.  You get the idea.

I love all that stuff, so this is great by me – for those expecting something more “metal” or “modern”, forget it.  This is about as au courant as Sabbath doing “planet caravan”.  Hippie holdouts and psychedelic folk rock fans, apply here.  You know, whenever, man.  It’ll keep.  Dig…

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Pyhä Kuolema – Kevättuulisormi (Svart)

Umm…well, if you’re a really mainstream yuppie styling yourself as a folkie, and really dig on some guy singing little major key ditties with acoustic guitar accompaniment, this may be for you.  It’s quite country music in a sense (though we’re not talking Nashville, exactly), and a bit 90’s feminist “singer songwriter” – think crap like Tracy Chapman or Lisa Loeb, but not even that grim and brutal.  My brand of “folk” comes in much darker shades, thank you very much.

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Domovoyd – Oh Sensibility (Svart)

Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss shakes hands with Spine of God-era Monstermagnet and tags in some MTV 120 Minutes-era “alternative” bands like Camper van Beethoven and Hazel just for the hell of it.

“Incarnation” is by far the best track, and betrays the most Dave Wyndorf influence – except for the vague nod to Crowley “argenteum astrum” (which is the other saving grace of the album), the rest of the tracks lean more towards the college rock/alterna end of the spectrum.

Certainly trippy and filled with long tracks, so they’re at least playing in the proper arena.  Interesting enough if you miss the glory days of “stoner rock”, but not essential.

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Seremonia – Ihminen (Svart)

Female vocals reminiscent of Mariska Veres of the Shocking Blue, lo-fi recording that calls the early 70’s to mind (the pre-CD, before remastering world of vinyl), music that falls anywhere between Black Sabbath and the first Motorhead album…it’s not really doom metal, but very retro in focus and general scope.  There’s a few Hawkwind/Monstermagnet bits to be found herein too, though it’s hardly “space rock”.  Uptempo and hard driving, with some pretty good (if muffled and muted) drumming going on in the background on most tracks, and even a dash of flute to be found floating about on occasion.

I dig Blood Ceremony’s latest the Eldritch Dark like you wouldn’t believe, so of course I’m going to like this one too.

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Convulse – Evil Prevails (Svart)

The uninitiated should have a good laugh when they hear this one, knowing that I said this: relatively speaking, this one’s overproduced!  Nowhere near as gnarly as their previous “EP” single Inner Evil, this one’s a bit too cleaned up by comparison to the sound they were going for previously.  That said, the band appears to have modulated their take on classic death metal a bit, heading more towards a Patrick Mameli-fronted Pestilence in approach here (in which respect, it’s UNDERproduced – the guys just can’t win!).

As a big fan of Testimony of the Ancients (though I admit to preferring the insanity of Consuming Impulse) who also enjoyed Mameli’s recent comeback album Resurrection Macabre, this is certainly good by me.  It’s clear that they’re deliberately tapping into the Pestilence sound, not only due to the Mameliesque puke-grunt yet clean and comprehensible vocals, but due to touches little extended mellow acoustic bits like the finale of “unholy war” or the intro to “God is delusion”,  the generally mid-paced feel of the album, and the sliding chord riff structure employed throughout.

It’s not as technically complex as classic Pestilence, but it’s certainly playing in the right ballpark.  Feels like it has little or nothing in common with Inner Evil and isn’t quite polished enough for a band essentially trying to be Pestilence, but in the end, I liked it.  Recommended.

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Lucifericon – The Occult Waters (Blood Harvest Records)

Out of the Netherlands, come this benighted combo, complete with evil sounding vocals that fall somewhere vaguely in the realm of Ace Still (Goatlord/Doom Snake Cult).  Unfortunately, despite that hint of promise about the proceedings, when it comes down to brass tacks the band’s just not up to the task.  “The temple of” adheres to a more traditional tremolo picked blackened thrash, but without the excitement or vibe that makes that stuff work.  “Moon over fading statues” is quite Gaahl/King era Gorgoroth (i.e. the weakest records in that band’s entire ouevre), and the other two tracks don’t fall far from the tree, as it were.

Yeah, it’s still pretty underground, though I’ve heard much better bands of the type.  I don’t think it’s a good sign when you’re bored halfway through a 4 song release (I’m not counting the minute long intro “infinitum” as a song, I’m sorry).  Pass.

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Istengoat – MMXII 7″ EP  (Blood Harvest Records)

Another act from Santiago Chile.  That opening riff (on “pogrom”) hits you like a jackhammer, so you know you’re pretty much in good hands.  What’s strange about this act is that while the drummer can clearly play in a proper sense (listen to the double bass and a few of the fills sprinkled throughout the running time), he chooses to go for that retarded Sarcofago drum machine snare thing.  POP POP POP POP in a 16th note 4/4, strict to the measure.  Then there’s that super-white playing on or ahead of the beat thing.  And the fact that he’s using a thin dish punk drum  – all that snap and hollowness is better suited to a Minor Threat or Gang Green record than blackened thrash, man.

The vocals are a bit too throaty and growly for the style as well – again, they seem to be going for INRI here, though the band is much better than that.  If you can ignore the fact that, say, Nicolo Paganini is dumbing himself down to do Mozart ditties, you’ll probably be in heaven here (or ‘hell’ if your public pose demands it).  Me, I’d rather hear the same guitar work and the same drummer, but without all the Sarcofago worship.

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Verminous – The Curse of the Antichrist 7″ EP (Blood Harvest Records)

From Sweden come this grim old school death metal combo, complete with effective atmospheric intro and movie quotes.  The drumming is crazy, but at least it’s not the usual “blastbeat” nonsense – he’s going for a similar feel, but either approaching it differently or he’s got a much better drum sound than usual – this is the first time I’ve heard the technique where it didn’t annoy the shit out of me and offend my ears with its moronicity.  This guy’s quite good, and throws more polyrhythms, rolls and full kit work than any ten drummers you can name, guaranteed.

Very aggressive, quite well produced, nothing whatsoever to complain about, unless you take that stupid “de-wo, de-wo” thing he’s doing in “hang the pope” (that’s what’s actually being said, it’s just jumbled together that fast, hardcore punk style).  They even do a really good cover of one of my two all time favorite Entombed tracks, “revel in flesh”.  Killer 3 track EP.  So how about a full length?

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Bombs of Hades – Carnivores 7″ EP
Bombs of Hades – The Serpent’s Redemption (Blood Harvest Records)

Sort of a split decision here, though the band is or can be quite good.  Let’s start with Carnivores.

This reissue of the band’s first EP from 2007 boasts much more in your face production than last year’s The Serpent’s Redemption, and has far more of a Sunlight Studios feel to it – not so much in terms of the production per se (though there is a huge difference), but in the fact that it’s so directly derivative of (or being generous, “in homage to”) bands like Nihilist/Entombed and Carnage/Dismember – check out the close to “twisted decay” or the breakdown halfway through “slaughter the dead” for the former, the riff and solo on “slaughter…” for the latter.

Anyone who loves death metal digs this sound (and that of Morrisound Studios in Florida, for that matter), so it’s a safe bet that if you dig the scene, this one’s a must hear.  Last year’s release was pretty good in and of itself, but it’s practically apples and oranges – I guess they’re “finding their own sound”.  To hell with it – honestly, if you can do the template that well, why expand the boundaries?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…if you dig Swedish death metal, Carnivores is a worthy release to drop a few bucks on.

Serpent’s Redemption, on the other hand, is afflicted with a dry, flat sound, like they recorded this with the whole band jammed together in a broom closet.  Zero reverb (though there’s a subtle amount on the vocals), the drums sound like they were recorded under a quilt…it’s all very muffled and bleh.  So whatever you feel about the band’s progress or lack thereof over the last few years, the ultimate result fails by comparison right there.   Done with the same producer and/or recording conditions of Carnivores, maybe this one would impress me more than it did.  As it is?  Not a bad release, but not one I’ll be playing often.

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Praise the Flame – Profane Cult (Blood Harvest Records)

Boy, for a label out of Sweden, Blood Harvest sure does like Chilean death metal.  Yet another group out of Santiago, Chile, and a damn good one.  You know all those cracks I always make about modern death metal?  Yeah, well, that was before becoming acquainted with Blood Harvest Records.  Another strong entry, like Bombs of Hades’ Carnivores, Horrifying’s Euphoric Existence or Verminous’ Curse of the Antichrist.  Haven’t heard material this strong since the early 90’s (though hats off again to Deathchain‘s Death Gods, which was pretty damn killer in and of itself).

Fast as hell, hyper aggressive, good production, decent vox for the style – and like Verminous, they even cover a Swedish death metal classic, in this case Unleashed’s “before the creation of time”, and even manage to get it right (sadly not something you can say for a lot of bands doing covers these days).  You like death metal, you’ll love this one…

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Masada – Hideous Rot (Blood Harvest Records)

Straight from Constitution Hall and ringing the liberty bell come a band called Masada, of Philadelphia PA.  Has a sort of technical death metal flair to the guitars, reminded me a smidge of Believer in that respect, though far from being on that level.

Worst sounding drum recording I’ve ever heard, not so much in the drum sound proper (though the snare is way too hollow and muted) as in the fact that the drums are right up front, with guitars behind them, and vocals buried way in the back.  Can’t really hear a bass at all (though I catch faint hints of one every now and again), nor any footwork or bass drum – it’s all cymbals, tom rolls and that horrible snare.  They’re trying to be Suffocation and failing, though they do vaguely approximate Disincarnate minus those all important James Murphy solos.  There’s a really weird joke track called “fluteotherapy” which is some guy masturbating and panting to himself while a flute plays.  I don’t get it.

For what it’s trying to be, it’s really not that bad – certainly not as much of a waste of time as listening to djent or “math metal”, but “technical death metal” is an oxymoron that should really be abolished from our shared musical language.  Among that sorry grouping, Masada comes out smelling like a rose, but that’s akin to looking for flowers in an unflushed toilet.  Look, if your band doesn’t happen to go by the name of Cynic, keep the death metal old school, please.

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Horrifying – Euphoric Existence 7″ EP (Blood Harvest Records)

Really cool blackened death act out of Chile. only two songs and an intro, over before you know it, but definitely worth the listen.

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Malignant Asceticism – Ascensum Serpens 7″ EP   (Blood Harvest Records)

Another death metal band from Chile.  Any act that takes sinister sounding chants and manages to flow that into a song has my nod of approval just for that, so hats off to the band for the first two minutes of “seventh breath”.

After that…I don’t know, there’s something about the production (check out that snare drum, it sounds like the guy’s playing on an overturned wheelbarrow at the bottom of a cistern) and the arrangements (that horrible choice of dissonant tone on the second guitar during the first track just ruins the song completely) that just rubs me wrong.

Sorry, guys.  From that intro, I really thought this one’d be a winner…but nah.

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De Arma – Lost, Alien & Forlorn (Trollmusic)

Wow, this is an interesting one.  Cross a Primordialesque dirge-like approach with a more (dare I say it?) upbeat alternative meets 80’s by way of emo feel, then tack on clean, near-Gregorian chantlike vocals ala Ulver when anyone cared about them.  Can you say “hmm…really?” with a little lightbulb popping up over your head?

It’s one of those bizarro mixes that sounds like there’s no way in hell it should work on paper, but in practice, it’s really quite good.  Certainly a lot different from the same old, same old – has the potential to bring fans of My Chemical Romance if not AFI together with pagan/black metal fans, if nothing else.

Instead of the usual emo screaming and whining about losing another girlfriend and cutting yourself or whatever depressed loser teenagers are doing these days besides cooking up meth out of cold medicine, the clean, 80’s new wave vocals are complemented by Alan Averill style black metal ones.  Instead of rapidfire off meter ahead of the beat drumming and punched up overproduced chunky modern “punk” guitars, you get a more droning “depressive” black metal overtone paired with an uptempo, high energy melodic line and chord structure.

Really hard to describe, but well worth taking a listen to.  If this is the sort of thing Trollmusic is looking to put out, more power to ’em.  Bring it on.

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Duncan Evans “Bird Of Prey” (Prophecy Productions)

OK, just to clarify, “Duncan Evans” is a pseudo for Henry Hyde Bronsdon of A Forest Of Stars.  So now with that out of the way…

Some really well played 70’s folk guitar and an air of Nick Drake about it.  Just a single, but the title track is rather good.  B side “she and I must part” is too mellow for my tastes, though it still shows off the man’s fretboard skills in a Richard Thompson sense (albeit minus the electrified and searching solo sections that make the man worth hearing in the first place).  He’s got the skill, a pleasant voice and accent, and name checks the right influences.  Looking forward to the full album.

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Camerata Mediolanense – Vertute, Honor, Bellezza (Prophecy Productions)

I used to be a big fan of gothic symphonic metal.  The first 2 Epica albums, Within Temptation around Mother Earth and Silent Force, all the Ji-In fronted Krypteria material, the early Magica, Elis, Autumn under Nienke de Jong, Unsun, Visions of Atlantis on the Trinity tour, Kamelot, Theatre of Tragedy with Liv Kristine and certainly Leaves Eyes.

A few of these bands (Krypteria, Leaves Eyes, Unsun) are still putting out good albums, or at least were at last call.  Unfortunately, the heyday of the genre appears to be behind us – it’s been a good 5 years since I discovered Leaves Eyes at that Kamelot show, and Visions under Wolfgang and Melissa at the Epica one.

Since then, Kamelot lost Roy Khan.  Visions saw a walkout from both of the aforementioned, returning to their more confused Cast Away-era sound.  Nienke left Autumn.  Sabine died, Sandra left and Elis is no more.  A lot of bands went AOR, and a few decent singers got heads too big for their own respective talents (ahem – Floor, Simone, take a bow – cough), with their bands pretty much tanking in the wake.

So it is that we come to Camerata Mediolanense, an Italian gothic metal act that brings to mind Melissa Ferlaak’s pre-Visions act Aesma Daeva (whose mastermind Earl Root has since left this mortal vale) crossed with the Assembly-era Theatre of Tragedy.

On one hand, Camerata Mediolanese is quite reminiscent of traditional classical music of a more Renaissance bent, but on the other, their sound is firmly built upon a base of electronic and/or synthesizer tones, rather than traditional instrumentation.  The vocals are slight and far from operatic, and there are both male and female turns at the mic, but it’s definitely in a similar ballpark.  There’s also touches of a more Projekt records darkwave gothic feel here (think Audra or later Lycia, I guess), and some of the more laid back 80’s new romantic sound (think OMD meets Naked Eyes on the soundtrack to a John Hughes film).

Italian metal has always been a bit odd (everything from Theatre des Vampires to Mortuary Drape and Bulldozer to Death SS), but this is nearly unclassifiable in its strangeness – gothic metal is as close a pigeonhole to box this one up into as any.  Interesting, and certainly deserving of a listen if any of the comparisons noted hold a place in your heart.

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Nhor – Within The Darkness Between The Starlight (Prophecy Productions)

Odd ambient black metal effort that offers equal time to gloomy solo piano works and Sepulchral Productions style “depressive” black metal.  Quite appropriately wintry and atmospheric, could definitely accompany a run alongside a pack of ravenous wolves in the deep forest.

I tend to like this sort of aural wallpapery thing, as background music to the workday or just to chill out a bit in solitude, so I liked it just fine.  If that’s not your thing, then you may want to look elsewhere; if so, don’t hesitate to check this one out.

Got a weird note that in Canada and the States, you can only get this via download, unless you want to spring for the vinyl or “artbook” (ooh, aren’t WE getting fancy?) from their site overseas.

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Vàli – Skogslandskap (Prophecy Productions)

Wow, this is really nice!

Well done acoustic guitar duets (or at least double tracked versions of the same guitarist on rhythm and lead), backed by a chamber group of strings and flute and oboe.  Not metal in the least, but definitely called to the 90’s me, when in the absence of metal, I explored other long lost venues like psychedelic rock, British and Celtic folk (and folk-rock), and Italian soundtrack music from the 60’s and 70’s.  This one taps directly into the British/Celtic folk part of that equation…hailing from Norway, Vali naturally are going more for the Bergtatt/Kveldssanger sound (particularly the latter), but it’s all the same thing.

Pastoral in the proper sense, this is blood pressure lowering nirvana – never boring like non-electrified, low tempo forms of music tend to be, there’s enough counterpoint and lines of harmony crisscrossing between the two guitars, strings and winds to keep the listener attentive yet relaxed throughout.  I would never have expected to dig this one, but it’s really, really good.  Four star, top scoring.

Take a break from the headbanging, moshing and morbid introspection of metal, punk and goth for a minute and check out some quality music – the closest I can think of to this beyond early Ulver would be Pentangle and the related John Renbourn group – it’s THAT impressive.  Why are you still sitting here reading?  I’ll be here when you get back – go get it already!

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The Vision Bleak – Witching Hour (Prophecy Productions)

Generic to the core.   Now standard detuned guitars generally displaying a huge grunge influence in the simplistic riffs, a dash of doom, particularly in the vocals (which fall somewhere between Peter Steele with Type O Negative and David Bower of Hell, without being as interesting as the latter).  There’s nothing wrong with it, but nothing to get excited about either.  There’s one track where they try to tap into Cradle of Filth territory (“hexenmeister”), but I’m just not that impressed.  Whatever.

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LowCityRain (Prophecy Productions)

Hmm.  Somebody wants to be The Cure, that’s for sure.  Long, uptempo, traveling throbbing basslines, arpeggiated clean picked chords suffused in echo and reverb.  I almost thought I was listening to my all time favorite band Luna Sea for a few minutes there, until the vocals kicked in…and good as it clearly is, we’re clearly not talking the same level of musicianship Sugizo, J, Ryuichi and Shinya bring to the mix.

A throaty, somewhat mannish sounding female vocalist takes center stage on the album’s best cut, “you are everyone, you are everywhere”, though she’s nowhere to be found thereafter (well, there is a duet on parts of “I don’t know myself”, but I think that IS a guy that time).  The band is clearly aware that the opening track is their strongest composition, because they sort of repeat it for the closer “your eyes and the sea”.

The rest of the songs feature a sleepy 80’s style vocalist…in fact, this is the most 80’s record I’ve heard since the decade ended, bar Mexico’s Denisse Guerra and her Flock of Seagulls knockoff act, Belanova.  Thick synthesized tones that fall somewhere between Thomas Dolby and the Thompson Twins, plenty of reverb and echo, Psychedelic Furs-like guitar lines, the whole deal.  The band could have put this record out in 1986 and nobody would blink an eye.

Is it perfect?  Not by a longshot (though that opening track comes damn close).  But it’s good, and definitely worth a spin.

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Falkenbach – Asa (Prophecy Productions)

Pagan metal.  A bit less folky than, say, Turisas or Arkona, a bit less black metal than Thulcandra or earlier Primordial, not as mellow as Vintersorg or even Borknargar.  The whole affair’s more straightforward Bathory circa Hammerheart or Twilight of the Gods, which isn’t a bad thing, really – there’s just not a lot that really stands out here to recommend it to anyone.  Like modern black metal and much of the pagan scene per se, it’s kind of down the middle – inoffensive and certainly listenable, but nothing to write home about either.  But hey, at least it’s not Tyr.

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Finnr’s Cane – A Portrait Painted by the Sun (Prophecy Productions)

Contemplative, mellow toned black metal.  I have to say I’ve been hearing a lot more of this style of late, but can’t really peg the source.  Stuff like Northern Oak, Winterfylleth…that sort of thing.  It’s sorta folky, sorta modern style black metal, a dash pagan…not really sure, can’t put my finger on it quite yet.  Like the bands I just mentioned, it’s certainly decent background music, and great for lowering the blood pressure a bit.

Evocative of winter and snow covered landscapes late at night or early in the morning, when there’s nobody else around to ruin the feeling.  Wouldn’t call it a must have, but like the Sepulchral acts, I have the feeling this is something that will continue to grow on me long after this review is published.

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Tiger Junkies – D-Beat Street Rock n’ Rollers (Hell’s Headbangers)

Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust and the Yellowgoat Sessions does it again, joining forces with Yasuyuki Suzuki of Japanese speed/black metal noisemongers Abigail, and the end result is better than anything the latter ever put out.  Punk in energy and raw, sloppy, “who gives a fuck” execution, but high speed NWOBHM in style.  They even do a track called “metal punk” and cover the Exploited.

About a third of the tracks get repeated, I guess they liked the recording so much they decided to give alternate versions or something.  Abigail itself gets covered, and it sounds better than either of the oddly praised records I have from that band.

Bottom line is, not as essential as the Yellowgoat Sessions, but good Motorhead-inflected early underground metal with a strong hardcore punk flair.  If it didn’t come across here, allow me to put on the record that I liked this one a lot.  Keep ’em coming, Grind.

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NEKROFILTH – Devil’s Breath (Hell’s Headbangers)

uh…”Handsome” Dick Manitoba does a bit too much blow and goes all death metal on us?  Punky, pleading and somewhat whiny vocals over a cookie cutter hyperactive and rather noisy death metal musical backing.

They’re trying to be sleazy or something, but it’s just kind of silly and sophomoric, like early Cannibal Corpse without the shock factor.  Give me the Mentors over this any day – just as stupid, but much more fun in a moronically derisive fashion.  Love the photo shoot, though!

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SHITFUCKER – Suck Cocks in Hell (Hell’s Headbangers)

More underground punkish metal in an early Bathory by way of Motorhead cum Venom style.  Vocals are snarled and buried a bit in the mix, the drumming is straight ahead Philthy Animal Taylor, the guitars are totally Fast Eddie Clarke (minus the solos, unfortunately).  They’re pulling all the right influences, and while the production’s kind of hissy, it’s a pretty good package, at least musically speaking.

Then we get to the image.

(long pause)

Well, obviously, they’re playing the crass juvenalia card, with that album title.  They apparently dig SOV horror, as a quote from Carl Crew’s Secret Life of Jeffrey Dahmer kicks off “acid bath”, and it gets even more distasteful from there out.  Apparently, their album cover was banned in Germany under criminal code Strafgesetzbuch 86a, and I’ll just let you guess which one that concerns.

Was there any reason to appropriate this imagery?  Not really.  Are they some sort of noxious skinhead band?  Nope.  So what we have here is the same sort of juvenile attention seeking behavior that moved the band to choose the name it did and title the album as they have.  Any buttons still not pushed?  OK, let’s try that one next!  Unbelievable, and not for the reasons they might think.

Can you enjoy a band’s music while rejecting its image, trappings and apparent standpoint?  Well, yeah, I’d hope so – just look at how many Burzum fans are out there.  My advice?  Don’t take it too seriously, it’s the Dictators all over again, if a bit less clever this time around.

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NEXUL – Nexulzifer  (Hell’s Headbangers)

Another Zom-style act with vocals buried under a wall of slap echo and extreme reverb.  Interestingly, the rest of the band is right up front in the mix, and a bit noisy.  They don’t come off as great players, but that may be just from all the competing delays (the guitars ascribe to that laid back, droning Watain style of playing, and also suffused in reverb of their own – this, alongside the slap echo vox, really clashes with the ahead of the beat blastbeat inflected drumming.  Like Zom but without the “menace from deep space” concept to save it, this one’s just kind of a mess.

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ZEMIAL – NYKTA (Hell’s Headbangers)

This seems to be a month for odd Motorheadish, Hellhammerlike black/death metal crossovers.  How much of the sound is traditional?  How much owes its lineage to hardcore punk?  Where the hell does this music really fall, stylistically?  It’s definitely underground, and touches on all of the above…but then again, it’s more like heavy rock than metal in some respects.  Who the hell knows.

The vocals are semi-clean (though a bit growly and gruff, like a lot of European power metal acts these days), the guitars lean a bit more towards heavy overdrive than full on distortion, there are numerous midtempo to mellow instrumental tracks and/or sections, and there’s perfectly acceptable drumming going on – the guy’s no blastbeat slouch, he actually knows how to work the kit.  But will I play this often?  Hmm…

As a joke, they even “performed” John Cage’s infamous “4:33”, an unscored “composition” where the musicians are encouraged to become performance artists and do whatever the hell comes to mind, “making it a different composition every time it’s performed”.  Yeah, that kind of over the edge of sanity modern artistic pretentious bullshit.  So once again, you get 4 minutes and 33 seconds of dead silence.  Wow, man.  That’s heavy.  Really deep, quite profound.  Assholes.  Insert hearty laugh here – hey, nothing personal, guys, just responding to the joke.  As for the reader and prospective listener, you tell me whether this sounds interesting enough to look into or not.

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THE LURKING CORPSES – 23 Tales of Terror  (Hell’s Headbangers)

Enough horror movie quotes and short, simplistic song structures to call it a grindcore record, but then you get some Danzig/Misfits style howling vocals mixed in alongside the usual death metal growls (and occasional direct grindcore ones – somebody’s pulling a Lee Dorrian/Bill Steer/Will Rahmer there in tracks like “zombies across the hill”).  Plus the drummer can play, which says they don’t have all THAT much in common with, say, Mortician.

It’s somewhere between horror punk and grindcore style death metal, and all the more schizophrenic for it.  I’d have preferred it if they stayed horror punk, those are the best parts of the album anyway.  Loved the movie quotes, too…up to you whether you find the mix of two so completely opposed musical styles as these work together or not.

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VISTA CHINO – Peace (Napalm)

The guys from Kyuss under a different name.  Same thing, different day – “a rose by any other name” still smelling the same as it ever did.  Dig stoner rock?  These guys were a big force in that back in the days of Blues for the Red Sun.  This isn’t all that far removed, stylistically.  Desert generator parties are still being juiced up, apparently…as good as you’d expect.

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END OF GREEN – The Painstream  (Napalm)

90’s emo-inflected pseudo-metal with more than a touch of that damn grunge “growl a little out of the corner of your mouth” vocal inflection – just enough to grate on the nerves a bit, not enough to sink the whole affair.

Certainly not as direct and obvious as The Sorrow (with that band’s easily noticeable Killswitch Engage fetish), but clear enough that they’re tapping into that whole zeitgeist.  Skinny high schoolers with weird haircuts hanging down covering their eyes listen to that kind of crap all the time – thankfully End of Green chooses to skim the cream of the general sound and stylistic underpinnings rather than swallowing the whole draught.

It’s catchy enough, there’s a dash of Gothminister in “holidays in hell”, and you probably wouldn’t cover your ears and run to change the station if your girlfriend was playing this – but is it worth running out and buying?

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THE ANSWER – New Horizon (Napalm)

Now this one almost fooled me.  Opening on the powerful title track, I got all geared up for a kick ass new band out of Ireland.  With thoughts of the wholly stylistically unrelated Primordial in the back of my mind, this aggressively catchy number hearkens back to the days of tattooed junkie metal (and acts like Badlands, Faster Pussycat, Junkyard, Spread Eagle and the like).

Too dirty and raw to air alongside the boring, overly polished likes of the usual “classic rock” station fare or the more palatable but often generic early to mid 80’s AOR genre, but not really driving enough to classify as metal per se in these post-death and black metal days, the title track certainly portends good things.

Sadly, the remainder of the album weighs down any aspirations to greatness, falling more in the Mr. Big by way of grunge ballpark.  If you always wanted to hear Eric Martin (albeit with somewhat less expansive of a vocal range) backed by the guy from Alice in Chains on guitar, this is your ticket.  For me…nah.  Nice try, but next time drop the unwanted grunge influences, please.

Let me end this one on a public service message, inspired by but hardly directed solely to the band under discussion here.  Ready? Here goes, listen up, everyone.  Grunge is NOT metal.  It never was.  And those involved in it, inclusive of Probot’s “but I LOVED metal!” two-face Dave Grohl, actively DISPARAGED metal and those who performed it, making practicioner and fan alike a public joke for over a decade.

Don’t reward these sonsabitches for that.  Consign them to the oblivion of dollar cut out bins and obscurity they and their simplistic semi-musical style deserve.

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WolfPakk – Cry Wolf  (AFM)

Here’s one of those old school all star projects like “Contraband” or the Hear N’Aid sessions, except nobody’s benefiting from this except the label and arguably the listener.  Check out the staff on this one:

Vocals:
Amanda Somerville (Kiske/Somerville), Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Göran Edman (Ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Doogie White (Ex-Rainbow, Michael Schenker), Tony Mills (Shy, TNT), Blaze Baley (Ex-Iron Maiden),
Guitars:
Kee Marcello (Ex-Europe), Mandy Meyer (Krokus, Ex-Gotthard), Roland Grapow (Masterplan),
Keyboards:
Don Airey (Deep Purple), Tony Carey (Ex-Rainbow)
Drums: BrianTichy (Whitesnake /Ozzy), Hermann Rarebell (Ex-Scorpions), Roland Jahoda (Ex-Paradox, F.U.C.K.)

Of course, as everyone knows, with the exception of “stars” itself, which would have been a killer Ronnie James Dio composition with or without all the heavyweight talent lending it extra gravity, these sort of projects tend to come off as somewhat less than the sum of their parts.

To be fair, with so many big names involved, the level of expectation is so high that it’d be nigh impossible to measure up.  But these always wind up being quite generic, going all the way back to the days of Bloomfield/Stills/Korner – at best, you get an interesting jam session.  At worst, it’s just sort of bleh.

Cry Wolf is acceptable enough, reasonably catchy and somewhat radio friendly, but hardly what one might expect given the names involved and former or current bands name checked.  In the end, it depends on how much of a stargazer (the Stones put it more bluntly, but I’ll refrain for a change) you are.  Fair, but not incredibly impressive.

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Sinner – Touch of Sin 2 (AFM)

I refer the reader to my interview with Mat Sinner himself for the story behind this album (and to hear a track or two in the bargain), but suffice to say, it’s damn good AOR-style hard rock/metal.  Catchy, melodic, well played, fist pumping choruses…what more can you ask for?  Top marks.

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Hibria – Silent Revenge (AFM)

hmm…well, it’s a band out of Brazil that doesn’t ascribe to the traditional blackened thrash template.  In fact, they’re sort of like a post-Yngwie Mike Vescera band, though there’s a dash of Ron Keel to the vocals as well.  But there’s a problem that shows up every so often.  While for the most part things proceed apace (hang in there, I’ll get to the positives in a second, because they have them aplenty), something ugly pops its head up every so often.

Let’s lay it on the line: the music is just too lunkheaded for my tastes when the tempo slows down any.  Worse, on the title cut which is sequenced so it OPENS THE ALBUM, there’s a chorus of goons growl/shouting the choruses.  Really?  Was that necessary, guys?  You have a good singer…just shut the hell up, play your instruments and let the man do his job, you’re not impressing anyone (I should note this approach appears to be the exception on the record, not the rule).

Speaking of instruments, there’s some rather good playing on display here, which means impressive guitar solos, a strong vocalist, and overall a rather polished product with Nordic power metal touches (think anything from Sonata Arctica to Stratovarius).  When the guys back him up with actual clean vocals, things work pretty well, and feel more than a bit late 80’s metal in approach, but they should really learn to skip the grunge riffing bits.

So here comes another public service announcement, for the benefit of the general public (and not just for the band specifically).

Guys.  Grunge sucks.  Grunge ALWAYS sucked.  If you’re not playing death metal, can you tune up the guitars a bit and recognize that metal does not involve caveman riffs you can do a silly hopping jig to?  Leave the Pantera and Alice in Chains influences at the door, and play the icy Nordic sound you’re going for.  You’re a damn good band.  Like a block of wood nearly turned into a piece of art by my grandfather, you’re almost there.  All you need is a few bits of junk excised, a bit of the editor’s knife to whittle those last offending influences off.

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Ministry – From Beer to Eternity (AFM)

Look, I’m really not the right person to talk to about Ministry.  The whole industrial thing was never my scene – my personal favorite Ministry song was “everyday is Halloween”, and their best was With Sympathy, so you get the idea how far removed I am from that whole scene.  That said, over the years they’ve dropped a few killer tracks: “so what” in particular, but also “burning inside”, “N.W.O.”, “just one fix” – there’s no question they lead the scene, well before and superior to such lauded lesser lights such as NIN, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie (yeah, he’s industrial, admit it).

Well, they’ve put out another record.  Guitarist Mike Scaccia, who also played with Rigor Mortis, passed on before completion of the album, and this is supposed to be their final record.  But again, this isn’t really my area, so I was going to beg off on this one.

Then I heard “fairly unbalanced”, where Al Jourgenson puts Fox News, AM talk radio and the whole right wing propaganda system in its place with his usual directness and succinct accuracy.

Just based on that, I’m giving this one four stars.  Thanks, Al.  We needed a theme song against stupidity and brainwashing for the new millenium…and you just provided it.

Do I need to tell you to check this one out?  Really?

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