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Well, here we are again, and while the sheer number of upcoming releases dropping into my virtual mail slot has certainly increased dramatically over last month’s tumbleweed-infested ghost town dearth thereof, a good number of them are slated to street in September…which means another month of arid temperatures and balmy breezes for the rest of us.

So sit back, pour yourself a lemon shandy and listen to those far off strains of harmonica…or is that the wind whistling through the trees?  as we take on yet another rather slight batch of recent releases…

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ALESTORM – Sunset On The Golden Age (Napalm Records) (August 1)

The Scottish pirate ship sets sail once more, and for the most part it’s what listeners have come to expect – a lot of bad tongue rolling, lilting guitar and accordion style keyboard and a treasure chest full of campy odes to larceny on the high seas, Jack Sparrow style.  But there are a few changes to be found here.

Some are certainly positive: a surprisingly flash guitar solo from former bassist/current guitarist Dani Evans, an 8-bit version of the melody to open “1741”.

Unfortunately, others don’t bode quite so well, offering early symptoms of possible malaise to the tried and true formula the band has adhered to through three albums and an EP prior: a touch of aggro growliness peppering parts of “magnetic north”, an injection of creatively lazy Swedish black metal style blastbeats and overall structure to “wooden leg” and a more modern feel to recording, marked by more detuned guitars than usual, which rears its ugly head most notably on openers “walk the plank” and “drink”.  How the Limp Bizkitlike rap section of “hangover” plays out depends on just how silly a mood one is in at the time.

That’s not to say it’s time to lower sails to half mast in memoriam, as there are plenty of joyously uptempo shanties and drink-worthy chant-alongs making up the bulk of the record to keep things in reasonably familiar waters.  But there’s no drunken balladeering to be found this time around, and there’s a degree to which the more standard tuning “happy metal” Alestorm aficionados have become much enamored of appears to be getting lost in favor of a more aggressive, detuned, modernistic feel overall.

A rather mixed bag that will grow on the listener with time, or the black sheep of the Alestorm catalogue?  This is a question that can only be answered by some future self venturing Back Through Time

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John Garcia – S/T (Napalm Records) (July 25)

Kyuss (and Vista Chino) vet John Garcia is back with another effort that is both familiar and strange.  While still tapping into the Grand Funk and Blue Cheer by way of Trouble sludge of his more famed acts, the thick toned, fuzzed out, all-out stoner experience of the generator party days is barely given the tip of a beanie cap here.

That said, it’s still thick and heavy early to mid-70’s style heavy rock with a dash of early 90’s stoner feel, and with a damn sight more melody than either of his prior acts seemed capable of (the inassailable scene cornerstone Blues for the Red Sun aside).  Aging 70’s post-hippie types pining for the days of elephant bells, flower prints and hitchhiking cross country should latch right on to this one.

If The Golden Grass and Sammal are your thing, Garcia’s solo effort will be right up your alley.

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Adrenaline Rush – S/T  (Frontiers Records) (August 22)

Former Swedish child star Tåve Wanning proves she’s all grown up now with a surprisingly strong 80’s Hollywood glam style debut.  There’s elements of Motley Crue, XYZ, even Tawny Kitaen-era Whitesnake style power ballads – this one just says Sunset Strip circa 1987 all over again.

Wanning delivers on the vocal front as well, with a slightly nasal rasp and reasonably forceful delivery that brings to mind a far more clean toned Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast) or a younger Lorraine Lewis (Femme Fatale).

She’s young and it shows, with a reediness to her tone and a noticeable “throat voice” that leaves more knowledgeable listeners practically screaming at her to open up and sing from the diaphragm, but for this style of music it works well enough, and she’s certainly something of selling point visually.

Damn good stuff, well worth looking into.

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X-Drive – Get Your Rock On (Frontiers Records) (August 22)

Frontiers continues to shift focus from straight up early 80’s AOR towards a more mid-to-late 80’s Hollywood glam metal approach for their second release in the style this month.

Driven by heretofore unknown guitarist Jeremy Brunner, this project has managed to pull in a number of notable “names”, inclusive of White Lion 4-stringer James Lomenzo, Montrose reunion-era vocalist Keith St. John and famed producer Andy Johns (Loudness, Autograph, Killer Dwarfs) prior to his demise last year.

Brunner himself isn’t a particularly flashy guitarist, coming off more as a competent journeyman than the more expected metal virtuoso, so there’s a bit less to be found here than listeners might expect after hearing some of these pumping old school summertime guitar riffs kick off nearly every track.  That recurrent inevitable disappointment aside, there’s certainly some merit to be found here in the generally midtempo material, leaving X-Drive much akin to a particularly decent club-level act of the era: nothing to really write home about, but good enough to bring a few friends next time they’re gigging locally.

While far less impressive than Adrenaline Rush, this is still something of a flashback to the days when you’d hear something like “she never looked that good for me” or “contagious” blasting on the radio of convertibles passing by.

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Principality of Hell – Fire & Brimstone (W.T.C. Productions) (August 18)

Picture Maax with gargly vocals and a bit more of a Celtic Frost fixation to match the Bathory and Motorhead ones, and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect here.  There’s a few tracks that go all early Samael on your arse and a Baloff-era Exodus cover that sounds more like early Kreator in their hands.  “Strike of the beast”? “Flag of hate”? “Total death”?  Who the hell knows, they were shooting for one of those three.

Overall, pretty good stuff, though have to admit I wasn’t very fond of the vocals and most of the songs dragged on twice as long as they should have.

A promising debut from these retro-minded Greek underground metallers.

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Dysangelium – Leviaxxis (Demo 2014) (W.T.C. Productions) (July 24)

Germany gives us this new black metal act which comes off very much like early Watain, but for once it’s meant as a compliment.

Tapping into the better parts of that sound and mixing trebly, blastbeat-driven Swedish style black metal with hollow death metallish vocals, they manage to work that fine line that separates, say, Tribulation from Incursus or Kult ov Taurus that keeps the obvious worship commendable rather than just plain boring and half-assed.

Three tracks, but worth checking out for fans of the once-mighty Swedes in the wake of that ridiculous Wild Hunt.

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Diabolical Messiah – Satan Tottendemon Victory!!! (Blood Harvest) (August 4)

Crows again?  Watch your lunchboxes, those sandwich thieves are just up to no good, I tell ya…

Oh, there’s a whole bunch of pukey babbling that goes on behind the crows too.  Get used to that sound, because it continues.  “Extremely rotten flesh” much?  That’s right, they’re Grave wannabes, of all things.  Bet you never thought you’d hear that…I certainly never thought I’d have to say it.

But there it is…mix early Grave with a vaguely black metallish approach and a cheesy Immolationesque ooky-spooky “evil” lyrical bent, and you have these guys.

Whatever.

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Bölzer – Soma (Invictus Productions) (August 5)

Bolzer returns a year or so on with improved production.  That’s really all there is to say here.

Like Aura, it’s pretty trancey blackened death metal.  They go in for long songs.  And while these two tracks are certainly more than listenable, I liked Aura a whole hell of a lot more than this one.

Curious what a full length would bring, for good or ill…

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Empyrium – The Turn Of The Tides (Prophecy)  (July 22)

After last year’s reunion cum debut live performance, German pagan metal cum darkwave by way of folk duo Empyrium are back at it, with their first studio album in a dozen years.

Honestly, this is far more mellow than I was expecting, with only “dead winter ways” sounding as dark as I’d anticipated, and portions of “in the gutter of this Spring” and “the days before the Fall” displaying the only signs of life and appropriate dramatic bombast on the album.

It’s clear founding member/bandleader Marcus Stock is a depressive fellow, but it seems he may have taken the plunge straight into MOR-style moroseness or even ambient music here.

More than competent musically, but doesn’t really speak to me.

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Empire Auriga – Ascending the Solar Throne (Moribund) (August 19)

And speaking of ambient, we have this release.  Do they ever really change key?  Ultra lo-fi vocals buried under trebly guitars suffused in reverb and tinny distortion (later abandoned for a more clean tone variant thereof).

The cover says it all – this is space music ala Tangerine Dream, but with more of a metallic, “bad trip” bent.  I certainly wouldn’t want to ingest any hallucinogenic substances before putting this one on the turntable…

Easily skippable.

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Provocator – Antikristus (Moribund) (August 19)

Rather crass and obviously “blasphemous” underground black metal.  Being so poorly produced and “mysterious” has its benefits, but this is just tacky and not particularly appealing.

It seems like the tracks may have been sourced from different studios or demos, as the volume and quality appears to change from one song to the next.  Either way, it’s nothing particularly noteworthy or special.

By all means, pass.

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Vardan – Enjoy of Deep Sadness (Moribund) (August 5)

Ah, everyone’s favorite purveyor of broken English returns with yet another Les Legions Noires cum Sepulchral Productions style offering.  And as always, if you can get past the amusing mistranslations, the man has some good stuff on hand for the interested.

Like Dreaming…Living my Funeral or The Woods is my Coffin, Enjoy of Deep Sadness is a brief affair, consisting of a mere three tracks (each of which approach the 12 minute mark).  It’s got a stronger, clearer production this time around, but the music is strong enough to survive all that (yes, folks, black metal works in exact reverse to any other form of music – less really is more here).  As ever, it’s depressive, droning, contemplative and grim, offering a surprisingly wintry feel for a (one man) band hailing from the sunny Mediterranean climes of l’Italia…

What can I say, it’s from the motherland, it’s got a dash of comic appeal due to the ongoing linguistic gaffes, and it’s some damn good underground black metal.  If you dig Burzum, Mutiilation, Vlad Tepes and the roster of Quebecois black metallers at Sepulchral, you’ll love Vardan as much as I do.

Keep ’em coming, paisano.

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Khtoniik Cerviiks – Heptaedrone TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (August 15)

More black metal with a flimsy death metal cheesecloth draped over the top.  It’s not all that bad, but nothing to really take note of either.

The production, such as it is, is rather muted, which helps when the drumming is as noisy and guitar riffing as chaotic as this.  We’re not talking “precision chaos” ala Morbid Angel, Grotesque, Necrophobic or Centurian here, just sort of a sloppy mess with distortion and cymbal noise bleeding all over the mix.

“Magmatilk moil” definitely stood out from the rest, with more of a traditional feel underlying all the screechiness and jiggery pokery business going on throughout the rest of the album.  One can only hope the band chooses what makes this track special as the template for their future direction, and tones down all the sloppy mess surrounding.

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שְׁאוֹל (Sheol – UK) / For Split 7″ (Iron Bonehead) (August 22)

Sheol returns with a split.  I think the more muted, less reverb-heavy production suits them better than that of November’s Sepulchral Ruins Below the Temple, but that drummer still leaves something to be desired, relying on slightly off-tempo blastbeats where a more Donald Tardyesque approach was clearly called for.  He can obviously handle the footwork end of the drum equation…so what the hell is his problem with the damn snare?  Look, guy.  It never did anything to you, you don’t have to brutalize it (and our ears) beating on it incessantly and randomly…

Drumming aside, I think this shows a definite improvement in the Sheol camp, and will grudgingly admit to sort of liking “phospagous amorpheon”, whatever the hell that means (it’s something to do with a light eating blob, yeah, I get that…).

For, on the other hand, just kinda blows.  Low belching, construction site noise masquerading as snare drum hits and an incessant grinding noise akin to a truck backing up that’s supposedly guitar work.  And this goes on (and on, and on) for 7 minutes straight.

Thumbs up to Sheol for the clear move towards self actualization.  Forget the other side even exists, use it for a coaster or something.

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Gnosis of the Witch – Dauðr Burðr Þrysvar 12″ (Iron Bonehead) (August 1)

hmm…a 9 minute track with a 6 minute plus intro.  And not a particuarly good or atmospheric intro, mind you.  The kind you reach for the fast forward button over.

When the track proper finally starts, we have some pretty nasty underground black metal, a lot of snarling and reverb-buried whisper-croaks atop a lockstep-unison juggernaut of guitar and drum noise.  It’s like a tank moving along, and brings far better albums like Battles in the North or Panzer Division Marduk to mind in it’s relentless singlemindedness.

Then side B starts, and we have an entirely different animal on our hands – all trancey drones and keyboard stings.  There’s a short section about 3 minutes in where they pick up the pace again, but that tapers off quickly to return to Little Nemo in Slumberland territory.

I didn’t like the vocals, and could have done without that endless intro, but just because it’s vaguely traveling similar territory to earlier, far more enjoyable material, I find some measure of affection thereto.

Curious what a full length might bring.

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Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates 12″ (Iron Bonehead) (August 1) 

Better production than Shadows from the Cemetery to be sure.

Overall, it’s the same mix of catchy old school influenced death metal and (if slightly less-) underproduced underground as last time, with a bit of a progression in that the more grindcore elements appear to have been shed in favor of a more atmospheric neo-black metal approach (listen to that church organ in “withered dreams of death” – I dare you not to think Gehenna and First Spell).

Only three tracks, really (there’s an intro and an outro here), but definitely worth your while if you’re into the general sound.

Things keep looking up for these guys.  Can’t wait for the next stage of what appears to be an ever-improving act.

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FORCE OF DARKNESS – Absolute Verb of Chaos and Darkness (Hells Headbangers) (August 26)

A relatively new Chilean act with strong old school thrash and death metal touches to their essentially black metal (or at least blackened thrash) approach.

Jeff Waters-style riffing, a few quick bits of Joey DeMaioesque basslines scattered about, a Tom Araya scream and a whole lot of busy Grotesquelike riffery with solos that sound somewhat akin to Trey Azagthoth.  You really can’t say they aren’t ambitious, or that they can’t play their instruments…

The weird thing is, despite all this going for them and an early Sodom style vocal approach, I’m not sure quite how well it works as a sum total.

Sometimes you can push all the right buttons and still miss the point, somehow – looks like ice cream, tastes like ice cream, but it’s all hollow inside and leaves a weird aftertaste, like those no calorie sugar substitute versions.

There’s no way I could in good conscience give this anything less than a reasonably hearty thumbs up – the band is just too good for that, and working all the right faders as it were.

But something’s still off.

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EMBALMER (US) – There Was Blood Everywhere (MLP) (Hells Headbangers)
(July 21)

Belch and puke grindcore.  All horror movie blood and guts, noisy blastbeats and barely competent guitar work.  Apparently it’s a re-release from one of those bands who came around after death metal of the Floridian, Swedish and UK varieties had already died out to make way for the second wave of black metal out of Norway (and to a much lesser extent, Sweden).

As such, it comes with better production than you get with modern proTools driven releases and a bit of period analog studio atmosphere to bolster up what is ultimately at best a rather flawed product.

Look, back when, pre-Necroticism Carcass, Repulsion and Impetigo were sort of laughed at as video rental junkie kids who made up for their apparent inability to play their instruments with plenty of borrowed grindhouse sound bites and gruesome lyrics dedicated to their favorite 70’s and 80’s gorefests.  These days, an entire genre has been built up around these bands and that same noisy approach to death metal, so something like Embalmer might practically be seen as progressive by grindcore standards…

For the rest of us, meh.  Some nostalgia factor to the production, atmosphere and film-based approach, but little else to recommend here.

May be worth a spin.

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MUTILATED VETERANS – Necro Crust Warhead (12″ MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (August 5)

Punk rock inflected death metal.  Think Carnivore by way of Entombed (or more specifically, Death Breath), and add a touch of At War to finish basting the cake.

In fact, there’s a hell of a lot of Nicke Andersson to the sound here – as such, you can easily tag in early Dismember as well.  Lyrically, they’re more about war and military business, which is the other area where the Carnivore and At War associations come into play.

Hey, I love all those bands, so this is a no-brainer.  Sure to hold you over till Nicke and Scott Carlson finally get on the stick with that new Death Breath album…

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CHILDREN OF TECHNOLOGY – Future Decay (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (August 19)

Not as much studio sheen as they displayed on Mahemic Speed Anarchy, but the same uptempo punk/metal crossover.

If anything, they appear to have slowed down quite a bit, which is a bit of a letdown, and the more meaty, deadened production style doesn’t work half so well on Paolo “Deathlord Astwulf” Astolfi’s gruff vocals as the cleaner, more metallic sound of the prior release.  But that said, it’s damn good stuff regardless.

With ever-improving acts like Vardan and Theatres des Vampires joining genre standbys such as Bulldozer and Rhapsody (of Fire) and even relative newcomers like Children of Technology jumping aboard the bandwagon, it really seems like we’re finally seeing something of a worthwhile metal scene arising from a certain Meditteranean peninsula.  And so long as they’re giving us quality releases like this, all I can say is Viva Italia!

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MIDNIGHT – No Mercy for Mayhem (2CD, LP, PIC-LP, TAPE) (Hells Headbangers) (August 19)

More Bathory/Motorhead/Venom inspired USBM along the lines of Intoxicated, Maax and Joel Grind’s Yellowgoat Project.  I love this shit, so there’s really not a lot to say here.

The vocals are dicey, shouted and overdriven, but aided tremendously by gang-chanted punk style choruses.  The guitarist sounds quite influenced by Fast Eddie Clarke, which is a definite plus.  The drums aren’t very good, tending to stick to more of a standard two-beat throughout, but he is capable of double bass driven passages (such as in the cover “destroy tsunami’s power”) and inoffensively mixed more or less to the rear of both vocals and guitars.

Oh, and despite some of those reservations?  It’s one of the best of this type of releases to land on my desk since the aforementioned Yellowgoat Project.

Thumbs up.

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ABSYMAL LORD – Storms of Unholy Black Mass (12″ MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (August 8)

uh…well, it’s sort of a phlegmy vomit.  Seriously, that’s what the vocals sound like, and the sluggish, sludgy, none-too-well mastered guitars dragging along behind like a reluctant child being forced into a dental chair don’t exactly change that impression.

The drums are sub-mediocre as well, falling off meter several times in all the doomy grindness of the affair.  He also suffers from what my drummer and I used to call “floppy feet”, where the double bass isn’t properly muted or stuffed, resulting in a further drag in tempo and resonance between bass drum hits.  Think Tommy Lee on “red hot”, he had floppy feet too…

Despite all this, it’s inoffensive and listenable as background music, if you’re not paying close enough attention to get bored or annoyed at the saminess of the music (or the overall shoddiness of the drumming).  It’s certainly underground, death metally black metal, and that’s good for something, I guess.

Not as awful as this makes it sound.

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Shaved Women – Just Death (Ektro) (August 8)

80’s style hardcore crossover.  Vocals reminiscent of Wattie (The Exploited) or Pat Dubar (Uniform Choice).  Definitely nostalgic for the days when straight edge was worth listening to, at least musically.

A bit too shouty, negatively toned and particularly hardcore to recommend to fellow old school punks (we’re not even talking Minor Threat or Bad Brains here, this is more Verbal Abuse by way of Negative Approach or TSOL), but well worth a listen.

Really don’t get the cheesy cover or the photo of a bunch of guys sharing a hot tub, though…

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