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Ah, in like a lion, out like a…lion?   Who the hell knows, anymore.  With record breaking lows in temperature and nigh-thrice weekly snow events to one degree or another, it seems the Winter never ends.  Perfect time to crack out some black metal, of which we have representatives aplenty, alongside the usual mix of AOR, traditional, death, pagan, neofolk and electronic oddities for your perusal.

So continuing with the motherlode of material (metal and otherwise) whose mixture of melliflous melodies and malignant malcontented mania make up our monthly monograph of musical offerings (pant pant…enough alliteration, already!), we continue on from the recent February Roundup straight in to its companion piece, covering a plethora of releases dropping this month through the middle of April. 

While I’m sure there will be more releases to come over the next few weeks, I’m sure you’ll agree we have plenty of material to cover herein already.  So with a bow of due respect to the many labels involved, we proceed…

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THE ANSWER – Raise A Little Hell (Napalm Records) (March 6)

The latter day Mr. Big with hints of Junkyard and D-A-D returns after 2 1/2 years with a followup to their (in retrospect) fairly solid Napalm debut New Horizon.

While nothing here is quite as strong as the title track to that earlier release, they seem to have appropriated (for better or worse) a decided “classic rock” influence, with opener “long live the renegades” coming off like a cross between Argent and Bad Company.  They still lean too much on those crappy grunge/late 80’s-early 90’s tattooed junkie metal riffs on the verses, but choruses (as ever) are strong and quite radio friendly, and vocalist Cormac Neeson still works that raspy but melodic Eric Martin/Oni Logan thing on the mic.

My issue with the earlier album would seem to be based mainly around the goofy grunge riffs, but comparing New Horizon with Raise a Little Hell shows the former as comparatively “metallized”, at least in the sense of appropriating that Z-Rock era sound of bands ranging as far afield as Hericane Alice and Jackyl.  With the exception of “whiplash”, most of the junkie metal influence appears to have fallen by the wayside in favor of that snooze inducing yet strangely undying strain of 70’s FM radio rock so beloved of barroom regulars, truckers and construction sites around the country. 

Those so inclined should absolutely love this one – I’ll merely note that the musicianship and production are more than respectable and that Neeson’s voice is likeable as ever and works quite well with the material.

As such, I’m going to amend my earlier review and give New Horizon a relative thumbs up, while Raise a Little Hell comes off more as “Raise a Few Graves That Should Remain Undisturbed”.

Hey, guys, Mott the Hoople, Led Zeppelin and the Allmans want their sound back.

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MOONSPELL – Extinct (Napalm Records) (March 6)

I’ll be honest with ya – the only Moonspell album I ever bought and enjoyed was many years ago, when they dropped Irreligious.

Like Type O Negative done right, it was gothic (if not somewhat symphonic) before those genres truly gelled and came into international prominence, but wholly without the cheesy tongue in cheek meta thing Peter Steele was doing.  You never got the impression Fernando Ribiero was just dumbing down his sound “for the chicks” ala Steele (whose only worthy musical contribution was the joyously postapocalyptic first Carnivore album), and the sound felt more “right”, darker, more honestly gothic than anything Stateside acts appear to have been capable of outside the recently revived-but-declining second wave gothic rock scene (which had only recently died off by the time of Irreligious’ release).

So here we are, many albums later.  Where do things stand?

Well, compared to their last album, Extinct shows Moonspell in a much better light.  While hardly in the same league as their aforementioned 1996 breakthrough album, we find Ribiero and company adhering more tightly to the tropes and stylistic flourishes of a gothic metal scene his band helped to initiate and define. 

With excellent production, thick, meaty riffing, Arabesque flourishes and Ribiero’s trademark nasal baritone (offset by rare but inoffensive delves into sub-Alex Krull growls), one could be forgiven for thinking this were a “Peter Murphy goes metal” affair, or perhaps a more “serious” Voltaire or Audra side project. 

Musically speaking, Extinct should be both tonally and stylistically familiar to gothic (and gothic/symphonic) metal fans accustomed to the likes of Krypteria, Visions of Atlantis, Within Temptation, Leaves Eyes or Nightwish at their respective most “pop/radio friendly”, but with more of a specifically early to mid-90’s second wave gothic rock than specifically gothic metal feel to the proceedings. 

By the time I got to the final track “La Baphomette” (interestingly delivered tout en Francais), it was apparent that things had changed radically from 2012’s surprisingly questionable “it’s all growls…then it goes all soft!” split release Alpha Noir/Omega White, which was so unlike the Moonspell of Irreligious as to get passed on for our (at the time, far more intermittent and selective) reviews or podcast.

In fact, Extinct is so strong an album all around as to arguably rival (and a few classic tracks aside, possibly even equal) Irreligious, which surprises the hell out of me to note more than anyone else reading this. 

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Ether – Hymns of Failure DCD (Sepulchral Productions) (April 7)

Strangely techno inflected, horribly dissonance filled modern black metal.  Inappropriate electronic cut up technique bits and bobs, jarring noise bits and alternating shouts and mumbling are the order of the day, beneath incessant (and extremely annoying) two beat alternating bass/blastbeat snare drum machine nonsense, which is, even more astonishingly, shoved right up front in the mix for maximum listener aggravation.

Between all of that, there are moments that actually feel black metal proper, in a sort of Gorgoroth meets Marduk fashion, but without the appeal or stylistic flourishes of either. 

While the guitars in these sections are perfectly familiar, even comfortable, and the shout-gargled vocals, while not exactly black metal, are passable enough, someone  really needs to smash this guy’s drum machine.  I can’t possibly hope to describe how precisely irritating this TAPTAPTAPTAP (quick pause) TAPTAPTAP bullshit is, but I’d love to meet the listener who isn’t irresistibly driven to throw sharp objects at the speaker (or smash their iPod) in inescapable limbic-level frustration.  Are you sure this was released under the aegis of Sepulchral?

Sure, there are literal mountains worth of far worse examples of black metal (or faux-death metal variants thereof) out there nowadays – as annoying as much of this album is, it’s a sadly inescapable fact that it’s probably still better than a fair portion of the black metal (or “blackened death metal”) in release of late.

But you’d think eight years of hibernation would have resulted in something far better than this.

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Délétère – Les Heures de la Peste (Sepulchral Productions) (April 7)

Apparently based around (and subverting) the old Catholic vespers, this is the guy behind Monarque and another French Canadian BM scene vet coming together for a poorly produced, nigh-tape trading level variant of early Gehenna.

Like First Spell (and the demos and such surrounding same), this means church organ-style keyboard bits appended to a vaguely Taake-like hopeful sounding, sing-songy riffing-based, often nigh major key(!) take on black metal.

The biggest problem here is the recording, which reduces all cymbal work to a hissy blur. CHHHH-SHHH-CHHHH-SSSHHHHHH is your neverending accompaniment, a filter through which brave ears must force themselves to endure in order to get to the meat of the matter.

With better production and a more reverb-blessed churchlike gothic ambience, this could have been a real winner.  As is, a flawed but interesting (and if we could hypothetically remove the cymbals from the mix entirely, quite listenable) release from a band who deserves better.

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Délétère – De Ritibus Morbiferis – Demo Compendium (Sepulchral Productions) (April 7)

The band’s earlier demos, which means we may actually be talking “from tape” now.  There’s a bit less of a Taake approach to the riffing this time around, giving this one a more traditionally “black metal” feel.

What this means to you: essentially more of the same as encountered in Les Heures de la Peste, but with an additional, rather pronounced phased swirl throughout, which is particularly egregious given how much the drummer seems to work the ride cymbal (which sounds more like the tinnier-toned inverted “china ride” therefore).  CH-SWISH CH-SWISH CH-SHHHHHHWWWWWOOOSH throughout just about the ENTIRE frigging album…sheesh!

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The Order of Apollyon – The Sword and the Dagger (Listenable) (March 17) 

Blackened death metal act who uncharacteristically for the hybrid seems to lean heavier on a reasonably traditional death metal approach somewhat akin to Deathchain. Apparently one of their members defected to Carcass, which makes sense given some of the melodic and bombastic touches on display herein.

There are harmony leads, reasonably flashy guitar solos (some marked by the use of the wah pedal, yet) and other Bill Steer/Michael Amottisms that evoke at least Arch Enemy if not Carcass itself.

While the black metal elements seem odd and ill fitting, the death metal portions are working the right general approach, leaving Order of Apollyon as a sort of nastier variant of Mors Principium Est, Tribulation or Deathchain.

I really liked portions hereof, mainly relating to the influences and approach noted above.

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Inculter – Persisting Devolution (Edged Circle Productions) (March 27)

Norwegian blackened thrash/speed outfit with a surprising indebtedness to the Brazilian blackened thrash scene (and to a lesser extent, the early Teutonic one – think Destruction and Sodom’s first few releases for a fair idea).  You could even tag in Sacrifice circa Torment in Fire here – it’s all very old school, underground, blackened and hyperaggressive thrashing greatness.

Blazing fast, with the sort of clean, slightly reverb inflected but hissy underground production you’d expect from a band tapping so hard into the sound of early Sepultura, Vulcano or Sarcofago.

When mainstream metal was getting a bit too glam (remember when even the Scorpions and Ozzy started putting on makeup and wearing flowing sparkly outfits?), this was the shit that I went all agog over.  Evoking fond memories of Saturdays with WMSC, late night with Matt O’Shaughnessy’s Midnight Metal and that awesome final hour of the weekend Headbanger’s Ball (you know, where they played all the thrash, death and crossover acts?), Inculter gets an easy and effortless horns up.

Bang your head until you bleed.

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Acid King – Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (Svart Records) (April 17)

Very old school sounding San Francisco Bay area psychedelic stoner rock in the vein of Monstermagnet.  Apparently they were poking around back in 1993, but haven’t released a whole hell of a lot since Dubya decided to take it on himself to nuke our country’s social and economic future at the dawn of the millennium.

A “power trio” led by a female vocalist/guitarist, Acid King (did they eschew “Acid Queen” in homage to Grace Slick?) do stoner rock better than anyone out there excepting Dave Wyndorf and company – Kyuss inclusive.  With her moaning alto shoved pretty far back in the mix and treated with appropriate hints of reverb, “Lori S.” minimally accompanies some surprisingly thick toned, Grand Funk Railroadesque “rubber band/bass” style guitar riffing, as drummer Joey Osbourne does his best Matt Cameron, with busy but loose syncopated drum fills.

Like Cameron in Soundgarden (or to a lesser extent, Dave Grohl in Nirvana), Osbourne eschews any sort of propulsive drive in favor of a more laid back, behind the beat approach that bolsters the molasses slow, beefy riffs with a sort of static but ceaseless motion – a commentary on the lumbering songs more than an active component thereof.  It’s exactly what’s called for, and felt right up my alley.

Can’t claim to be a huge fan of the stoner rock thing per se (though I always do appreciate it as a sort of break from all the black/death/traditional/power/AOR business that generally crosses the virtual desk here every month), with Monstermagnet (particularly the Spine of God/Superjudge era) and Blues for the Red Sun era Kyuss being my main “go tos”.  But after being exposed to this?  I may just up that pair to a trio.

Thumbs (or more to the point, lighter) way up.

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K-X-P – III Part 1 (Svart Records) (March 27)

Remember the Defenders?  Other than perhaps the short lived Champions, they were much touted as the comics world’s only “non team”, where folks roated in and out of the social circle as needs arose.

The “core team” were a trio (or quartet) of oddball loners who really didn’t want anything to do with each other, and while one or the other of ’em were there pretty much throughout (well, at least until the comic went down the toilet under one J.M. DeMatteis), they pretty much lived up to “not being a team” in any proper sense.

So what does all this have to do with the clowns behind December’s History of Techno? 

Well, according to promo materials, the same would seem to apply to K-X-P.  Revolving around Timo Kaukolampi (electronics, vocals) and Tuomo Puranen (bass, keyboards), the “X” stands for whoever the hell happens to be on the drum stool at the moment…and worse, they claim to have up to ten members rotating in and out based on the album or live concert situation.

So what does that have to do with the price of string beans in Utah?  Not a whole hell of a lot, actually. But it kills time while trying to figure out something useful to the reader to share about what is ultimately a very generic electronic instrumental dance music album.

In the end, there’s really nothing much to say here, other than that it’s far less “techno” this time around, which means it’s far more listenable, particularly on the Nightsatan-reminiscent “descend to eternal”, the Depeche Mode throwaway “space precious time” or the (very) vaguely Devo-esque “obsolete and beyond”.

I won’t say I particularly liked it, as I found it fairly forgettable; but it is a hell of an improvement over last time, and I could certainly see playing this one as pleasant and appropriate accompaniment to a particularly long drive.  In a pass/fail paradigm, III Part 1 easily wins itself a “pass”.

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Pombagira – Flesh Throne Press (Svart Records) (March 27) 

More psychedelic stoner rock, but with a more modern, neo-prog bent.  They’re only retro in the sense that they seem to be aping elements of “krautrock” like Can or Tangerine Dream – the production style and approach are far more in tune with post-millennial sensibilities than any sort of retro-60’s/’70’s throwback thing.

Like February’s Heavydeath, they seem to be operating under the misapprehension that a particularly heavy guitar tone is enough to garner notice among the listening community nowadays, clearly missing the fact that with the advent of amp simulators, laptop rigs and digital home studio processing, the sounds that used to baffle and awe metalheads back in the 80’s are achieved by little more than the click of a button or flick of a switch – and nobody really cares.

Nothing wrong with ’em.  Just not impressed.

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SATANIC WARMASTER – Fimbulwinter (Hells Headbangers / Werewolf Records) (April 7) 

A year and a half back, we got to review a re-release of 2010’s Nachzerer, by this very same band.

At that time we addressed some unsavory politicosocial associations with the man, some things he’d said in the past and our stance thereon.  So anyone grimacing at this moment is directed to that review (or for that matter, our review of Woodtemple) to set matters straight insofar as our own stance (as if our base ideological predilections weren’t already apparent to regular readers hereof). So with that out of the way, let’s get on with the show…

In the ever mutating arena of (second and post-second wave) black metal, few things remain constant.  Bands who put out much beloved demos either never get signed, or lose what made them appealing in the first place by the time they do (Thorns, Fimbulwinter, Manes, Samael).  All too many others release one, maybe two albums in the “true” black metal style, then abandon ship for bizarre new directions that essentially go nowhere (Mayhem, Ulver, Gehenna, Enslaved, the list goes on and on).

The fact remains that there are very few bands who can be consistently counted upon to deliver the goods, time and time again.  Among those rarified few, we find Burzum…at least until his release from prison.  Gorgoroth.  Horna.  And we can probably add to that list a certain Horna alumni, namely the pseudonymous original vocalist who left to form the lightning rod of controversy known as Satanic Warmaster.

Featuring far cleaner, comparatively much improved production over Nachzerer, Fimbulwinter (the album, not the aforementioned band) shows the Warmaster in more of a Taake mode, with folk melodies peppering if not driving the busy riffing throughout.  The vocals are more upfront, there’s more separation between vocals, guitar and drums, and the overall feel is of a (again, relatively) more melodic, nigh-approachable variant of the decidedly far underground rawness of their last release.

Make no mistake, this is not the sort of black metal that will appeal to newbies, poseurs, or the average female metal fan flirting with the odd lure of corpsepaint, flames and spiked leather – it’s still quite abrasive, thin-sounding and nasty.  But I do get the impression that Fimbulwinter represents a sort of bid for “mainstream” black metal community acceptance on the part of the band, with the bolstered production and more melodic approach offering a far more broad-based appeal.

Best tracks: “winter’s hunger” and “fimbulwinter’s spell”

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ABOMINATOR – Evil Proclaimed (Hells Headbangers) (March 24)

Aussie “war metal” very much along the lines of Blasphemy if not earlier Beherit.  I like the style as a rule, so it’s good by me, though I have to warn the unsuspecting of the saminess of the material here – it’s often hard to tell one track from another.

These guys are apparently scene veterans down their side of the equator, which may account for the beefier tone and lack of incompatible “modern” schmutters amidst all the evil sounding black-grind mayhem. I dug it.

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PERDITION TEMPLE – The Tempter’s Victorious (Hells Headbangers) (March 24)

More of the same insanely speedy tempo shifting Morbid Angel meets Pestilence-style death metal as we saw on last January’s Sovereign of the Desolate 7″, but with much better production.  I’d be tempted to think this was at least a Colin Richardson production, if not Sunlight Studios level.

There’s too much hiss and noise bleed in the treble register (mainly from the cymbals), but everything is crystal clear, there’s good separation between guitars, vocals and drums, the double bass and toms are well mic’ed, even the snare is deep dish sounding enough not to suffer the usual vagaries of the sadly present (if thankfully not omnipresent) blastbeat bits.  The guitars sound thick and chunky, like a fast moving train bearing down on the listener, and when the band comes to a full tilt stop, you can hear the crispness and slight slap echo like you would on a Morrisound production back in the day.

I really, really liked this one, which plays in the same ballpark as Necrophobic or Centurian, but tags in far better production and (if anything) an even tighter band.  The solos are either absent or utterly ephemeral, because it sounds like the work of a pair of rhythm guitarists and a drummer working in total lockstep throughout.  Two members of Immolation here, so it’s really no surprise that it sounds right, but while I loved Dawn of Possession, Immolation was never this tight.

Very intense, very essential.  Top notch, old school-worthy death metal.  Raise the horns in salute.

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BAT – Cruel Discipline 7″ (Hells Headbangers) (March 17)

If anything, this single actually ups the ante from last month’s Primitive Age, and it’s not just the kink factor playing into that assessment.

The more in your face production works in their favor, making this the superior version of “rule of the beast” (a song which is actually present on both releases, though likely in different takes) by far.

High energy, old school underground speed/thrash metal, with D.R.I. veteran drummer Felix Griffin in tow (and he’s posing in a classic MDC shirt, no less!).  Is it really any surprise I love these guys?

“All poseurs will feel the heat!”

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Infesting Swarm – Desolation Road (Art of Propaganda) (March 30)

What would you get if Primordial were fronted by Alex Krull (Atrocity, Leaves Eyes)?

Specializing in grandiose, mournful Primordial-style black/pagan cum “dark metal” dirges, but fronted by a beefy death metal growl-puker, Germany’s Infesting Swarm comes out of left field to deliver a surprisingly worthy debut that bears the sweeping fullness and essential sigh present to some degree or other in each of the aforementioned bands.

While one upping such consistent and prominent scene leaders would be so unlikely as to be nigh-unthinkable, the fact remains that these new kids on the metal block have put together such a strong album and well-defined sound bolstered by the sort of pristine, crystalline production we’ve come to expect from Teutonic bands cross-genre that it’s possible to rank Infesting Swarm as a strong contender to join them on the grandstand right out of the gate.

Sehr, sehr gut, meine freunde.

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Abhor – Rituale Stramonium (Moribund) (March 31)

Interesting Italian act who sport a photo shoot album cover that brings Mortuary Drape to mind, Graveland-style vocals (which later alternate with a Masters Hammeresque “clean” variant) and prominent keyboards over an old school underground metal approach.  Vocals aside, it’s not what we’ve come to consider “black metal” post-second wave and post-Norway, but it does have that sort of “evil” and off kilter bent associated with bands like early Bulldozer or the aforementioned Mortuary Drape, fitting enough comparisons given their shared Italian heritage and residence.

So positively ooky-spooky and with the pronounced feel of a long lost 80’s obscurity, it puts similarly bizarre Eastern Bloc black metal bands like Masters Hammer, Tormentor and Werewolf to shame.  While you could tag in similarly church organ keyboard-heavy acts like Gehenna circa First Spell or Gloomy Grim circa Blood, Monsters, Darkness, Abhor leave behind any trace of tremelo picking or the usual BM sound in favor of their own freakish, somewhat eerie approach.

One of the best occult/black metal things I’ve heard in some time, and certainly the weirdest and most unique.

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Where Evil Follows – Portable Darkness (Moribund) (March 31)

Old school Bay Area thrash cum speed metal in the vein of Heathen and Forbidden by way of Toxik and Annihilator.

Busy harmony guitar lines run throughout, with fast paced, relatively complex riffing that calls early Megadeth and Kublai Khan to mind, with vocals that fall between Bruce Dickinson, Mike Vescera and TNT’s Tony Harnell, if you can picture such a variant.  Vocalist Dean Sternberg sings through his front teeth like Harnell and Geoff Tate, so there’s a lithping quality to his sound, which appropriates Dickinsonian phrasing with the reediness of Vescera and the tonality of Harnell to result in his being a fascinating, instantly likeable frontman (on record, at least – no idea what the guy’s like personally).

A Tony Knapp keeps things impressive and busy on the guitar front, working a very Obsessionesque wah filter throughout for that classic Art Maco/Bruce Vitale tone.  The only problem with the (otherwise extremely impressive!) package comes with Knapp’s lead tone, which buries whatever he’s trying to do far in the background and much quieter than the song surrounding.  My first pass through the album, I got the decided impression that he was at least okay at doing speedy runs, but not only did I find myself fairly unimpressed by what I was hearing –  I actually had to stop the playback when I realized I’d listened to 5 songs straight and hadn’t heard a single guitar solo!

The sad part was, I actually did, they just passed like a fart in the wind, almost entirely unnoticeable.  I found that I had to concentrate and pay close attention to hear them, which is not something you want for a shred record.

There’s a similar issue with the first Apocrypha album, where Tony Friedanelli was shredding his little heart out, but shit production (or usage of a crap guitar) sunk his tone into burial in the mud, as it were.  Yngwie’s early solo records often suffered from similar production issues (though to an astronomically lesser degree), so Knapp’s actually in good company here.

Despite the issue with the solos (blame for which I’m unsure lies more in Knapp’s choice of guitar, the production or his playing style per se), it’s clear Knapp at least wants to be a shredder – his riffing and harmony lines are certainly wild and intricate enough – and that he’s got both the right approach musically speaking (play this one to any veteran, and they’d be hard pressed to peg this as a 2015 release) and one hell of a singer for a partner.

The songs are strong, well crafted, melodic and yet aggressive enough to fall right into the thrash/speed paradigm, and overall (after a more intensive second listen, where I really had to stop and try to pay extra attention whenever a likely solo break felt like it was coming up – still not positive I caught them all!) I have to say that I’d put Knapp up there with Jackie Slaughter as the closest postmillennial audiences have to a Shrapnel shredder these days.

But hey, Tony?  Learn from Friedanelli (who may actually be Knapp’s closest analogue, stylistically) and do something about that lead tone and/or production on the solos.  Push the faders up and step out center stage when you play, man.  What’s the point of blazing away if nobody can hear what the fuck you’re doing with those flashy fingers?

Make no mistake, I really, really liked this album.

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Infernus – Grinding Christian Flesh (Moribund) (April 14)

USBM from Portland, Oregon.  You’d almost think they belonged on Hell’s Headbangers until you realize they have precious little to offer in terms of the more grungy, old school-inspired blackened thrash/beer drinkin’ biker thing of bands like Nunslaughter, Intoxicated or Maax.

Instead, they want to mix the overdramatics of, say, Dimmu Borgir with raunchy underground vocals and a sort of ersatz Swedish black metal aesthetic ala Ormgard.  While there are exceptions (“verminnihilation” sounds fairly Nunslaughter, “fetid spawn of Bethlehem” and “whore of Christ” sound a dash Bathory at points), there’s really no confusing them with the sort of material the aforementioned label makes its (quite welcome) stock in trade.

I guess if you wanted a more raunchy underground take on Swedish black metal, you might like this one a whole hell of a lot more than I did.

Some potential, but forgettable.

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Wende – Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft (Moribund) (April 14)

A whole hell of a lot more interesting and varied than last month’s The Third and the Noble, with even more of a Burzum indebtedness.  The music’s more aggressive, there are less (deliberate?) stumbles into dissonance and jarring polytonality, and the ambient bits are more atmospheric.

It’s still more John Carpenter than Varg Vikernes in terms of the instrumental keyboard bits, but the guitar/drums/vocal bits are far more clearly paying homage to (if not swiping bits and bobs from and putting together into a new collage) those first five or six Burzum releases.

So much of an improvement it’s beyond belief…until you realize with a downcast face that Vorspiel…was the guy’s debut album, and Third and the Noble was his latest.

To be clear about this: forget everything you read last month and go out and grab this album, now.  It’s so good, you could file it alongside those aforementioned Norwegian black metal classics.

Much like Elffor to Era I Mortiis, this time around, the guy actually gets it right – trancey, repetitive, contemplative yet driving.  Horrific shrieks constitute the vocal end of the equation.  Several drum patterns utilized will seem more than a tad familiar to Burzum fanatics.  The guitars sound more or less right (if a bit fuzzed out and sounding like the whole thing was recorded under a pillow), and while the keyboard bits are working an entirely different dynamic of atmospherics, he’s certainly still playing in the right general ballpark.

All of this, of course, begs a serious question for the man behind a one man band whose debut is so astronomically superior to its successor:

What the fuck happened, man?

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Arvas – Black Satanic Mysticism (ATMF) (March 30)

Far more interesting for having an apparently unreleased album dating back to 1996 with Gorgoroth’s late Under the Sign of Hell drummer ‘Grim’ (who’d also done stints with Immortal and Borknagar) and bassist ‘Ares’ on it.  Maybe the guy should have released that one instead, because this album, while not bad at all, never really seems to go anywhere.

It’s got that droning, repetitive old school blackened thrash feel inherent to the earlier days of the Norwegian second wave (think Thorns, earlier Mayhem, that sort of thing), but despite working the right general sound guitarwise and featuring a fairly busy (if tinnily recorded and buried somewhat in the mix) drummer, there’s still something missing.

Amusingly, amidst all the “evil” jiggery-pokery, he throws in a song about the Transformers (“fall of Megatron”).

Oh, ok, he said “Negatron”, with an N.

Same thing.

Decepticons, attack!

It’s rare for me to hear something so obviously old school that still manages to leave me flat, but something about this one just doesn’t do it for me.

It’s certainly got its merits, and on paper it should work, but…no, not really.

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Nyseius – De Divinatione Daemonium? (ATMF) (March 30)

French black metal that seems to owe little or no allegiance to either the aesthetic of gloom and rawness of Les Legions Noires or the atmospheric ambience of the Sepulchral-style French and French Canadian sound.

Has rare moments of grandeur (“black god ascension”, essentially – that’s about it) amidst the blandness of an overly modern, particularly Watain-indebted black metal sound.

Boring.  Pass.

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Ergot – Victims of Our Same Dreams (De Tenebrarum Principio) (March 30)

More Italian black metal.  Seems like a country the rest of us have more or less ignored in terms of music since the days of Verdi, Puccini and Rossini may have something going on of late…

Definitely displays some of the off kilter strangeness endemic to Italian underground metal, being far more indebted to the same influences noted with Abhor’s release this month than the more Les Legions Noires-ness of fellow countryman Vardan or the dark gothic vampiric variant of early Cradle of Filth that the Sonya Scarlet-led Theatres Des Vampires brings to the table.

But it’s a bit more straightforward this time around – I actually hear traces of Carpathian Forest, of all bands, and once again you get a decided Rob Darken vocal influence here. Even so, as with Abhor (and Bulldozer, and Mortuary Drape) there’s a very thrash/80’s underground vibe infused into all the second wave Norwegian schmutters that predominate.

More and more quality Italian metal bands are coming out of the woodwork lately, encompassing everything from gothic, traditional and AOR ala Frontiers Records to more underground variants, particularly that of black metal.  It’s enough to make a fellow Italian like myself proud.

Not as odd (and therefore essential) as Rituale Stramonium, but still worth a listen.

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Murg – Varg & Björn (Nordvis Produktion) (March 30)

Swedish black metal with an intended retro-second wave Norwegian bent.  That said, like true Swedes, they still suffer from an overreliance on speed and forefronted blastbeat drumming over atmosphere and riffing.  Marduk, anyone?

They’re in the right ballpark, but far too noisy and driven to even hint at the black atmospherics and general trancelike aesthetic the Norwegians brought to the table.  Reminds me of that band Pest from Finland more than any Norwegian acts.

Nice try, but no cigar.

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Lustre – BLOSSOM (Nordvis Produktion) (April 24)

Swedish one man band (don’t ask me why there’s two guys in the photo) with a dark ethereal bent.  Very well produced, keyboard driven but often heavy enough to classify as some variant of black metal.  We reviewed advance single “Neath Rock and Stone (Part 3)” last month; this is a four track EP including that one and upping the ante with the prison-era Burzumesque “Part 1” and two vaguely Tangerine Dreamlike tracks as effective filler.

To put a more visceral image to it, those two tracks further sound a bit like the soundtrack to an early ’90’s Skinemax stripper or SF-horror flick, or perhaps the non-vocal material in your average Forever Knight episode.  Certainly listenable and moody, but we’re pretty much talking background music here – nothing to write home about.

Get it for Parts 1 and 3.

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Lago – Tyranny LP (Blood Harvest) (March 16)

Throaty, fairly old school death metal.  Vocals remind me somewhat of Suffocation, Baphomet or early Amorphis, but the music’s more straight ahead than that – while perfectly acceptable on many levels, you could even say “competent but unspectacular”.

Decent (if a tad hissy) production, pretty good double bass to the front of the mix kitwork (marred only by occasional reliance on blastbeats), vocals are thick and meaty.  Almost sounds like a non-Scott Burns Morrisound production (maybe Randy Burns style instead), or even a Colin Richardson Earache mix (which fits, given the overly prominent high end cymbal swish and relatively thin guitar tone).

Think the Karelian Isthmus and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here.  As with Arvas, I appreciate the attempt at sounding retro (seriously – more than you know) and could easily see this sitting on my CD shelf among the lesser lights of the 1990-93 scene, but somehow, it just doesn’t set me on fire as much as you’d think it would.

Less discriminating fans of old school death metal than myself should be perfectly happy here – no question the band is well versed in the glory days of the idiom, and repeated listens (and comparison to more recent, generally less worthy competition in the field) will probably result in this one growing on me to a similar if not greater degree than sleeper band Mors Principium Est has.

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Pregierz – Blood Sanctions double-7″ EP (Blood Harvest) (March 30)

Poland gives us this death metal duo, with some decent, Phil Tayloresque double bass-driven kitwork buried beneath uber-simplistic drone riffing and open mouthed puking vox that remind me of Gorguts’ “with their flesh he’ll create” or perhaps early Dismember.

Musically, goes absolutely nowhere – the guitar riffs are really stupid.  Seriously, your 14 year old brother could come up with better songs.

The drummer seems to be too good for the material and deserves a better showcase for his skills.

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Gloson – Yearwalker (Art of Propaganda / Catatonic State) (March 23)

Oy.  Detuned, doomy Mastodon-type shit.  Not my thing.

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Saturnalia Temple – To the Other (The Ajna Offensive) (April 7)

Swedish stoner doom with occult aspirations.  As usual, lots of talking in the promo materials, but when it comes down to brass tacks, bullshit walks.

Not impressed in the least.

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Akrotheism / Septuagint – Sphinx: The Great Enigma Of Times split CD  (Forever Plagued) (March 30)

Split between two Greek acts, one of whom we’ve reviewed previously.  Like many acts in the current Greek scene, they latch onto the “serious” occultist schmutters the second wave Norwegians claimed while eschewing the thrash-inspired melodics of their own Rotting Christ for the boring, rather commonplace Watainisms of “modern” black metal per se. 

New (to us, anyway) band Akrotheism fares worse, despite better production, for falling back on a slow, negative space-oriented use of dissonances on both of their tracks here, which comes off more like a band tuning up before soundcheck than a pair of songs proper. 

Septugaint doesn’t exactly impress, but at least keeps their noisiness to a speedier tempo for the first half of their single track, collapsing into what feels like one long build to nothing thereafter. 

If you love the current Swedish sound, have at ‘er. 

Me?  I’m bored with that bullshit.

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Nocternity (Greece) – Harps of the Ancient Temples (Iron Bonehead) (April 17)

Greek black metal, but eschews the Rotting Christ approach for a slow, trancelike doom thing that goes absolutely nowhere, slowly.  Feels like a band tuning up more than a finished product (cough Abruptum cough).

Only “titans” shows any life or feels like a black metal track proper, and even that stays trancey and repetitive ala Burzum.  Which is a good thing, and if they’d kept to that sound throughout, I’d be giving this one a hearty thumbs up…instead of an easy thumbs down.

Great photo shoot, though.

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Grá / Gnosis of the Witch – split 7″ (Iron Bonehead) (April 27)

Another act we’ve encountered before paired with a newcomer (at least to us), but fares a lot better than the Watain zombies in Akrotheism and Septugaint. 

Gra comes off like a cross between Eastern European and classic Norwegian black metal in its off kilter, somewhat epic yet sinister orientation, evoking the same sort of wandering in the dark forest thing the second wave Norwegians made their stock in trade. 

Gnosis of the Witch, on the other hand, takes what sounds like the exact same tonal center Gra was working off and filters it through a noisy wave of blastbeats and hiss.  The end result doesn’t work half so well and loses much of the essential atmosphere Gra brought to the table here.

Neither track is particularly well produced, but Gra’s is far more original, eerie and likeably listenable, leaving them taking this split hands down. 

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Radioactive Vomit – Ratsflesh 7″ (Iron Bonehead / Vault of Dried Bones) (April 27)

Raw sounding, Hells Headbangers-ish USBM with an unusual old school underground death metal cum blackened thrash feel.  Hails from Vancouver, B.C. of all places.

Raw enough to be considered “war metal” ala Blasphemy, but feels more complex and well produced, somehow.  Sort of like the grindcore of black metal (or blackened death-thrash, if you will), it’s not perfect by any means, but familiar enough.  I liked it.

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Kult of Taurus – Adversarial Paths: The Sinister Essence CD (Forever Plagued) (April 20)

Greek modern black metallers drop the stylistic improvements I’d picked up on in their split with Erevos Aenaon to return to more of a Divination Labyrinths neo-Watainism.

While I can certainly say the production has improved over either of the aforementioned and that they’re shooting for a more listenable, far less abrasive take than we encountered on Divination Labyrinths, they’re still worshipping at the altar of Erik Danielsson wayyyyy too much to take too seriously.

I will admit, I was able to listen to this one straight through with few grimaces of distaste – they’ve certainly continued to improve as a band per se.  I’d just have preferred they pursue a new direction all their own, rather than marching in relative lockstep with the neverending legion of Watain Wannabes cluttering up the shelves of modern black metal nowadays.

E-fucking-NOUGH already, everybody.  Can’t you slavishly copy De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or something instead?

A definite improvement overall, but stylistically just one of an overly large crowd which I’m really hoping takes the hint and finally begins to disperse.

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Velvet Six – Demons Los Divas (Inverse Records) (April 10)

O-kayyy…

Opener “twist” starts off with gothicized, slightly knowing and campy vox that seem a bit Vladimirs if not Type O Negative over a guitar line ripped direct from a John “Christ” era Danzig album.

All fine and good…until vocalist Olle Wallenius switches up and starts doing a shitty aggro/screamo thing for a few seconds.  Then there’s a straightforward but not especially appealing crowd shout/chant bit.  “DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!”.  So…what the fuck is this trying to be?

Then things get all keyboard and ooky spooky sound effect inflected on tracks like “something evil” (with its ridiculous “HOO! HA!  HOO-HA!” chanting chorus), which leaves the band feeling more like some bizarro world take on latter day D-A-D.  Oh, then he’s doing his best Vile Valo (complete with asthmatic gasps between each utterance) on “lightkeeper”.  Uhhhh…

I’m good with Wallenius doing the campy “gothicized” vocals ala Marquis Thomas, post-Carnivore Peter Steele or Vile Valo, but the screamo bits and chant-shout parts are just ridiculous, as are all the keyboard and dance-industrial bits from Henrik Bjorkgard (who seems to be auditioning for Gothminister here).

My best guess is they’re trying to be a horror punk/Beastmilk version of The Darkness, and we’re all supposed to be in on the joke.

Johnny Yune comes to mind once again in response.  Because “ah don’ geeeet it.”

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Sinners Moon – Atlantis (Inverse Records) (April 10)

Whew!  Just reading the press release was a chore. 

You know those 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon charts, or the ones you always see in relation to Japanese live action and anime television shows, showing who relates to everyone else and how?  Well, this band appears to have gone through several iterations, inclusive of two vocalists and what now appear to be FOUR drummers.  Did I mention two of the drummers were teenage schoolkids, who appear to have left due to scholastic obligations?  And this is before the debut album even got recorded!

Well, the female vocals from “Simona” (no last names given) are certainly acceptable, in a light mezzo-soprano range ala a less pronounced and forceful variant of Simone Simons of Epica, and the band walks that tightrope between Eastern European gothic metal ala early Magica and power metal. 

There are singsongy folkish forefronted keyboard bits from “Jarthuusen”.  While certainly par for the course, guitarist/bandleader “Luken” is no Bogdan Costea, and male growler “Derrick” keeps the band feeling decidedly retro – who ascribes to “beauty and the beast” vocals anymore?  

The band drags in Sonata Arctica’s Tony Kakko for one track, and it’s apparent “Simona” has an abiding love for Tarja Turunen, most evident on “fly to the moon”, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and better.  The closest analogue I’m hearing is Visions of Atlantis circa Trinity, but without the soaring Melissa Ferlaak vocals or Wolfgang Koch’s unerring melodic sense of song construction in tow. 

Not bad, but very standard for where the genre has fallen to in recent (i.e. post 2007) years.

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Predatory Light – MMXIV EP (Pesanta Urfolk) (March 30)

Poorly produced black/doom hybrid with a somewhat sinister feel. 

Vocals are buried all the way in the back under lots of reverb, almost Zom-style, and the horrific mix consists of jangly, hissy guitars and cymbals with faders pushed all the way into the treble range.  The only thing saving this perfectly awful production job is that there’s paradoxically more than a hint of throbbing bass pulsing beneath all this FSSHHHHT SSSHHHH CRSHHHHH nonsense. 

I can only guess the bass player was the producer, given that they (almost) produced the bass…too bad about everyone else in the band!

Unexciting, but would have been more likeable with proper production.  The strange prominence given to the bass is quite unusual for the twin genres the band is aping here, and gives the MMXIV single (2 songs does not an EP make, I’m sorry) more interest than the music would otherwise merit.

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Ill Omen – Compendium Melificarum – Esoterica CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 6)

One of those always essential collections of one off tracks from various splits, comps, demos and singles.  You even get a rehearsal track and a few live ones, inclusive of a Bathory cover.

As ever with Ill Omen (previously encountered here and here), the material is a bit of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, much of the material is quite atmospheric and evocative, which is a decided plus, and the often questionable production accorded to these “lesser” non-album tracks does help that aspect considerably over a more crisply produced affair. 

But on the other hand, there’s a pervasive sameness to the one man band’s material, and far too much Watain influence bleeds in to adulterate if not ruin what could otherwise be a far more original act than the legion of clones, wannabes and zombies out there following in Erik Danielsson’s overly tattooed footsteps.  And like ’em or no, one of that guy is more than enough.

Not bad, and thumbs up to NWN for collecting all these random and scattered bits of business in one spot for the fans.

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TOME OF THE UNREPLENISHED – Innerstanding (I, Voidhanger Records) (March 30)

Cyprus gives us an interesting, vocal-free instrumental black metal/ambient album from yet another of the genre’s legion of one man bands.

Don’t mistake “instrumental” and “ambient” for a sedate keyboard fest, though, because most of the material here is full band, midtempo to full throttle tremelo picked, double bass driven black metal.

Very listenable, dark and contemplative.  I liked it.

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ANTAGONISTE – The Myth Of Mankind (I, Voidhanger Records) (March 30)

French modern black metal/noise/screamo crossover act with prominent bass so detuned it sounds like rubber bands scraping the pickups, guitars relegated to upper string dissonance and industrial-level overdriven puke/scream vox.  Didn’t care for it in the least.

Nope.

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INFERNAL WAR – A X I O M (Agonia Records) (April 17)

Polish death metal with some questionable rumored associations and a sideline fascination with WWII ala Marduk. Refer to our past reviews of Satanic Warmaster and Woodtemple for our stance on this sort of thing, be it true in relation to these folks in particular or no.

It’s very modern (post-1995) style death metal, with aggro-style shout-gargled vox, blastbeat heavy drumming and nontraditional riffing, so it doesn’t really appeal to me.  They rely on speed and the whole thing sounds very chaotic.

No interest.

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Aelter – Aelter IV: Love Eternal (Pesanta Urfolk) (April 20)

Someone named Blake Green does the one man band thing.  It’s very strange, sort of like Sono Morti meets Nick Cave at a Chris Isaak concert, but smacked out on quaaludes.

A lot of negative space, reverb and echo on the (fairly minimal) guitars, and a throaty, droning Type O Negative/Nick Cave recitation of the lyrics.  These aren’t really songs, it’s more of a long drone, the sort of sleepy “evocation of loneliness and isolation” thing low budget filmmakers gravitate to in scoring scenes of driving or wandering through the desert or outback.

Hmm…nothing against it, but not overly impressed either.

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The Leather Nun – Whatever (Wild Kingdom Records) (April 17)

As soon as I saw their name in the pile of reviewables for this month, my eyes widened considerably.  I had vague memories of an odd Swedish postpunk act by that name, though I couldn’t recall a song if you strapped me to a rack and beat me.  (long pause) …sorry, all that talk of nuns and leather got me all worked up there.  (clears throat)

Anyway, sure enough, it turns out to be those selfsame Swedes, reuniting after a good quarter century for a brand new release.  It’s very mid-90’s in feel, sort of like a cross between Jesus and Mary Chain and the Wolfgang Press, with (as you might expect) decided 80’s “positive punk”/gothic rock overtones, particularly in the quavering nigh-baritone vocals of Jonas Almquist.

The darker tracks such as “just like a dream” and “not afraid” work best, naturally, but more dancey, less morose numbers such as “godtherapy” and “outside my window” also have some appeal.  Where things falter is in the overreliance on balladeering (“for the love of your eyes”, “another rainy day”, “dancing in the rain”, “candyass”) and the more Love and Rocketslike tracks (“mainstream”, “star (yes you are)”, “all those crazy dreams”), with “red hot gwen” occupying some more palatable if markedly odd middle ground between cheesy camp and fairground burlesque in the Nick Cave/Tom Waits vein.

If you were a fan back when, you’ll probably be surprised at how competent the band still is at so long a remove (like I was with the recent Echo & the Bunnymen reunion album Meteorites).

Fellow postpunk veterans and the gothically inclined should be pleased with “dream” and “afraid”; the rest is more of a grab bag.

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Loch Vostok – From These Waters (Vicisolum Productions) (March 27)

Melodeath-inflected modern metal with light prog tendencies on the drum end, nearly ruined by some perfectly horrible screamo-puke-o vocals.

Drummer Lawrence Dinamarca displays moments of truly impressive syncopation, as in the opening of “lost in transmutance” or the Watchtower-level midpoint of “dead sea trolls”, and deserves a well-earned nod of respect for his efforts – that’s some snazzy shit you’re working there, my friend.

As with most emo-style melodeath acts, there are clean singing sections, and those are perfectly fine, with vocalist/guitarist Teddy Moller’s sleepy baritone giving a smooth veneer to the Killswitch Engageisms of the band, which while (drumming aside) somewhat unexciting, is certainly competent and listenable enough…until Moller starts puking and screaming his throat raw again.

If he’d only stuck to singing clean, this would be a much better album.

Hey, Ted?  The screamo bits really need to go.

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AGES – Malefic Miasma (Black Lodge Records) (April 24)

Swedish pagan/black metal hybrid with Brice Leclerq, bassist on the uncharacteristic (and honestly, quite dicey) final album from Dissection. 

It’s no secret why “The Malefic Miasma” was chosen for the album’s pre-release single, as it’s the clear standout, with a very (pre-jailtime) Dissection-esque, suitelike lilt and flow.  But things hardly settle down there, with “absent tribulation” and arguably “spawn of the tyrants” following closely in stylistic suit, and the rest of the album working a more obviously pagan if not viking metal formula, all epic bombast and 6/8 time marked by acoustic folk instrumentation.

Eschewing the overprocessed snooze inducing tropes of “modern” black metal for a more chest thumping “we sail to conquer” motif, Ages captures what actually works about the Swedish sound ala Dissection, Watain, and to a lesser extent, Marduk while managing to sidestep the “Watain zombie” thing all too many bands these days fall right into by casting their net wider and pulling in elements reminiscent of acts as ostensibly far afield as Primordial, Leaves Eyes and Vintersorg.  And guess what – it works.

Melodic, emotionally moving, more black metal than pagan, but simultaneously more pagan than what passes for black metal these days…not exactly “original”, but certainly a breath of fresh air in a scene whose rotting “flesh” is beginning to “stinketh”. 

An easy thumbs up.

 

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