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Good Lord, it’s been one hell of a month.

With the East Coast buffeted by wave after wave of the white stuff and temperatures bottoming out to record lows, one has to wonder whether we’ve all descended to the ninth circle of hell overnight…

There have been dozens and dozens of releases coming our way, only a portion of which actually boast a release date anywhere within the backdated January through upcoming early March timeframe.  Some were quite good, many were…

…can you say “soulless modern metal”?

Yeah.  You get the picture.

So without any further ado, let’s see what the February release cycle (and thereabouts) has to offer, shall we?  To the battlefields!

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Sono Morti – After the Revival EP (self released)

After all too long of a wait, our favorite Midwestern horror punks cum ghostly Morricone-style western soundtrack stylists Sono Morti return to the fray with a new EP, and as ever, it’s one worth spending a bit of time digging into.  So strap on those dusters and spurs, ’cause here we go…

Losing some of the atmosphere of last year’s Revival EP, “the woods” comes off like an early Echo & the Bunnymen track, albeit recorded with minimal reverb as if direct through a Marshall head.  The guitar is played in an odd, processed e-Bow tone that simultaneously approximates the Irish uilleann pipes and the Chinese pipa, while bassist/drummer Crank propels matters along with a Kevin Haskinslike tribal tom beat.

“My revival” brings things right back into familiar territory, with an octave phased guitar line and lead vocal from guitarist Brian Day ushering in a lengthy foray into Chris Isaak gone goth territory.  It’s far too dark and brooding to be what passes for ‘classic rock’ these days, but Day brings more of that general feel to his tracks than the more Danzig/Samhainisms of Marquis Thomas’.

There are moments that actually feel a dash Johnny Cash, particularly in the guitar line when the song changes tempo in the final third.  The drums are quite noticeable and busy at this point, with Day laying down a Buck Dharmalike lead that brings the whole thing to a new level.  “Cumulus crown?”  What’s that?  All in all, this one’s a very impressive track, with a more assured, often classic metal style vocal turn from Day.

The instrumentals on this EP remain strange, with the next track bringing a very ethereal, nigh Turkish bouzouki feel that retains the gloomy approach listeners expect from the band while dragging in rather odd associations with such artists as Yma Sumac or Martin Denny.

Thomas finally steps to the mic for “she is perfect”, but while entirely recognizable, there’s a lighter, more quavering tone to his voice than longtime Vladimirs and Sono Morti fans will likely be expecting.  The same does not apply to the lyrics, which bear both bands’ trademark gothicized, even ghoulish take on romance tinged with a frightening, obsessive edge.  In other words, just like every Vladimirs or Sono Morti record you ever chanted and moshed along to.

Back to that odd e-Bow thing for another instrumental, then a surprise vocal turn by Crank on the rather college rocklike “hungry ghosts”.  If Camper Van Beethoven went a tad creepier than taking skinheads bowling, it might sound a hell of a lot like this one.

Another octave chorus guitar line opens another lengthy Brian Day effort, “voices from beyond” (one questions whether the Fulci homage were intentional or no – personally, I loved that oft maligned final effort, which appropriately enough dealt with metaphysics and the inevitability of death, Carnival of Souls style…).

While perhaps not as varied and suite-like as “my revival”, this one also gets a second life with the tempo shift in the final third, with a slide-and slur-packed solo that gives way to an overcompressed Rockman-filtered section before turning clean overdrive for an arpeggio filled, nigh-Spanish guitar bit.

Eventually, things alternate between the Rockman thing and some heavier (but still essentially clean) flash that shows Day in much better form than circumstances allowed on the (to date, sadly final) Vladimirs offering The Late Hours (for the story behind that, check out our interview here).

Some ring modulated organ (well, keyboard) makes a welcome appearance for another brief instrumental, then Thomas returns for a rather Jim Morrisonesque croon on “remember to forget” (which also goes back to that Ian McCulloch association earlier – you can practically hear “the killing moon” beating down the door here).

A late 70’s dramatic keyboard intro (think “classic rock band takes the stage” and you’ll get the idea) takes up more than half of what sounds like a drunken end of the session chant-a-long featuring just about anyone hanging around the studio for the two line “absalom again”, then it’s off for a Nick Drake-style acoustic strum (which turns very Bad Company once the drums kick in) on “gather your teeth and go”, which then runs into a vaguely Cure-like “the river”. That’s right, three instrumentals in a row.  For the close, Day takes the mic once again for “you’re among friends”, which strangely enough feels like a minor key-punctuated riff on George Harrison’s cheesy “here comes the sun” (!)

In sum, this one was a bit of a surprise.  On the plus side, it certainly shows a band willing to take chances and mess with the expected template a bit.  With respect to the first two Day-led tracks, it works quite well – both his vocals and his lead playing have noticeably improved and gained in confidence.  Further, while many of the instrumentals are certainly eye opening with their quirkiness and vague nods towards world music in tonality, the better part of the EP certainly remains well within the general sound established by Sono Morti (and for that matter, the more melancholic Vladimirs tracks of more recent albums).

Thomas is always a welcome presence, though it’s hard to define what changed here in his tone and approach – there’s a lighter, less booming touch that evokes far less classic Glenn Danzig or Elvis Presley than the aforementioned Ian McCulloch and Jim Morrison.  Not bad touchpoints by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely indicative of something of a shift in focus.

On the flip side, there is a closing run of lighter material (the Crank track, the last four) and acoustically inclined, essentially major key instrumentals that just feel out of place, somehow.  Musically speaking, they all work, the playing is quite good, the production is powerful throughout the EP.  But something’s changed, and it’s not just a more Beatlesesque equal share of vocal duties.

It’s no secret that I love these guys, both as the Vlads and as Sono Morti, and I’ve had them on the show to discuss each of those bands and their discographies at length in what remain two of my favorite interviews to date (if I ever head out to Ohio, I’m taking you up on that jam session, so be prepared!)  Even beyond that, if this were a new release from a previously unknown band I didn’t know from Adam, this one would still get a thumbs up – there’s just too much to like about the EP.

But how does it compare with earlier efforts?  That’s a harder question to address, and one I’ve got mixed feelings on (both for better and for worse).  While recognizable enough, be assured that After the Revival does represent a change from what’s come before.

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Lykaion – Heavy Lullabies (Inverse Records) (Feb. 6)

Falling somewhere between cinematic symphonics and the sort of neo-gothicism of HiM, Italy’s Lykaion tag in occasional touches of (very) late 80’s Hollywood glam metal riffing and Pantera-cized aggro/screamo to an otherwise melodic, nigh-emo sound that in many ways evokes a more metallized variant of Hyde and Mika Nakashima’s soundtrack for the live action Nana film, of all things.

The guitarwork from Fabio Valentini is pleasantly layered with multi-tracked harmony leads and punchy, Vain-like solos, and there are melodeath bits that bring both Echoes of Eternity and Mors Principium Est to mind.  The production is really quite good, with the weakest element here being vocalist Alessandro Sforza’s penchant for raspy growling rather than sticking to the intimate hoarse whispers of Vile Valo or a cleaner emo vocal approach.  It’s listenable enough, particularly when bolstered by such a strong instrumental backing, but it’s an inappropriately power metal-cheesy lead spot for a band that deserves much more.

An easy thumbs up overall, but a new vocal approach is definitely called for here.

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Caelestia – Beneath Abyss (Inverse Records) (Feb. 16)

Female fronted Greek metal act.  They claim to be shooting for melodic death metal, but what you actually get is closer to a slightly heavier variant of gothic metal.  Vocalist Dimitra Vintsou has a pleasant, if fairly light soprano that proves the band’s main asset, as the music is acceptable but generic gothic metal with occasional riffs or bursts of (midtempo) speed that hint at a death metal influence.

They pull in a few guest vocalists from bands like Soilwork (and surprisingly given the essentially clean male vocals, Sodom), but there’s precious little here to get excited about; it’s really all about Vintsou’s lovely if airy pipes.

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Wömit Angel – Maggotmouth (Inverse Records) (February 6)

Aggressively speedy blackened thrash outfit with overly snarled, Morbid Saint-like vocals and a dash of Watain in the overuse of sliding chords back and forth in a sort of ongoing slur pattern.

Drummer “Vile Anarchy” can’t always keep the blastbeats in meter, but that’s kind of an ongoing concern with the style across the board, and one major reason I can’t stand blastbeat drumming in the first place (plus it’s lazy as hell, particularly when so many drummers, this one inclusive, seem perfectly competent on the kit otherwise.

The drum production is especially good for this sort of thing, bringing the tom rolls and flashy footwork into deserved prominence (but on the flipside, making the blastbeat sections that much more intolerable).  Only 3 tracks and 8 minutes in total, last song “King SM” is definitely the best of ’em.  Has potential.

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Godless Angel – Harvester of Shadows (Inverse Records) (February 27th)

hmm.  This is a tough one to review, as the logical/musical reviewer wars with the emotional response somewhat. So keeping that in mind, here goes.

OK, let’s start with first impressions.  A lengthy if fairly sloppy, out of tune guitar solo with multi-tracked sections kicks this off, which while bringing famed shitty guitarist Trey Azagthoth to mind also evokes the occasional-picking legato slurriness of David T. Chastain (though mind, I’m referring to a failing in the man’s style here, not one of his neoclassically inclined positives).  There’s a bit of Rick Rozz whammy bar wankery, then a line or two of Chris Riefert-style talk-puking as vocals. Throw in a few bars of reverb heavy, James Murphy-like harmony multitracked business, then back to the vox.  Rinse, repeat.

OK, so on the plus side, there’s a strong (did I say strong? Make that fairly intensive) adulation of classic death metal (particularly the Floridian Morrisound Studios style that together with its Swedish Sunlight Studios counterpart really encapsulates anything worthwhile about the scene as a whole) – the entire album feels as surprisingly retro as a Death Breath album.

On the minus side, while puker/guitarist (well, it’s a solo project all the way down the line, but those are the only instruments you actually hear outside of an admittedly well programmed drum machine) Derek Neibarger certainly captures bits and bobs of the Riefert, Rozz and Murphy style here and there, most of his leads are pretty damn sloppy, with his pick hand and fingering totally out of sync for the better part of the album.  For a scene vet like myself, I’m picking up a Chastain-ness in that, but again, it’s the more problematic end of the man’s playing style, not what made (and continues to make) all of us fellow guitarists and shred aficionados take notice of him in the first place.

That said, this isn’t really a slag on the guy – I found myself feeling right at home with his style here, quirks and all. This is (other than the occasional Obituary EP or Death Breath release) one of the most time displaced homages to the glory days of the death metal scene I’ve heard since that scene died miserably around 1994, as Entombed went “death n’roll”, Morbid Angel got past the first three letters of the alphabet, Scott Burns more or less retired and R/C Records (the short lived but essential merger of Roadracer and Combat) folded.  At the Gates put out their only listenable album during that year, but that album was by far a last gasp of the scene, with nothing much of note in the months prior and bar a few recent retro minded offerings, pretty much absolute zero since.

And taken in that light as well as on its own merits, Neibarger’s one man operation comes off feeling quite essential, not to mention pretty damn nostalgic.  I’ll give it a thumbs up, uncoordinated picking and fingering hands be damned.

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Burweed – Hide (Inverse Records) (Feb. 20)

Finnish entry in the “modern metal” stakes.  Now, this is a subgenre where pretty much everything sounds the same to me, from nu metal hipster stuff like Five Finger Death Punch to overhyped nothing acts like Mastodon and Avenged Sevenfold: plug a belcher or screamer and severely downtuned guitar/bass into ProTools, fart out your lunch and bingo, yet another cookie cutter release for stations like WSOU to throw into neverending rotation.

It’s been going on pretty much since the grunge days, and the utter disconnect of this general sound with anything applicable to life, emotion, the universe and everything is the exact reason why I walked away from a (quite dead) metal scene throughout the better part of the 90’s and into the earliest days of the millenium.

So to move from the general to the specific case in review, the operative question becomes, does Hide sound any worse than any other album/band/act working this general sound and style?

Not at all. If anything, it’s got a lot going for it: the rather good production, an airy, melancholic feel occasionally evocative of Sonic Youth, a lack of aggro/screamo vox (sure, he belches the whole time, but it’s mixed on par with the guitars, making it far less egregious than typical for the style) and comparatively diminished indebtedness to the musical anathema known as “Southern groove” gives Burweed a decided and notable edge over the competition to my ears.

But while it’s all well and good for me to say “hey, this isn’t half bad for a change!”, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that this is really not my scene they’re hailing from – no self respecting metal band would name their strongest track “tire iron”, that’s a Clutch or Tool-ism. You know, as in grunge? Not metal at all.

For my part, I give it a thumbs up, grading on a genre-specific curve.  But I leave it to those who enjoy this sort of thing as a general rule to decide for themselves the relative merits hereof.

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Gian – All Life Erased (Inverse Records) (Feb. 20)

Another modern metal act, but without all the mood, atmosphere and quality Burweed brought to bear.  This one seems to be mixing Slipknot with Watain (that same unmistakable riffing sound is there right from the first bridge of otherwise Pantera meets death-industrial opener “Traumm”).

Oh, and there’s a gimmick.  Apparently “Gian” is supposed to be a ten year old butcher and “mutated and demented nuclear freak” with homicidal tendencies.  They do a track dedicated to Bill Zebub’s Zombie Christ, of all things.

Corey Taylor moves to Finland.  Whatever.  Not my scene.

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Stormwitch – Season Of The Witch (Massacre Records) (February 17)

A German traditional/power metal act who’ve been poking around on and off since 1984.  There’s a guy named “Stoney Stoner” on guitar, which shows they’ve at least got a sense of humor.

Vocalist Andy Muck has that sort of overdramatic clean tenor you get from bands like Helloween and Eden’s Curse, which helps the band tremendously given the essentially melodic yet unspectacular material on display here.  I guess with a flashier, more neoclassically inspired lead guitar the general sound Stormwitch brings to bear might stand out more than it actually does.

With only 2 albums per decade during the 90’s and 2000’s and their first album of the decade dropping halfway through, it’s hard to say to what degree we’re talking nostalgic hobby band as opposed to a going concern, but the bottom line is yet another listenable power metal band that on the flipside is unlikely to set non-genre diehards on fire.

Melodic, with good vocals and decent riffing, but kind of bland.

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Scanner – The Judgement (Massacre Records) (February 17)

German speed metal with power metal elements, somewhat akin to a more mature sounding, full throttle variant of Canada’s Striker.

There are certainly elements of Helloween (just like pretty much every other power metal band out there today), and I really like hearing more of a nigh-baritone range in the vocals for a change*.  Not since Glenn Danzig and Fifth Angel’s Ted Pilot have we really gotten anything approximating a “manly” deep tone in clean singing, so despite being more of a low end tenor than a true baritone, Efthimios Ionnaidis’ vocals really stand out in that respect.

* there are unfortunate moments where he aims for that screechy Painkiller-era Rob Halford thing, as in “warlord”, but these are thankfully few and far between.

Guitarists Axel “A.J.” Julius and Andreas Zeidler play together nicely enough to bring Breaking the Silence-era Heathen axemen Lee Altus and Doug Piercy to mind, and they further approximate that pinched harmonic/Rocktron guitar tone much beloved by fellow fans of classic Obsession and Minoru Nihara-era Loudness.

Strong production, decent vocals and twin guitars that actually work as a team make the speed tracks really stand out from the competition.  The slower, more power metal inflected material that takes up the bulk of the second half of the album doesn’t work half so well, so here’s hoping they resolve to pick up the pace for a more consistent release next time around – the uptempo material here is pretty damn good.

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ISSA – Crossfire (Frontiers Music srl) (February 20)

Fans of post-Metal Queen Lee Aaron…well, before she went full on jazz chanteuse, anyway, should appreciate this light AOR offering from Norway’s ISSA.  Once again, Roxette is mentioned as a point of reference in the promotional materials, which is just…odd.  They also reference 80’s Heart, which is closer to the mark, though little on Crossfire approaches the stodginess of that band’s post-Passionworks material.*.  I’d say anything from Shania Twain fronting Winger to a modern day Vixen were far more appropriate (and accurate) as markers of what the lady’s trying to achieve here.

* longtime favorite Heart track “How Can I Refuse?” might give readers a better idea of what Issa is actually trying to approximate with her overall sound, and would be an excellent track for the lady to cover next time around (hint, hint).

Frontiers favorites Alessandro Del Vecchio (Eden’s Curse, Silent Force, et al) and Robert Sall (Work of Art, W.E.T.) drop in for guest bits, but she’s got a reasonably proficient band behind her in the first place, most particularly Tom Martin, who lays some surprisingly virtuosic 8-12 bar leads in the vein of John Norem on Don Dokken’s Up From the Ashes, Reb Beach on Winger’s debut or Marc Richard Diglio on the XYZ self titled.

Big, smooth harmony vocals ala Edenbridge, impressively flashy leads and smooth production with a decent female vocalist…feels like 1988 all over again.  I liked it.

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URIAH HEEP – Live at Koko (Frontiers Music srl) (February 20)

When I was a kid, even before being introduced to the teenaged pleasures of heavy metal, I recall certain albums always winding up in discount bins.  Later, as we moved into the portable walkman era and the days of the cassette, you could always find many of the same albums in the $3 or less cutout bins, sharing space with more recent flops, store overbuys and artists nobody ever heard of.

But there were a few bands that always seemed to occupy these record store remainder racks*, with a surprising good decade and a half’s worth of consistency, and with multiple albums from the same band gathering dust for months on end.  Marillion.  Molly Hatchet.  Uriah Heep.

* older Kiss and Whitesnake albums also turned up there with regularity, but we all knew who those guys were – and in fact, purchases from these cheapie bins was how I originally discovered how much better the latter band was in their Micky Moody/Bernie Mardsen boogie band days than their more popular if soulless mid to late 80’s “metal” iteration.

Now, I’ve since come to appreciate the merits of Flirtin’ With Disaster, which is probably the strongest (and conversely, least played on “classic rock” radio) of “Southern rock” albums of its day.  But to this day, I’ve never heard either of the other bands, whose sole representation in my memory are the distinctive covers to such fare as Misplaced Childhood, Molly Hatchet’s self titled debut and more to the point here, Abominog.

So here we are, many years on from those halcyon days of youth, and I’m hearing the music behind the album covers for the first time.  And I feel a bit underwhelmed.

It’s not bad, for what it is: keyboard-heavy early to mid 70’s rock with a slight “progressive” bent.  The overall sound falls somewhere between Deep Purple (particuarly the Coverdale/Blackmore era), Dio/Blackmore era Rainbow and Emerson Lake & Palmer.  Honestly, if I’d known they were more or less a Deep Purple clone, I’d probably have picked up those bargain bin albums way back when, and come to this album as more of an “expert”, commenting on how they leant heavily on this classic album over that one, or the faithfulness of these live midlife makeovers of their youthful studio counterparts.

As it is, I can only come to this effectively tabula rasa, which leaves me to offer two points: first, that they’re really not bad at all, and I’m not sure why they don’t seem to have caught on with the Stateside market back when.

Second, if you’re a fan of classic Deep Purple or Rainbow and like myself are not already familiar with Uriah Heep, you owe it to yourself to run out and pick this one up as a sampler for what you’ve been missing all these years.

For my part, I’ve long since gotten over anything even vaguely “classic rock” in nature, bar the aforementioned pre-John Sykes Whitesnake and Bon Scott era AC/DC, so be aware that this is purely intellectual and speaking to the quality of what I’m hearing musically, as opposed to any sense of being moved by same.

But I really have to wonder why a band this decent never seems to have gotten a fair shake on these shores.

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THE MIDNIGHT GHOST TRAIN – Cold Was The Ground (Napalm Records) (February 27)

Kyuss with really bad vocals.

Seriously, that’s it. Thick, grinding, overdriven tube amp-style guitars in the now time-tested desert rock/generator party vein, but more consistently uptempo and driving with some guy puking in place of the expected clean singing.

Derivative as hell, but the music is certainly damn good for the style and will certainly appeal to fans of Kyuss, Vista Chino, Brant Bjork or John Garcia (and possibly Monstermagnet as well).

The vocals? Aah, just ignore ’em, hopefully they’ll go away.

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EVIL INVADERS – Pulses Of Pleasure (Napalm Records) (February 27)

Belgium, of all places, shows their love of Exciter and (to a lesser extent, despite their name) Razor with a speed metal offering that crosses, say, Enforcer or Striker with pure Baloff worship on the vocals.

The only problem with that plan is that Exodus‘ Baloff was a big (as in thick) guy with a throaty voice who did those squeals and squeaks…when your guy’s pretty much an Irish tenor and trying to work the same style, it comes off sort of like Mickey Mouse goes thrash metal.

SQUEAK! SQUEAL! Got me some cheese! SQUEAK! EEK! Here comes a cat!  EEK!

Seriously, though, the band’s rather good, and if you ignore the wholly inappropriate high vocal range (Mike Sanders from Toxik or Randy Rampage from Annihilator do Baloff?!?), any old school thrash/speed metal fan should be running for their cutoff denim jacket with all the buttons and patches and that ratty old pair of hi-top canvas sneakers to start banging heads.

Really good.

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Secret Of Boris – Your Ghost (Cabo Records, LLC) (March 10)

Sorta whiny, groove tinged “modern metal” again, sounds very much like something they’d air at the local Hot Topic or on WSOU.  It’s got a melodic edge and while the vocalist chooses to do that Layne Stayley NYAAAOOWWW WAOOOWWW YOWWWWW shit out of the corner of his mouth rather than sing, at least it’s not aggro/screamo.

They threw in a few light electronic/industrial touches to spruce up the mix, and I can tell you which tracks are more likely to be played on similarly minded radio stations, but as typical for bands working this general sound or stylistic admixture thereof, absolutely nothing about this resonates with me.

Too bad, as I love the photos, the spy logo and the aesthetic/dress sense of the band (would’ve made for a great Two-Tone ska revival act…)

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Eero Koivistoinen Quartet – Hati Hati (Svart Records) (February 27)

Finnish old school jazz piano/sax/bass/drums quartet. They seem to be operating mainly in the mid-late 60’s “modern” jazz style, and Eero himself has apparently done some work with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans and Jack DeJohnnette, so this is the real deal, kids.

Plenty of forward driving motion courtesy of the swing inflections of drummer Jussi Lehtonen, who while never approaching the manic intensity of Tony Williams or Billy Cobham (or for that matter, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa) definitely propels the pieces with his busy, highly syncopated kitwork.

While Eero himself handles the sax end, the album per se appears to be driven far more by the Vince Guaraldi goes classical piano work of Alexi Tuomarila, who conjures simultaneous images of Claude Debussy and Gil Evans with his light fingered, flowing arpeggiation and wide open chordal structures throughout.

They tip the hat to Miles Davis in “relations”, which also gives bassist Jori Huhtala a moment to go all Ron Carter in the spotlight.  Eero himself unsurprisingly bears some small debt to the earlier, less experimental John Coltrane, but there are hints of Wayne Shorter as well.

It’s all rather midtempo at best, but more than listenable for jazz aficionados like myself, who could easily slip this between rotations of, say, Kind of Blue and ‘Round Midnight, if not ESP and Miles Smiles as a less adventurous, but still perfectly accomplished and well structured bit of (now rather retro minded) vaguely “modernized” traditional jazz.

You can hear similar music playing in 50’s/early 60’s B-movies right down through your typical Something Weird offering of the period – I can see a smoky beatnik filled coffeehouse or suit and cocktail dress-filled hotel lounge every time I give this one a spin.

You know I liked it, and quite a bit at that.

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Uhrijuhla – Jokainen on vapaa lintu (Svart Records) (March 6)

Cocteau Twins meets Mazzy Star, kissing All About Eve as they float past.

As you might have guessed, it’s all wispy ethereality fronted by female vocals, with foley effects of backyard birds chirping away between and within tracks.  Hilariously, the promo materials suggest this is “harder and rougher” than their prior material!

Very early to mid 90’s NYC/London hipster-equivalent stuff.  They used to play bands like this at Kim’s Video or in soundtracks to “trendy” indie films of the era.  Like the bands referenced, it’s inoffensive and listenable, but unlikely to set any males in the audience afire.

Their girlfriends, on the other hand, may well grab the CD or iPod and excitedly ask “what’s that?” if not get up and dance, which may be a selling point in and of itself.

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Tähtiportti – S/T (Svart Records) (February 27)

Uber-weird electronic dance music.  The closest thing I can offer would be The Normal’s “warm leatherette” crossed with Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, but while imbibing some spongiform brain disease-causing illicit substance.

Reasonably space-rock psychedelic, as dark as Throbbing Gristle and occasionally bearing that sort of creepy danceability of industrialized 90’s club acts that Bigod 20, Nitzer Ebb or Meat Beat Manifesto made their stock in trade, this is ultimately an interesting throwaway that merits one or two curious spins (the second spin being reduced to the 2 or 3 truly clubworthy tracks) before being relegated to the dustbin of history.

Odd.

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Terveet Kädet- Lapin helvetti (Svart Records) (March 6)

Finnish hardcore punk!  Well, OK, not the first time we’ve delved into those particular waters, but still a nice change.  Here’s hoping more old school-style punk comes our way for review – as with the second wave of gothic rock in the early to mid 90’s, I was part of that scene both before and after my years as a diehard metalhead.

I don’t like the vocals at all, which fall back on screams so throaty you can practically hear the guy’s tonsils wiggle, but the band is tight and hits all the expected stylistic notes, pushing things right into black/death territory with tracks like “elamalle vieraita piirteita”, which just feels…wrong.  Thankfully, for the better part of the album the band sticks more closely to Verbal Abuse/Seven Seconds/Minor Threat-style calls to the mosh pit.

I can feel the fists flying and combat boots coming at your head from random stagedivers right now.

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Garden of Worm – Idle Stones (Svart Records) (March 6)

Doom metal with psychedelic elements.  While no Ahab by a long shot, the laid back, mellow feel pulls doom out of its slavishly Sabbath meets Trouble orientation and into a haze of hippie-style pot smoke.  It’s kind of like Cheech & Chong – “MEL-low…MEL-low…(long pause) GAH!”  Of course, on the downside, every track sounds exactly the same…

Not bad, listenable enough, great to chill out to, but goes nowhere, really.

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Heavydeath – Eternal Sleepwalker (Svart Records) (March 6)

Slow and brooding, with a very measured build.  Not bad, but a lot of these tracks sound almost indistinguishable from the ones that came before or follow.

The most lively and different thing on display here is “eat the sun”, which could pass as an ersatz blackened death metal track of sorts.  “Eternal sleepwalker” feels like something a lumbering zombie might moan or grunt along to, with “heavy as death” following close behind – the latter could sort of pass as Death Breath on downers.

In the days where bands, particularly in the emerging underground scenes, were few and far between, a heavy tone could really blow your mind – I remember people going on about how the hell Tom G. Warrior got that classic Celtic Frost sound.  Nowadays, it’s pretty much at the push of a button on an app or amp modeling simulator, so it’s hard for a band to make a name for themselves purely on the basis of “sounding heavy”.

Case in point.

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DECLINE OF THE I – Rebellion (Agonia Records) (February 27)

France gives us somebody going by the initials “A.K.” who does a modernist take on black metal.  You know, like when bands like Enslaved, post-demo era Manes or post-Nattens Madrigal Ulver had the balls to continue calling whatever the hell they were putting out black metal, but more authentically – at least “A.K.” is producing something vaguely reminiscent thereto.

Elements of this are right, but the guy’s too enamored of drones and detuned bass, not to mention electronic sound effects for his own good (jack off to Abruptum much?) and in black metal terms, it just doesn’t feel very French (or French Canadian, for that matter).

And you know what? When some clown starts his album continually whispering “kill yourself”?

I say “go fuck yourself.”

Not awful, but an easy pass.

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CODE – mut (Agonia Records) (February 27)

Atonal British noise metal.  There are phrases and bits of business on either the vocal or instrumental end that make perfect melodic sense, but never at the same time, and there’s a hell of a lot of extraneous noise and jibber jabber going on, musically.

It’s like a low art Charles Ives, but wholly without the intellectual appeal and sense of pushing then-strict musical boundaries that Ives brought to bear – there are many bands making atonal, key-ignorant clashes of sonic business these days, but few (if any) post Sonic Youth worth paying any attention to.

Case in point.

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BAT – Primitive Age (12″ MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (February 17)

Re-release of a 2013 12″ single.  80’s metal underground sounding speed/thrash metal. It’s raw and wholly lacking in the sort of polish fans have come to associate with speed metal acts from TNT to Skull Fist.  There are no shred solos, the vocals are nigh-baritone and slightly growled (in the sense of classic punk, not in the sense of death metal here) and it’s all very brutal and in your face.

I guess if you strip the Mentors of the questionable lyrical approach and tightened the band up a bit, add a few touches of Slayer and the blackened thrash movements of Germany and Brazil, and you’d probably have something like Bat. Closest analogue I can hear to their sound here would be At War, which is far from a bad thing.

Very nostalgic, brought back memories of listening to WMSC with Bill Zebub and “the Axe Man” back in the day. Thumbs (and fists, and horns) way the hell up.

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MORTICIAN – Mortal Massacre DLP (Hells Headbangers) (February 17)

Re-release of the low-skilled, horror film-loving, drum machine sporting grindcore band’s 1993 debut.  Despite containing the band’s first two EPs, all you get are 6 tracks of material, plus about a dozen low quality live tracks.  The Mortal Massacre material is better produced and presents the band in a better light than the later Brutally Mutilated material, but if you’re familiar with Mortician, you know what you’re getting into…love ’em or hate ’em.

Personally, I always liked bands who pay homage to their favorite horror pictures (though this generally winds up restricted to Italian gore or 80’s slashers by such bands’ choice), and in terms of vocal and guitar, Mortician are par for the course with classic death metal (particularly once you start looking into the more grindcore end of the equation).  The main issue with them as a band has always been the saminess of their albums (how do you tell one track from the next, much less one album from those that surround it?) and the reliance on a drum machine, which is just cheesy, but seems less prominent in this more overdriven, signal bleed all over the place early material.

For those unfamiliar with the band, expect dark, grinding and simplistically doomy death metal with a serious jones for trash horror.  I can dig it.

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NUNSLAUGHTER / THE LURKING CORPSES – Split 7″ (Hells Headbangers) (February 17)

Yet another split from Hell’s Headbangers favorite sons Nunslaughter, this time with ostensible horror punkers The Lurking Corpses in tow.  Oddly, the latter band chooses to adapt stylistically towards the more grinding, nigh-blackened thrash sound Nunslaughter has made its calling card, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but which certainly calls their punk rock status into question (while pretty damn good for what it is, there’s absolutely NOTHING punk about “creatures of the blackened moon”, I’m sorry).

Nunslaughter themselves deliver another sloppily aggressive bit of neo-black metal marked by tremelo riffing and virulent anti-religious lyrics with a death metal breakdown at the chorus.  It’s typical, but doesn’t exactly stand out – Lurking Corpses definitely take this round hands down, despite betraying their punk roots in totality.

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THE HAUNTING PRESENCE – S/T 12″ MLP (Hells Headbangers) (March 10)

More blackened death metal, but a bit more crazed and speedy than usual, with jowl-shaking, phlegm-sputtering vocals from the singer’s bowels – and the vocals are the decided star of the show here.

Interesting enough for the type, but kind of repetitive.

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Wende – The Third and the Noble (Moribund) (February 17)

One man band from the state of Washington. He desperately wants to be Burzum, and there are definite influences and elements suggesting same, though Wende never even comes close to approximating that eerie, majestic and hypnotically mournful vibe that made Vikernes the most consistently listenable and haunting of all second wave black metal acts (at least till he got out of prison, then things get pretty damn spotty).

Raw, partially shrieked vocals buried beneath very overdriven guitars and occasional Casio keyboard bits.  There are parts that clash so obviously one wonders if he was being deliberately amateurish in the mistaken apprehension that Vikernes’ genius lie in his mistakes and lack of mastery of all the instruments used on those classic albums rather than the dark naivete and uniqueness of his vision by comparison to the emergent scene surrounding.

The result is a fairly listenable, somewhat trancey black metal record marred by some utterly jarring clashes of key and rhythm every now and again, and one where the atmosphere never approaches the effortless gloom and ambience of the average French Canadian black metal affair ala Sepulchral Records.

A definite hats off to the guy for trying, but Burzum this is not.

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Vardan – The Night, The Loneliness (Moribund) (February 17)

A rather more atmospheric and accomplished album than Wende comes courtesy of our old pal Vardan, who goes even more mellow and low key than usual.  The closest he’s come to this, at least among the five or six releases that were given us for review over the last year or so, was on the similarly gloomy Enjoy of Deep Sadness, but even that was more lively and uptempo (if such a terminology can be applied to his particular brand of melancholic black metal).  Hopefully the fire will return next time around.

Among the Vardan releases previously addressed here at Third Eye, this is easily the least of them, but even saying that still leaves The Night, The Loneliness a step above a fair portion of its competitors in the current black metal scene.

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Nocturnus – The Science of Horror (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (March 13)

Original Morbid Angel vocalist/drummer Mike Browning (heard on the since deleted Abominations of Desolation) rebounded from his split with the much-touted “evil” death metal band with a lesser known but still oft-feted act of his own, namely the keyboard/sci-fi inflected Nocturnus.

Collecting the two demos issued prior to 1989’s The Key, The Science of Horror fills in a noteworthy gap in death metal history. While the death metal on display here (and later with subsequent Nocturnus releases) is far less listenable or vital as a scene linchpin as the first three Morbid Angel albums would prove to be, it’s still interesting to hear Browning’s post-Angel recordings, particularly the far more essential 1987 demo, where he still utilizes speedy drumming, sloppy Trey Azagthoth-style solos and the same sort of “sinister” vocal style he used on Abominations a year prior.

Assuming fans will want to hear prototypical variants of The Key material, Nuclear War Now! make the mistake of putting the forgettable second demo Science of Horror first in the running time, but it’s clearly the final four tracks that make this a worthy purchase for old school death metal fans.

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Goatblood / Nuclear Perversions – Rex Judaeorum / Wolves Of Apocalypse – split 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (March 6)

Goatblood deliver brutal “war metal” style neo-grind black metal, which sounds a whole hell of a lot more interesting than it actually proves to be.

NUCLEAR PERVERSIONS bring far superior production to the same oddly hybridized style, though that’s a decidedly relative assessment – it’s noisy as hell, with signal bleed all over the mix.

Too noisy and generic for me, though despite worse production, Goatblood fared a bit better than Nuclear Perversions on the listenability scale.

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Vassafor / Temple Nightside – Call of the Maelstrom – split LP (Iron Bonehead) (February 23)

New Zealand’s Vassafor clean up production significantly from last May’s split with Sinistrous Diabolus, but do themselves no real favors in the process – I much preferred the earlier, more muffled mix of their prior effort.  That said, the music is much the same – aggressive blackened death metal with buried vocals and a decidedly underground bent.  While they did come off sounding somewhat better under a pillow (as it were), they’re still a reasonably listenable band in the style.

Australia’s TEMPLE NIGHTSIDE goes a bit more doomy and minimalist, with slow whisper-belches played against speedy death metallish tremelo guitars (think along the lines of, say, early Pestilence to see what I mean, though this is far more simplistic and Impetigo-level than anything Patrick Mameli ever put his hands to).  It’s a lot darker and better produced than Vassafor, with thick toned guitars and heavy cavernlike ambience.  They’re the easy winner on this split.

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An Autumn For Crippled Children – The Long Goodbye (Wickerman Recordings) (February 23)

OK, this is odd.  A Dutch act that adds shrieky black metal style vocals to what would otherwise be a melodic, if somewhat depressive emo cum college rock musical underpinning (albeit one that tags in tremelo guitars to its wide open, somewhat off kilter chordal structures).

I liked the sound overall, though I have my doubts how well the vocals work with the music or how much they’ll hinder mass acceptance of the band per se – black metal fans certainly won’t get it, and alterna-rock hipsters will laugh at the concession to the corpsepaint crowd.

Interesting crossover attempt with decent production and strong songwriting and/or song construction skills on the instrumental end, but probably too hip(ster) for their own good in the end.

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Colossus – Breathing World (Perennity Records)

Gargle-heavy “clean” screams along the line of Primordial’s Alan Averill meet that goofy US variant of “modern metal” they always play on our local college faux-“metal” radio in between all the aggro/screamo and lame “groove” crap.  There’s hints of Tool in there, but it’s more “current” and millennial than that.  Whenever I hear this general sound (or any of the sounds mentioned hereinabove save Primordial), I pop in a CD and forget I ever heard a note of it.

Nah.

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Lustre – “Neath Rock & Stone” (Single) (Nordvis)

Advance single for the upcoming CD Blossom.  Watery-sounding keyboard instrumental with drums and droning guitar chords, but no vocals.

Ambient mood enhancement for depressive types, felt a bit gothic symphonic in that respect.  I liked it.

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Manifest – And For This We Should Be Damned (Vicisolum Productions)

Aggro vox with screamo backing and vaguely (modern) death metallized feel, but it’s really just aggro at heart.

Nope.

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Oceanwake – Sunless (Vicisolum Productions)

Opens on a slow build instrumental, very much in the vein of Lush, Curve, or perhaps even Darling Buds and My Bloody Valentine, but turns into an odd modern variant of doom metal thereafter.

Expect more Swedish and melancholic black metal inflections than Trouble, tag in some pretty bad growl-belch vox and very strong, open sounding production, and you’ll probably get the general idea.

The band deserved more than these half assed cookie cutter vocals.

 

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Scarab – Serpents of the Nile (Vicisolum Productions)

Modern death metal.  They seem to be going for a Nile sound and approach, which I can’t address – as a rule of thumb, never cared for post-1993, post-Sunlight and Morrisound death metal.  Praise bands like Nile, Absu, post-Considered Dead Gorguts, “progressive death” and “math metal” as much as you like, it’s all second rate noise to my ears.  This is more “traditional” than some of those variants mentioned would suggest, but still nothing spectacular.

I guess if you’re into the modern (late 90’s-present) death metal sound, they’re fairly accomplished and busy, but it’s not exactly Necrophobic either (if they were, I’d probably be singing a different tune).

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Storyteller – Sacred Fire (Black Lodge Records)

Big, dramatic vocals and driving power metal riffing, with big gang singalong choruses. Power metal’s not my genre of choice, but Storyteller definitely offer a particularly noteworthy release within that general sonic domain.

I guess if you put, say, Bruce Dickinson in front of Hammerfall, you might have something very much akin to Sacred Fire.

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Supralunar – A New Hope (Dead End Exit Records)

There’s a very mid to late 90’s feel to this that I can’t quite put my finger on – is it Britpop ala Supergrass?  Grunge ala Soundgarden or Screaming Trees?  Neo-“classic rock” ala Lenny Kravitz or the Black Crowes?  Hipster crap ala Smashmouth?

They sound like a three piece “power trio”, with elements of Hendrix blues and trills, but with an Urge Overkill feel to the vocals and faint echoes of Jerusalem of all bands.  In the grand scheme of things, while melodic and radio friendly enough, Supralunar seems most likely to appeal to hipster bar band aficionados, or better yet, their slacker parents.

Not really my thing.

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Thalamus – Beneath A Dying Sun (Vicisolum Productions)

Soundgarden lives again!

Seriously, that’s what this is. Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell worship, pure and simple.

If you were desperate to bring the grunge superstars back into the musical landscape, this is definitely right up your alley.  For my part, I’m gonna take my rusty cage and run.

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Tyranex – Unable To Tame (Black Lodge Records)

Is that a shrieking female vocalist?

Very thin vocals, somewhat akin to (but lesser than) Nicole Lee of Znowhite.  The band is traditional, somewhat underground metal along the lines of a New Renaissance Records act.

Not bad and rather retro, but the vox will wear on you pretty fast.

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VholdGhast – Låt Oss Förbrinna (Vicisolum Productions)

Blackened death metal in a very modern sense.  The band is fairly aggressive, the production is pretty good, I got bored very quickly.

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