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It’s April!  Spring is in the air, complete with Winter weather advisories, chilly temperatures and the threat of snow.

In honor of the season, I’ve decided to announce that from here on out, I’ll only be covering gospel music and country, in deference to my newfound Midwestern-style conservative and religious orientation.  Praise the Lord!

(wait for it…)

APRIL FOOLS!

Yeah, you knew that was coming.  Had to get one in somewhere…

So with that out of the way, let’s get back to some fashion of reality and get on with the show.  Because all kidding aside, we have plenty of pals n’ gals, not to mention fools (April or otherwise) and ghouls in store, with new releases arriving sometime during the upcoming month or so.

So without further ado, we present: Archie’s roughly 40 page Christmas Extravaganza!

OK, so it’s more like Easter.  Whatever floats your boat.

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IMPELLITTERI – Venom (Frontiers Music) (April 17)

Let’s be honest: very few (relatively) openly Christian metal bands have pulled a mainstream listenership.

I mean, you have Stryper, but they lost a lot of their early street cred when they started uber-glamming out with albums like to Hell with the Devil and In God We Trust and remixing their original hard edged EP to a polished softness (even including a pair of syrupy ballads) around 1987.  They tried to “go grunge” and lose the bumblebee thing, and that was pretty much it, until their relatively recent return to the scene with the surprisingly strong duo of Murder By Pride and No More Hell to Pay.  Most folks remember them as something of an emblem of 80’s glam metal excess, or as the band who throws bibles into the audience, which I doubt is what they had intended their legacy to be.

Then you have some very good, underground-style bands that never really got their due before throwing in the towel or altering their styles to something less appealing: Angelica (a positively stellar melodic shred act whose first album Impelliteri vocalist Rob Rock lent vocals to).  Bloodgood (whose first two albums are heavy enough to put any number of mainstream metal bands to shame).  Saint (ditto, at least on their Warriors of the Son EP).  Barren Cross, Bride, and Sacred Warrior (whose debut albums…and in the case of the latter two, sophomore albums as well, are quite recommended and surprisingly accomplished).  And let’s not forget the AC/DC meets Led Zeppelin gritty hard rock roar of the Resurrection Band.

But Impelliteri represents something of a special case.  Old schoolers probably know them best for their surprisingly note-for-note celebration of all things Alcatrazz (and specifically, the Yngwie-sporting No Parole from Rock and Roll): 1988’s melodic speed metal classic Stand in Line, featuring Alcatrazz (and briefly Rainbow) frontman Graham Bonnett.  Younger crowds may be more familiar with Chris (and new drummer Jon Dette) from the Animetal USA project, with former Yngwie/Obsession/Loudness frontman Mike Vescera.

And of course, to hear mainman Chris Impelliteri himself tell it, Impelliteri neither is now nor ever has been a Christian metal band per se, and he does have a very logical rationale for saying so (see our interview here ).

Nonetheless, with vocalist Rob Rock’s lyrics and the general “good guy” leanings of Chris himself bolstered by any number of powerful, eschatologically inclined releases over the past few decades (Answer to the Master, Victim of the System, Fuel to the Fire and Eye of the Hurricane come immediately to mind here), it s unquestionable that “heaven,” to quote Trouble, is “on (their) mind(s)”.  And in a scene oversaturated with wannabe black metallers, vehement atheists and gore obsessed death metallers, that’s not only a bit surprising, it actually comes as a breath of fresh air and refreshing change of pace.

Now, that’s not to say this is all the band has to offer – in fact, far from it.  Those only familiar with the (highly uncharacteristic) Alcatrazz/Rainbow/MSG tribute of Stand in Line will have no conception of what to expect from Venom – this one’s for fans who followed the band through their import-only Victor Japan-exclusive years, not to mention old schoolers who remember the glory days of Vivian Campbell-era Dio, first album XYZ and (perhaps most surprisingly, if often quite blatantly) Racer X, with Chris blazing through sweep picking arpeggiation and chunky double picked 32nd note shred riffs and Rob positively channeling Jeff Martin throughout.  And as the latter remain my all time favorite metal band of that era (think the days of Street Lethal, Second Heat and the two Extreme Volume live albums), I hope it comes across just what I’m saying here.

While 90’s era and Chastain/Fifth Angel drummer Ken Mary is much missed, Jon Dette (Slayer, Testament, Anthrax, Heathen, Animetal USA) serves as a more than competent replacement, picking up where 2000s replacement Glen Sobel left off, simultaneously keeping things straightforward and simple and appropriately driving, all double bass and restricting any fills and technical leanings entirely to tom roll punctuation and turnarounds.  Personally, I prefer a more progressive and showy technique in my drummers, but you can’t say the guy doesn’t know his stuff, and well.

Production wise, the album finds an unusual mix between powerful and clean and hissy.  While vocals and guitars are very much upfront, there’s a nigh-Don Dokken on Up From the Ashes dirt to the proceedings resulting from all the overdrive and high end leanings.  Interestingly, little to none of this hails from the usual suspects (hi-hat, ride and crash cymbals), but appears to be more of an intrinsic failing, or perhaps even a deliberate choice.

It lends the album an oddly early 90’s Hollywood glam sensibility, like a Hericane Alice record or something, when a more consistently clean production would likely have suited the smooth yet driving 80’s style traditional metal of the material far better.  It’s a minor quibble, and less discriminating listeners will be more than content with the power and clarity of “the important parts” throughout.

I let the podcast go into hiatus due to a lack of any truly exciting releases of late, at least from folks we hadn’t already spoken to on air or where everything that needed to be said couldn’t be laid down better right here in print every month.

The fact that I rebooted the show just to get this man on air should say something right there.

Now where’s my bonus tracks?

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KISKE / SOMERVILLE – City of Heroes (Frontiers Music) (April 17)

5 years on, legendary Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske and famed vocal coach/performer Amanda Somerville reunite for another round of symphonically-leaning melodic power metal.

Those familiar with such bands as Sinner, Primal Fear and Silent Force should be elated to know that the album’s primary songwriter and producer is none other than Mat Sinner, whose magic touch seldom if ever fails to deliver a crystalline production and hook filled, meticulously constructed songs that will stick in the listener’s head long after the album fade.  Sinner further lends both his trademark lush backing vocals and basslines, while Primal Fear’s Magnus Karlsson handles guitars, keyboards and joins Sinner in songwriting duties.  A Veronika Lukesova covers drums.

While there are a few too many ballads for my taste, overall this is the sort of Euro-metal tailor made for radio airplay, with the strong choruses, smooth production and effortlessly hummable, positively toned and often soaring sound Frontiers brings to its primarily AOR-based roster of releases, while still playing in a recognizably gothic-symphonic metal sonic arena.

If you like the general sound the various folks involved, from the vocalists to Sinner and label owner Serafino Perugina have to offer respectively, you simply cannot go wrong with this one.

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PETERIK / SCHERER – Risk Everything (Frontiers Music) (April 17)

Remember Survivor?

Hell, who doesn’t, if only for their much-beloved “eye of the tiger”, theme for both Rocky III and a hilariously cheesy eponymous Gary Busey/Yaphet Kotto action flick back in the day.  Well, guitarist/founder Jim Peterik has gotten together with vocalist Marc Scherer to form another 80’s style AOR project in a similar vein.

While Scherer decidedly bears overtones of Dave Bickler, he brings a strong, youthful-sounding dramatic tenor with an emphasis on head voice that takes what ultimately come off as some likeable 80’s teen sex comedy soundtrack tunes (think Hardbodies, Bikini Summer and dozens of their ilk) and elevates the decent-but-fairly standard material to a whole other level.  Peterik and co-guitarist Mike Aquino (presumably not the erstwhile Temple of Set frontman!) lay down some more than competent, even flashy leads, while Peterik holds down keyboard duties as well and the rest of the band keeps things at a throbbing midtempo pace throughout.

If 80’s AOR is your thing, you’re well advised to give this one a listen – if the solid, Survivor meets Foreigner arrangements don’t throw your nostalgia switches, Scherer’s vocals probably will.

I’ve gelled up and spiked my hair and pulled the old Cadillac convertible out of mothballs for pickin’ up chicks down at the beach – I think I just found the soundtrack to blare from my cassette deck.

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FM – Heroes and Villains (Frontiers Music) (April 17)

Two post-Bruce Dickinson members of Samson (remember them?) followed that gig by putting together AOR act FM, who released 5 albums between 1985 and 1995 before dropping out of circulation.

Reuniting just 5 years ago, they’ve already made up for lost time, dropping no less than four albums since (nearly one a year!  How old school is that?).

There’s nothing particularly “British” about their sound, which comes across as somewhat countrified (in the Nashville/post-Garth Brooks sense) US-style AOR with vague REO Speedwagon leanings. It’s melodic and listenable enough, but the mere fact that I smell country (and I don’t mean Hank Williams) means they’re not exactly catering to my personal tastes.

Nothing wrong with it, just not my thing.

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Magic Kingdom – Savage Requiem (AFM Records) (April 14)

Iron Mask’s Dushan Petrossi indulges his more symphonic leanings, eschewing most of the iffy (for him) neoclassical orientation of that act for a more straightforward, vaguely Rhapsody (of Fire)-style take on power metal.

Vocalist Christian Palin brings an angry, yet thin and reedy vocal approach to the table, melding cheesy Bruce Dickinsonian declamatory bits with a somewhat Michael Eden tonality.  Unfortunately, whether due to the production or his own abilities, he’s not as powerful as one might hope, coming across more as another instrument in the wall of sound than any sort of pronouncedly lead presence.

While he certainly fits with the sound Petrossi appears to be aiming for here, the fact is that Palin seems more suited to backing vocals or chorus voice than lead in any true sense.  Again, this may entirely be the fault of the mix – only live performance or further recordings will tell.

As with Iron Mask, when Petrossi sticks to rhythms, his baroque-romantic tendencies suit the sound quite well.  The difference this time around is that they occupy a portion of and accent to the overall sound, with his leads coming across far less choppy and unsure as they did on the Fifth Son of Wintermoon.

That said, the simple fact is that while melodic lines and rhythm guitars are mixed right up front, the leads find themselves comparatively buried in the distance, allowing any awkward moments, hesitation in phrasing and choppiness to be more easily glossed over in favor of the whole – Wintermoon left the solos right out in front for all to see, warts and all.

So has he “improved” or become more of a smooth, legato player?  Or is it just a question of a savvier producer this time around?  Close listens will provide the answer, which I leave to the listener to discover and decide for themselves.

These comparative issues aside, the bottom line is that to judge between the two albums, while still bearing a touch of the awkwardness of style on display in Iron Mask’s Fifth Son of Wintermoon, Magic Kingdom’s Savage Requiem is a far more listenable, cohesive effort that breaks no new ground (face it, this may be a decent effort, but they’re no Rhapsody, and all hype aside, Petrossi couldn’t light a fart off Yngwie’s ass) but remains listenable as a sort of catch-all of some very obvious but ostensibly unrelated neoclassical and symphonic influences.

Not bad, and a noticeable improvement over the same guy’s work in Iron Mask.

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Eden’s Curse – Live With The Curse (AFM Records) (April 14)

Ah, Paul Logue, one of my more amusing interviews.  Love this guy, and his band, both under former vocalist Michael Eden and even moreso with new vocalist Nikola Mijic, who fronted career high point Symphony of Sin a year or two back.

While they’d primarily been a studio project prior to this, perhaps due in part to the fact that Eden was situated here in the States, while Logue is Scotland based and half the band were Germans, they’ve now embarked on their first real UK tour, with Serbian Mijic in tow.  Don’t ask me how it works, just be happy that it does.

With a strong Tony (TNT) Harnell orientation to his toothy, head voice tenor, Mijic enlivens and very prominently forefronts a flawlessly melodic, well constructed musical machine spearheaded by guitarist Thorsten Kohne’s excellent leads and smooth background vocals from Logue and Kohne.

The old joke about metal bands, particuarly those of the symphonic variety, is that if they sound half as good live as they do in studio, you’re damn lucky.  Now I don’t know how much (if any) polishing was given to the soundboard recordings, but damn if this isn’t a jaw dropper.  Not since Worldwide Live and Extreme Volume I and II have I heard a band sound this tight on a live album – if this ain’t bullshit, I’m sold.

The band covers tracks spanning the three Eden albums as well as Mijic’s Symphony of Sin, and while the change in vocal style may take longtime fans a song or two to adjust to, there’s no question that the band came out of a potentially crushing roster change all the better for it.

Looking forward to the next studio album, and another chat with Logue thereto.  Save a lager for me, mate.

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Wolfpakk – Rise Of The Animal (AFM Records) (April 14)

OK, before we get on to the positives, this has to be said: for a project that involves quite so many high profile industry veterans, Wolfpakk has always remained a strangely generic endeavor, notable more for the “who’s who” starfucker aspect of all the guest performers than the actual albums in question.

While inevitably featuring some very accomplished, melodic and well structured guitar solo sections in each and every song (very possibly due to the respective abilities of the guest guitarists this time around), Wolfpakk offers a rather middle of the road cross between a well produced if unspectacular power metal and, in lighter, more balladeer-inclined moments, AOR.

It’s hardly the “traditional metal” which press releases seem to be positioning them as, but a more modern (well, OK, 90’s-style) European power metal thing peppered with strong elements of the radio friendly inflections of 80’s AOR ala Frontiers Records.  The double bass drumming and chunk-cha-da-chunk rhythms of the guitars, the over the top group choruses, the raspy vocals, and the oddly soporific overtone gives the game away every time…

But that all being duly noted, I have to admit to a dramatic (did I say dramatic?  I mean SERIOUSLY dramatic) improvement over 2013’s blase Cry Wolf, with more structure and melody to the songs per se and, as previously noted, some surprisingly impressive solo sections from such luminaries as John Norum (Europe, Don Dokken), Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), Doug Aldrich (Lion, Hurricane, Whitesnake’s Good to Be Bad era), Axel Rudi Pell (Germany’s Steeler) and Bernie Torme (Gillan, a brief pre-Brad Gillis tour stint with Ozzy).

Only “high roller”, “running out of time” and “sock it to me” really stand out musically, with the former coming closer to the “traditional metal” tag than anything else on display.  The band does actually craft a fairly Headhunter/Heart Attack style Krokus setting for that band’s Marc Storace to strut his stuff, which was impressive, and Helloween’s Michael Kiske lends authority to the otherwise unremarkable title track. But with the possible exception of “monkey on your back” (a likeable if unspectacular midtempo affair that is the very definition of what used to be termed an “album track” back in the day) that’s pretty much all you get, despite some ultimately failed attempts at approximating Moody/Mardsen-era Whitesnake and such folks as Bob Daisley (Ozzy), Don Dokken, Joe Lynn Turner and Chris Slade taking part in the proceedings.

Look, with those three tracks, an album full of great guitarwork and an impressive as ever guest list, it’s kind of hard to knock ’em this time around.

While I’ve hardly converted to Wolfpakk fandom, it’s unquestionable that the two guys running the project have pulled up their bootstraps and delivered a reasonably worthy album this time around, one that (finally) begins to push its way outside the snooze inducing restrictions of power metal to approach a more likeably AOR, comparatively traditional sound.

‘A’ for effort, with extra credit for some serious improvement over the last two albums.

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Ancient Rites – Laguz (Massacre Records) (March 31)

Interestingly, this Belgian “black metal” act sounds even more power metal than Wolfpakk, taking the keyboard-happy symphonic orientation of such acts as Cradle of Filth, Theatres des Vampires and Dimmu Borgir entirely outside the ooky spooky minor key gothicism expected and into straight up major key anthemics.  Gothic and viking metal bands have never sounded quite this happy, it’s downright bizarre.

While the double bass is incessant and there is some tremelo riffing going on, every guitar line is doubled and in fact led by the keyboards, lending the entire sound a goofy, la la la happyland feel wholly inappropriate to the genre they ostensibly inhabit.  Did I mention the oddball sprechtgesang vocals, which neither snarl, shriek or growl?  Seriously, vocalist Gunther Theys just declaims under his breath, sort of like a less forceful Rammstein.  Go figure.

Now, they’ve got a long history (dating all the way back to 1990, in fact!), with Theys being the sole surviving original member (one guitarist died in a car accident, the drummer killed himself and the other guitarist apparently gave up music in disgust – can’t really blame him, after all that!), and they appear to have some road wear (promo materials grouse about a history filled with ripoffs, bomb threats, rotating lineups and worse), so you can’t accuse them of lacking stick-to-it-iveness.

But what I’m hearing here just isn’t black metal by any stretch of the imagination.

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Viper Solfa – Carving An Icon (Massacre Records) (March 31)

Ronny Thorsen of Tristania’s World of Glass is joined by a woman named “Sphinx” and a few former bandmates from another act I’m unfamiliar with to deliver an album pretty much as you’d expect: that aggressive, somewhat indistinguishable variant of “gothic metal” offered by Tristania, pre-Ailyn Giminez Sirenia or Therion – you know the type.

Growly male vocals dominate and it’s more about driving, black/death inspired modern metal than any pretensions whatsoever towards the more openly operatic female vocal driven and radio friendly to symphonic soundtrack style elements that 3/4 of gothic and gothic/symphonic metal fans like about the genre in the first place.

If you were really jonesing for “gothic metal” to return to that generally unremembered early variant, then Viper Solfa certainly has your fix.

Me, I’m shutting this crap off and going to put on some Krypteria.

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Fat.Mo.Mac – S/T (Red Tomb Records) (May 4)

Candlemass guitarist Lars Johansson leaves the sounds of Nightfall behind to dip into slide guitar and blues rock.

There’s a slight Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughn feel to all of this, not to mention Jeff Healey, Robert Cray or Ry Cooder, but without the wildness of Jimi or the flash of Stevie.  It’s bar band music, the sort you encounter in films like Road House or when they want to show somebody traveling through the wide open spaces of middle America.

Standout track: the very obviously Stevie Ray-inspired “cold woman”, which actually approaches Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.  Enjoy it while you can, because nothing else here sounds even vaguely similar to it.

I guess if you were really, really into the Crossroads soundtrack (minus the Steve Vai guitar battle sections that the rest of us woke up for), this should be your meat.

Surprisingly believable for a doom metal veteran straight out of Scandinavia.

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MAMMOTH MAMMOTH – Volume IV – Hammered Again (Napalm Records) (March 27)

Hmm.  Well, I certainly enjoyed Vol. III – Hell’s Likely, a Zodiac Mindwarp meets Motorhead style affair that just smelled “biker rock” all over.  And yeah, the band hasn’t altered their approach much, if anything improving on the template by crafting songs that differentiate themselves from each other better, with more memorable choruses and plenty of driving, boozy middle finger flipping hard rock/metal on hand.

The issue is the production.

Where Hell’s Likely featured a pleasantly meaty sound, all pummeling thick toned Marshall punch with little hiss or signal noise to distract from the mix, this one sounds like it was produced by Don Dokken.  Have you heard Up From the Ashes lately?  Yeah.  It sounds like shit.

FSSHH FSSHH! CSHHHTT! on the cymbals.  A super thin tone on the snare, toms and bass drum.  RASP RASP SCRATCH on the guitars and vocals (which sound like they were run through a hell of a lot of compression here).  Look, the soundtrack sounded better and more full on Brutal Legend.  And that’s a video game!

Musically, these guys are awesome – while admittedly not the sort of thing I’d run out to see or show off to folks, they’ve got that Deliverance-era C.O.C. sound down pat, and it’s very much the kind of music you crank up when it comes on in the car – or boozing it up at a backyard barbecue, for that matter.

If you can put up with a severe downgrade in production quality, this one’s absolutely killer, and actually an improvement over their last album – which I liked in the first place.

Rock on, 70’s hard rock meets generator party by way of Sturgis rally style.

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HEIDEVOLK – Velua (Napalm Records) (March 20)

Appropriately anthemic Viking/pagan/”folk metal” from the Netherlands with elements of Ulver (when they were worth listening to) and Vintersorg predominating over the more expected Tyr meets Borknagar sound that might lead the reader to expect.

While it’s all sung in their native tongue, apparently this has to do with “ghosts, goblins and brigands,” so this reinvigorated tabletop gamer is happy.  Bring on those goblin rhymes!

There’s far less time spent doing the “traditional instrument” or acapella thing than mentions of “folk” and Ulver tend to elicit, leaving a chant-heavy dual baritone harmony vocal style bolstered by bouncy, melodic and memorable riffing and a comparatively driving midtempo power metallish crunch throughout.  It’s an interesting mix, neither fish or fowl, but it certainly works.

Thumbs…or better yet, horns, way up.

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Vetten Äpärät – Sydäntalven Viha (single) (Inverse Records) (March 27)

Finnish “folk metal” ala Finntroll and Trollfest.  The music’s acceptably standard for the style, and the visuals are priceless – case in point.

What if Mortiis fronted hard drinking party metallers Finntroll?  Well, I guess you’d get something that looked a hell of a lot like Vetten Aparat…

This is a primer for an upcoming album release, so we’ll see how well this holds up over a more expansive length, but this humppa-metal fan certainly felt inspired to start a jig-pit, Flogging Molly style.

A good start.

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Strong Addiction – Anesthesia (Inverse Records)  (April 10)

The short answer?  Soundgarden meets emo.  It’s strange, but not unlistenable.

Production is absolutely terrible, in fact one of the worst I’ve ever heard outside of underground black metal (where they go for that sound  deliberately).  Seriously, it’s all treble and mids with zero bass.  The only way to describe it is like listening to Curve or My Bloody Valentine through a headphone that’s laying on the counter in front of you.  You know, that hissy, noisy overcompressed sound that fills out when you put the thing back on your ears?  Yeah.  Except it is on your ears, and never fills out.

They’ve got that moody, dark, layered guitar with leads and melodic lines running throughout the verses thing going on that you expect from emo acts, but there’s more than a hint of Vain running through tracks like “sense and sensibility” – hell, vocalist Sebastian Ulmanen actually apes Davy’s quavering tremolo at points.  As listeners to our two part interview are likely well aware, I’m a huge fan of Davy Vain, so this was a definite mark in the band’s favor.  If only they took this approach more often.  Sadly, that one track and closer “trauma” are all you get…

Very mixed feelings about this one in the end.  Absolutely loved the two Vain tracks…er, well, you get what I mean there.  The emo bits weren’t all that bad, either – though it’s hardly my “go to” genre, at least it’s a listenable one.  The Soundgarden and 90’s noise-rock stuff was a little more questionable, but I’m not gonna complain, except to say the scream-growl vocals Ulmanen adopts for these tracks kinda sucks (as always – if you’re not doing black or death metal, sing fucking CLEAN, people).

Overall, while I wasn’t overly excited here, Strong Addiction are really not bad, musically speaking.  But that producer needs to go for a hearing test, ASAP.

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The Lidocaine – Chicken Cage of HORROR (Inverse Records) (April 5)

OK, so obviously this is joke metal, ala M.O.D., Green Jello, Gwar or The Mentors.  Nothing wrong with that, if you’re in the right mood – hell, I still keep M.O.D. for U.S.A. in semi-regular rotation after all these years – “don’t feed the bears” and “ode to Harry” are absolutely priceless.

The trick is…I didn’t find this one very funny.

I mean, “chicken cage of horror”!  “onion of chastity”!  You’d think this would be a tongue in cheek laugh riot, particularly when the band’s (rather brief) release statement mentions that album recordings went smoothly, particularly on the days when the producer wasn’t in studio!  And yet…

(sigh)

Well, the band seems to know their way around their instruments well enough, and despite the aforementioned gag, production is reasonably good (if a bit heavy on the treble and hiss for an otherwise well rounded and bassy mix).

Vocals are very obviously goofy, like Billy Milano or Biz Markie’s attempts to “sing” in a proper sense, just in case anyone listening misses the fact that hey, this is a joke, people…  That said, they’re a bit too far to that side of the spectrum, coming across as just too nudge nudge wink wink obviously camp for any but the bluntest of sensibilities to take in long stretches.

Look, anyone who listens to the podcast or follows the site knows I’m all about the humor and absurdity of life and human endeavor – if you can’t see it’s all one big (good humored) cosmic joke, I feel sorry for your stiff ass, and maybe you should see a doctor about removing that 4×4 from your backside, before you hurt yourself there.  And yet…this just didn’t make me crack a smile, not even once.

I feel bad, like when you know the guy onstage is really trying, but bombing horribly.  You almost want to throw him a forced laugh, just to help him out.  Thanks for the effort, man, maybe next time! 

I don’t know, maybe something got lost in translation.

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INCANTATION – Entrantment of Evil MLP (Hells Headbangers) (April 7)

Half of Onward to Golgotha, in more primitive, demo-level quality and form.  Oddly, Mortician mainman Will Rahmer handles vocals here, and while hardly as ill fitting as Diabolical Conquest’s Daniel Corchado, he’s certainly no Craig Pillard.

As Incantation was always one of those workaday, also-ran acts floundering around the death metal scene in the wake of leaders like (early) Death, Obituary, Massacre, Deicide, Carcass, Entombed, Pestilence and the like, I recall their main claim to fame was Pillard’s straight-from-the-bowels vox, coming at a time when there seemed to be an unofficial race to see who could deliver the deepest, “scariest” vocals out there.  And while acceptable enough and clearly pointing towards what was shortly to come, Rahmer’s iteration just ain’t the one.

Ultimately, the appeal here is little more than a curiosity: what would happen if band A was fronted by the guy behind band B?

Stick to Onward to Golgotha and/or Mortal Throne of the Nazarene for a taste of what this band could actually achieve; grindcore fans will likely already appreciate the no-budget horror film aesthetic of Mortician over what Rahmer brings to the table here.

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ACID WITCH – Midnight Movies (12″ MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (April 1)

OK, this is bizarre: weirdo blackened thrash-doom combo Acid Witch covers tunes from their favorite 80’s “heavy metal horror” flicks.  Oddly, nothing from Heavy Metal Zombies, Jon Mikl Thor’s Edge of Hell or Shock ‘Em Dead, the Alice Cooper tracks from Friday the 13th part 6, Dokken’s “dream warriors” and “back for the attack” from Nightmare on Elm Street part 3, or even Vixen’s appearance in Hardbodies, doubtless the scariest “heavy metal horror” of them all!

Instead, they cover goth/death rockers 45 Grave (“party time”, Return of the Living Dead) and Stunt Rock’s starring act Sorcery (“I’m back”, from Rocktober Blood) on the positive end, and on the cheesy side, Fast Eddie Clarke’s bland post-Motorhead combo Fastway’s “after midnight” (Trick or Treat) and phony metal band Black Roses’ “soldiers of the night” (from the movie of the same name).

While they do a serviceable enough job on the covers, being pretty damn faithful while managing to interject enough of their own particular persona onto each, there’s really no purpose to this, as the originals are good enough on their own.

While there’s nothing wrong with this one (and hey, the nod to the past is much appreciated), the only real pluses being gathering these undeserved obscurities into one place and the nice job on the guitar solo in “soldiers of the night”, which really brought this veteran back to the days when guitarist knew how to construct, build emotion in and play a proper fucking solo, instead of aimlessly generic diddly finger wheedling (and this coming from a Shrapnel records fan – there’s a continent’s worth of difference between, say, Racer X or early Vinnie Moore and some doofus like Alexi Laiho, kids).  So nice job, there, guys.

If you’ve never heard these songs or seen these films before, get off your ass and check them out already (as well as the further films and songs I brought up herein), you won’t be disappointed.

As for this EP, if you’re an Acid Witch fan, it’s a nice if inessential conversation piece that shows the band digs their retro cult cinema.

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Malthusian – Below the Hengiform (Invictus Productions) (April 6)

Little has changed since we reviewed the same band’s demo MMXIII.  The Irish black/death crew still hasn’t learned to tune their guitars, they still stick to 3 or 4 songs per release and they’re still mixing the most annoying bits of Watain with a distinctly early Abruptum vibe.

The only real difference is that they’ve bought themselves slightly better production this time around and have come to emphasize what were previously mere interjections of forefronted blastbeat frenzy to a greater prominence.

A bit less annoying than last time around, but unless you’re really hard up for the uber-generic Watain zombie-style “modern black metal” sound, still hardly worth the time to investigate.

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Domovoyd – S/T (Svart Records) (May 8) 

A bit different from 2013’s Oh Sensibility, this self titled expands the mental and musical horizons of the band a bit from their earlier off kilter stoner rock psychedelia to pull in elements of proto-death metal (check out that oddball ascending riff at the middle of “ambrosian perfume”), postpunk/gothic rock (the flat, Peter Murphy-style vox in the same song, the experimental sprechtgesang of “caustic afterglow”) and even vague touches of the more experimental end of funeral doom ala Ahab.

It’s damn strange, as you might expect from a Finnish act (a nation increasingly known for producing off kilter and experimental bands of all genre and stripe), but in a good way, and definitely marks an improvement over its predecessor.

Worth giving a spin to, particularly as accompaniment to a psychedelic voyage, as it were.

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Kesä – S/T  (Svart Records) (April 30)

Holy crap, somebody brought the 80’s back.  And I don’t mean the metal era of the mid to late 80’s, either…I mean the New Wave/New Romantic thing of the decade’s first few years.

Echoes of everything from Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls and the Human League to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Skeletal Family and Danse Society spring immediately to mind right from the first few bars of opener “se ei sanonut mitaan”, and it hardly ends there.  They actually reference Berlin in the promo materials, which if we’re talking Pleasure Victim says a hell of a lot right off – still one of the best albums of its era.

If Beastmilk wasn’t enough of a trip down memory lane for you and you got a kick out of the retro keyboard-pop of Belanova, you’ll be sure to dig Kesa as well.

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Sammal – Myrskyvaroitus (Svart Records) (May 15)

Those purveyors of late 60’s/early 70’s psychedelic hard rock return for yet another amazingly authentic sounding throwback of an album, filled with thick, tube amp driven Les Paul tones, multi-tracking, forefronted Hammond organ style keyboards and syrupy bass with Cream-style vocals.

While No. 2 was a clear improvement on their self titled debut, Myrskyvaroitus shows a Sammal holding ground if treading water this time around.  It’s slower and less impassioned, as if they’d moved from 1967 to 1971 overnight, tonally.

If you prefer, they’ve moved from the still-pleasurable dynamics of psychedelic rock (think Jefferson Airplane, H.P. Lovecraft, early Santana, People, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy et al) to the disillusioned, druggy and comparatively dry feel of, say, Long John Silver-era Airplane, Blind Faith and Traffic.

A little less vim and vigor, and we’ll see a fourth album slipping into the obnoxious boredom and eternally static bluster of what today is referred to as “classic rock” – you know, the sort we had a punk revolution and rockabilly revival to eradicate?

No worries at this point, as Sammal still has some life in them yet, but things are starting to feel a tad too bloated for their own sakes.  It’s still very retro, and quite authentic…just moving a few steps in the wrong direction, perhaps.

Hopefully next time around will show a return to the general aesthetic and feel on display in No. 2, which is still the one to beat.

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Seremonia – Kristalliarkki (Svart Records) (May 8) 

Another good band, essentially the same story.

Where Ihminen was passionate and hard driving in a Shocking Blue meets Eldritch Dark-era Blood Ceremony sense, Kristalliarkki shows a far more tired sounding act trying to hold their ground and losing a significant degree of steam in the process.

Ostensibly, it’s the same sound, and the brief “kristalliarki II” does carry the same vigor as their earlier efforts, but most of the material here seems mopey and lost, as if recorded in a drug haze the morning after a wild party.  There’s simply no energy to be tapped here – this is a band half asleep, worn out, perhaps even getting bored with the material.

Still worth looking into, but stick to Ihminen to see what this band is truly capable of expressing.

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Cult Of Endtime – In Charnel Lights (Svart Records) (May 29) 

Finnish death metal with too much of a black metal influence.

The production is rather good, and there are strong hints at the vintage (albeit non-Morrisound/Sunlight) death metal approach they pay lip service to, but there have been too many intervening years filled with bands like Emperor, Dimmu, Marduk and Watain warping the sound more in that direction than we should be hearing in any proper death metal act.

I liked the vocals a lot, there were definite old school death metal riffs showing up here and there, and the drums were certainly more subdued and retro than all the blastbeat stuff you hear everywhere nowadays, so it’s certainly done in the right spirit, and at times even achieves their intended goal of sounding like some long lost early to mid 90’s act ala Amorphis (the closest vintage act I can hear to what they’re doing here) or perhaps early Vader.

They say you can’t un-see something unfortunate – apparently this is also the case with music.

If Cult of Endtime could un-hear a few decades worth of black metal influence on their sound, this would be a pretty damn good album, rather than an interesting attempt at evoking a sound they don’t quite have their finger on the pulse of.

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Festerday – The Four Stages Of Decomposition (Svart Records) (May 29)

Finnish grindcore.  Think more General Surgery, Caninus or Hatebeak than pre-Necroticism Carcass and you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect here.

Apparently the band had been kicking around back in the day, but unable to progress beyond the demo stages – this is a modern re-recording of the earlier demo material.

Look, it’s grindcore.  Even stuff like Repulsion, Terrorizer and pre-Scott Burns Napalm Death can sound pretty samey from one song to the next.

What they have going for them is an authentically retro sound, decent production and a respectable degree of accomplishment for a subgenre marked by noisy, lesser-skilled musicianship – hell, that and the gruesome lyrics were the whole point of grindcore as distinct from death metal proper.

If you dig the sound, you’ll definitely love this one.

For me, if we’re not talking World Downfall, Horrified, Harmony Corruption or Necroticism and Heartwork, grindcore’s always been a lesser bastard son to the real deal – listenable in small doses, but ultimately kind of boring.

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Seagrave – Stabwound (Art of Propaganda) (April 27)

hmm.  One half of the much divided Harakiri for the Sky goes it solo.  Oddly, it appears from the vocals to be the lesser half, whose absurd screamo approach sat so poorly with the bombastic Viking metal stylings of that combo.  And even stranger, while the vocals are still hilariously awful, they fit better in this setting.

With a more melodically oriented, gothic metal meets emo with a touch of “dark metal”, “J.J.” seems to really find his niche, blending well enough with the somber, mournfully dramatic emo stylings of the material as to be ignorable.  And trust me, that really is a plus.

As with his other band, the draw here is the music – both acts would be well served by an actual vocalist, rather than this ranting goon relentlessly screaming the lyrics at the listener (it’s not even screamo, there are absolutely zero clean sung passages to be found in either band he fronts).

But to the extent he contributes to or is responsible for the music in either?  Hats off, and all due respect.

Once again – the music’s seriously good.  The vocals suck major ass.

But you can wave the horrid fart smell of them away far easier here in Seagrave than you can in Harakiri for the Sky.

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Månegarm – Nordstjärnans Tidsålder (Re-Mastered) (Black Lodge Records) (April 10)

Far more black metal than the pagan/Viking thing they had going on by the time of Legions of the North.

Not saying I found this one especially worthy, as the band’s sound is fairly generic and modern (if thankfully owing zero debt to Watain – that’s a rarity and a plus right there!), but it’s certainly a whole hell of a lot more listenable.

Speedy tremelo picking, a bit of that bouncy folk feel ala Taake, nasty snarling black metal vocals  and reasonably well produced double bass drumming (albeit still working that ubiquitous blastbeat thing).  They may call this one Viking metal, but unlike Legions of the North, that only applies in the vague, pre-genre definition sense that Enslaved’s Frost was.

It’s black metal through and through, which earns it a comparative nod of respect.

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Perfect Blue Sky – Emerald (Scarecrow Recordings) (March 20)

Folk meets classic rock.  No real info on these guys, but I gather from their Facebook page that they hail from Stockholm and have some connection to Australia (don’t ask me, could be wrong about that one).

Music is pleasant and competent enough, and one of my old friends who’s a veteran of the jam band and bluegrass revival scenes would probably love ’em to death.

What you get is male/female harmony vocals, a lot of acoustic guitar with drums, bass and clean electric backing.  Saying they sound like Hootie and the Blowfish albeit with much better vocals and a vague 70’s pop bent wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

Very listenable from a pure music perspective, but absolutely not my scene.

More mellow-inclined readers should definitely check them out, they’ve got a very accomplished sound that belies their debut album status.

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FORGOTTEN TOMB – Hurt Yourself And The Ones You Love (Agonia Records) (April 17)

Modern black metal with touches of death metal and a decided emo bent.  Despite hailing from Italy (home to Bulldozer, Mortuary Drape, Vardan, Theatres des Vampires and Abhor among other worthies), they’re pretty damn generic and mallrat oriented, as the seedy torture porn album cover might suggest.

“Dude, like…Eli Roth!”
“Fuckin’ A!  Let’s blast some Forgotten Tomb and Atreyu!”

Sure, it’s listenable enough, and well produced.  But is that all there is?

Not horrible for what it is, but what it is ain’t much.

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Amestigon – Thier (W.T.C. Productions) (May 28) 

Austria gives us an odd dark metal/black metal hybrid who approximate equal measures of Moonspell style baritone chant-crooning and more standard black metal snarls…which occasionally give way to funeral doom-like death metal belches.  Go figure.

The music is reasonably ethereal/dreamy and atmospheric, and as usual for a Teutonic based release, the production is absolutely stellar.  It’s just really hard to pinpoint whether they intend to be putting out a blackened doom metal album or something more akin to Empyrium – it’s more contemplative than most black metal, but too aggressive (at times) for the dark or doom appellations.

Despite (or perhaps, contrarily, because of) this cross-genre blend, Amestigon has landed on a sound that actually works, and quite well at that, particularly for fans of the more meditative Sepulchral Records variant of black metal.  The performances are inassailable, and with a matching level of production and songs structured to ebb and flow, building and releasing in the way music should, I’d be absolutely remiss if I didn’t give this one an unreserved thumbs up across the board.

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Luciferian Rites – When the Light Dies (Moribund) (May 12)

Old school second wave black metal in the Gorgoroth vein (think the Pest and Hat iterations thereof).

Thin toned, abominably harsh screeches and howls over a grim tremelo driven dual-tracked guitar and double bass drums which only turn a tad sloppy and off-tempo when the now de rigeur blastbeat sections make their unwelcome but ever-expected appearance.*  Aside from that, it’s pretty good and very reminiscent of the post-Norwegian sound, circa 1996-99.

* like an unwanted drunken gate crasher, this lame technique winds up turning up at nearly every underground, genre or “extreme” metal party in town, despite the fact that nobody really wants the guy around…

They even go by comparatively old school pseudonyms: “Abomination” on guitars, “Antichrist” on drums and (my personal favorite) “Count Shadows” on vox.  If you dig this mid-90’s sound (which while less original and idiosyncratic than its immediate forbears, distilled much of what made that sound work), you should be very happy with this album.

Until Infernus and Pest put out another Gorgoroth album, this should hold diehard fans over quite admirably.

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Vardan – Despicable Broken Hope (Moribund) (April 28)

Sadly, the busiest one man band in black metal continues along the more mellow, melancholic lines set by February’s The Night, The Loneliness as opposed to his former, more Les Legions Noires inspired raw underground approach.

On an arguably positive note, he brings more of a tunefulness and (dare we say it?) melodic feel to the new material, but there is a certain level of driness and repetitiveness to the material that accompanies it – track “II” and “V” are almost indistinguishable at points.  And while I did really like the cover photo of the overgrown, abandoned railway tracks, is such an ostensibly “modern” setting appropriate for the faux-medievalism and “legendary forestry” of black metal?

Very listenable (for more mainstream listeners, very likely more than ever), but a bit worrisome.

This marks the second album/EP which seems to be going in the wrong direction, by comparison with earlier and more appreciated releases such as …Dreaming…Living my Funeral, Enjoy of Deep Sadness, Verses from Ancient Times and The Woods is my Coffin.

The question of where the man will go next should be answered within a month or two.

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Spite (USA) – Trapped In The Pentagram 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (April 27)

Fascinating that one of the more promising black metal singles I’ve heard of late hails from right in our backyard.  That’s right, like the earlier Carnivore, Spite comes straight out of Brooklyn, New York, taking no prisoners and kicking serious ass just like a true New Yorker should.

The lyrics are pretty cheesy and “blasphemous”, but the overall tone of the band is pretty serious and very retro.  It’s sort of blackened thrash in its aggression and underproduction, but without the obvious deference to Bathory, Venom, Motorhead and the Brazilian thrash sound (or the variant biker thing of bands like Venomous Maximus, Maax and Intoxicated).  Ultimately, it’s pre-Norwegian stylistically, but still very much black metal.

Fuck yeah, I liked it.  New York represent.

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Irreversible Mechanism – Infinite Fields (Blood Music) (March 31)

Belarus gives us yet another black metal-influenced death metal act, oddly featuring Dream Theater guitar synth-style guitars.  They think of themselves (or at least seem to be marketing themselves) as “progressive death metal”, but there’s two intrinsic fallacies implied therein.

First, Dream Theater is not really what I consider prog – too soft, too cheesy and John Teshlike to stand up against the likes of Fates Warning, Watchtower, Cynic, Sanctuary, et al.  And it’s very clear that guitarist and “programmer” Vladislav Nekrash and drummer Lyle Cooper bow worshipfully towards the thrones of Petrucci and Portnoy.

Secondly, listen to the album.  How much ooky-spooky Tim Burton by way of Cradle of Filth influence are you picking up?  That’s right, it’s omnipresent and ubiquitous throughout.  And all that high speed double bass drumming?  Yep, black metal again.

To be fair, the vocals are very squarely death metal, and there are elements of the sound that push outside the borders of the Dream Theater goes all CoF thing they set themselves up as otherwise, but this is either a case of utter lack of self-analysis or a borderless “neither fish nor fowl” that ill serves those who want to know what they’re getting into prior to actually giving the thing a spin and seeing if it sticks to the wall or not.

Has elements of worth, but way too scattershot musically, which ultimately doesn’t work for it.

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Corpo-Mente – S/T (Blood Music) (March 24)

Anybody out there old enough to remember Lene Lovich?

An exceedingly odd if interesting singer cum performance artist of Eastern European descent, she borrowed more than a few leaves from the Nina Hagen songbook* to deliver such musical oddities as “bird song”, “angels” and “new toy” before effectively fading into oblivion.

* in fact, the two actually recorded an animal activist benefit single together, and Hagen would go so far as recording her own version of Lovich’s “lucky number”, so this whole mutual influence thing was pretty out in the open.

But her Flex album in particular stood out, with a quirky, Hagen meets Diamanda Galas camp-operatic soprano fronting some herky jerky new wave by way of Frank Zappa rock and pop material.  Like Hagen, her music was nigh unclassifiable, but much beloved by those open to virulently individualistic artists in the vein of Klaus Nomi, Hagen and Galas.  Even Thomas Dolby (of “blinded me with science” fame) toured as part of her band, prior to his own short lived moment in the spotlight, so we’re not exactly talking obscurity here.

So here we are, 30 plus years on, and we have someone else copping very directly from the Lovich (and tangenitally thereby, Hagen) playbook, albeit without the punk meets pop band to bolster her quirky flights of fancy.

The provocatively psedonymous “Ricinn” (Laure Le Prunenec) does her very best Lene Lovich here, and veterans could certainly be forgiven for thinking the lady herself had made a long awaited return to center stage, and better yet, in prime Flex-era form.

The only problem here is a fellow named Gautier Serre, who handles the generally uber-mellow, classical meets trippy folk instrumentation throughout.  There are a few occasions where he turns the distortion up to 11 for a nasty black metallish guitar rasp, but it doesn’t fit and comes off wholly inauthentic, like you instantly know this isn’t his style – think a country musician’s idea of playing heavy metal, and you’ll get the general idea.

While Serre’s sound might work well enough with, say, a Mazzy Star reunion, “Ricinn” is in dire need of a Nina Hagen Band to place her in a proper setting – what he has to offer just ain’t it.

Disappointing.

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GosT – Behemoth (Blood music) (April 28)

Electronic dance music, reminiscent of a Nightsatan far less indebted to 80’s John Carpenter and Italian film scores.  It’s still pretty retro-80’s, but think synthesizer driven new wave ala Gary Numan, Human League, earlier Depeche Mode and Berlin, that sort of thing.

What’s odd about it is the keyboard/synth tone he adopts are so particularly overdriven and forefronted in the mix as to approximate distorted guitar tones, and yet the sound is very much dance club oriented.

If you’re a big dance music fan, this is probably the most exciting thing to happen in that (very repetitive and self-replicating, very, very dead*) scene since the late 1990s.

*trust me, an old friend is a diehard, I can’t believe the utter crap he comes by with…

For those who don’t run in those circles, it’s an interesting oddity, but wayyyy too throbbing, club-oriented and in your face for those looking for a more sparse, meditative electronic soundtrack music experience.

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VoidCeremony – Dystheism 7″ EP – Blood Harvest (May 29)

Immolation redux, but noisier, sloppier and with mediocre to lousy production.

I understand Dawn of Possession is hard to find on CD these days, so those jonesing for that album may want to check this one out to tide them over or supplement it in the collection of old school-style death metal.

I like who they’re copying; someone just needs to buy that guy a real drumset (check out the trashcan in an alley-like snare drum) and find a real producer to mix the guitars and vocals to the front, rather than leaving all that crazed-to-sloppy drumming and guitar signal bleed predominating.

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Chaos Echoes – Transient LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 20)

OK, these guys are on one of the more consistent underground black metal/blackened thrash/”war metal” oriented labels.  They market themselves as “avant garde death metal”.

And yet, neither applies.

What you do in fact get is an endless album of blend together tracks of sub-Tibetan Buddhist drone and trance, with touches of detuned, uber-slow doom and one fast black metal style track.  It’s mostly instrumental, with only occasional grumble-chanted vocals.

Death metal?  I think not.

In fact, that one aforementioned track aside, I question its status as metal per se – it’s barely music.

Abruptum lives again.  Pass.

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Black Witchery + Revenge (Canada) – Holocaustic Death March to Humanity’s Doom – split MLP/MCD  (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 15)

Another pair of North American acts, this time falling more under the particularly “war metal” focus Nuclear War Now! is known for.

USBM act Black Witchery is clearly tapping Blasphemy, with touches of Beherit and the rawer, sloppier end of Brazilian blackened thrash (think Sarcofaco, Mutilator, Chile’s Pentagram).  They dominate the split,  with three very listenable but nigh-indistinguishable tracks of raw hate.

Canada’s Revenge is going for more of a grindcore meets black metal sound, with dual tracked vocals that cover the raspy high and bowel-gurgling low ends of the spectrum ala Carcass and their ilk, but with a general sound that’s ultimately too raw and sloppy even for the noisiness of grindcore.

They even cover Bathory’s “equimanthorn”, but it’s so noisy and messy you can barely tell it’s the same song.  Yeah.  I just wrote that.  Sloppier than Bathory.

Get it for Black Witchery and consider the rest a dubious bonus.

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Kommandant – The Architects Of Extermination (ATMF) (April 27)

OK, these guys dress up like Slipknot, utilize communist propaganda imagery ala Laibach, then play…sloppy, detuned noise with oddball black metal-like vocals?

P-U.

Somebody flush that one, willya?  It’s really stinking up the place.

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 Haar – The Wayward Ceremony (ATMF)

Modern black/death metal hybrid.  Drummer is more consistent than you usually find in this unfortunate sub-subgenre, and the vocals similarly aren’t too horrible for the type.

Wayyyyy too much Watain worship for their own good.  There were elements hinting at a more promising sound buried beneath the all too familiar trappings of the now ridiculously overworked template.

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