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Welcome to Spring!  Well, almost, and if you don’t count the wildly whipping changeability between relative warm weather and bitter cold snaps at the drop of a hat…didn’t that damn groundhog predict an early end to Winter?  Just can’t trust anyone these days…

This month, you’ll see a slight change to the usual format, in that I’m including the (North American) release dates.  As you’ll see, we have materials coming in that span late February through early-mid April, and it’s kind of tricky to keep track of all this.

So before you go searching for that shiny new diadem for your ever expanding library of musical gems, please do note the release date – just because it’s the March roundup doesn’t necessarily mean all of this stuff is available on hand at your favorite retailer.  Patience is a virtue, absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that platitudinal crap…

OK, with that out of the way, and without further ado, let’s rock n’ roll!


Iron Savior anlaeßlich eines Shootings am 13.11.2013 in Hamburg. Keine Personenrechte verfuegbar, nur fuer redaktionelle Verwendung © SIGHT OF SOUND, Tönninger Weg 130a, 22609 HH, +49-040-469 66 439, Bankverbindung: Sight Of Sound, Deutsche Bank, BLZ:20070024, KNr.:5240106. Finanzamt HH-Am Tierpark, USt.IDNr.: DE 24 30 39 551; Veroeffentlichung nur entsprechend unseren AGB, gegen namentliche Nennung, Honorar incl. 7% UST. und Belegexemplar.

Iron Savior anlaeßlich eines Shootings am 13.11.2013 in Hamburg.
Keine Personenrechte verfuegbar, nur fuer redaktionelle Verwendung © SIGHT OF SOUND, Tönninger Weg 130a, 22609 HH, +49-040-469 66 439, Bankverbindung: Sight Of Sound, Deutsche Bank, BLZ:20070024, KNr.:5240106. Finanzamt HH-Am Tierpark, USt.IDNr.: DE 24 30 39 551; Veroeffentlichung nur entsprechend unseren AGB, gegen namentliche Nennung, Honorar incl. 7% UST. und Belegexemplar.

Iron Savior – Rise of the Hero (AFM Records) (March 18)

Notable for an unusually off kilter science fiction multi-album concept in a genre marked by a more knights, dragons and/or historical warfare approach, Iron Savior was best known for the participation of  Helloween’s Kai Hansen in their early days.   Four albums and more than a decade later, the band is still rolling and delivering material as strong if not stronger than ever.

At core, this is fairly standard power metal, albeit with more aggressively forefronted guitars than usual.  Big choruses ensure the band’s feet are planted firmly in the bedrock of the genre, but a mix of Yngwie-like gallop rhythms and wide open chords with some old school wah-filter tone and 80’s style structured and well phrased melodic solos puts this a step above most of its contemporaries (recent Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt releases aside).

While guitarist/vocalist/producer Piet Sielck’s vocals, like all too many of his peers in the European power metal scene, take some getting used to, his propensity for growling out the lyrics is certainly nothing new for the style, and his fairly modern production style meshes surprisingly well with the more retro-inspired sound of the band itself.

In terms of the guitars and songwriting, there’s no question the guy has talent and a strong foundation in melody (that in itself being something of a scarce commodity in today’s metal market), so this one gets a thumbs up.
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Sinbreed -Shadows (AFM Records) (April 15)

German power metal with the guitarist and drummer from Blind Guardian in tow.  Vocalist Herbie Langhans falls very much into the Jon Oliva mode of biting raspiness punctuated by occasional gargling covering a reasonably wide tenor range.  If you’re a big German power metal fan, you get the idea and don’t need me to warn you off – the sound’s been around at least since Running Wild.

Guitarists Flo Laurin and Marcus Siepen keep things very much in the classic Accept modality, with touches of Helloween and nods to the legion of bands that followed in their wake – Bloodbound’s Book of Hell springs immediately to mind here.  There’s some very catchy stuff to be found herein and it’s fairly anthemic overall, with occasional hints of 80’s thrash to spruce up the mix a bit (as in the Heathenesque title track).

Laurin and Siepen favor Harris/Smith style melodic harmony leads, which is always a good thing, and it’s certainly a safe purchase for those looking for some good power metal outside the Mat Sinner/Alex Beyrodt axis of bands.  If driving melodic power metal with a Helloweenlike thrash “speed” guitar approach and a snarling yet basically clean vocal is your thing, run, don’t walk to pick this one up – it’s pretty good.

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D-A-D  – 30 Years Of Hits (AFM Records) (March 18)

One thing that immediately strikes the listener on putting the latest from the erstwhile Disneyland After Dark is just how much they’ve changed over the years.

From the extreme tongue in cheek cowpunk of “marlboro man” and “riding with Sue” to a slightly more Butthole Surferslike approach on tracks like “isn’t that wild” and the more ostensibly Hanoi Rocks cum Guns N Roses feel that crept into their most famous Stateside album No Fuel for the Pilgrims (represented here by “sleeping my day away”, “point of view” and “jihad”) which hangs in through the next few tracks “girl nation” and “bad craziness”, D-A-D still managed to retain the twangy guitars and vaguely Chris Isaak feel of their earlier days.

But with “grow or pay”, the band makes a distinct turn towards a more earthy maturity, somewhat world weary and displaying the distinctive vantage point of those burned by life experience.  From this point forward, Denmark’s favorite sons would own this sort of Social Distortionesque confessional of lessons learned (still evident on their last release Dic-Nii-Lan-Daft-Erd-Ark with tracks like “last time in neverland”), incorporating elements of grunge (“reconstrucdead”, “everything glows”, “monster philosophy”), REM and Britpop (“nineteenhundredandyesterday”) and a more post-Permanent Vacation Aerosmith sound.

Throughout all of this, the Binzer brothers and cofounder Stig Petersen have crafted a surprisingly listenable, often thoughtful body of work marked by perhaps a touch too much grimness to take in at one sitting, but always offset by a knowing humor and strong sense of musicality that keeps things palatable regardless of the particular influences bleeding in to the overall sound at any given time.

For those whose total exposure to the band started and ended back in 1989, perhaps rediscovering them with last year’s excellent 2 disc deluxe edition of 2011’s aforementioned Dic-Nii-Lan, 30 Years of Hits is an excellent primer, and may very well spur further investigation into the band’s dozen album-plus back catalogue.

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Brainstorm – Firesoul (AFM Records) (April 15)

Another German power metal band for you this month (it’s a big month for the subgenre, eh?).  This time they bring downtuned 7 string guitars to the mix (your call whether that’s a plus or a minus, I have my own feelings on that particular trend in metal which I’m sure regular listeners to the Third Eye podcast and readers of the site can pick up with ease).

Their big plus is that they have a fella named Andy B. Franck (is that deliberate?  As in “be frank” about it?), who’s like the Teutonic Alan Tecchio (of Hades, Watchtower and the excellent Non-Fiction).  Like Tecchio, he’s a mix of soaring yet throaty tenor-approaching-baritone and gravel, and while not quite in the upper echelons of the great vocalists of metal, he’s damn good and a pleasure to hear on record.

You could also compare him to post-Painkiller Rob Halford at a bit of a stretch, i.e. when the screeching took its toll on the once untouchable multi-octave vocalist and left him with a less appealing rasp and somewhat diminished range.  Hell, you could even say he’s a bit influenced by Bruce Dickinson, the general tonality isn’t all that far removed from the erstwhile Iron Maiden frontman.

But Tecchio’s a better point of comparison – Franck’s style falls right smack dab in the middle of that ballpark.  Given how much I enjoyed Hades (and moreso, Non- Fiction), you can bank that as a decided compliment.

Outside of him, there’s not a lot to separate Brainstorm from any number of fellow Deutsche power metallers beyond the detuned (and thus “darker”) tonality of their sound and a diminished if not negligible contribution from keyboards or any vaguely symphonic aspect that tends to be par for the course for the style.

Overall, it’s pretty good, mixing post-Turbo Priest style aggressive guitar with Franck’s vocals, but the latter is most assuredly the selling point here.  Check it out and see what you think – I’ll bet you fall for his powerful tones and grab it post haste.

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Pretty Maids – Louder Than Ever  (Frontiers) (March 25)

It’s been many years since 1983’s Pretty Maids EP was released amid a newly minted metal scene still marked by the influence of the NWOBHM.

After perfecting the formula with 1984’s Red Hot and Heavy, the band approached its pinnacle of Stateside success with 1987’s more melodic metal oriented Future World, a classic release marked by anthemic fist pumpers like “we came to rock” and “loud n’ proud”, the driving Eurometal of the title cut and “needles in the dark” and thoughtfully introspective power ballads such as “rodeo” and the Vietnam inspired “yellow rain”.

Unfortunately, due in no small measure to bad timing, their next release Lethal Heroes (aka Jump the Gun) came and went without making so much as a blip on the radar of a nation newly obsessed with the tattooed junkie blues-rock of the Guns N’ Roses Hollywood scene, the strongest days of the death metal underground and the oncoming spectre of grunge.

Despite vanishing into the status of effective footnote in the history of metal in the US, they’ve continued to soldier on throughout the 90’s and early millenium, with occasional releases showing up since.  Now comfortably residing on AOR/melodic metal standby Frontiers Records, Pretty Maids has been picking up the pace, with a surprising two releases in the span of the last two years, and appearing on our shores for the very first time a year prior to that.

So the question on longtime fans’ lips boils down to this: how does the Pretty Maids of 2014 compare to the one we knew back in 1984 and 1987?

Well…there are strong similarities.  You still get the mixture of smooth, clean vocals with raspy screams for impact from longtime vocalist Ronnie Atkins, with only the latter modality seeming to display the ravages of time (understandable, given his bulging-vein performance on Future World!) – his clean voice is as welcome as ever, and in fact the loss of authority and gravel on the raw end has made his vocals more palatable in a scene otherwise populated by dozens of growling/rasping power metal frontmen.

Ken Hammer still lays down a familiar mix of quirky Mercyful Fate-like riffing and more standard melodic songwriting, but this is where the years have left their mark the hardest.  While this is certainly recognizable as the same band who gave us the classic albums and tracks mentioned earlier, there’s also a strong infusion of a more raw and noisy grunge by way of late 80’s Hollywood hard rock-“metal” with a dash of modern feel as well.  For some, this may be a welcome bid for relevance, but for a died in the wool traditionalist like myself, it’s somewhat of a betrayal to hear these comparatively unwelcome bits bleeding in and corrupting the classic feel somewhat.

Regardless, it’s a comfortable enough reminder of the band’s golden era that serves simultaneously as a reasonably palatable if sadly somewhat nondescript entry in the ever expanding discography of quality Frontiers releases.

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L.R.S.- Down To The Core (Frontiers) (March 25)

Wow, this was a nice surprise!  Picture Journey by way of the more power ballad side of TNT and more than a nod to Eden’s Curse, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect here.

Apparently this is some sort of AOR “supergroup” consisting of vocalist Tommy La Verdi, guitarist Josh Ramos and drummer Michael Shotton, with production, input and songwriting from Eden’s Curse/Silent Force keyboardist Allesandro Del Vecchio, but the latter aside, I have absolutely zero familarity with any of their prior bands.

This is very, very early to mid-80s in feel, from La Verdi’s reedy but soaring tenor (he even sings through his teeth like Tony Harnell or Geoff Tate) to Ramos’ upbeat, cruising with the top down summertime beach anthem feel.  Shotton keeps things fairly simplistic, but throws in enough syncopation now and again to show you he’s better than what the strictures of the style might seem to call for – listen a bit closer and you’ll pick up just how good the guy actually is.

The only thing detracting from the magic to my ears is that Ramos keeps things firmly in the 8 bars and out range, with very melodic, occasionally soaring but never really flashy solos that tickle the ear but promise more than they actually deliver.  Sure, nobody’s expecting Yngwie or Warren DiMartini from a straight up AOR act, but a Neil Schon, Rik Emmett or Neil Giraldo would be more than appropriate, and while a competent player with a firm grasp on keeping the sound sweet, Ramos is certainly not in the same league any of those players.  In the grand scheme of things, the material holds up despite such minor quibbles, but a bit more flash could go a long way.

If you were desperately awaiting a new Y&T record with strong Journey and vague Tommy Shaw-era Styx overtones, L.R.S. has your saving dose.  From my perspective, despite a few too many straight up ballads gumming up the works a bit, this is damn good melodic rock.  Complete with backing vocals and upbeat if simple arpeggiated keyboard filling out the mix, Down to the Core is good enough to feel like a flashback to better days.


Forteresse/Chasse-Galerie/Monarque/Csejthe – Légendes Double Gatefold 7 inch  (Sepulchral Productions) (March 28)

Now here’s something you don’t see everyday…a black metal sampler(!)  While not as diverse or iconic as the earlier Fenriz Presents…or Nordic Metal collections, it is a gathering of acts on French Canadian label Sepulchral, whose few releases have stood out markedly from the competition over the past year, starting off strong and actually growing on the listener over time…which is decidedly not something that can be said about the latest Watain album or the dozens of zombie slave cum copycat acts in their wake.

One track apiece from four very different bands, Legendes kicks off in fine fettle with Forteresse, who delivers a chilling tale of Canadian Algonquin folklore bugaboo the Wendigo.  For those unfamiliar with the legend, similarly to the lycanthrope mythos, it involves atavism and cannibalism resulting in the purveyor’s fall from human to beast – and how ooky spooky is that?

Forteresse provides a classic Norwegian style black metal assault: simultaneously in continual chaotic motion and frozen in place, with a minimum of harmonic motion offset by non-stop double bass drumming and tremelo guitar.  Further, and much akin to earlier and better albums from Immortal, “Wendigo” calls to mind the sensation of being caught in the pummeling snows of a musical blizzard with no visibility, direction or hope of return.

After such an intense and atmospheric start, it’s a bit unfair to expect Chasse-Galerie to adequately carry such an impressive baton.  While quite pagan-folk in approach (think the lilting traditional dance melodies underpinning the entire modus operandi of Taake or infusing the oeuvre of Primordial and you’ll get the idea), there’s just no comparison – it’s like putting on a Carpathian Forest album after sitting through Det Som Engang Var or De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.  Sure, it may have merit, but after that?  Please.

It’s also somewhat overproduced, falling into the trap of modernism so antithetical to the “ancient pagan roots” mystique post-Norwegian black metal is supposed to be tapping into.  It’s not that there’s anything particularly “wrong” here…it just seems an ill fit with its peers.

Things turn back into more grim and nocturnal territory with the return of Monarque and “la griffe du diable”.  Too bad he didn’t include the qualifyer “sang en”…I was getting images of Linda Hayden as Angel Blake for a minute there.  Nice stuff, and if anything strikes me as even darker than anything on Lys Noir, though the reedier, more authentically “necro” production here likely plays a factor in that (Lys Noir, like Chasse-Galerie, was somewhat overly processed and modern, to its comparative detriment).

Things close on a strong note with the second best offering herein, Csejthe’s “murmures nocturnes”.  Likely the darkest of the four songs on the 7″, these “nocturnal whispers” bear the contemplative and wistful longing feel of a lone warrior encamping atop a thickly wooded forest hilltop, with only the flickering flames of the fire offering solace from the endless blackness surrounding.  Yeah, it’s that kind of atmospheric.

With only one somewhat questionable track herein, I can’t recommend the Legendes split/comp enough, its contents leaving this particular listener looking decidedly forward to hearing more from the bands involved in the near future.  This is how it should be done, kids.  Hails!

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Beast Within – Adversity/Servitude 7″ (Sepulchral Productions) (March 28)

hmm…I wasn’t expecting this sort of band on atmospheric French Canadian black metal label Sepulchral…

Reminiscent of early Celtic Frost by way of latter day Darkthrone, that description leaves Beast Within’s efforts here sounding a whole lot more enticing than it should.  While the general idea is right and they’re pulling from the right influences, the semi-clean growling vocals are just way out of place.  Think Handsome Dick Manitoba shaking hands with the late Pete Steele, but much, much less “iconic” (I hate that word…) than either.

Similarly, the riffing is just too simple, less in the sense of authentic teenage creativity mixed with ineptitude ala Frost or the slavish worship of Warhammer or post-Panzerfaust Darkthrone to that style than an unwelcome blandness – it’s hitting most or all of the right beats, but utterly devoid of the spirit and soul that bolster the structure in the first place.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad.  I’m always up for a Hellhammer/Frost wannabe, same as with anyone who taps into the sound and feel of earlier, better bands of yore.  But the fact can’t be danced around that this one is something of a hollow man.  Perhaps with all that “beast” within, any actual feel for this style of music was crowded out…

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Blitzkrieg Baby – Kids’ World EP  (Beläten) (February 28)

Wow, trip down memory lane here.  Those of you old enough to have experienced the 80’s may recall the New York underground scene.

Bordering on the remains of what had been a vibrant punk scene and dancing around a colder, more Anglophilic goth one, some strange flowers bloomed.  No Wave.  The transgressive movement, crossing  film, art and slam poetry, pretentiously reclassified as the more generic “spoken word”.  The industrial scene, particularly before it crossed over with dance and became a 90’s cause celebre.

Yeah, well this is it.  Some guy sounding vaguely like Al Jourgenson reciting dark and somewhat evocative imagery of warfare, atrocity and death while slow marching beats and swooping loops of white noise occupy the background.  Think of it as Lydia Lunch, early Henry Rollins  or Foetus without what any of those folks brought to the table.  Meh.

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Hatriot- Dawn Of The New Centurion (Massacre Records) (April 1)

Legacy (Testament) and Exodus frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza dusts off the recent past and takes things straight back where they belong, sounding more in the mode of Pleasures of the Flesh than Exodus themselves have sounded in decades.

With a unique band setup comprised of his sons and other folks half his age, it’s both apparent and surprising that the man has quite this much piss and vinegar in his tank, much less that members of the generation(s) weaned on grunge, nu-metal and aggro and actually believing that dogshit was GOOD could really get the sound and feel of metal’s glory days down quite so well as they do here.

There’s a level to which things skew a tad too brutal for my tastes, but overall, this is a strong effort, and he promises more to come in short order…

Check out my interview with the man himself here.

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Storm Warrior- “Thunder & Steele” (Massacre Records) (March 18)

Hammerfall, sped up somewhat and with Henrik Ostergaard, Michael Oliveri or Steve Souza on vocals.  It’s pretty good for the type, though the nonstop pace tends to wear a bit as you progress through the album.  “Steel crusader” is probably the standout track here, being a bit more melodic and anthemic than the nonstop pummelling of the other tracks.

Not incredibly far off base from Sinbreed, albeit with less of the thrash feel.  It’s definitely good, but not sure it’s anything to get overly excited about unless you’re a hardcore power metal aficionado.

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Scythia – …Of Conquest (self released)

A more bombastic cross between Alestorm and Turisas, but with a take far more inclined towards both progressive and power metal.

With his throaty tenor edging towards baritone territory, vocalist/guitarist/bandleader David Khan (no relation to erstwhile Conception/Kamelot frontman Roy) evokes equal measures of happy-go-lucky pagan metal (hell, there’s even some bouncy folk-inspired keyboard sequences that brought Arkona to mind) and 80’s prog (think fellow countrymen Saga in particular).

Tag in some surprisingly more than competent, noticeably syncopated drum fills from distaff member Celine Derval and scene-atypical melodic leads from Khan (you can tell Scythia is populated by better musicians than far too many of their peers) to the now-standard double bass assault of modern metal and lush symphonic style keyboards from Jeff Black, and you have a recipe for pagan power metal magic.

Marked by a tongue in cheek D&D approach much akin to Christopher Bowes’ Alestorm and Gloryhammer projects (hell, they even have a pair of songs about hunting the kraken and facing the leviathan on the high seas!), Khan and company appear to be taking the musicianship end quite seriously, while wedding that to a lyrical approach (and backing vocal style) clearly intended to evoke knowing snickers from the audience – and for those with sadly insufficient experience of the Canadian species, let me spell this out: this is a nation rightly renowned for its humor.  So before you snort with derisive smugness, there’s no question Scythia is in on the joke here.

Just look at the highly amusing video for “bear claw tavern” if you don’t believe me…

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Landskap – I LP (Iron Bonehead) (May 16)

Drawn out, somewhat doomy 70’s rock that brings to mind but pales by comparison to the late Selim Lemouchi’s Devil’s Blood and similar “occult rock” acts such as Blood Ceremony and Venomous Maximus.  It’s not bad at all, and further calls to mind the excellent Sammal in some respects.

I like this general sound and style, so I’ll give these guys the thumbs up.  Just realize this comes with the acknowledgement that while good, they simply aren’t in the same league as older, more worthy acts such as the aforementioned going after a very similar sound and aesthetic.

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Possession (Belgium) – Anneliese 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead/Invictus) (April 12)

Well, this is better.  Possession tones down the Grotesque influences and chaotic blastbeat driven structure tremendously, to deliver a lumbering behemoth of a track that still manages to come off driving and propulsive.

I get the impression the singer’s a huge John Tardy fan, because it sounds like he takes about 4 minutes to progress beyond chanting “die-ee-die-ee-die” over and over again.  This is mixed with “into crypts of rays” style falling screams and a whole lot of slap echo, which just sounds messy, not to mention incomprehensible.

Even so, the song’s strong enough to withstand such eccentricities, and comes comparatively recommended – if you’re looking to check these guys out, Anneliese is definitely the one to go to.

Flip side “apparition” taps into more of the sound the band was going for on His Best Deceit, but things still sound more professional and tight than that might imply.  Overall, you might be able to compare the sound they’re reaching towards to Entombed circa Wolverine Blues, but only in general feel – after all, Anneliese isn’t a disappointingly crappy album marking the incipient decline of the band!

A welcome progression from the Belgians – looking forward to hearing where they take things from here.

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Cemetery Fog – Shadows From The Cemetery TAPE  (Iron Bonehead) (March 31)

Boy, they weren’t kidding about this being a tape…even in digital format, there’s no break between songs!  Not a choice I’d have made, personally…

What you get here is some very underground death metal with terrible production – the snare sounds like an empty one of those giant cans of tomato paste, and the drums are right out in front of the guitars, struggling for primacy with the raspy scream-growl vocals.

The riffs tend to be particularly “evil” and retro sounding and the double bass work is pretty good, and I appreciated the vocal nod to Sarcofago at the end of “Into the Beyond”.  Song titles are evocative (“shadows from the cemetery”?  “voices from the dark”?), cover art is childlike but effective enough, and overall this is a pretty cool release for those who miss the more unpolished end of the classic death metal spectrum (Baphomet’s the Dead Shall Inherit comes to mind here once again, as does the death/black metal bordering Morbid of December Moon or possibly even Horror of the Zombies era Impetigo).  I liked it.

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Skelethal – Deathmanicvs Revelation MLP (Iron Bonehead) (April 21)

Speaking of evocative, here we have a tolling church bell on a windy night, thunder rumbling in the distance, and an eerie spectral keyboard choir underscoring tinkling piano.

Thankfully, unlike many releases over the past few months which started off with a strong intro then fell flat on their faces when the music kicked in, Skelethal keeps things moving along afterwards, with a very Sunlight Studios sounding approach that doesn’t fall far distant of the classic Entombed/Dismember family tree (Nihilist, Carnage, Unleashed, Death Breath, you name it).  You just know that Boss Heavy Metal pedal is cranked all knobs to the right here…

In point of fact, this is Swedish death metal worship – and particularly Entombed circa Left Hand Path and Clandestine worship.  Fans will recognize nods to several riffs from those classics herein, complete  with Lars Goran-Petrov style vocals, haunting detuned leads, chainsaw guitars and band-wide full stops.  Speaking as a fan of those albums since their original release, this is positively killer.

Recommended for dedicated old schoolers and fans of that time and sound.

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NOCTURNAL BREED – Napalm Nights (Agonia Records) (March 11)

Shrieking, vaguely Saduslike vocals with a touch of post-Rock n’ Roll Lemmy put a bad face on what’s otherwise a decent, reasonably retro-thrash effort.

It’s not really Bay Area, but closer to that than the German, blackened or British variants.  Plenty of chugging guitars, time changes galore and reasonably impressive solos.  If not for the rather sorry vox, this one’d be a winner.

Depends on your tolerance for Darren Travis, I guess…and not that I’m condoning juvenalia, but that was the sorriest attempt at putting a belch on record EVER, guys…

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Erebus Enthroned – Temple Under Hell (Seance)  (April 2)

Tibetan temple bells open onto an unexpectedly lame Soundgarden style bent single note riff.  This is supposed to be a black metal (or at least “blackened death metal”, as some insist on referring to Dissection and Watain as) album, guys, not a tired old grunge release.

That first misguided song out of the way, things go more into the expected territory, and if you don’t have a video clip handy, just put on Opus Diaboli for visuals.  The band does have a better handle on what makes (made?) Watain work than most of the wannabe acts that pass  my way, so I’ll give them a comparative thumbs up, despite violating what’s becoming my Rule #1: thou shalt not ape Watain and with the first half of “sorathick pentecost” edging towards violating Rule #2: thou shalt not revive the corpses of grunge, aggro or nu metal.

If you can get past all that, it’s really not bad, and certainly closer to the template than Wild Hunt will ever be.

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Loinen – S/T (Svart Records) (February 14)

Hilariously naive art of decapitated heads and eyeballs adorns an ultra-lo fi and simplistic doom metal offering.  A lot of rolling R’s and beer hall-style throaty roars over some incredibly slow and simple riffs.  It says something that the drums are the decided centerpiece here, considering the tempo’s so slow, there’s not a hell of a lot for the guy to do.  He tries his best, though…

I’m actually wondering if this was recorded with vocals, drums and bass – no guitars.  Seriously, it sounds THAT simple.

Amazingly, each track appears to have been recorded at a different place and time, as the best quality track “portto” is followed by a succession of ever-worse sounding recordings.  By the last few tracks, they’ve incorporated folk wind instruments and even picked up the pace to triple time (for them, anyway) on the penultimate “kumijeesus”.  Has some atmosphere and is certainly listenable, but ultimately comes off as quite amateurish in the end.

Hey, I really enjoyed Ahab and remain a big fan of Goatlord, and yet and still find this to be really goofy, like a bunch of 14 year kids jammed in a garage and put it out as a record…

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The Golden Grass – S/T (Svart Records) (May 9)

Psychedelic early 70’s rock somewhere in the realm of Grand Funk Railroad.  It’s even got something of a Mark Farmer feel to the guitars and the falsetto backing vocals, though “Professor Plum Brandy” (vox and gits) would seem to be a more accomplished player than his predecessor was, at least in terms of soloing.

It’s just fuzzed out and lo-fi enough on the instrument end to provide that authentically retro “recorded under a pillow” feel, and there’s certainly more than a bit of Leslie West and Mountain playing into the whole affair.

Hell, there’s even some Hendrix style progressions in “sugar n’ spice” and some walking bass and a drum solo (!) in “wheels”, so this is pretty damn old school.  Good by me, I dug it.

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X_X – X Sticky Fingers X (Ektro) (March 28)

umm…well, the cover (which I’m not posting here, thank you very much) that shows when you play this one is a homoerotic sketch of a nude and (ahem) excited guy.  Yeah.  Seriously.

Even if that doesn’t leave you nonplussed, the bizarro jangly noise-rock will be sure to.  It’s only with “don’t rock the flowers – felt ham” that they even approach a Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers level of musicality, and if you know what I’m saying here, that’s as advanced as things get.

Thankfully, the better part of the album from track 5 on is at least semi-listenable, in the sense that the Dead Milkmen and late 80’s/early 90’s college rock was – it pushes the boundaries of acceptability and leans pronouncedly towards ineptitude.

Not really punk, hardly art-rock, it’s just what they used to refer to as “indie” and “alternative” before that got co-opted to cover a range of weird post-grunge acts in the Lollapalooza era.  Not my cup of tea at ALL.

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Circle – Kumiluoti 7″ (Ektro) (March 28)

Punkier than you’d expect from these guys, with both tracks falling right around the 2m mark.  I was into punk going way back and again throughout the mid 90’s-mid 00’s, so this is right up my alley.  The b-side’s a bit more rock than I’m implying here, but particularly coming from a band whose specialty is long trancey drone pieces ala Glen Branca, Kumiluoti is surprisingly pared down, sped up punk rock – much closer to the zeitgeist than you’d expect.  Check it out.

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Circle (ex-Falcon) – Leviatan (Ektro) (March 28)

On the other hand, we have Leviatan.  Just a few months ago, with Beer and Ribs and Frontier, they’d taken an odd detour from material like Six Day Run and Ssennsseess to do some odd pseudo-Americana under the name of Falcon (ex-Circle), while loaning out the Circle moniker to strangers.

Now they’ve decided to flip things back around and bill themselves as Circle (ex-Falcon).  But things aren’t quite right.  You know how odd they came off on Hollywood?  Well, this is somewhere between that and Paavoharju.  A lot of negative space and sprechgesang, without a hell of a lot of music to keep the listener interested.  Weird.

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Pact – The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night (Moribund) (April 15)

Despite throatier vocals and thick production that pushes both guitar and drums to the front, violates Rule #1 (see Erebus Enthroned).

There’s some variation from the template here, at least, but where it does, it gets a bit noisy and messy.  Has interesting song titles, and is hyper aggressive if you’re into that whole Marduk speed before all else thing.

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Wormreich – Wormcult Revelations (Moribund) (April 15)

Dark, somewhat experimental and doomy.  All chord progressions point downward, and it’s not really following what’s become the standard template (see Pact and Erebus Enthroned).

While not something I’d run out to grab, there are, sadly enough, far worse choices you could make for your black metal dollar of late.  Unspectacular, but OK.

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Sargeist – Feeding The Crawling Shadows (W.T.C.Productions) (March 31)

After last year’s excellent Rebirth of a Cursed Existence comp, Horna mainman Ville “Shatraug” Pystynen returns with a new Sargeist release – news to rejoice at, right?

Unfortunately, frontman Marko “Hoath Torog” Saarikalle (also of Behexen) seems to have changed his vocal style from the more nasty black metal tone of earlier material to a more throaty Sarcofagolike belch (see also Tormentor’s Atilla on the chorus of “beyond”) that doesn’t sit very well with the very “true kvlt” second wave sound of the music “Shatraug” provides.  Some of the old vocal approach rears its head on the verses, but at the bare minimum, all choruses are afflicted with this unfortunate new approach.

It’s still really quite good – musically it’s the same evil sounding riffing you’d expect, “return of the rats” being a particular standout.  And hey, it’s got an awesome cover photo!  But I’d seriously consider remastering it and forcing “Hoath” to redo the vocals in the style he delivered all throughout the timespan covered on Cursed Existence.  This new style just isn’t working.

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Hell – Trilogy  (Pesanta Urfolk) (May 15)

A compilation of the previously released (and inventively titled) I, II and III. 

I remember enjoying the split with Amarok considerably more than III, but it’s all more or less of a piece: slow, doomy backing occasionally punctuated by shrieking vocals.  Rarely, the pace picks up later in the song, which is good considering just how long some of these tracks are.  As you progress into II and III, expect to hit the 20 minute mark with some regularity…

Naturally, when things are droning on for such a long time, the attention begins to wander and you start to trance out a bit.  As such, these sort of endeavors can be considered somewhat “atmospheric”.  But don’t confuse this sort of “atmosphere” with the palpable atmosphere you get with early 90’s Morrisound/Sunlight Studios death metal or the best black metal – early Bathory, the Brazilian blackened thrash movement, the original Norwegian second wave, the French Les Legions Noires and Canada’s Sepulchral Productions.  This is more just endless drone business, much akin to Abruptum…

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Noctooa – Adaptation (Pesanta Urfolk) (May 15)

Moonspell circa Irreligious or Pete Steele in the Type O era, with sparse, Chris Isaak-esque folk guitars.  Not a distorted note on the album, this is sort of folk, but at the same time…not.

Check out the promo photos, don’t they look like Dan Peek’s America?  Not really my bag.

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Blood and Sun – White Storms Fall  (Pesanta Urfolk) (May 15)

Gothic darkwave ala Projekt Records.  I can hear the influence of Audra in this quite strongly – dramatic, throaty tenor vocals attempting to reach baritone, fronting folky acoustic guitars, fiddle and sundry other traditional instruments.

It’s spooky and contemplative, and I’m actually surprised it hasn’t turned up on one of Sam Rosenthal’s yearly label samplers alongside similarly minded acts like Angels of Venice and Mors Syphilitica, particularly when he brings in the female co-vocalist on “veiled lady”.  I like all that stuff, so this one gets a thumbs up.

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HIGH SPIRITS – S/T  7″  (Hells Headbangers) (April 15)

Early 80’s hard rock/AOR in the vein of Loverboy and Billy Squier – you could even say Aldo Nova and Greg Kihn at a stretch.  It’s hard not to like, but it does get pretty samey, even over the course of two tracks – the song construction is good and the band is quite melodic, but the solos aren’t that flashy and the riffs just repeat over and over without variation (particularly on “night after night”).

Both tracks are really catchy, though, and I wholeheartedly salute these guys alongside Italy’s Frontiers Records for bringing the style back.  I look forward to a full length – there’s a lot of promise here, though it could benefit from a bit more flash and busyness to the verse riff sections or on the part of the drummer to keep the more musically attentive among us from getting bored in the clinches.

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CENTURIAN – Choronzonic Chaos Gods (Hells Headbangers) (April 29)
CENTURIAN – Of Purest Fire (Hells Headbangers) (April 29)

Crazy-ass swarm of bumblebees style death metal.  Suffocation was positively sedate compared to this, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Not really technical, and not quite in the realm occupied by Morbid Angel and Necrophobic, this is sort of like Legion-era Deicide on crack.  That’s probably the best description for it in the end, given Seth Van de Loo’s very Glen Benton without harmonizers-like vocals and the band’s overall musical and lyrical approach.

Now, I liked the first two Deicide albums (and the Amon demos that preceded them), so this isn’t exactly a putdown…just that this is a bit too crazed and out of control to make it into the regular rotation, if you catch my drift.

Of Purest Fire is a demo, and a bit more raw vocally; Chaos Gods is more polished and produced, but the same idea.  Only one track appears on both (“soultheft”), and interestingly, having listened to them in appropriately reverse order (throw the horns here) I thought that was the best track on the latter.  They make direct homage to their obvious influences on the demo, covering Morbid Angel and throwing in Benton circa the self titled dual rasp/growl vocals on a few tracks like the title cut and “damnation for the holy”. As with Benton himself, this dual vocal approach would more or less vanish by the time of the actual album, or at least be recorded in such a fashion that the growls become far more prominent.  And as with Deicide, this is a shame…

It’s surprising that more or less old school death metal was still being released at the end of the 90’s – my experience was that the scene really died out around ’94, with few stragglers of note releasing anything thereafter.  Nonetheless, that’s what this is.

If you dig who they’re aping, you’ll probably enjoy this.  I liked it enough to listen a few times, but doubt it’ll find a place of honor alongside to the classics of the style in my collection.

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TROLLFEST – Kaptein Kaos (NoiseArt Records) (March 28)

Ah, this is more like it.  Leaving behind some of the Unexpect-like sonic insanity of Brumbelbassen, Trollfest take a musical step forward into more of a Finntroll with a dash of Alestorm party-folk modality.

There’s semi-comprehensible group vocal choruses, and the music actually makes sense, while still retaining “Trollmannen’s” trademark inhaled Master’s Hammer-style vox and their overall sense of fun and good natured insanity.  This is more standard “troll metal” (if there even is such a thing) – I’m thinking Trollhammeren/Nattfodd era Finntroll as a close brethren to what the guys are doing here (though if anything, with a far greater sense of humor).  It’s very pit-worthy if not danceable, and far easier to picture this being performed at a drunken tavern revel than their prior work.

“Trollbank” scales back on his blastbeat-heavy style somewhat, opting for more of a countrified dance band rhythm, all double stutter snare hits and alternating bass drum, we get a lot more melody, and it’s obvious that the band is growing as musicians.  More power to ’em, it’s a huge improvement.

Saw these guys last November supporting Alestorm and they were the clear standout of the evening, so I’m only hoping this new release brings them back out our way and soon.  Cheers!

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CONAN – Blood Eagle (Napalm Records) (February 28)

Another doom metal offering.  It doesn’t really go anywhere, so don’t expect Candlemass or Black Sabbath, nor is it stoner based, so it’s not Monstermagnet or Kyuss either (though it does bear strong similarities to the latter).  Really lo-fi and distorted guitars chug along at a midtempo pace, and every once in awhile some guy makes like the dude in lederhosen in the Ricola commercials.  Seriously.

Well, I can imagine the lyric sheet for this one was written on the back of a cocktail napkin, for all the work the “vocalist” had to do, and the music is really slow and plodding but without the same atmosphere or intellectual backing to bolster it ala Ahab.

It’s OK, but nothing special – not what I’d have hoped for from a band named after the greatest creation of one of my favorite authors.  Hell, they even had song titles like “crown of talons” and “altar of grief”, so I was expecting a lot…you can imagine my disappointment when you hear this rather middling-at-best effort for yourselves.

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NERVOSA – Victim of Yourself (Napalm Records) (February 28)

Who’d expect a trio of reasonably attractive ladies to be recording aggressive old school Brazilian style thrash?  I like the dark haired one, personally.

But really – it’s not like we’re talking front woman or even half-distaff ala Mortillery…this is three ladies, not an XY chromosome in sight.  All the more reason to say, holy crap!  Times really have changed from when I was trying and failing to get a decent female vocalist for my band back in the late 80’s/early 90’s…

Now, don’t get the wrong idea from that – this isn’t exactly melodic, soaring feminine vocals we’re talking about, but raspy screamed aggression – decidedly not what I was looking to recruit back in the day.  But it’s not exactly Angela Gossow either – despite all the snarling and shrieking, you can still tell this is a woman on the mic, and I do mean that as a compliment.

As they’re what used to be termed a “power trio”, the sound can get a bit thin for the style they’re reaching for, but that’s nothing an extra guitar couldn’t fix.  Filled with Not exactly retro-thrash, but certainly playing in that general ballpark.  A lot of “name” thrashers are quoted as giving this one the thumbs up, and I have to agree.  Good stuff.

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Septuagint – Negative Void Trinity MCD (Forever Plagued)  (April 7)

More modern black metal.  Either it’s not straight up Watain clonage this time, or I’m just hearing so many of these soundalike acts every month that they’re starting to vaguely differentiate.  Oh, wait, this one played Sacred Riff #36 a half step up and Sacred Chord Progression #64 in a different key…totally different, right?

Weird thing is, unless my copy came out of order, “psalm IV” comes between “psalm I” and “psalm II”.   And yeah, when I listened through a second time, it pretty much violates Rule #1 (see Erebus Enthroned).

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Ormgard – Ormblot (Forever Plagued) (April 7)

OK, this is nice – a lot more old school second wave (i.e. the Norwegian-led school of) black metal.  Like a few bands of note (Marduk, possibly Abruptum, Crimson Moonlight and of course Watain), they hail from the rival Swedish scene, but they’re…or as I understand it, he’s a lot closer to the spirit of the Norwegian sound (though you could make an argument for Ormgard further bearing some similarity to Finland’s Gloomy Grim).  And this is a good thing, people.

Nasty, evil sounding rasping vocals akin to Gloomy Grim’s Agathon, Hat or possibly even his successor Pest of Gorgoroth front some reverb-suffused tremelo driven guitars and (get this) fairly competent, syncopated drumming(!).  None of that childish blastbeat bullshit – the guy can actually work the kit and appears to understand rhythm!  In a black metal band!  Screw “impressed”, color me amazed.

There’s a touch of haunting, eerily atmospheric keyboard, but it’s hardly the offensive sort you find with lame acts like Dimmu – this is more of the ghostly, evocative sort you find on Gehenna’s First Spell or Gloomy Grim’s Blood, Monsters, Darkness.  Picture a ruined moonlit chapel being used for sinister rites, and you’ll get the general idea of what’s being tapped into here.

I’m always grateful for black metal that bears no similarity to the currently prevailing schools of copycattism (and I think everyone knows who and what that means at the moment – ahem), and Ormgard certainly falls under that designation.  A breath of foetid, sulfurous air on what seems to be turning into a unidirectional movement of late.

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Teitanbood – Death  (The Ajna Offensive) (May 13)

Pure chaos on record.  Picture someone playing Centurian while the intro to “hell awaits” runs in the foreground and you might get a general idea.

It’s noisy, crazed, there appear to be two guys belching and growling and roaring at the same time, the drummer is on crack or something, and the guitars are being sort of tremelo picked (albeit on the detuned low strings) at an incessant pace and speed that just cries out “remember ‘Demonaz”.  Early onset tendinitis calls, fellas.  Oh, yeah, and the tracks are really long.

I guess if this actually sounds good to you, go for it – I’ve certainly heard much worse.

Want my take?  Yeah, it’s listenable for those so inclined.  But I found it much akin to a pack of rabid dogs going at it with a swarm of bees.  The verdict?  Nah.