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Holy crap, it’s the motherlode.

After an extended summer’s worth of half-length Roundups necessitated by a virtual dearth of releases, this month has swung straight to the opposite end of the pendulum, with more stuff to cover than readers have seen since quite early in the year.

Even to the moment I’m writing these very words, new releases are positively pouring in from one label or individual band contact after another, leading to further and further revisions and extensions to this rather spooky seasonal roundup.  As it is, I already have a fair sized batch of releases earmarked for the November iteration thereof…

So rather than getting into the eerie and unearthly uncanniness of this spectral season of Samhain, what say we get into the spirit of things, putting the old behind us and forging forward into the new?

Avaunt!

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Enemy Of Reality – Rejected Gods (F.Y.B. Records)

Athens, Greece, home of philosophers, playwrights and cradle of civilization continues to shew forth riches in the modern age with yet another worthy offering in the gothic symphonic metal arena.  Similarly to last month’s Meden Agan, there is more of a quirky feel than the more standard sound arising from scene strongholds of the Netherlands, Germany and Spain and the Latin Americas.

Once again bearing some measure of Magica-reminiscent pleasant if unfamiliar strangeness to their overall sound, Enemy of Reality likewise taps into the Bogdan Costea (or for that matter, Heliosagalike) approach of comparatively busy guitar lines and classically inspired keyboard riffs as opposed to the more standard clunkily basic detuned barre chord backing.  This welcome addition keeps the listener from ever getting bored or falling into too much of a trancelike inattentiveness, leaving the music far more intellectually engaging than any number of leading lights in this particular arena, for all their other respective merits, tend to be.

Vocalist Iliana Tsakiraki, looking for all the world like some long lost gothically inclined kin to Nia Vardalos, is possessed of a beautiful and quite full and well rounded soprano that tends toward the lyric while sidestepping much of the airy ephemerality of the Sumi Jos of the operatic arena.  Unlike the dangerously wide shake of countrywoman Maria Callas (whom it must be noted that I absolutely adore in her prime), Tsakiraki’s vibrato tends, if anything, to be overly tight, a 32nd note demiquaver that she shoehorns into surprisingly brief spaces in tracks like “one last try”.

The magic of multiple track recording allows the lady to harmonize with herself pleasantly, and her overall tenor is one of absolute assurance, occasionally approaching a Medea-esque shrill gravitas in more dramatic moments (as the ending of the aforementioned “one last try” simliarly demonstrates), but generally keeping the compositions well grounded and powerful.  Fans of Melissa Ferlaak-era Aesma Daeva (or for that matter, Visions of Atlantis) should take note, as should those for whom Lori Lewis’ dramatic take on Mozart’s “D’Oreste” with that same band made a similarly strong impression.

Some scene support comes by means of the participation of the lovely Ailyn Gimenez, who brought a much needed new life to the last few Sirenia records and countrywoman Maxi Nil, one of the more long lasting of singers in the troubled history of Visions of Atlantis.  Even Mike Pond (Symphony X, Midnight Eternal) drops in for a spell.  Giminez’ duet on “Needle Bites” is appropriately one of the album’s shining moments, both radio friendly and accessible and accomplished all at once.

The other half of the distaff end of the equation is held up by the lovely “Marianthi” (no full name provided), whose keyboard work falls somewhere between Yngwie Malmsteen compatriot Jens Johanssen and Magica’s oddly pseudonymous “6 Fingers” in their fantasia-prone centrality to the proceedings and who provides no small measure of eye candy for the punters (which everyone in the modern classical arena knows is what sells records these days…).

Speaking of Meden Agan, that act’s former drummer Philip Stone brings his progressively inclined D-Bass work to play in this new setting, working in tandem with the quirkily prog-prone fretwork of guitarist “Steelianos” (again, no full name provided) and bassist Thanos Murikka.  As noted earlier, the team of Steelianos and Marianthi keep things far more engaging than time-hardened fans of the gothic symphonic metal genre may expect, with Tsakiraki’s confident if ever-grounded prima donna operatics offering the icing on the cake.

Just to keep things on a vaguely traditional bent, the Greek quintet even delve into the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for a portion of the album, which while perhaps a tad obvious, brings a welcome touch of national flavor to the proceedings in defiance of a generically globalized unisex/uninational trend that leaves bands arising from such far flung locales as India and Japan sounding little different from those birthed in the US or the UK.

While certainly familiar enough for comfort, the preservation of what makes one’s own culture unique and special is something that needs to be upheld and passed on for future generations, and this small touch, however intentioned, gets a hearty thumbs up from this particular reviewer.

Overall, a winning package, which while never truly approaching the deliriously operatic and bombastic highs of the first two Epica or Magica albums or the early Nightwish still manages to stand head and shoulders above a plethora of middling at best bands that have cluttered the scene over the better part of the past decade, diluting and diminishing the value of the whole by their sheer mediocrity.

Joining what appears to be a spearhead of revival in the gothic symphonic metal scene, Enemy of Reality appears poised for a well deserved breakthrough.  Fans of the glory days of the scene or recent signs of hope from the likes of Leaves Eyes, the Dianne Van Giersbergen Xandria and Heliosaga take note.

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Sunset Mob (S/T) (self released)

With the emergence of a more openly global metal scene over the past decade, what were once percieved to be small, isolated pockets of activity (Brazilian blackened thrash, Japanese metal, Swedish death metal, Norwegian black metal) in the undisputed heyday of metal (the 1980’s and at least in the case of death and black metal, early 90’s) has now blossomed into a widespread, borderless revival.  Now you can find 80’s style radio friendly AOR originating from Italy and Sweden, traditional thrash and guitar shred scenes erupting in such unlikely areas as Edmonton, Toronto and Raleigh, NC and AOR inflected Hollywood glam metal coming straight out of…Brazil?!?

Yeah, you read that right.  A nation best known for bands such as Vulcano, Sepultura and hard edged blackened thrash has gone from being an open armed arena for touring US and Euro thrashers, trad standbys such as U.D.O. and Iron Maiden and death metallers to the birthing place for a band who takes the best elements of mid-to-late 80’s radio and arena rock and glam and offers an unexpected alternative to the likes of Mat Sinner, Alex Beyrodt and Frontiers Records in production style and ear-tickling musical approach.

With equal touches Journey and Bon Jovi, Firehouse and Foreigner, Sunset Mob bring to mind a Slaughter as fronted by Jeff Scott Soto and no small influence of the Graham Bonnett/Joe Lynn Turner era Rainbow, all smooth melodies and harmony vocals over crunchy yet upbeat guitars and subtle keyboard touches carried along by a pleasant midrange tenor bordering on baritone.  It’s very positive toned, with Andre Cunha’s accomplished yet subtle guitarwork being the unspoken star of the show.

While clearly capable of laying down the flash, Cunha allows the construction as a whole to take center stage, peppering brief, melodic solos with quick phrases of neoclassically influenced shred that are gone before they’re even noticed.  It’s all about tone color and song construction, which is something musicians like myself come to appreciate more with age and experience (and the sort of thing likely lost on younger players…I know, I was one myself for many years).

Vocalist Pablo Pereira is as smooth as they come, and while not necessarily bearing the sort of soaring, multi-octave range fans of the classic iterations of this general sound have come to expect, has a pleasant tone and excellent breath control, holding notes and within a certain range, really letting them rip.  Speaking as a baritone myself, I can really appreciate this sound and approach, which evokes earlier Don Dokken and the aforementioned Turner and Soto while keeping things strictly on the clean end of the equation.

Forget the vocal chord-destroying growls and rasps, Pereira is all about the midrange; and while it may come as a bit of a surprise to fans used to the stratosphere-defying wails of Marc Slaughter, Tony Harnell, Steve Perry and their ilk, I found it a very pleasant change.  Pablo, you can sing for my band anytime, should I ever chance to pull the old gang together out of the mothballs…

An all too brief four song EP that begs for a wider release and a follow up full length, with “I’ll be waiting” the unquestioned standout.

www.sunsetmob.com

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WALPYRGUS EP  (No Remorse Records) (November 3)

It’s weird how things come full circle.

Back when Third Eye was strictly focused on cult and underground cinema, I found I’d actually been able to interview most of the folks I’d been interested in speaking to in that arena: the other filmmakers and actor/actresses I respected and/or found interesting enough to bring on air had all passed on or were uncomfortable with issues presented by the language barrier and so forth.  But I had relatively recently discovered a new retro-traditional metal scene taking place primarily in Toronto, Canada and Raleigh, NC…

Beyond Widow, Skull Fist and Cauldron, the one guy I really wanted to chat with was a fella named Johnny Aune.  Johnny had done stints with Widow and the Iron Maiden worshipping Twisted Tower Dire, but the band he led that truly blew my mind was Viper.

Handling both the soaring vocals and rhythm guitars, Aune led the band through one of the best albums of the scene, 2008’s Strike of the Viper.  If you can hunt this one down, do it – you won’t be disappointed.  But as he’d long since moved on through Widow to TTD (who it must be said I’ve never really cared for – Maiden to me is Paul Dianno and the first two albums, my apologies to the legions who feel otherwise, among whom TTD very obviously reside), it seemed like this band and album was consigned to status as a particularly worthy footnote of rock history rather than the ongoing concern many of us would have preferred it be.

And so it is, about three years on and many changes later, that I encounter through a reviewing relationship with Greece’s No Remorse Records, of all places, that none other than that same Johnny Aune is back, and fronting a band that bears far more in common with Viper (or perhaps even Widow) than TTD.  Could I be happier?

Still working out of his home base of Raleigh, NC, Aune joins forces with ex-Viper (and Widow) bandmate Peter Lemieux (drums) and former members of October 31 and TTD.  As they only go by last names, I’ll let you figure ’em out, but suffice to say that “Shackelford” and “Waldrop” keep things interesting on the guitar front, with dual harmony leads and riffing, plenty of trills and movement outside of the more standard barre chord progressions that bring Aune’s earlier acts very much to mind.  Even “Hunter” keeps his basslines fairly active throughout – like either Viper or Widow, this is high energy, busy music you can actually pay attention to throughout without getting bored.

Sadly, my review copy did not include the band’s cover of Mercyful Fate’s “Doomed by the Living Dead” (a great track off of what remains far and away my favorite Mercyful Fate release, the original Nuns Have No Fun EP), so I can’t comment on that one.  But the three originals were just as good as anything on Strike of the Viper, so I’m pretty happy here, and any fans of traditional metal out there familiar with the general Viper/Widow template should be more than satisfied as well.

Welcome back, Johnny.  The big question is, what took you so long?

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GORMATHON – Following The Beast (Napalm Records) (September 26)

Swedish melodeath with more of a modern metal approach.  There’s enough of a nod to song structure to show they at least respect proper songwriting, though I never got the impression they were shooting for anything the least bit trad here.

It’s very modern, just with melody and at least a pagan metal level of riffing and song construction in tow, rather than the more atonally annoying math metal or screamo approaches far too many shitty acts opt for nowadays.

Instead, Gormathon offers a very listenable if still detuned and throatily death metal puke alternating with Type O Negative style rasp-yell fronted variant on the sort of thing you hear at your local Hot Topic (not that they’d play a band like this, who at least tried to inject a little melody into their sound).

It’s interesting enough, and while it seems more like what passed for “post-metal” in the 90’s (think post-Rust In Peace Megadeth by way of Type O Negative, then tag in Fear Factorylike belch vocals alternating with Type O rasp vocals, and you’ll know exactly what to expect here), it’s still an improvement over what the kids seem to think is hip these days (insert finger into throat and induce dry heaves here).

Not really my bag, but not terrible either.

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AUDREY HORNE – Pure Heavy (Napalm Records) (September 26)

Well, we had them on the show for 2013’s Youngblood, so you know they’re a decent band.

But while they haven’t made as dramatic a shift as they had from their earlier, more grunge-indie influenced material to the more AOR/traditional rock-metal sound of Youngblood, there’s still a bit of a different, and far more scattered feel here from the likes of “straight into your grave” or “redemption blues”.  Whether this is a good or bad thing is open to interpretation – suffice to say, while in the same general ballpark, the band appears to be playing an entirely different game this time around.

Still blessed with the guitar work of Enslaved’s Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, the band evokes hard edged 70’s rock with a dash of 80’s AOR more than the black metal Isdal and former members Herbrand Larsen (also Enslaved) and Tom Cato “King ov Hell” Visnes (Gorgoroth, God Seed)’s other bands espouse.

With a thick toned modern production offsetting all the Marshall stack rawness, Audrey Horne straddles a strange borderline between the likes of Alice Cooper, Foghat and Gary Glitter and the remnants of the glam scene in the early 90’s (think bands like Jackyl or Roxy Blue, or late career efforts from XYZ, Bon Jovi or Slaughter).  Tracks like “tales from the crypt” say Glitter (complete with hand claps and stadium cheer stomping), then you get something like “gravity” which has Foreigner stamped all over it, but with a very 70’s double stop bend thing going on in the middle.  Power ballads like “diamond” and the Jake E. Lee era Ozzyness of “high and dry” or “boy wonder” scream 80’s glam while others like “into the wild” evoke the first XYZ album – it’s literally all over the place.

Personally, I liked it, and the very fact that it is so ridiculously scattershot leaves it more prone to repeat listens than Youngblood, just to try to wrap your head around just what the hell they’re shooting for here.  Like Richard Boone sticking black pins all over the map in I Bury the Living, it feels like Dale, Toschie and company sat there listening to the 2014 iteration of “classic rock” radio and tried to tag in everything from 1970 (Zeppelin, Bad Company, et al) through the more “top 40” of 80’s metal before coming to a (much appreciated) stop in the early 90’s before grunge, hip hop, boy bands and Disney kids flushed the global music scene right down the crapper.

The problem is, it leaves the band like a man with no face: in trying to emulate what they see as the best of anybody and everybody within the broad spectrum of hard rock, AOR and glam metal, they cast their net so wide as to come across as having no identity.

Regardless of whether you prefer Robert Plant, Lou Gramm or Ozzy Osbourne, there are sure to be a track or three tapping into your most favored style on Pure Heavy.  The question is, do all these disparate styles truly belong together of a piece?

A disjointed and incohesive album and approach, but on the flipside a good one, with the musical skills and songwriting ablilies to pull it off against the odds.

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ALUNAH – Awakening The Forest (Napalm Records) (October 3)

England gives us yet another doom act, this time altering the more standard “yay, satan” occult rock orientation towards something more particularly British Isles based and Wiccan/pagan.

Singer Sophie Day draws down the moon and makes regular reference to the likes of The Golden Bough and Gerald Gardner if not Alex Sanders with tracks like “heavy bough”, “the mask of herne”, “summerland” and the particularly Gardnerian ode to the “scourge and the kiss”.  It’s decent and more than listenable, but hardly on the order of The Eldritch Dark, much less early Inkubus Sukkubus.

When it comes down to it, Alunah earn themselves a definite nod of respect, though little more than that. Those of you referencing your Janet Farrar and Llewellyn’s should be gleefully shouting “blessed be’s” over this one; personally I found it competent if a touch dry musically, as British metal is wont to be generally.

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KONTRUST – EXPLOSITIVE (Napalm Records) (November 7)

The genre defying crossover of Kontrust return for yet another round of good humor and quirkiness.  With distaff vocalist Agata Jarosz providing both a welcome visual focus and a more melodic, nigh-Ace of Base approach, bandleader Stefan Lichtenberger offers the Anti-Nobunaga end of the High and Mighty Color equation,* all Jonathan Davis-aggro and ska-inflected nu metallized rapping.  The band behind them offers an oddly complex genre blender covering ska, hip hop, nu metal and pop all at once.  It’s a bizarre mix on paper, but unlike far too many bands playing in this general ballpark, Kontrust actually makes it work.

* a metaphor and comparison I used the last time we’d spoken which proves equally apt today – J-rock fans, look ’em up!

With the hearty good humor and politically aware satire of the Viennese, Lichtenberger, Jarosz and company skewer contemporary tropes, pissing off the stiff necked and conservative leaning forces choking our (inter)national discourse with finesse on such tracks as “just propaganda”, “shut up” “bad time” and “I freak on” while switching gears to pure messageless fun and sass on songs like “dance” or “why” with equal aplomb.

While primarily geared towards a radio friendly party metal vibe, Kontrust are just too intelligent to stick their heads entirely in the sand and pretend this is a better world than it is, a fantasyland benevolently overseen by powers that be who actually have the best interests of the general public at heart.  As such, their music is as much a protesting middle finger to the status quo on whatever level, musical as well as politicosocial, as it is pure entertainment.

Once again, a big thumbs up for a band most notable for thumbing their collective noses at the forces of convention, wherever they may stand.

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CAVALERA CONSPIRACY – Pandemonium (Napalm Records) (October 31)

Max and Igor Cavalera, post Sepultura and stepping aside from the more deliberately ethnic sounds of Soulfly.  While tapping more into the thrash-death metal feel they were known for in Sepultura, this is neither the inspirational proto-blackened thrash of their earliest material or the chunky riffing of Arise.

Instead, the brothers C wade into a late 90’s morass of beefy crossover thrash/industrial with strong aggro touches.  Some of the riffing certainly says Chaos A.D., but this is a far more confused genre blender of influences and sounds that points more towards Roots and Soulfly while eschewing all the Brazilian world music elements that at least initially made those efforts interesting.

While more undemanding diehard thrashers should doubtless erupt into spasms of delight over this perceived return to an earlier and more universally beloved form particularly as it springs from two aging scene originators, there’s just too much modernity and quirkiness to the material to ever return to the naive bluntness of Arise, much less Morbid Visions and Bestial Devastation.

And though it certainly cannot be denied that Max and Igor have made a concerted effort towards turning back the clock here, as a big fan of those earlier efforts, I just found myself disappointed and led to expect something that just wasn’t there to deliver in the end.

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MEGAHERZ – Zombieland (Napalm Records) (October 24)  

“Lex” Wohnhaas and his sidemen don juggalo clown makeup and hoist a baseball bat in place of the hatchet.  But before all you Twiztid and ICP fans get your meth-heads all atwirl, recognize it’s something of a miscue.

Because Megaherz is clearly attempting to walk a similar trail to Gothminister, all metallized gothicized industrial in the general vein of a more radio friendly iteration of Rammstein or KMFDM.  And like the storied Bjorn Alexander Brem, Wohnhaas is inclined towards the theatrical, taking in equal measures Alice Cooper and The Walking Dead on the visual (and presumed stageshow) end of affairs.

Where Wohnhaas and Brem really get things right is in their firm melodic base, offering a surprisingly listenable, Sisters of Mercyesque gothic rock cum radio friendly sound enhanced by (rather than subsumed within) the industrial metal bits, which is something the likes of Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson et al never quite managed to master.

What those of us who may never see Wohnhaas and company perform need to take away from all this is that beneath the goofy makeup and bluster, Zombieland is an unexpectedly worthy record likely to inspire repeat listens in the same sense as Beauty in Darkness or Utopia.  Despite coming somewhat out of left field and with international reach hampered somewhat by being performed exclusively in the German language, Zombieland is definitely a keeper.

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NACHTBLUT – Chimonas (Napalm Records) (October 17)

One of several (albeit defunct) bands apparently running around with the same name, this German black metal band self identifies as “dark metal”, though they bear far more in common with earlier (and therefore worthier) efforts from Britain’s Cradle of Filth than the likes of Dark Age.  And speaking as an unrepentant fan of the pre-Sony Filth* this is a good thing.

*the only exception post-Cruelty and the Beast being the surprisingly good, if apparent one-off return to form of Godspeed on the Devil’s Thunder.

While vocalist “Askeroth” snarls and screeches his way Dani Filthlike through the frontlines, the unusually distaff presence of femme keyboardist “Lymania” offers some bouncy pagan metal-style lines that bring such disparate acts as Alestorm and Taake to mind. Guitarist “Greif” and drummer “Skoll”, while no Allender or Pyres much less Nick Barker, hold up the more obviously metallic end of the musical equation competently enough.

Songs are peppered with Viking-esque chants and occasional clean piano riffs and while hardly the complex suites the Britons they so obviously model themselves after were noted for, Nachtblut delivers the sort of solid album that’s eluded their inspirations for the last 15 years or more (sole exception having been duly noted above).

Old school Filth fans should be delighted by this effort, however much it pales by comparison.  Those who failed to get past Daniel Davey’s piercing screeches to appreciate the gothic richness beneath may be less enamored hereof.

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LIV KRISTINE – Vervain (Napalm Records) (October 24)

It’s no secret, I’m a huge fan of Liv Kristine.

A longtime fan of her work with Theatre of Tragedy (both the more obviously gothic and later dance-industrial material) and the mighty Leaves Eyes, I’ve had the lady herself on the show no less than twice, as well as her producer/musical mastermind husband Alex Krull (the unspoken driving force behind not only Leaves Eyes and his own Atrocity, but her own solo career).  Having discovered Leaves Eyes during a fateful NYC stop on a shared tour with Kamelot back in the days of Legend Land, my wife joined me in positive adoration of the lady and her recorded output, and our appreciation of her and Alex’ efforts continues undiminished to this day.

And naturally, one major component of her sonic palette is the ostensibly more pop-oriented material she releases under her own name.

While both Skintight and Libertine were reasonably strong efforts peppered with some truly outstanding earworms and Deus Ex Machina an oddity bearing more of the stamp of its (outside) producer than her own strengths or persona, to this day her greatest solo achievement remains 2006’s Enter My Religion. 

With nearly every track of an equally high level of quality and each varying from the next in ways varying from subtle to blatant, she deftly moves from one stylistic and genre trope to the next, mastering each with a solid and assured hand.  The slight misstep of covering Bruce Springsteen aside, Enter My Religion was pretty damn close to perfect for what was ostensibly a non-metal release from the gothic and Viking metal diva.

During the first of our conversations (which focused more on her early and solo careers – the second revolved more particularly around Leaves Eyes), Liv and I spoke a bit about her days with Theatre of Tragedy and my admiration thereof, and she’d mentioned some interest in delving back into that general sound, more particularly “gothic” than anything she was working on with the more specifically “pagan/Viking” material Leaves Eyes was famed for or the more scattershot pop genre blend of her solo works.

It seems that conversation must have sunk into her subconscious and spurred a few creative discussions with Alex and her other regular writing partner Thorsten Bauer, as first Leaves Eyes’ Symphonies of the Night and now Liv’s own Vervain have begun to pay serious homage to her beginnings in gothicism.  “We used to be hunters,” she intones, and it bears more than a touch of subtext beyond its more obvious vampiric elements.

Pulling in another of my longtime crushes, Warlock’s Doro Pesch for a duet on “Stronghold of Angels”, she offers the nigh-undisputed pioneer of female metallers what remains the strongest of her many guest performances and duets.  Unlike those she did with such genre luminaries as Lemmy, Udo Dirkschneider or even gothic metallers Ji-In Cho, Floor Janssen and Liv herself (“celebrate”), this is one of the rare compositions to take note of both Pesch’s strengths and limitations and properly blend and harmonize her throaty quaver with Espinaes-Krull’s far airier coloratura to a point of nigh seamlessness.

That track alone would be jaw dropping, compositionally, but in fact proves one of the less interesting of the album, which also includes a second rather interesting duet with a male singer who I have to admit to being wholly unfamiliar with (he hails from a band called End of Green, if that rings any bells out there) and any number of darkly inclined, pop-gothic anthems in the general vein of the first Evanescence album (albeit if that album were performed and produced by far superior musicians to the ones it actually boasted).

And this is both the album’s strength and comparative weakness: its overall unity of stylistic focus.  Unlike any prior Liv Kristine solo record (bar perhaps the rather flawed Deus Ex Machina), you know what you’re getting into here from the very first track, and nothing happens to jar the listener from that assuredness straight through to the final bars of closer “oblivious”.

While indisputably one of the stronger albums in her solo run (and bearing the most stylish and sexy glamour shot cover photo of anything the lady’s released to date, which certainly counts for something as well!), Vervain remains a viable contender who nonetheless can’t help but pale by comparison to the earlier first round knockout punch that was Enter My Religion, which remains the standard to judge all others by.

A very good album, make no bones about it – just not the one to topple the crown.

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Thomsen – Unbroken (Artist Station- eOne) (October 28)  

Guitarist Rene Thomsen and a plethora of guest stars.  Like many of these jam session affairs, the end result proves far less interesting than the starfucker aspect of how many “name” stars they can pull in to the project, so here’s a list:

Udo Dirkschneider (Accept, U.D.O.): vocals on ‘We Made It’
Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell): drums on ‘We Made It’
David Vincent (Morbid Angel): bass on ‘Draw The Curtains’.
Mathias Don Dieth (U.D.O.), ‘Six Thirteen 64’ and solo on ‘We Made It’
Andre Hilgers (Rage, Sinner)
Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Fates Warning, Sebastian Bach, Riot)

Thomsen also appears to be in the middle of a personnel shift, as there are two main vocalists on the album. Departing singer Robert Soeterboek handles the bulk of the affair outside the Udo track, while Denis Brosowski comes in on the back end for what turn out to be the only tracks I found worth paying attention to here, ‘One’ and ‘Tears of the Sun’.  Thomsen and the band are certainly accomplished players, but here’s the deal.

The bottom line is, the right or wrong vocalist can make or break a band, and it happens with regularity on the ever shifting European power metal scene.

And while the gravel toned Soeterboek may be perfectly acceptable by the quite honestly diminished vocal standards of power metal as a rule, Brosowski blows the lid right off the fucker with his Ronnie James Dio cum Alan Tecchio impression.  There’s literally zero comparison – I was drifting off a bit trying to figure what to say about a frankly somewhat boring and typical power metal album when “One” came through the speakers.  Woke me right the fuck up, that’s for sure!

With a vocalist as notable as Brosowski in tow, I’m hoping for far better things from Thomsen in the future, and while wholly unimpressed with the better part of Unbroken, I find quite frankly that I can’t wait for their next release.

For now, I’ll have to settle for playing those two tracks in a loop…

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Crazy Lixx – Frontiers Music srl (November 7)

Yet another radio friendly, Swedish AOR band from Frontiers, this time sidestepping the uber-competent take on Journey, Foreigner and (cough) Toto of Work of Art and State of Salazar in favor of a more radio friendly late 80’s Hollywood glam metal approach.  Vocalist Danny Rexon brings the likes of Michael Monroe, Jaime St. James (Black N’ Blue), the Bulletboys and D.A.D. to mind, while tapping heavily into the vein of Hysteria-era Def Leppard in the process.

Big, syrupy studio-processed singalong gang choruses and anthemic riffing with plenty of reverb and raspy if essentially melodic vocals mean one hell of an album, particularly on bombastic throwbacks like “sound of the loud minority” or “girls of the 80’s” (yeah, I was pretty damn hot for ’em too…).

Guitarist/coproducer Andy Zata lays down a winning mix of clean arpeggiated riffing and appropriately thin distorted chordal bits that bring the best days of Jake E. Lee Ozzy and Cinderella to mind while never really leaving the Def Leppard orientation (which on the more aggressive tracks brings to mind far better albums than Hysteria such as High N’ Dry to mind).  There’s a dash of Dokken by way of XYZ that pokes its head in the window during “call to action”, and I even thought Nitro for a half a second during “wrecking ball crew.” Hell, they even roped Adrenaline Rush’s Tave Wanning  in on background vocals for a few tracks, how’s that for inclusiveness?

Very, very good glam metal album, particularly for fans of 80’s Def Leppard.  Highly recommended.

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VEGA – Stereo Messiah (Frontiers Music srl) (October 17)

Another AOR band with ties to Def Leppard, this time a British act who actually performs one track written by Joe Elliot (“10 x bigger than love”).  They even get the man himself in studio for a duet on the song in question…

That said, while vocalist Nick Workman is certainly competent enough, he actually comes off sounding like Elliott on a fairly regular basis, which to my ears is more of a limitation than a recommendation.  Even so, Workman is able to pull off soaring high notes (something Elliott, whatever his merits otherwise, was seldom truly capable of even in his heyday) and it’s his voice that actually pulls the material into a more transcendent territory on the album’s standout track, “wherever we are”.

While it’s kind of neat that Elliott got involved, going so far as to actually perform on the aforementioned track he donated, it’s a bit disconcerting that it’s actually hard to tell the two singers apart.  If we were talking about one of the vocal greats of his era, that’d be really saying something…but come on, it’s Joe Elliott.  Workman has already proved he’s capable of so much more…

Leppard fans who haven’t gotten their fix from the superior Crazy Lixx are urged to next incline their ears Vega’s way.  Personally, I’m hoping they drop the overly blatant homage and pursue the direction pointed to by the quite honestly jaw droppingly good “wherever we are” next time around.  They could have a real winner on their hands, if so.

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DALTON – Pit Stop (Frontiers Music srl) (October 17)

So here’s yet another Leppard-reminiscent act, this time a reunion of some old timers who’d actually released two albums in the late 80’s.  While I’d never heard of these guys back in the day and remain unfamiliar with their earlier efforts of the era, with W.E.T.’s Erik Martensson (also responsible for Tave Wanning’s Adrenaline Rush a few months back) in the production booth you can’t go too far wrong.  That said…

Oddly, of the three bands releasing albums in this general style this month, Dalton comes off as by far the mildest, with thinner guitars, more prominent (if still spare) keyboards and a very light and airy rock (as opposed to AOR/glam metal) approach.

Kudos for yet another band from back when getting back together and putting out a reasonably competent album in today’s market, but I can’t say this one grabbed me in any real respect.

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Lyriel – Skin And Bones (AFM Records) (November 4)

Aggressive guitars and triggered D-Bass drumming mix surprisingly well with Celtic/pagan folk fiddling and vocals hailing from the more radio friendly end of the gothic metal spectrum.  Apparently they actually shared a tour with one of our favorite gothic-symphonic metal bands back in 2003, namely the Sabine Dunser iteration of Elis, so that should say something straight off.

That noted, we’ve never heard of Lyriel before this, and vocalist Jessica Thierjung’s approach is very pop radio oriented.  While her natural tones are fairly warm and inviting, she appears either unwilling or incapable of taking things outside of a very limited, nigh-speaking range of notes.  Where the music should soar, it just sits there, leaving the end result falling more than a bit flat.

Whoever sequenced the album knew the band’s strengths, kicking things off with “numbers”, then leading in to “falling skies” and the title cut before the album peters off into more generic if not blase territory.  While I could make an argument for having moved “your eyes” back a few tracks to leave most of what would approximate side 1 of the album as the “best foot forward”, the fact remains that if you aren’t hooked within the first 3 tracks, just turn it off.  While “these eyes” is a decent fourth to tag in, it really doesn’t get any better (or in fact, even half so good) as those three tracks.

My advice for the next album?  Play to your strengths: forefront and emphasize the violin/guitar interplay and the exotic nature of the ensuing hybrid.  An album full of tracks like the four mentioned would get a definite thumbs up.

Skin and Bones, on the other hand…well…

It has potential…

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Lordi – Scare Force One (AFM Records) (November 4)

OK, look, I know nothing about Lordi.  One look at a bunch of guys dressed up in rubber monster suits like Gwar, and that was enough to turn me off.  I had a few friends who thought Gwar was positively the bee’s knees, but to my ears, they were always lowbrow scat “comedy” dogshit.  Nuff said.

That noted, where Lordi has one up on the late Dave Brockie and his foam rubber suited Gallagher stageshow is that the folks he recruited can actually play their instruments on at least a Ramones level of ability…

Even so, it’s all pretty damn silly, with the monsters from space (or whatever the hell their schtick is) of necessity being forced to declaim in a “scary voice” growl and being marred by a pretty damn simplistic, nigh Dark Funeral level of transposition up and down (and up…and down…) one step and calling it “music”.  There’s also some really goofy “word painting” going on, likely with an eye towards the stageshow.  Check out the very tongue in cheek call and response keyboards on “nailed by the hammer” if you don’t see what I’m getting at here.

It’s clear that Lordi idolizes both Brockie and Alice Cooper, and watched far too many Tim Burton movies (whose corny “ghoulish” soundtracks ring out loud and clear in Lordi’s material, musically speaking).  It’s obviously one big joke, but one that’s completely lost on me.

Little kids will probably paste photo shoots all over their lunchboxes and school lockers, because it’s cool to like monsters, particularly ones who “rock”.  Anybody over the age of 10 who can still take this with a straight face likely has some serious issues.

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Helldorados – Lessons In Decay (Massacre Records) (November 4)

Another band hellbent to disprove the common misconception that Germans have no sense of humor (please…have you had a few drinks with any?)

Making cracks about their hometown that only a native would know (while I did know and have a distaste for the spatzle, I had to look up what the hell this “kerhwoche” thing was they keep referencing), they tag in a dash of classic Scorpions (think pre-Worldwide Live), a hint of (very) early Accept (think pre-Breaker) and a touch of 70’s hard rock for a Marshall-driven mix with clean if nigh-sprechgesang vocals for a musical strudel that appeals in the same sense as all those biker-style USBM acts like Maax, Joel Grind and Venomous Maximus working the Bathory by way of Motorhead thing.  It’s very punky and raw, with the sort of driving energy that works best blasting out of the windows of a sports car racing down an empty nighttime highway.

Make no mistake, this is pretty straightforward metallized heavy rock, the guitars tend to be thin and utilize negative space more than is standard nowadays, the drumming, if not entirely basic, never gets too fancy and vocalist Pierre Siedel is hardly Rob Halford or Geoff Tate in their respective heydays – he’s practically talking the lyrics at you.  But the music’s good enough, and unrelenting enough in its hard rocking energy throughout, to make this a decided thumbs up to fans of earlier Scorpions or even Motorhead.

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The Prophecy 23 – Untrue Like A Boss (Massacre Records) (November 4)

Like Suicidal Tendencies?  How about other mid to late 80’s hardcore/metal crossover acts like DRI, Gang Green, the Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front?  If you dig that general sound and approach, you should be happy with The Prophecy 23, who come off somewhere between all that and Among the Living-era Anthrax (which is more or less saying the same thing, when you think about it).  Hell, they even pay homage to Scott Ian and company with “the ballad” (an S.O.D. riff given a snatch of M.O.D. lyric and titled after one of the latter Milano operation’s USA for MOD tracks).

There are definite touches of Trollfest, which isn’t a bad thing, and more modern aggro (which is), but overall, it’s that same milieu of chunky, mosh-style humor.  If you missed surfer gear, baggies and doing the H.B. Strut, these guys want to bring it back.

Some poor if intermittent aggro-style vocal choices aside, I can dig it.

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Absentia Lunae – Vorwarts (ATMF)  (November 3)

Still more modern black metal in the Watain mold, but this time with more shouted punk-style vocals and chanting (occasionally drifting into Vlad Tepes-style croaks) to grant a touch of flavor to what’s become an increasingly tired bouillabaise of black metal posing as death metal.

As such, Vorwarts is far more listenable than the usual one to five bands per month slavishly imitating the Swedish “wolfpack” in hopes of attaining some measure of that band’s comparative success in the underground metal arena.

While hardly a major move “Forward” (for those who didn’t catch the album title’s translation into English), Italian black metallers Diego “Ildanach” Matejka (also head of the ATMF label) and female guitarist “Climaxia” offer a respectable variant on what’s fast becoming a rather tired sound dominating the black and faux-death metal arenas of late, barely moving the line in the sand that delimits far too many bands nowadays while managing to offer material that is nonetheless quite listenable and haunting.

While too close to Lawless Darkness or Sworn to the Dark to stand out from the pack in any significant respect, the oft-shifting vocal approach and some unusual choices on the guitar end of the equation leave Absentia Lunae as a band to watch within the all but moribund “modern” black metal arena.

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Animus Mortis – Testimonia (ATMF) (November 3)

Decade-old Chilean black metal band whose sole founding member (former guitarist and current vocalist Nicholas Onfray) has recruited a whole new group of sidemen for his ATMF debut.  Vocals alternate between throaty baritone chanting (which is pretty cool) and reverb-infused death metal puking (which isn’t, really).  The music is a bit too samey from track to track, and is further too jangly, detuned and atonal to really sit well with the listener or achieve the general feel Onfray and company appear to be reaching towards achieving.

An interesting experiment in terms of the frequent chant vox and occasional sequences of actual chordal progression (gasp! what’s next, a snatch of harmony?!?), but ultimately an unsuccessful one, once again shewing forth the inevitable Watain influences all over the place.  They try.

Snore.

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Latitude Egress – To Take Up the Cross (Art of Propaganda) (October 27)

The riffing sounds like some odd cross between Primordial and Gaahl-era Gorgoroth, all slow, moody jangling guitars and open string drones, and yet they self-identify as doom metal.

Niklas “Nerrath” Thiele’s vocals alternate between a sort of New Romantic take on gothic rock (think Simon LeBon or Mike “the Owl Man” Score attempting an impression of Peter Murphy) and lame back of the throat Muppet growls, which are OK on the former (clean) end and absolutely absurd on the latter.

Hey, I love Primordial, but they’ve morphed from essential black metal origins into more of an epic pagan metal act with dark metal overtones.  Gorgoroth has always been black metal.  Likewise, Latitude Egress falls somewhere between those genres, and closer to the Primordial template than not.  Similarly to the Irish metallers, I find this to be quite trance-inducingly good musically, to the point where the goofy growly bits can be more or less ignored.  As such, this album is in fact highly recommended (and do note the emphasis – because yes, it’s nearly To The Nameless Dead-level good) for fellow fans of Primordial.

But to call this doom metal, the province of Candlemass, Trouble, Cathedral and Black Sabbath?

Hardly.

In fact, not in the least.

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Sleep of Monsters – Produces Reason (Svart Records) (November 7)
Say wha?

OK, this starts off all ethereal gothic darkwave, with a chorus of chantlike female vocals and mandolins…then it turns into a very 80’s style New Romantic/rock act.  If not for the overly distorted, detuned guitars, the quavering nigh-baritone vocals and keyboards would bring acts like Simple Minds, Dead or Alive or perhaps even The Human League to mind.  At the very least, you can argue a more 90’s Britpop variant of Echo and the Bunnymen…

That noted, the guitars push things right out of that milieu on a few tracks, taking away all the Athan Maroulis/Bret Helmisms of the vocals and the 80’s feel in favor of a cheesier 90’s aggression.  The best you could argue is that tracks like “Abomination Street”, “Our Savage God”, “Christsonday” or even the rather catchy “Nihil Nihil Nihil” vaguely approximate the post-Wayne Hussey Sisters of Mercy or post-Dawnrazor Fields of the Nephilim, more in your face gnarly neo-grunge than crystalline gothic gloom.

A few missteps like that aside, this is actually a rather promising and assured debut from the Finns, and should they manage to lose the more modern touches, I think Sleep of Monsters could actually spearhead something of a (much needed) gothic rock revival.  Just lose the distortion and tone all that poppiness down a notch or two…

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The House of Capricorn – Morning Star Rise (Svart Records) (November 7)

Kiwi metallers?  Stranger things have happened.  With touches of “occult rock” and modern black metal, House of Capricorn comes bearing a reasonably unique sound, with the sort of growly yet clean vocals you might expect of the corner of the world that gave us the band Oz, hard rock style pentatonic solos and a hint of Devils Blood-style grimness.

Lyrically somewhat of a one note joke, it’s all lucifer, satan, the devil blah blah blah.  A quick skim of the song titles will tell you everything you need to know walking in.  Hard to classify in terms of genre, this one probably fits best under the “occult rock” umbrella, though there are multiple elements that push it outside that general classification.  Opener “the road to hell is marked” is by far the best track on the album, with the others sounding more of a piece.

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The Deathtrip – Deep Drone Master (Svart Records) (November 14)

Bjorn Dencker “Aldrahn” Gjerde (Thorns, Dœdheimsgard) updates all but two of his 2008/2010 Deathtrip demo tracks under the production of former Thorns bandmate Snorre Ruch.  Unsurprisingly, the end result sounds a hell of a lot like those essential early Thorns demos (or that one and only Mayhem studio album worth discussing, which also betrays a heavy Thorns influence).

Despite its recent lineage, the material is being promoted as “early 90s-era cold Norwegian style minimalist black metal”, and sonically speaking, that’s not far from the truth.  In fact, notwithstanding the (generally USBM) trend towards returning to an early Bathoryesque blackened thrash template, this is by far the most “true” black metal I’ve heard in two decades.

Remember when just about every band coming out of Norway (or even Sweden) sounded unique, and most if not all of it was actually good?

Yeah, so do Gjerde and Ruch.  If you’re true, you know exactly what to do.

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Jess and the Ancient Ones – Castaneda 10″ (Svart Records) (November 14)

A two song single from the retro-minded Finnish occult rockers.  Notable mainly for the presence of the excellent Deathchain‘s Thomas “Corpse” moonlighting on guitars, Jess and company have always been overshadowed by more worthy genre figureheads such as Blood Ceremony, Opus Eponymous-era Ghost, Venomous Maximus and the incomparable Devil’s Blood.

Falling more into the straight up psychedelia sideline inhabited by middling at best acts like Jex Thoth and Purson, Jess and the Ancient Ones have remained a fairly forgettable presence lurking in the shadows of the scene, known at least by name but seldom trumpeted as any sort of leader thereof.  And while opener “Castenada” certainly offers a bit more drive and likeability than what we’ve come to expect from the band, the more forgettable B-side “as to be with him” does them no favors.

For those on a retro-60’s psych trip, this single is actually pretty good, remaining faithful to the sort of late 60’s/early 70’s ear candy and fluff perpetrated by the likes of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, People or the Electric Prunes.  That said, they never come close to the forefront of even that long lost genre, barely approximating The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, much less H.P. Lovecraft or the Jefferson Airplane (whose deepest lows stand head and shoulders above Jess and the Ancient Ones’ very best).  Don’t even think about “occult rock” of the era such as Coven or Black Widow…

Iffy but accomplished enough.

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Forced Kill / The Black Mass / Hard Action 7″ EPs (Svart Records) (October 30)

And here we have three debut 7″s from Finland.

First up, a sort of one man postpunk act calling himself The Black Mass, wedding hints of Samhainesque gothicized punk to a sort of occult rock template.  It’s imperfect, but interesting, and vocalist/guitarist Samu Salovaara lays down a respectable blues-inflected solo on “black candles” that brings both 70’s rock and Danzig’s John “christ” Knoll to mind.  I liked this one.

Next, a straight up thrash act called Forced Kill.  I didn’t particularly care for it, but if you’re a relatively undemanding listener who likes your 80’s thrash raw and unrefined and don’t mind hardcore punk crossover style vocals, the “Hard Death” single should make you happy.

The odd thing is that despite their obvious crossover thrash/punk orientation, they seem to wish to align themselves to more of a speed metal thing.  Now, to me, speed metal was always a sort of misinformed appellation applied to everything from Megadeth and Metallica to Nitro, TNT and Racer X, which you can see from the disparity between each of those bands is really all over the damn map, musically.

But I’ve always felt, to the extent that nomenclature means anything whatsoever, that it referred to a Shrapnelesque level of racing fretboard leads wedded to an often glamlike feel.  Yeah, you could say that the first two Megadeth albums (and maybe jumping ahead to Rust in Peace) played in that general ballpark, but it was more about the faster songs from Skull Fist, Nitro, TNT and Extreme, where fast songs like “deadly metal”, “tell no tales” or “freight train” were wedded to light speed solos and high pitched vocals.  This is definitely thrash, but speed?  Nah.

Our look at this batch of Svart debuts both begins and ends on a high note, as we follow opener The Black Mass with a similarly excellent closer.  Our final act goes by the rather cheesy name of Hard Action, whose “Dead Dogs” 7″ marries a Motorhead feel to Dead Boys-style punk rock aggression, competent if raw guitar work and soloing fronted by that all too infrequent scene anomaly of actual clean vocals.

For a change, I have no words – this one’s just that damn good.  Svart needs to put these guys in the studio ASAP for a full length.

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Thy Darkened Shade – Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet (W.T.C.Productions) (October 31)

Well produced Greek black metal with the standard Watain-influenced modern black metal sound.

Being from the same country that gave us Rotting Christ, they incorporate a bit of the latter band’s aggression and vocal approach to what’s now become a very tired and surprisingly overemulated sound.

There’s really nothing more to say but

…zzzzzz…

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Fides Inversa – Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans (W.T.C.Productions)  (October 31)

Interesting: someone took a nasty underground if not old school vocal style and wedded it to an essentially Watainized modern sound.  Think Steve Reynolds of Demolition Hammer circa Epidemic of Violence atop Swedish black metal aggressive blastbeat drumming, but once you get past that dash of classic death metal and early Marduk that those references evoke, it’s still that same damn jangly, declamatory Watain style.

The tracks labeled only II, IV, VI and VII are the ones to check out.  But enough already with this general sound…

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Ascension – Deathless Light (W.T.C.Productions) (October 31)

OK, you know somebody’s just being cheesy when they set their release date for Hallowe’en.

Vaguely Marduklike modern black metal with incongruous death metal belches and overworked Watainisms in the overly bombastic tremelo guitar lines.  Not as tightly adherent to the now quite boring latter template as to the former, which saves Deathless Light from another annoyed thumbs down – it’s actually quite listenable, if not particularly spectacular.

Production is strong, guitar tone is beefy, drums are mixed to an overly low if still audible level and vocals are clear but fittingly do not overpower the guitars in the mix.  There’s a dual guitar attack that becomes more noticeable in “garden of stone”, which is probably the superior of the two tracks contained herein.

Ascension is clearly walking on a fence, precariously weaving from one side to the next, and just barely managing to avoid the annoying Watain worship that infects and ruins far too large a portion of the contemporary black and faux-death metal scene.  As such, I’ll give it a grudging nod, while doing that two finger thing to indicate I’ve got my eyes on you.

Just make sure you stay on this side of the fence.

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Oraculum (Chile) – Sorcery of the Damned (Invictus Productions) (October 27)

Now that made me wake up and pay attention, after three Watain wannabes (and a mediocre “occult rock” act) in a row.  A lot of the sound and feel of classic early 90’s death metal, albeit with raw and dirty production.  Which isn’t to say the production isn’t powerful and crisp overall – despite all the bleeding distortion and overly reverbed puke vocals, there’s just enough sheen there to leave the mix as palatable.

I’m not a huge fan of the vocals and certainly would have preferred a Scott Burns Morrisound or Tomas Skogsberg Sunlight Studios approach to the mix, with guitars more reined in and forceful rather than messy and noisy, and drums equalized (that snare is way too snappy for my taste) and forefronted (is he even using the rest of the kit?  Who can tell?).  But honestly, while a bit samey (tracks 2-4 may actually be one long track…) this ain’t half bad.

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Fräkmündt – Landlieder & Fromdländler (Prophecy Productions)

In the small town where I grew up, my next door neighbor was Swiss.

An extremely likeable woman, she lived a few years past a hundred, and could be found to her very last days living alone in the house, doing yardwork and chatting with the neighbors and the outside small business entrepeneur(s) who rented her family’s backyard fabric mill (seriously, she had a mini-factory built off the back of her garage.  While a decidedly middle if not lower middle class town, we had serious property in those days).

I always liked the lady and enjoyed her stories of turn of the century America, and came to empathize with her wistful bitterness over the horror of living through so much cultural and societal change, from the earliest days of industry, with petticoats and horse drawn carriage to particle physics, nuclear fission and rockets to the moon.  Having outlived all her children, she offered a perspective most never get to encounter – that not only immortality, but extreme longevity is a curse, not a blessing.

But inasmuch as I delighted in nigh-daily chats with this sweet elderly neighbour, she also had some relations living at an adjoining property on the adjacent street (yep, the property went straight through two streets, with the better part of it being on her side and separated only by a high wooden fence and door).  And they were fucking weird.

My father explained their frequently bizarre behavior and often illogical and irrational shifts in favour and disfavour as a national characteristic.  “The Swiss,” he claimed, “are strange.”

Now he had an explanation for this. He thought it likely the result of isolation, with villages separated from one another by mountain ranges and inhospitable terrain.  Who the hell knows how much or little truth there was to his attribution of causation.  But if this album is any indication, then his original statement must be accepted at face value, and as fact…

It’s sort of folk, but not exactly in the sense of a lot of neofolk that comes my way: don’t expect the likes of Duncan Evans or Kimi Karkki here.  Alternating between the general motif of a Ricola commercial, Italian or Greek taverna music and even Arkona-like Russian folk before going into more of a German oom-pah by way of Finnish humppa arena, you get male and female vocals, accordions, fiddles, banjos and flutes, sometimes crooning gothic darkwave style like some Projekt Records castoff, other times screaming like it’s time to do “the chicken”.  You get the definite impression a lot of this is done very much tongue in cheek, while the more wistful and mournful material is as po-faced as a Celtic folk ballad.

So if you like your folk to lean more towards the silliness of pagan metal ala Alestorm, Trollfest or even, at a slight remove, Kontrust, Frakmundt is right up your alley.

If on the other hand, Heino remains little more than something of a macabre joke to your ears, you might want to look elsewhere for your neofolk fix…

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Sol Invictus – Once Upon A Time (Prophecy Productions)

Tony Wakeford is back with yet another depth dive into the essential spirit of British Isles folk.  Tapping into vaguely the same motif mined by such acts as Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span while similarly evoking the feel of “occult rock” in the vein of a more mellow Black Widow, Coven or Blood Ceremony, Wakeford calls forth a very Wicker Man soundtrackesque feel that sits more comfortably in the arenas of gothic rock, “occult rock” or the early 70’s British electric folk movement than any of its ostensible peers in modern neofolk.

That all being duly noted, he also has a penchant for weird electronic pieces that clutter up the album’s running time to a minor yet inordinate degree.  While not really breaking the mood, I for one could certainly have done without the untoward intrusion of modernism amidst all this pagan folk and gothicism – it’s jarring enough to remind the listener that these elements really do not belong and elicit some unnecessary track skipping where he could easily have offered a more cohesive album and atmosphere throughout.

I cut my teeth on Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Richard Thompson and Ashley Hutchings and their respective frontwomen, so this is very much up my alley overall…unwelcome neo-Kraftwerkisms aside.

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Crone “Gehenna” EP  (Prophecy)

Vocalist Phil “sG” Jonas and drummer/guitarist Markus Renzenbrink tap into their darkwave side.  It’s actually rather good, with Jonas’ whiny and complaining-toned unsteadiness coming off sort of like a smacked out Liam Gallagher fronting Renzenbrink’s ersatz Echo and the Bunnymen.  Call it Oasis of the Bunnymen, I guess.

Oddly for a four track, the album is split right down the middle, with the first half (“Houses of Gehenna” and “Your Skull-Sized Kingdom”) being the ones you’ll want to listen to over and over again, and the effective B-side (the moribund ballade “Escher’s Stairs” and to a lesser extent “Dead Man”, which at least shows signs of life halfway through the proceedings) being passably avoidable.

Skip the balladeering and stick to your strengths when crafting the inevitable full length – there’s a damn good darkwave/indie/90’s Britpop band straining at the seams of the birth caul here.

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Bethlehem “Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia”  (Prophecy)

Wow, those photos alone made my day.  I’m not sure what’s better, the lost and befuddled old drunk look?  The sleazy, dental hygiene impaired strip bar patron look?  Seriously, did these guys even look at these shots before releasing them to the media?

And how does that visual jive in any way with the Peter Murphy solo career ethereal indie radio pop of “Egon Erwin’s Mongo Mumu” or the portions of “Kettenwolf Greint 12-11-18” not trying to come off like Gorgoroth’s warbling “When Love Rages Wild in my Heart”?

But just when you think you’ve got these guys pegged, they drop into a growly-puke industrial metal not far removed from Rammstein on “Verbracht in Plastiknacht”.  In point of fact, the band can’t appear to figure out who they want to appeal to.  Is it the smooth, vaguely gothic dreampop of the clean toned, ringing guitar Murphy crowd?  Or the more experimental wing of the dark metal scene?   Hell, they even sound like Kveldssanger-era Ulver on “Antlitz Eines Teilzeitfreaks”…

Either way, it’s clear they have a (weird) sense of humor, from songs like “Nazi Zombies mit Tourette-Syndrom” and “Kinski’s Cordycepsgemach”…who knows, maybe the goofy photos were deliberate after all!

I liked the dreampop cum gothic darkwave portions a lot.  The shift in tone and mood effected by the puke vocals is just bizarre, though…

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Nuclearhammer – Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 26)

Noisy-ass black “war” metal in the vein of Beherit or Blasphemy, which is appropriate in the latter case as the two bands share the same nationhood.  Well, OK, Toronto and Vancouver are one hell of a distance apart from each other, but you get the idea.

The problem is that they’ve also tapped into the boring repetitiousness of Dark Funeral circa Secrets of the Black Arts (to this day, hands down the worst black metal album I ever made the mistake of blind buying).  At least I’m not hearing as much transposition up and down one whole step that made the aforementioned such an unlistenable atrocity…

Nuclearhammer also appears to really dig that pointless experimental electronic noodling that Beherit fell into for a while, with about a third of the tracks being worthless white noise.

While “Subhumannihilation” and “Cosmic Atomic Hypnosis” actually slow things down enough to be more listenable than the rest, the only track that truly stands out (“Parasitic (Temple of Rats)”) must be a cover, since it’s so much catchier than anything surrounding…

On the plus side (beyond those three tracks, which if presented as a 3 song EP would have won Nuclearhammer a much better review), it’s pretty well recorded for this sort of affair, with a fairly crunchy riffing and an unusual degree of ambience and negative space.

Now, those who’ve never delved into this particular dusty corner of the underground black metal universe should take that statement with a grain of salt – it’s still rather noisy and indistinguishable overall.  But by comparison with their obvious influences?  Really good production here.

I did also really like the cover, with the cosmic snakes closing in on a nebula.  Does that make this “black space metal”?

Some potential here, at least to achieve the same level of infamy and relative achievement as the bands they emulate…just drop the Dark Funeralisms and all that electronic twaddle next time around.

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Ill Omen – Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 26)

Majestic drone guitars and chanting that give way to an old school Norwegian black metal influence that relies heavily on Burzum and Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism-era Immortal for inspiration.

It’s another one man band from Australia, and a pretty competent one.  I could easily see this one turning up on Sepulchral, it’s got that same coldly atmospheric and trancelike feel.

There’s a rather nice drum break late in “Abhorrence II” (every track is imaginatively designated “Abhorrence (fill in the Roman numeral)”) and the feel is retro enough to get a definite thumbs up.

We need more of this sort of thing (or to be honest, even something like Nuclearhammer) than the neverending and quite sleep-inducing parade of Watain wannabes and abject clones that clutter the virtual shelves month after month – better an interesting misstep than being boring!)

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Harvest Gulgaltha – I MLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 17)

USBM with a strong death metal influence.  Straddling two camps and not enough of either present to satisfy fans of each respective subgenre.  You know that old commercial jingle about “two great tastes that taste great together”?

It’s a lie.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this release, otherwise; if you don’t mind your cornflakes intermingled with mozzarella, you may well dig Harvest Gulgatha.  I think they work best as a sort of ersatz death metal band, which leaves the best track being “manifestation of nightmares”.

One definite plus is that it’s well produced, with the drummer in particular well served by the mix.  What this means to you is some fairly intense, if slightly floppy-footed double bass-driven kitwork more or less up in your face.  Check out the midsection of “release the flesh” (the only point where the song displays any real signs of life) for one good example of this.

Too droning and simplistic for your average death metal fan, too obviously death metal (particularly on the drum and vocal fronts) for the corpsepaint crowd.  A good band who’d be better served by actually choosing a side, as it were.

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Doomed and Disgusting – Satan’s Nightmare LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions)

Sort of a blackened traditional metal cum “occult rock” affair, Satan’s Nightmare represents the dastardly doings of Sadistik Execution bass player “Dave Slave”, which can be inferred from the often cheesy and foulmouthed lyrical bent (check out “Awaken the Vampire” for a few doubtless unintentional laughs).

What Slave does bring to his one man band here that just wasn’t present with his former act is…well, listenability.  There are ooky-spooky keyboard stings and early Bathory by way of Graveland and Gloomy Grim spat-puked black metallish vocals.  The drumming is pretty basic, the guitars are noisy and often quite atonal, but the keyboards and atmosphere should appeal to fans of a more basic, crusty approach to blackened metal (albeit of a far more traditional variant than the usual thrash/punk/death forms thereof).

It’s no masterwork, but what the album does have going for it is an oppressively evil atmosphere that appeals in the same way that, say, Goatlord does*.  I’ll give it the nod of recommendation for those so inclined.

* and in fact, Ace Still can be recognized as yet another vocal analogue if not influence herein…

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Revenge (Canada) – Attack.Blood.Revenge LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (August 26)

Carcass fronted by Roger Martinez of Vengeance, if you can picture such a thing.  Really fast, sloppy-sounding blastbeat kitwork over a Von-esque drone with absurd high pitched snarl vocals that sound exactly like Grover freaking out when trying to explain something to Kermit on Sesame Street.  Seriously.

Oh, and the Carcass thing?  That’s because they split the vocals, with a harmonizer-like stomach acid/bottom of the bowels burbling dropping in every now and again in a call and response to Grover’s ongoing conniption.  It’s actually hilarious, if you’re in the right mood.

Apparently a re-release of the band’s first album with bonus tracks from the Superion.Command.Destroy EP, a split with Arkhon Infaustus and a Von cover.  As a fan of retroactive compilations like this, I know how that extra bit of rarity inclusion can go a long way, so fans of the band take note.

Look, it’s clear that revenge are mining some seriously primitive and minimalist ground here.  But taken on that level, much akin to Nuclearhammer, it ain’t all that bad…just really, really silly.

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Abigail (Japan) – Intercourse and Lust LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 14)

Look, even if you haven’t stumbled across one of their literal dozens of singles, splits and album releases since 1992 (!), Third Eye regulars have likely run across mention of them – the Joel Grind/Yasuyuki Suzuki Tiger Junkies, a split with Sigh discussed during our interview with Mika (“Dr. Mikkanibal”) and Mirai Kawashima.  These guys have been around for what seems like forever, inhabiting their own little circle of Japanese black metal hell.

For first timers, this is actually a reissue of their very first full length from 1996, and it’s a good one.  Even getting past the freakout Ukiyo-E print used for the cover, the “three Y’s” of Abigail (Yasayuki, Yasunori and Youhei) deliver some truly primitive, evil sounding straight ahead blackened thrash that sounded even at the time of initial release like it arrived an entire decade too late.

It’s good stuff.  The pace never really lets up and the Hellhammer, early Sepultura, Bathory, Venom and Motorhead influences are pretty damn obvious at times, but if you came up during the era where all the various subgenres of underground metal were barely coming into protoplasmic being, this will all feel instantly familiar.  More, please.

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Doombringer (Poland) – The Grand Sabbath LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 31)

Advance promotion makes an offhand comparison to Italy’s Mortuary Drape, and for a change, it’s an apt one.

A lumbering, gloomy feel, shouted vocals suffused in cavernous (but not overdone) reverb, and a sound that leans heavily towards black metal, but remains just on this side of the death-thrash fence.  It’s reasonably old school (i.e. very early to mid 90’s) in approach and while unlikely to be any sort of game changer, holds up the flag of, oddly enough, Italian blackened thrash for a future generation – I’m definitely hearing whiffs of early Bulldozer in there as well.

I dug it.

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Pestilential Shadows – Ephemeral (Seance) (October 31)

Australia gives us yet another black metal act this month, and it’s a band who are really good at instrumentals.  Think early Burzum by way of Era I Mortiis, and you’ll know pretty much what to expect from the excellent, moody opener “Throes” and closer “Expire”.

What comes in between is pretty dark and Gorgoroth-like, albeit with more of a mournful vibe throughout.  They actually seem to get what makes a black metal composition, complete with the atmosphere, drama and bombast, and while hardly on the level of storied first and second wave forefathers of black metal, it’s a damn solid release overall.

Color me impressed – definitely one for repeat listens.  I knew there was a minor black metal scene coming out of the land down under, but wasn’t expecting the sort of quality these guys can and do deliver.  Maybe all that desert heat and rabbit hunting was good for this sort of music after all, who the hell knew?

Thumbs up not only for the quality of the production, general musicianship and approach, but for not even going anywhere near aping fucking Watain for a change!

All the rest of you modern black metal bands, take note already.  I’m sick of this bullshit…

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