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Damn, it’s cold for mid-August.

With temps running as low as the mid 60’s for several summers in a row and hurricanes starting a month or more earlier than usual, holidays with nary a hint of snow for the better part of a decade or so and blazing summer heat arriving as early as mid-April, you really get the sense that it’s time to rework the calendar for the first time since, oh, 1582

Seriously.  To line up with reality and historical expectations, we should change it so that Winter and the associated holidays start in January or February and Summer kicks off in April or May and ends in July to match up with season-appropriate, yearly recurring weather patterns.  Noooo, there’s no such thing as global warming…

So apropos of the apparent untimely shift in seasons, we’re kicking off our End of Summer reviews a bit earlier than usual, filled with a rather un-Summerlike wave of black and death metal coldness (with a touch of gothic symphonic, power and traditional AOR and glam to round things out nicely). 

 So zip up your Hallowe’en appropriate parkas and hoodies, and let’s dive in, shall we?



Heliosaga – Towers In The Distance (August 22)  (indie/self released)

And straight out of left field…

One thing you really don’t expect to hear these days is proper gothic/symphonic metal in the classic late 90’s-mid 00’s tradition.

While a few bands have recently begun making overtures towards a return to form if not revitalization of a genre that’s been effectively moribund since 2008, many of them are veterans going back to the sound that made them famous in the first place.  Leaves Eyes come immediately to mind, as does a recent surprising move to the operatic frontlines from longstanding (if previously somewhat boring) second stringers Xandria, who proved that sometimes losing a few founding members can be the best thing that ever happened to a band*.

*for another glaring example of this principle, see also Theatres des Vampires, who only became a truly notable venture under the ostensible leadership of the lovely Sonya Scarlet

But what happens when we’re not talking classic acts undergoing some measure of renewal?  Moreover, when we’re not only talking a brand spanking new outfit, but one that (get this) doesn’t even hail from European climes.  Say what the hell?

But here you go, a self-released gem right out of that busy musical hotspot of Minnesota (of all places…and we’re not even talking a Prince related project here!).  While not as bombastic as, say, Phantom Agony/Consign to Oblivion era Epica, Leaves Eyes or Mother Earth/Silent Force era Within Temptation, keyboardist/guitarist Damien Villarreal and vocalist Chelsea Knaack have come together to make what may be the first actual gothic/symphonic metal offering to come out of the United States.

Sure, we’ve had a gothic/death metal crossover act (Echoes of Eternity, though they’re at least part Canadian) and a few lower rung gothic cum pop radio acts (remember that lone album where anyone cared about Evanescence?  Good move breaking up with Ben Moody, there, Amy…), but actual symphonic metal with operatic vocals?  This is total bizarro world stuff over here, in a nation still (sadly) dominated by aggro acts, hip hop and tuneless, emotionless math metal and prog wannabes.

So once you manage to get over the shock factor engendered by their domestic origin, how does the music rate?  Well, for one thing, Knaack taps into similar vocal range and dynamics to earlier Simone Simons, albeit with a bit more stiffness that calls Carmen Schaeffer of Coronatus to mind (though I’m betting she was aiming more for earlier Floor Janssen if not Tarja Turunen stylistically).

The guitars are somewhere in the middle, managing to keep Villarreal’s fingers a whole hell of a lot busier than the standard chunka-chunka single note stutter rhythms that tend to be a genre standby.  This is a good thing, as is his ability to hold down a reasonably melodic solo or harmony lead fill on occasion; these certainly enhance the sound to an unusual degree and keep the listener more on their toes than fans of the genre are accustomed to.

But is he a virtuoso guitar hero on any level?  Not in the least.  Consider him a rather competent, melodically oriented craftsman with light prog leanings (you can pick out the Fates Warning by way of Dream Theater aspirations in a few of the rhythmic choices and modulations, not to mention the mostly inobtrusive but omnipresent keyboards which he also provides).

Rounding out the trio is drummer Jordan Ames, who offers equally competent drumming, which appropriately for the style is never very flashy or notable, but filled with enough stuttering polyrhythms, cymbal work and a dash of double bass-inflected kit runs to show the guy to be quietly accomplished (much like what I’m trying to get across about Villarreal).  Coming from the Shrapnel school back in the day, I prefer a lot more flash in my players, but there’s nobody here who’s less than superlative in their musical competencies.

The one major failing, and one I find with far too many acts these days, irrespective of genre, age or nation of origin is a noticeable lack of soul.  Like comparing Jimmy Page to Carlos Santana or the guys in Queensryche to Randy Rhoads, while in the right general ballpark, there’s something central and essential that just isn’t there.

While more effusive and warm than several likeminded European acts (as befits a trio of blustery, heart on the sleeve wearing Americans), there’s a certain unexpected coldness to the sound and lack of bombast that baffles somewhat.  More of a note of constructive criticism, much akin to chiding a favored student for the mistakes that kept him from getting an A+ instead of a B, but worth noting nonetheless.

All told, if you’re a fan of gothic symphonic metal in the days before that scene became overcrowded with no-talents and pop radio leanings and have some measure of respect for progressive leanings in your metal (think Ray Alder-era Fates Warning far more than Jason McMaster-era Watchtower and you’ll get a clearer picture), you really don’t want to miss out on this one.

The first US overture into the gothic symphonic revival delivers a very credible and respectable showing, and gets themselves some high marks in the bargain.  Good stuff.


Kissin’ Dynamite – Megalomania (AFM Records) (September 30)

“I’m a bad bad boy and I go for your toys” (sung in a campy, straight out of the corner of the mouth manner).

Seriously, that’s the opening line of the album.

It was hard to keep listening after that…

All the worst elements of what my drummer used to refer to as “dirtbag metal” (late 80’s tattooed junkie Hollywood glam along the lines of Guns N’ Roses, Circus O’ Power, Law N’ Order and suchlike misuses of contractions) thrown together somewhat awkwardly with bombastic European power metal in the Mat Sinner tradition.  There’s even a nu-metal style rap break in “VIP in hell”.  Say wha?

D-A-D it ain’t…

Look, there’s big choruses and enough swing to keep less demanding fans of power and glam happy, so long as they don’t mind a Reeses’ style “two great tastes that (don’t) taste great together”.  And hell, I really liked “running free”, for one.

But the vocals run straight into comedy territory far too many times on the first half of the album (things get a bit more straightforward as you get to the halfway point), there are too many goofy nu-metal, groove and even pseudo-industrial cum-Sigue Sigue Sputnik* bits, and it’s just a bit hard to take seriously.

*check out “god in you” if you really want to shake your head in disbelief…

Not the worst thing to come across my desk of late – the high energy, bombastic power metal choruses really salvage the album’s otherwise Bronx-style crater sized potholes and rough spots.

But certainly a band that doesn’t know who they want to be, or what audience they want to appeal to.

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A Sound Of Thunder – The Lesser Key Of Solomon (Mad Neptune Records) (September 9)

Clean but hard edged and quite driven female vocals enliven what would otherwise be a somewhat forgettable Southern groove-heavy domestic take on power metal.

Hailing from Washington, DC of all places, they eschew the only notable music scenes of their hometown (sorry, no DC hardcore or P-Funk here) with an unusual attempt to cross several unrelated subgenres that never appreciably gels, raising eyebrows with potential but ultimately leaving no one satisfied.

Frequent usage of triple tracked harmony vocals really enhances the material and raises it a few levels above what the rest of the album would lead the listener to expect and the guitars are decent, with occasional triple tracking on the leads.  There are some odd Hammond organ style keyboard-driven breaks evocative of early 70’s hard rock, but the end result is too disjointed and distinctly American to fit in with today’s metal scene.

With nigh on zero 80’s metal influences and a strange melange of Watergate-era 70’s rock, Southern groove ala Black Label Society or a less aggro Pantera and an outer sheen of European power metal, A Sound of Thunder fits comfortably into absolutely no accepted subgenres of the metal scene.

Despite a powerful singer in Nina Osegueda (presumably no relation to the Death Angel guys) who really throws herself into the material and some reasonably good playing all around (guitar, keyboard and drumming are all fairly on point, particularly by the lowered standards of the rock and groove scenes they draw so heavily from), this is a very middling album with a sound that will either really hit or really miss the mark, depending on the listener’s personal musical orientation.

For me, vocals aside (did I mention the vocals?  Yeah.  She’s pretty good.) and despite being a close call in spots (“fortuneteller” is the closest they come to actual metal, and thus the sole standout track), this Key was decidedly Lesser.

Lots of potential, to be sure.  But a definite miss.


Emil Bulls – Sacrifice To Venus (AFM Records) (September 30)

Oh, joy, modern aggro screamo metal.  But wait, there’s a melodic clean chorus.  Say wha?

Well, it’s not exactly Howard Jones-era Killswitch Engage, but I guess if you’re big on emo-screamo with a high tolerance for all that Hot Topic aggro “modern metal” crap, there’s a surprising degree of “singalong” emo business to offset all the detuned guitars and belch-roaring.

Still not catchy enough for my tastes, and the neanderthal bits are absolute anathema to my ears.

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State of Salazar – All the Way (Frontiers Records) (Aug. 22)

More of a standard Frontiers offering than we’ve seen with the more 80’s Hollywood metal approach of bands like Adrenaline Rush or X-Drive, this is more late 70’s/early 80’s MOR radio rock with a softish bent.  Think Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Dennis De Young/Tommy Shaw era Styx, that general ballpark.  They specifically mention Survivor and Toto in the promo materials, so you can pick up where we’re going here.

It’s very good for the type, with energetic, feel good emotional solos (with a touch of a jazz bent in places!) that for all their brevity show off just how good a player guitarist Johan Thuresso really is.  Filled with overdrive-based semi-distorted guitar, Styx and Sagaesque keyboard courtesy of Stefan Martenson and smooth Styx/Kansaslike harmony vocals, this is total flashback territory, coming off more like a lost period album from one of the aforementioned veteran acts than a group of university grads with some seriously retro sensibilities.

Kristian Brun works the kit with just enough panache to show he’s no slouch at the skins and the light but smooth vocals by bandleader Marcus Nygren bring further comparisons to Chicago and Europe to mind, particularly on tracks like “eat your heart out” (which track also reminds this listener vaguely of 38 Special in places).

If you miss the days of light AOR rock with a feel good, singalong bent, you really can’t go wrong with these guys.  Did I say I really, really liked this one?  Because I did.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

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Obscure Burial – Epiphany  (Invictus Productions) (September 15)

Strong old school blackened thrash elements and a touch of classic death metal riffing (there’s even a hint of Infernal Majesty to “epiphany”) clash with (and devolve into) Watain inspired distorted open chord arpeggiation. 

There’s too much of the over-reverbed vocal thing ala Zom going on for their own good, and of course they have to resort to hackneyed blastbeats over proper kitwork (which portions of the material and some reasonably fancy footwork show the drummer more than capable of handling). 

I don’t get it – early 90’s Darkthrone aside, if you can play in any real sense, why resort to childish incompetence?  Eschew the blastbeat, people…

There’s definite elements of interest to be found here, but taken in sum total, it just doesn’t work on any real level.  


Stryvigor – Forgotten by Ages (Svarga Music) (September 13)

Ah, that’s a little more like it.  Atmospheric, icy toned and a mournfully wintry take on modern black metal.

Their big failing is the vocals, which push things from a more Ulver meets Gorgoroth by way of Taake musical ballpark into some weird variant of Master’s Hammer that fails in most respects to capture the odd fascination of Frantisek Storm’s inhaled croaks.

But that aside, the drumming is pretty good (some nice double bass-driven kitwork and syncopated cymbal work near the end of “mysteries of darkness” show there’s more to this guy than lame blastbeats – “wherever the stars” nails that impression home), keyboards are prominent but atmospheric and the guitars have that off kilter Eastern European feel endemic to bands hailing from behind the former Iron Curtain.

Pretty damn good, particularly for something this overproduced (by black metal terms).  I definitely liked it.

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Funereus (Mexico) – Return of the Old Goat CD (Forever Plagued) (September 8)

wow, this is some gnarly old school black metal…or more precisely, blackened thrash from the days when Bathory and Goatlord were among the few purveyors of the type.

Despite a few Watainisms to the guitar (“umbra atrox”, anyone?), this is totally fucking retro, with some of the nastiest vocals you’ve heard in decades.

Drumming is surprisingly competent for the style (check out the double bass work) and the album manages to simultaneously sound well produced and appropriately underproduced, with all the vocal nastiness and guitar signal bleeding all over the mix…but dammit, the drums, and particularly the fancy footwork, are crystal clear throughout.

A definite keeper.  More, please.

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Destruktor / Throneum – A Prophecy of Nihilism (Split 7″) (Hells Headbangers) (August 8)

Destruktor delivers a molten slab of old school blackened thrash riffing, unfortunately thrown way the hell off track by death metal vocals (?) and some serious underproduction (always a very bad thing when it comes to death metal…would’ve been OK if they stuck to the blackened thrash orientation, though).

The drummer can work the double bass just like Saxon’s Pete Gill when he was in Motorhead (think “locomotive”) and he does some really good tom rolls, but has a crap tin can-style punk rock snare whose awful sound is further marred by a propensity towards blastbeats.  Too bad, because losing the Jan Axel ‘Hellhammer’ Blomberg fixation and the purchase of a deep dish snare would leave this guy as a pretty amazing drummer…

Can’t be too mad at these guys, they have too many things going for them.  They just try to be too syncretist and lose the plot amidst all the disparate influences.

Throneum plays in a similar style, but is far more forgettable.  The intro is like a weak but sped up take on Dream Death by way of Slayer, but there’s an Obituaryesque half-time breakdown halfway through the track that’s a bit more interesting.

They throw in a Tom G. Warriorlike infantile two hand tapping solo that brought back memories and some hilariously goofy, almost girlish grunting and eeyaaagghhs that were either totally tongue in cheek or a spontaneous drunken afterthought to remind everyone that “hey, I’m still here!” in those long wordless sections.

Perfectly ridiculous, but entertaining and nostalgic enough.  In all, a somewhat flawed but recommended double bill.

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Ascended Dead – Arcane Malevolence 7″ EP  (Blood Harvest) (September 8)

Good Lord, what a mess.  Some guy who aspires to be a cut rate Martin Van Drunen inhales growly croaks over some incredibly noisy and spastic swarm of bees guitars and perfectly horrid, forefronted blastbeatish drumming.

There’s something about it that keeps it just this side of horrible, much akin to the morbid fascination one feels at an accident site or when viewing a train wreck.  Hell, if they’d buried the ridiculous drumming way, way back in the mix, this may even have been a kinda interesting take on death metal with a vaguely traditional flair.

As it is, some absolutely awful mids-heavy production and a really bad, uncontrollably manic drummer (guy, you don’t have to keep up with or follow the guitar lines, you’re supposed to provide the backbeat, contrast with and comment on them…) leave this as a curiosity at best.

You probably do want to hear a track to see where you stand on this extreme oddity.  Even in writing this, setting drumming and production aside, I’m seriously not sure whether I liked it or not.

New drummer and producer next time, guys.  You may make a fan outta me yet.

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Ghoulgotha – Prophetic Oration of Self 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (September 8)

Generic as hell.  At least Ascended Dead was interesting enough to leave listeners scratching their heads at what they just heard – damn, did I absolutely despise that or enjoy it in a weird sort of way?

Ghoulgotha, on the other hand, belies their clever name by recording some of the most average to boring death metal I’ve heard in ages.

There’s long dragged out passages of sustained detuned guitars that bring Autopsy to mind, and I’m definitely not one of those folks who thinks Riefert is some misunderstood genius or something, so don’t take that as any sort of a compliment.  And to top it all off, there are phrases at the end of “disintegration paradox” that are absolutely amateurish in their little kid take on atonality.  You’ll recognize it when you hear it.  Try not to spit your drink out laughing when you do.

It’s pretty bad when I find myself bored off my ass with a two track single, so you get the idea of how forgettable, and passable, this actually is.

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Kurnugia – Tribulations of the Abyss 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (September 8)

Somebody’s trying to be Baphomet, with a touch of Desultory.  I liked both Dead Shall Inherit and Into Eternity quite a bit, so this one gets the nod.

A tad second tier as can be inferred from their obvious influences, but old school undergroundish death metal to the core.

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Energumen (Switzerland) – Void Spiritualism 7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (September 22)

More old school style death metal.  The guitars are overly busy, the drumming is competent but way too messy (though he does have some definite footwork skills going for him, that gets buried beneath all the Suffocation-inspired, overly speedy and therefore sloppy sounding kit work) and vocals remind me of Entombed’s “premature autopsy”.

Again, I’m hearing the influences loud and clear and like what I’m hearing, though if the drummer is going to work the kit like that, they really need to mute and/or mix the drums to the back a bit.  While he can clearly play (and intensively), it’s distracting to the sound as a whole and sounds less impressive than just plain chaotic and sloppy in the final mix.

Sure, it’s not quite Ascended Dead level annoying, but this guy’s obviously a better player than that…

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Autumn’s Dawn – Gone (Eisenwald) (September 3)

Remember the early to mid-90’s Britpop scene?  Bands like Blur, Supergrass and Oasis?  Yeah, that’s pretty much what this is, with some added vim and vigor and an unfortunate dash of screamo every now and again.

I can’t claim to have been a huge fan of the style, but let’s be honest here – in an era of grunge, Lilith Fair whiners and Pantera-style aggro puke-screamers, you latched on to what melody you could.  At least the Britpop stuff was inoffensive…

So there’s a nostalgic element to all this, and you can tag in a spot of black metal meets gothic metal flavor to the fairly dark jangly guitars suffused in reverb and delay.  Hell, there’s even a surprising hint or two of Luna Sea in “into the cold”, and a nice harmony lead on “grace of the grave”.

The vocals swing between clean if whiny pop-punk and screamo, with the former being unimpressive but acceptable and the latter laughable as always.

What helps tremendously is the rather dark midtempo feel evoked by the band itself, and the multitude of disparate influences playing into their sound.

If only they’d disavow the ridiculous screamo bits, this’d be an easy four star recommendation.

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Matyrvore – Malevolent Desolation 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (September 12)

Evil sounding riffs and occasionally decent drumming buried under pillow-muffled production and the usual blurgh burrrp bleaagggh over-reverbed death metal vocals far too many underground acts seem to aspire to these days.  It’s not quite Zom, but it’s kind of ridiculous nonetheless…

When they slow down to midtempo, the drumming goes from snoozeworthy blastbeat business to downright interesting.  When the guy’s not belching…I mean ‘singing’, it’s noisy, but not too bad.  Definite potential here, but in need of some serious improvement.  A good producer may work wonders.

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Albez Duz – The Coming of Mictlan LP (Iron Bonehead) (September 12)


Yes, that was my exact reaction when I first heard the amazingly campy, overdramatic, quavering-throat vocals of Alfonso Brito Lopez.

If you ever laughed at Peter Steele’s sorry, jowly attempts at clean singing for the ladies in Type O Negative (huge inhale – woll, sheee’s in luv with the da-aakk – gasp) or Gaahl’s similarly cheesy “when love rages wild in my heart”, you’ll be sure to bust out laughing here.  Moonspell’s Fernando Ribiero’s got nothing on this guy, that’s for sure…

That’s really all there is to say, as the vocals appear to be the central focus of the band’s sound.  Some very spare, simplistic doomish guitars, drums playing in lockstep with them grunge style, and juvenile-level keyboards.

It’s absolutely absurd, and entirely skippable.  Next…

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Mortuus (Sweden) – Grape of the Vine (The Ajna Offensive) (September 16)

“Death is inseparable from the notes!” says the press release.  Luckily for Mortuus, the music isn’t all that bad, or they’d really be in for it after that cheesy line…

Think slower Watain, and you know exactly what to expect here…nearly note for note, in fact.  Semi-clean, upper string driven and as slow as a funeral march, with barked/gargled vocals.

Atmospheric and not bad for yet another band in the endless army of Watain zombies.

But will the march of clones never stop?

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Reverorum ib Malacht – De Mysteriis Dom Christii (The Ajna Offensive) (September 16) 

You have to love it when the band’s press release starts off like this: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” -Psalms (111:10)

We’re told that these guys used to be part of that whole Swedish “anti-cosmik” thing (alongside Dissection, Watain and The Devil’s Blood) until members Lundin and Mikael converted to…get ready for this…Catholicism a few years back.

So, “Roman Catholic Black Metal,” anyone?

Now, as with Horde a few decades back, the oh-so-“evil” BM community would appear to be up in arms over the very idea here.  (Ostensibly) Christian black metal?  Pfagh, fire and brimstone!

But let’s take a step back here, and consider the case of Joris-Karl Huysmans.  You know, the guy who pretty much started the entire Decadent movement?  A ReboursLa-Bas, which scandalized France with its Gilles de Rais focus (shades of Cradle of Filth and Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder!) and depiction of satanic ritual?  Yeah, that guy.

Was the man therefore any less a Decadent when he later shifted his aesthetic obsessions and sensual cum spiritual longings to a more particularly Catholic orientation, all reclusive monks, religious iconography and archaic gothic cathedrals?

You can read my analysis in depth here, but suffice to say, some salient reservations aside, the answer is no.  He was who he was.  He just refused to be tied down at any stage of his life journey, allowing himself the freedom to pursue self-actualization and existential authenticity, rather than locking himself into a particular moment in time or fleeting phase of persona.  But he was still the same man, with the same orientations, the same way of looking at the world and existence as a whole.

So if these guys want to go all Roman Catholic with their black metal, really – why the hell not?  If the music style changes, then hey, now they’ve gone bubblegum pop or something, and fuck ’em.  But that’s not the case here.  They’re still doing black metal.  So shut up and enjoy it (or not, see if I care).

So, down to De Mysteriis Dom Christi (love that title), where matters get a bit less clearcut.

Unfortunately, the album kicks off with a very long and boring mumbled intro.  They may or may not be praying in Latin, it’s hard to tell the way they mixed this – it’s very messy and garbled.  Not the best way to draw listeners in, guys…

When things finally pick up, you get Horde-level barely in tempo floppy foot double bass drumming (see also Immortal circa Battles in the North) and pseudo-Gregorian chant vocals.  OK, but nothing overly special.  Then back to another long, pointless ambient piece.  Then back to the black metal, but with more Attila Csihar inspired bizarro vox.  Another dull ambient piece.  Attilla again.  Rinse.  Repeat.

I was really expecting something interesting when I heard about this one.  For good or bad, I figured they’d be tapping into cathedral ambience, suffused in reverb, drama and ritual.  Yes, Latin prayers, plainsong and chant, at least as intros or background.  But icy, ethereal, atmospheric black metal nonetheless…just infused with the imposing weight of history and ritual inherent to the gothic cathedral.  It should have been a sort of match to the genre-defining album whose title it comments on.

Instead, we get passably mysterious underground black metal marred by a far too avant-garde bent, buried amidst pointless artsy if not atonal ambient bits that drag on even longer than the songs proper.

This could have been a real out of left field winner.  Instead, it’s of significantly more interest for its apparent backstory than what it actually has to offer.

Nice try, but have to chalk this one up as a fail.

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Black Twilight Circle – TLILTIC TLAPOYAUAK (The Ajna Offensive) (September 2)

Aiming to be a USBM variant of Les Legions Noires, the “Black Twilight Circle” is a conglomeration of Cali bands releasing through one tiny label and (till present) mainly releasing via cassette or vinyl.

Any attempt at evoking the best days of the scene back in the early to mid 90’s (think Norway’s “inner circle” or the aforementioned French collective) is certainly sure to pique the interest of listeners jaded by decades of clutter and crappy bands on a pose (with USBM as a whole tending to remain among the worst of all possible offenders in this respect globally).  But in the end, it’s all smoke and mirrors, copycattism and cheap marketing gimmicks, unless they’ve got the music to back it up.

Let’s find out if these 16 bands are up to snuff…

1. Kuxan Suum – Tzolk’in [11:42]
Southern Death Cult and Adam and the Ants had a bastard son, and here he is, all Native American tribal drumming and flute for several minutes.  This is black metal…how?

Oh, OK, 3 minutes in, it gets all noisy.  The guitarist has no clue what notes to hit, apparently – it’s more atonal than a Vernon Reid guitar solo.  Pretty bad.

2. Cempopoloah – En el Obligo de la Luna… [9:30]
Geez, another guy who keeps throwing inappropriate chromatic tones into his riffing.  This isn’t a thrash album, mind – it’s supposed to be black metal, they’re trying to set a mood.  Throwing any old key in there to clash against the others Charles Ives style is decidedly not a good idea.  Some guy moaning and screaming on vox.

Another stinker.

3. Blue Hummingbird on the Left – Storm [3:13]
Starts off promisingly with an old school Teutonic/Brazilian style blackened thrash riff.  But again, goes off the rails with awkward, random time changes and chromatic modulations that just don’t fit.  A damn sight closer than the first two, but still a miss.

4. The Haunting Presence – Dead Souls Scream [4:45]
Evil sounding death metal riff, but the guy on vox really needs to do something about all that phlegm, and swallowing the mic isn’t it.

5. In LakechAlaKin – Ometeotl [6:22]
Oy, more atonal noise, this time with drones and bent notes and a lot of reverb-happy screaming.  I really hope this comp picks up soon…

6. Muknal – Bringers of Filth [8:26]
Slightly more traditional death metal, but still noisy as all get out.  Can’t really say I’ve liked anything on this comp thus far…

7. Dolorvotre – Upward Spiraling [6:03]
Oh my GOD this is horrid.  A swarm of wasps coming at you.  Seriously, were they using an Octaver with the only output signal as the high-end?  It’s like somebody digitally phased the guitars up a few octaves to get that incredibly annoying riff…and some guy pukes up his grilled cheese and bologna sandwich all over the microphone.

Was this a joke?

8. Tukaaria – Nekaroa [4:34]
Worst production I’ve heard in years, like you’re listening to a 1970’s AM transistor radio that got thrown down a sewage pipe from the outside, several feet away.  All mids and high end, not a db of bass.  Noisy as hell.  Another miss.

9. Kampilan – Battleof Mactan [13:08]
zzzz…huh?  Oh, I guess the track changed.  These are starting to sound like repeats of earlier tracks.  But nope, says it’s a different band…

10. Volahn – Yaxche [5:47]
A little more solemn atmosphere than the other bands thus far, but still not particularly good.

11. Kallathon – Universe of Constant Ages and in the Mist of Eternity [7:13]
Starts off very Samhain inspired, then gets really weird.  A bit black metal, a bit college/alterna-rock (what is that silly jaunty riff they keep throwing in there?), even a dash pseudo-rockabilly (seriously, you’d think they hired Chris Isaak to help out on guitars or something).  Doesn’t really work, but the most interesting offering on the comp thus far.

12. Shataan – Born to the Earth, Return Through the Body [6:30]
Flutes and a 70’s feel that brings hippies and the “occult rock” scene to mind.  But then it gets weird and experimental.  Interesting, but nah.

13. Blood Play – Screams Transcends [6:59]
Strong, traditional death metal riffing and solid drumming.  They screw things up by hiring the kid from the Fleurety demos to do vocals, but this is by far the best thing on the entire comp, no contest.

14. Acualli – Rites of Mockery [2:39]
More traditional death metal stylings, but these guys are more grindcore, with awful drumming and a slurring puker on vox.  Sort of passable.

15. Arizmenda – Rites of Deconsecration [9:03]
A nice 80’s style acoustic intro with syncopated drumming.  Things go very, very wrong when they turn black metal.

16. Axeman – Ride into the Night [10:54]
Traditional underground metal riffing marred by terrible overdriven production and a horrid screamer on the microphone.  Good riffs, but far too long for its own good.

Look, regular readers of these monthly roundups are doubtless well aware that USBM has undergone a significant facelift in recent years, with some truly excellent retro-style acts popping up all over the place.  In some ways, the US has come full circle from the absolute worst nation for black metal to one of the very best in today’s market.

But this “Circle”?  They sure as hell ain’t it.