A Sadness Song (a division of ATMF), AFM records, Alternative 4 - The Obscurants, ÆVANGELIST - Writhes in the Murk, Blood God - Blood Is My Trademark, California Breed, CRIMSON SHADOWS - Kings Among Men, Evergrey - Hymns For The Broken, Frontiers records, hell's headbangers, iron bonehead, J.B.O. - Nur die Besten werden alt, LONELY KAMEL - Shit City, Madmans Esprit - Nacht, Massacre records, MEDEN AGAN - Lacrima Dei, MOONLAND feat. Lenna Kuurmaa, Napalm Records, Necroholocaust (Canada) - Holocaustic Goat Metal, NO REGRETS RECORDS (a division of No Remorse), Nucleus Torn - Street Lights Fail, Oberon - Dream Awakening, OCTOBER 31 - Bury the Hatchet, Pestilential Shadows - Ephemeral, Prophecy productions, Sacrilege Records, Seance records, STEAK - Slab City, STRIKER - City Of Gold, STRYPER - Live at the Whisky, svart records, THE LURKING CORPSES - Workin' For the Devil, The Moon And The Nightspirit - Holdrejtek, THE ORDER OF ISRAFEL - Wisdom, The Sabbathian - Ritual Rites, third eye cinema podcast, Woodtemple - Forgotten Pride, WORK OF ART - Framework
Well, here we are again, with the first strains of Fall wafting their way into view…then vanishing again…then back again…whoops, now it’s clearly Indian summer, complete with near 90 degree temperatures, intense humidity and a whole hell of a lot of sweating. What the hell?
Any way you slice it, September is always a really f***ed up month.
And so it is perhaps appropriate that we come to what may be the most bizarrely disparate collections of music we’ve been given to review in some time, from upbeat AOR and Christian metal to some of the darkest corners of the black metal subgenre, ones that venture where even seasoned fans hesitate to tread.
Do I really need to say it? Because it’s one of those.
Hang in there, it’s going to be one hell of a bumpy ride.
MEDEN AGAN – Lacrima Dei (NO REGRETS RECORDS (a division of No Remorse) (Sept. 22)
From sunny Greece somes Meden Agan, who live up to their namesake of “nothing in excess” with an interestingly syncretist if seldom very challenging mix of guitar-forefronted power metal and operatically inclined gothic-symphonic metal.
The guitars are quite flashy and riffing pleasantly off kilter, though things tend to swing a tad formulaic in terms of the leads. Romania’s Magica came to mind in terms of the unusual and rather busy riffing, though Bodgan Costea’s often quite inventive soloing isn’t exactly where Diman Koutsogiannopolos chooses to take things. Think a less two handed, more straightforward Lanvall (Edenbridge) and you’ll get the general idea here. Either way, it works, and there’s no question which member this band truly revolves around.
Vocals are handled by one Maya Kampaki, who replaces longstanding frontwoman Iliana Tsakiraki. Not being familiar with the band’s prior work, I can only speak to Kampaki herself, who is possessed of a pleasantly warm chest voice much akin to Charlotte Wessels of Delain in those all too rare occasions when not launching into deliberately operatic strains that play into more of a Carmen Schaeffer (Coronatus) modality, albeit with some pronounced oddities thereto.
While the backing choruses certainly do evoke the early Epica (back in the days when that band was actually worth attending to, circa Phantom Agony and Consign to Oblivion), Kampaki’s approach to the operatic end of the equation is a bit odd, consisting quite regularly of nigh-coloratura leaps straight into the very top of her range, buried in tight vibrato trills.
There are phrases where she still works the quavering soprano but keeps things on a more even mezzo-esque keel, but those odd nigh straight lines from down in chest voice directly to coloratura head voice squeaks come without any real bridge or flow, almost like arrows being shot from an invading force of sirenic Amazonians. Medea and Elektra fronting a phalanx, charging directly at you…it’s not bad, just extremely unusual and musically speaking, a very odd choice. It’s as if every song were the dramatic aria and putative finale to the opera…
Tolis Mikroulis provides a dash of coloring on keyboards, Aris Nikoleris exhibits a touch of Joey DeMaio influence on the few occasions the bass can be picked out of the mix and drummer Panos Paplomatas keeps up the back end, never too flashy or breaking with tradition, though there are elements in “nuntii belli” that suggest a slight progressive leaning and desire to play with the measure somewhat.
Taken all in all, this is actually quite a decent album, with the Magica-like guitar/keyboard lead break in “nuntii belli” and the suprisingly Romeo Voidlike “loss” (complete with saxophone parts!) being decided high points.
While I wouldn’t necessarily call these guys the forefront of what appears to be an apparent gothic-symphonic revival over the past few months, they’ve delivered what amounts to quite an interesting album here. There are more than enough elements present herein to push Meden Agan into the upper echelons of the current scene, and I personally would love to see them perform Stateside.
Well worth looking into.
LONELY KAMEL – Shit City (Napalm Records) (August 29)
Vocalist and guitarist Thomas Brenna rasp-snarls throatily as a blues-rock take on Motorhead pounds its driving, overdriven tube amp-style riffs through the listener’s head. It’s all fuzzed out and lo-fi in the mix, marking it as stoner or space-rock inspired, though it’s unlikely that even Monstermagnet would have it together sufficient to provide quite this aggressive and speedy a performance. Hardly “shit city” in my estimation…
What follows keeps up that level of aggression, though slowing down to a more directly Wyndorfian style and tempo (especially on “white lines”) with vague touches of Kyuss (most pronouncedly on “seal the perimeter” and “nightjar”) and (oddly enough) even Ten Years After on “I feel sick”. It’s so glaringly obvious who Brenna’s influences are, he wears them right on his sleeve.
As a fan of Motorhead, Monstermagnet and Red Sun-era Kyuss (and admirer of Woodstock-era Alvin Lee), this one’s definitely speaking to me, in spite of the plethora of stupid song titles.
THE ORDER OF ISRAFEL – Wisdom (Napalm Records) (August 29)
Guitarist Tom Sutton, the only non-Japanese member of Church Of Misery, takes on vocal as well as six string duties and joins forces with a few hometown pals to emerge with new project The Order of Israfel, and a less Gothenburg Swedish metal band you cannot imagine.
Eschewing the local penchant for At the Gates-style “melodeath” the city is so rightly famed for giving to the world at large, Sutton and company dip back into a rather Trouble-d take on doom. Bringing many of the best elements of the Psalm 69/The Skull-era Chicagoans to the table, and while you can tag in bits and bobs from such contemporaries as Venomous Maximus or even Bergtatt/Kveldssanger-era Ulver into the mix, it’s clear where they’re getting all this from.
Unquestionably derivative, but damn good all the same.
STEAK – Slab City (Napalm Records) (September 5)
And our third straight doom/stoner/psychedelic/space rock offering in a single month from Napalm comes courtesy of four Brits from straight outta London. Turning the Monstermagnet dial up to 11, the only other comparisons that can be made are to those bands Wyndorf himself directly pulled his sound from: Hawkwind and Black Sabbath.
Vocalist “Kippa” (as in “the lips that touch kippers will never ever touch mine”? – sorry, Avengers joke there) does his damnedest to eschew any accent but that of Wyndorf himself. It’s pretty damn close, though there are a damn sight less drug references being bandied about here than on a typical (earlier) Monstermagnet record. Damn.
Again, I love who they’re copping their fixes from, so this particular Steak dinner gets another unreserved thumbs up.
STRIKER – City Of Gold (Napalm Records) (August 29)
Canada’s favorite sons return with a record that seems a lot more aggressive (for better or worse) than 2012’s Armed to the Teeth, though whether this is more due to a bit of turnover in the band or Fredrik Nordstrom (Dream Evil)’s production is anybody’s guess.
Where the earlier album (see my interview with Dan Cleary here) was more of a melodic, somewhat anthemic party metal record in the finest tradition, City of Gold throws things more into the realm of hyper-aggressive Bay Area style thrash metal with big choruses (if you can picture such an odd hybrid).
Promotional materials reference Savage Grace and Exciter, and those are good starting points for what the band is trying to approach here, far more akin to a very hopped up “forever” than a “fight for your life” (which sort of midtempo, very melodic Enforceresque track is wholly absent herein.)*
*well, OK, there is one exception, namely “bad decisions”.
En toto, this is not entirely dissimilar to what listeners expect from Striker – it’s still speedy with melodic touches. But expect a hell of a lot more of a nasty edge this time around.
CRIMSON SHADOWS – Kings Among Men (Napalm Records) (August 29)
And another Canadian metal offering from Napalm this month comes by way of an odd band going by the name of Crimson Shadows.
They’ve been around for a few years, having dropped two EPs and an album previously, but it was only with their win at the 2013 Wacken “metal battle contest” that they came to major label attention.
How to review this one? Because musically, these guys are more than proficient (there’s a section in opener “rise to power” and the later “dawn that even gives the bass a few bars to shine, Manowar or Chastain style).
There’s a lot of melody to the choruses and songs are filled with melodic guitar lines snaking their way above their more chunky chordal riff underpinning.
There’s an epic, anthemic feel that approaches but often bests that of viking or pagan metal, and solos are flashy if not amazingly original (the scent of Herman Li keeps wafting through the speakers, if you catch my drift).
Brothers Ryan (guitars) and Cory (drums) Hofing and co-guitarist Greg Rounding offer respectable, pop-punk/emoesque clean vocals.
All thumbs up so far, right?
Look, this is modern metal. The bands coming up nowadays were all weaned on emo, aggro, post-Morrisound/Sunlight death metal and worse. So can they really be faulted for the poor taste that led them to top off a truly winning mix with frequent lapses into lame growl-puke vocals?
For my part, I’m doing my best to tune out that incredibly mismatched bullshit and enjoy the band itself and Rounding and the Hofing brothers’ clean backing vocals (which at least tend to dominate during choruses).
Really great stuff, if you can put all that laughable belching and puking aside.
J.B.O. – Nur die Besten werden alt (AFM Records) (September 30)
Well, I don’t know a hell of a lot about these guys, but it’s apparent that they’re all about the shits and giggles.
With a fairly direct sendup of the cheesy Opus classic “life is life” (appropriately enough, titled “death is death”, and complete with stadium cheers throughout), another of the Nancy Sinatra cum Megadeth standard “boots” transposed to a more amusing “das bier is da zum trinken” (“this beer is made for drinking” for readers without any German) and a metallized transliteration of Lou Bega’s annoying “Mambo No.5” (now “Metal No. 666”), it’s apparent that if these guys were performing in English, they’d be a much beloved cult act on the metal/hard rock scenes globally. And I’m given to understand without any real stretch of credulity that this is in fact the case among German speaking audiences.
While meine Deutsch ist vir schlecht, I was still able to pick up enough of the lyrics (and recognize enough of the songs being referenced and parodied herein) to get the gist of what these guys were getting at, and suffice to say it’s pretty silly – language barrier aside, with their profound sense of humor, they’d probably make great guests for the Third Eye podcast. At the very least, they definitely seem like they’d be loads of fun to go out for a boozy night on the town with…
There’s a surprisingly straight taken on Alice Cooper’s “school’s out” (which the aging golfer and proud Republican party member dizzily performed no less than TWICE in the same show when we saw him a year back), jokes about Bieber and Harry Potter and even the immortal question “was wurde Jesus tun?” (more familiar to English speakers as the annoying admonitory catchphrase “what would Jesus do?”) as well as a number of short spoken word skits that flew right over my head.
Nonetheless, I applaud the spirit of the endeavor, their musical abilities are unquestionable and their sense of the absurd is quite refreshing in a scene all too often prone to a ridiculous po-facedness.
While I admit to never having been exposed to their material prior to this (and therefor defer to those who may feel this album is better or worse than any of the others they’d put out over the years), I can say that I did enjoy what I heard and was amused by what I was able to pick up (see above).
These guys may no longer be “jung, dumm und besoffen” (“young, dumb and stone drunk”), but at least in the case of J.B.O., it does seem that in spite of what Billy Joel told us, perhaps “only the good grow old”…
Evergrey – Hymns For The Broken (AFM Records) (September 30)
Emo-inflected modern metal. There’s all that heavily emotional, heartstring-tugging despair and rage against an unjust world wrapped up in every detuned note, the strained, raspy if clean vocals of Tom Englund, and the dark if passionately felt lyrics that fill the album’s running time.
Where they have it all over some hipster crossover act like Five Finger Death Punch, say, is that these guys actually have some measure of competency on their instruments and are fully capable of taking things into a more properly metallic direction, nor do listeners have to suffer through those ridiculous Phil Anselmo meets Davey Havok screamo bits that sully far too many bands of that ilk. That said, this doesn’t really say “metal” to me – Evergrey is hardly Vanishing Point, for a relatively likeminded, yet worlds apart example.
Is it really my thing? Nah, if I’m as down as these guys seem to be, I’m going to go straight into the heart of darkness and pull out some classic gothic rock, not something hopeful and yearning like this.
But does it stand head and shoulders above similar acts, tapping into the same sort of overdramatic teenage rage against the unjust universe as they make their calling card and stock in trade? No question. Quite good for what they’re going for.
Blood God – Blood Is My Trademark (Massacre Records) (October 27)
Sheesh, another really good band and album undone by ridiculous vocals.
What makes this one of particular interest is that it comes in two versions: if you get the limited edition digipak, you have your choice of listening to the album done in a horrible Brian Johnson-knockoff voice (which is the only version you get in the standard edition) or in a rather silly death metal Cookie Monster voice much akin to Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory or Barney Greenaway of Napalm Death in the immediately post-Benediction era. I kept expecting to hear “suffer, martyr”…
I have to say that between the two, I did wind up siding with the Grover version, as it was less pealing and grating than the latter day AC/DC screamer ever was (I never did care for the Johnson iteration of the band; while they still had some good material left in them over the subsequent decade, they were never quite the same after Bon passed). But regardless, it’s still quite comical and distancing, which is probably not the effect Thomas “Mr. Debauchery” Gurrath was shooting for.
Vocals aside, this is essentially an AC/DC album, from the days when they still had some fire in them. While falling a bit short of the pure electricity of the classic Bon Scott era, you can pick up definite hints and glimmers of the transition days (Highway to Hell, Back in Black) and the long running Aussies’ still worthy if comparatively somewhat stodgy mid to late 80’s iteration (Flick of the Switch, Blow Up Your Video, etc.).
Now readers might be scratching their heads at this point – are we talking about AC/DC or Blood God? Well, there’s a reason for that. You see, if we boil it down to the essentials and set the odd vocals (either variation thereof) aside, Blood God is practically an AC/DC tribute act.
Much as Voodoo Circle, particularly in terms of the excellent More Than One Way Home, is little more than a John Sykes era Whitesnake in modern clothing, so are the absurdly monikered “Mr. Kill”, “Mr. Blood” and “Mr. Death” nothing more than the Young Brothers and company in disguise. Can’t fault either act for their taste, but that’s the way it is.
A very good lost AC/DC album, I’d call it around 1988 or thereabouts.
California Breed – S/T (Frontiers Records)
Speaking of AC/DC influences, here’s one that missed us a few months back that features Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) delivering a pinched Brian Johnsonesque rasp over songs that evoke equal measures Led Zeppelin and late 80’s/early 90’s tattooed Hollywood junkie hard rock/metal (think anything from Guns N’Roses to Jackyl) cum grunge (think Soundgarden, Alice in Chains or Stone Temple Pilots).
The Zeppelin influence is appropriate, as the drummer on this project is none other than Jason Bonham (late of the eponymous Bonham as well as stints with nostalgia circuit iterations of UFO, Foreigner and several tribute acts for Zeppelin itself), who retains some of his father’s obvious stylistic hooks while ramping up the technique considerably (I find it unlikely that you’ll dig up something on the level of “midnight oil” in the Zeppelin back catalogue, as vaguely familiar as some of the patterns may be).
I was never the biggest fan of Zeppelin or where GNR took (or more honestly, eviscerated) the metal scene back in the day, and always despised grunge, though Badmotorfinger had a few songs good enough to nearly give Soundgarden a free pass. But suffice to say that if you do like any of those bands or sounds, much less similarly inclined acts such as Kingdom Come, Bonham or even Kings X, you should be pretty happy with this union of two scene veterans and a very likeminded unknown on guitars.
Hey, if Julian Lennon thinks this guy’s great, well…
uh, on second thought, never mind, forget I said that…
WORK OF ART – Framework (Frontiers Music srl) (September 19)
Wow! Really really good stuff, with early 80’s radio rock style choruses, jam packed with hooks, well crafted modulations and multiple subtle shifts in mood in the course of a few measures. Well thought out, melodic and appropriate yet inventive solos that cross, say, Neil Schon with Reb Beach stylistically.
Make no mistake, this is very sophisticated music, but with the simplicity to distill things down to a very user friendly, memorably sing-a-long level rather than keeping things to a jazz, progressive or fusion level of abstraction and obvious complexity. It’s very listenable AOR designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, but any musicians out there should be able to pick up just how refined these song constructions actually are…
The vocals are clean and airy, somewhat reminiscent of Europe’s Joey Tempest without the accent or affected dramatics, and the whole package could easily complement an 80’s teen sex comedy or California beach party in its upbeat positivity and strong sense that everything will be alright, so long as there’s love and a pretty girl (or for the ladies, a buff yet sensitive dude) to share a romance with.
And I thought last month’s State of Salazar was uncanny…these guys have it so dead on, I started having flashbacks so vivid I could practically touch ’em all over again. Clearly there’s something going on in Sweden of late, and it doesn’t involve Boss HM pedals or Sunlight Studios this time around.
MOONLAND feat. Lenna Kuurmaa – S/T (Frontiers Music srl) (September 19)
I can’t claim to know a thing about vocalist Lenna Kuurmaa, but it appears that she was the equivalent of an MTV VJ and took part in (without winning) several iterations of the Eurovision song contest before getting involved in acting…quite a resume there.
Produced by Frontiers go-to guy Alessandro Del Vecchio (Silent Force, Eden’s Curse who also provides keyboards), you can be sure you’re getting a solid, catchy AOR product here. That duly noted, I found this one a bit weak by comparison to any number of Frontiers releases I could name which have come my way over the past year or so, possibly due to the product being tailored to the talents, limitations and/or musical preferences of Kuurmaa herself (you know when promotional materials name check Roxette, you’re in trouble already).
I did like “crime of love”, which felt a bit reminiscent of Quarterflash without the edge, but even its comparatively agggressive companion piece “poison angel” falls short of the Scandal featuring Patti Smith vibe Del Vecchio and company seem to be reaching towards.
In effect, Kuurmaa deflates any actual drive, passion or aggression the rest of the band would care to offer, dragging things down to the level of a post-Shania Twain pop-country music album. While the songs themselves are clearly geared towards the AOR market (“heart made of stone” and “look at us now” being another pair of near misses), Kuurmaa has such a soft, even soulless approach and delivery that the music loses all its octane and emotional impact under her rather middling, quite “safe” lead.
No, it’s not a bad album by any stretch…just totally not my style, and more MOR than AOR in the grand scheme of things.
STRYPER – Live at the Whisky (Frontiers Music srl) (September 19)
It’s probably no surprise to readers of the monthly roundups that I was an unashamed fan of Stryper back in the (original mix, 6 track version of the) Yellow & Black Attack / Soldiers Under Command days.
While they really seemed to sell out (a better term may be “glam out”) and get pop radio soft thereafter, those first albums (and the Roxx Regime demos) always worked their way into occasional rotation through the years, with certain tracks still bringing chills in their practiced dual-guitar assault (honestly unmatched in the world of metal), smooth minor-key vocal harmonies and unusual syncopation.
Thus it was much to my surprise to learn that they’d quietly resurrected themselves from a disastrous grunge-inspired makeover attempt (Against the Law) with a decent (if modern metal-inflected) 2009 comeback album (Murder by Pride) and pretty faithful album of classic rock/metal covers (The Covering), both of which flew entirely under my radar.
When and how did I find out about this? You guessed it, with their surprisingly true to classic form No More Hell to Pay, which got one of our rare 5 star recommendations in its faithfulness to the Stryper I knew and loved way back in the middle 80’s.
So here we are, not quite a year on, and the entire original lineup is still together, and sounding pretty damn good for a band whose glory days reside at 30 years’ remove…
Kicking off with two fairly representative tracks off that album (“Legacy” and “Marching into Battle”), we then head straight back into nostalgia territory, with decent live takes on tracks from Yellow & Black Attack, Soldiers Under Command and the lesser if still “heyday”-centric To Hell with the Devil and In God We Trust. The Doobie Brothers cover and title cut from No More Hell to Pay intrude on the 80’s love-fest, but they’re there and gone, with essentially all of the newer material marched out and set aside right at the outset.
Unfortunately, the trademark backing harmonies really aren’t there, with some tracks bearing odd silences where you know Oz, Tim and Robert should be chiming in and others displaying what appears to be one lone backing voice. This keeps the basic idea intact, but leaves the tracks feeling oddly flat and inessential except as a primer to newbies or as a decent but ultimately middling reminder of how good the early material was for longtime fans.
Look, the band is great, the songs chosen are great, both old and new (hell, they even trotted out one of my all time faves, “the Way”, and nobody ever mentions that one), and to judge by their recent return to form, more Stryper material is always welcome. But while it was probably a great show for those who attended, this is no Live in Japan (and when, pray tell, will the band re-release that classic VHS to DVD?).
Newcomers, by all means, dive right in. The rest of us…your call. Personally, I’d just settle for pulling out the first 2-4 albums and No More Hell to Pay and leave it at that till the next studio release.
The Moon And The Nightspirit – Holdrejtek (Prophecy Productions)
Dissonant strains of harp and tinkling piano intrude over riverside nature foley work. Next track, we go to the local Rennaissance Faire for some medieval-style instrumental folk, with fiddle, fife and drum. Eventually some rather nice, Mira or Juliana Hatfield-style light and airy female vocals appear. Ah, now we’re finally cooking with gas.
But wait, next track, it’s back to a weird ethereal darkwave sort of thing with acoustic guitars and whistling. Again, the vocals show up more than halfway through the song. Next track, music box tinkling followed by Crimson Gloryesque acoustic/electric guitar and Kenny Klein-like fiddling. Eventually it builds with more Renaissance Faire style hand drum. And so the rest of the album goes. You get the general idea, except for the fact that some guy drops in every so often to groan and sigh affectedly.
Ultimately falling somewhere between Kenny & Tzipora and something Projekt records would have put out in their heyday, this is moody and creepy all at once, and very familiar as being right in line with the sort of thing I was into back in the early to mid 90’s.
I certainly liked major aspects of it…hell, it’s damn good overall, but it’s been some time since I really grooved to this general vibe. File under uneasy listening.
Nucleus Torn – Street Lights Fail (Prophecy Productions)
Someone crossed Mira with modern (i.e. black metal-style) death metal and got this.
First track is all air, ethereal, nearly nonexistent except for halting, Cocteau Twins style female vocals, but “worms” brings some grinding, detuned metal guitars and drums in and out of the mix.
Later in the same track, it gets all psychotically prog, and we’re talking sub-Gentle Giant here, not Fates Warning or Queensryche. Then they switch to Watchtower mode. Then back to the nigh-nonexistent, overly subtle and ridiculously intermittent acoustic guitar, building in and out of focus like waves crashing on a shore. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
The too snotty to serve you staffers at Kim’s Video used to listen to weird shit like this…but then again, they also introduced me to Stereolab, so that’s not like saying they had no taste whatsoever…
Last track, again, not even there. There’s some very vague piano drifting in and out of audibility, but you could listen to all three tracks here and (the crazier parts of “worms” aside) not even know you had music on.
Why bother recording random noodling, much less not editing it together into a concise statement? What’s with all the negative space?
Did I even listen to anything here? Whatever…
Alternative 4 – The Obscurants (Prophecy Productions)
Another band that believes in long, shoegazey builds that spend more time in near-silence than in performing recognizable music and delivering any real sense of the comprehension of song structure. Bits and bobs of songs seem to appear here and there, but it never feels truly cohesive.
Mind, we’re hardly talking Nucleus Torn-level tabula rasa here (I predict that their next release will be four takes on John Cage’s 4:33, bringing the empty tape recording of Street Lights Fail to its logical conclusion), as there are actual lyrics, some heavily-vibrato chorused guitar, a bit of maudlin, mournful piano and very minimalist bass and snare to be found in each and every track, and they almost sorta kinda like feel like songs. But unrelated song parts seem to appear out of nowhere and then disappear in the middle of all this depressive, druggy, shoegazey noodling. It’s strange and a bit boring for those not dependent on Prozac to get them through the day.
Ultimately, this is a strange batch of releases from Prophecy this month. In place of the usual dark-folk and moody pagan ambience, we get a Wiccan folk/Renaissance Faire act (Moon and the Nightspirit, who are by far the best of the lot, it must be said) and two groups (Nucleus Torn, Alternative 4) whose idea of music appears to be falling asleep on their instruments, tinkling a few notes here and there at extremely long distances from each other. The charts for this stuff must have been hilarious. Turn to page four, bar 35 for your next three notes. Now turn to page six for the next time you come back in.
Sorry, I don’t get it.
Oberon – Dream Awakening (Prophecy Productions)
OK, I lied a little. There’s one more release from Prophecy, and this one should feel a hell of a lot more familiar to fans of the label.
Not only was this band apparently responsible for delivering Prophecy’s inaguural release way back in 1997, but the sound they have to offer is far more in line with the sort of thing the label is famed for: dark, gothic/darkwave inspired neofolk.
As such, Moon and the Nightspirit aside, this is by far the best thing Prophecy has on offer this month. Mainman Bard Oberon has a soft if somewhat affected voice that reminds one of hippie era folkies like Donovan, but his music varies between a more directly folk sound (think Kimi Karki or Duncan Evans) and a more driving, postpunk gothic feel, complete with electric guitar, bass and drums. “I Can Touch the Sun with my Heart” almost approaches modern black metal in its nigh-tremelo guitar and dark, Emperoresque chord progressions, so you get the sense that this is hardly a typical neofolk project we’re talking here.
Definitely one to look into, Dream Awakening is one of the better Prophecy offerings in recent months, and is sure to appeal to fans of neofolk, dark ambient and pagan if not black metal alike.
The Sabbathian – Ritual Rites (Svart Records) (September 5)
Really good occult rock from the guy behind Hour of 13, which is already a good omen, as they were one of the best the modern iteration of the genre had to offer in their time.
Sadly only a three track EP, Ritual Rites features Hour of 13 mainman Chad Davis on guitar, bass and drums (talk about multitasking!) alongside 2nd guitar Joey Downs and the amazing Anette Uvaas Gulbrandsen on vocals.
Throatier than Jinx Dawson, Kay Garrett or Alia O’Brien alike, Gulbrandsen is all Farida Lemouchiesque alto dominance, seemingly evoking the ghost of Sandy Denny in her performance. While no virtuoso in that sense, she’s able to convey a lot of darkness in that tone, and does so willingly and with gusto.
File right up there with The Devil’s Blood and Eldritch Dark-era Blood Ceremony as the absolute pinnacle of what the genre has to offer. A full length can’t come soon enough.
Woodtemple – Forgotten Pride (Sacrilege Records) (September 30)
Early readers of the Roundup got an earful as to what I divined rather clearly from any number of stylistic and titling conventions, as well as some close and longstanding associations relating hereto.
That said, I’ve since chatted with a few label and related folks that, so far as they’re concerned, as well as based on lyrics and lack of any self-avowal, Woodtemple (and for that matter, the folks I spoke with) do not actually ascribe to any particular politicosocial stance. As such, here follows a slightly amended version 2.0. Read into what follows, or not, as you will, whether for good or for ill.
First thing you should be aware of is that musically speaking, I did indeed like this album. But as this plays into the other end of what’s being alluded to herein, we’ll take it all as of a piece.
It may or may not be of interest that mainman “Aramath” actually has the infamous Rob Darken in his social circle, with the Graveland bad boy actually handling bass duties on this very release, and it is that earlier band’s musical influence which bleeds through every pore of this release. Picture the vocals of Celtic Winter-era Graveland with a more modern, clean production and much better playing.
That’s right, there’ll be no “Capricornus”-level struggling to learn the instrument here, as “Aramath” can actually handle some fairly complex polyrhythms on the drumkit – there were points where I actually found myself impressed.
While vocals, guitars and keyboards stick ridiculously close to the Darken template (I mean, come on, the guy even opened on a keyboard and choir “Intro” and ends on a similarly minded “Outro”), it’s a big step up musically.
As to any other associations the mere mention of Darken and his own band bring up (however minimal his involvement may be on the lyrical or musical direction of this particular release), regular readers of Third Eye and listeners to the podcast will have no doubts as to where we actually stand, and recognize that as with any number of releases covered in the monthly roundups, we are making a deliberate, concentrated effort to approach this on a purely musical level (one on which the, shall we say interestingly titled Forgotten Pride does in fact succeed admirably).
(Shakes head and sighs)
Pestilential Shadows – Ephemeral (Seance) (October 31)
A dash of Marduk worship, a pinch of Watain…Swedish style black metal hailing, oddly enough, from sunny Australia. It’s amusing just to picture the corpsepaint melting off in the heat as they head out hunting rabbits and kangaroos in the outback or gather the clan to grill up some shrimp on the barbie. Rick Springfield this ain’t.
I hear wayyyyyyyyy too many bands playing in this style to offer anything more than it’s good for the type, and should appeal to the demographic they’re trying to reach.
Personally, though, I’m well and truly tired of this sound being regurgitated by band after band, month after month. Any new ideas (or just as good, revivals of other old ones) out there a few dozen of you bands care to look into trying out for a change?
OCTOBER 31 – Bury the Hatchet (Hells Headbangers) (October 14)
October 31 leaves the Fire Awaits You/Meet Thy Maker sound behind, reaching for a far more aggressive and speedy thrash metal approach this time around.
There are a few obvious homages to classic horror films (the Susan George Japanese ghost offering House Where Evil Dwells, the Boris Karloff cheapie Voodoo Island) and it’s never less than listenable or retro in style.
I can’t say I liked it as much as The Fire Awaits You, but it’s full of decent musicianship and is certainly a good pick for those to whom this sounds appealing.
THE LURKING CORPSES – Workin’ For the Devil (Hells Headbangers) (October 14)
The band moves beyond its more obviously Misfits-and-Vladimirs inspired horror punk roots towards more of an underground metal cum thrash sound. Unfortunately, what this also means is that vocalist Shane “Lord Vladimir Von Ghoul” Mettert relies far less on his often uncanny Danzig impressions in favor of sub-Joel Grind puke-snarling*, which detracts somewhat from the overall approach.
*that said, he also attempts a Mercyful Fate/King Diamond falsetto on the title track, which works at least as well as that of Portrait…whatever that says to you.
While the music is still right up my alley and any number of tracks are still enhanced by grindhouse horror film quotes and suchlike, the snarl-vocals are kind of silly if not somewhat offputting (this becomes particularly noticeable on an otherwise faithful rendering of early Slayer classic “Tormentor”, which the vocals leave as almost comical).
Like The Vladimirs (or the three famed acts fronted by Danzig himself, for that matter), the Lurking Corpses are equally adept at the horror punk and heavy metal ends of the equation, so it’s still reasonably recommended.
But a hearty sheesh to the new (or at least far more prominently used) vocal approach…
ÆVANGELIST – Writhes in the Murk (Hells Headbangers) (October 21)
Over-reverbed, digital delay filled, feedback ridden wall of noise death metal of the modern, black metal in disguise variety.
You can trance out to this stuff or it can give you a headache, depending on mood, general disposition and time of day. Think Zom for the general idea.
Not bad, I guess, but fairly typical for a certain portion of the scene and really not the sort of thing I’d go out and spend my hard earned dollar on.
Necroholocaust (Canada) – Holocaustic Goat Metal LP (Iron Bonehead) (September 29)
Necrophobic-level speed with Baphomet (of the Dead Shall Inherit) by way of Suffocation-style vocals. Songs tend to blend together a whole hell of a lot. Side 2 gets slower, and brings General Surgery or even Mortician to mind at points.
Not bad, definitely very listenable, but again, nothing groundbreaking here and precious little to get particularly excited over.
Nuclear Perversion – Desolation Rituals tape (Iron Bonehead) (October 15)
Crunchy, crisp, nigh-Sunlight Studios production and a few really good riffs enliven a band who can’t decide whether they want to go all black metal (see the vocals, song titles and goofy blastbeat drumming) or classic old school death metal (the production, some of the riffing).
As with most bands trying to pass themselves off as death metal these days, they really are just black metallers begging to be outed, though it’s rare to encounter what would appear to be Rob Darken-inspired vocals outside of the scene to which he’s inextricably associated. In fact, this may be the first and only “crossover” of that particular vocal approach to unaffiliated and comparatively “mainstream” black or death metal scenes to date…
Again, can’t exactly recommend it, but not bad for what it is.
Madmans Esprit – Nacht (A Sadness Song (a division of ATMF)) (October 6)
South Korea brings us an unusual act who attempt a Sigh-level genre blending syncretism. Unlike Mirai Kawashima and company, however, Madmans Esprit lack the amazing breadth and degree of Frank Zappa-like musical knowledge Sigh brings to the table. There’s not all that much classical and certainly no jazz or blues in the mix, nor do things ever approach fusion or prog herein.
That said, vocalist/guitarist Kyuho and company do drag in brief moments of operatic soprano accompaniment and a fair degree of neofolk to all the variants of metal they toss into the mix. There are sections in tracks like “the lily and the rose” that even bring a vague Luna Sea sensibility to bear, and while much of what they’re doing can be compared fairly closely to Primordial’s blend of black metal, folk and rather anthemic metal, there are elements that don’t fit the template: Joni Mitchellesque ring modulated organ on “In der Nacht”, hints of postpunk goth in the heavily chorused guitars of the classily titled “blood, cum and shit”. (I’d have preferred it if they included the title track of their 2011 EP, the hilariously titled “I Just Want to Sex with You”).
While some of the vocals are definitely shriek and screamo, overall this is never less than interesting, and while it pales dramatically by comparison to Sigh and is far less embraceable by a broader demographic than Primordial, those are two damn good bands to be evoking comparisons to.
I’ll give this one a thumbs up, and wait with decided interest for what their next release will bring.