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Whew!  With a ridiculously extended Winter (seriously…snow on March 31?) reluctantly bleeding into an unsettled, somewhat belated start to Spring, the standard ebb and flow of monthly releases appears to have slowed to a comparative trickle.  Is it a case of labels jumping the gun on the summer touring season, perhaps?

Who the hell knows, all I can say is it’s as quiet as a mausoleum this month, so expect a quicker read than usual.*  Hear that wind whistling?  A few dead leaves just blew by…

Fly the flag at half mast, it’s a ghost town out there…

* OK, OK, everyone started waking up right before the deadline, so it won’t be as skimpy as it looked when this post got started last week…

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SATYRICON – Live At The Opera (Napalm Records) (May 1)

When I saw this one show up in the list, interest was understandably piqued.  While never particularly impressed with the band (Kjetil-Vidar “Frost” Haraldstad has always been an interesting character and intense drummer, but I prefer his work with the far worthier Gorgoroth), the very concept of uniting opera and black metal offered intriguing possibilities.  And so I went into this one with rather high hopes.  Read what follows with that in mind.

What really strikes the listener with Live at the Opera is just how poorly the vocalists were integrated with the band.  Now, certainly, the use of a choral section is not only eminently suitable for the sort of dark, dramatic material Norwegian black metal is wont to proffer, but in fact serves to enhance the material by its very presence.  But the band and/or sound mixer appear to have taken zero consideration towards balancing the mix so that the chorus was right up front with the band their inclusion is supposed to add dimension to.

In point of fact, Sigurd “Satyr” Wongraven’s croaks and guitars and “Frost’s” drums are a (rather thin and hollow sounding) front and center, while the poor vocalists are relegated to burial somewhere beneath all this noise.  If their inclusion was so offhanded and cursory to the usual Satyricon setup, why bother bringing them in at all, much less recording in the setting of Den Norske Opera and titling the record “Live at the Opera”?

Early Epica…hell, even late 80’s Manowar understood the dynamics required for this sort of thing to gel so much better.  Here, the very selling point, i.e. the “symphonic” operatic renditions of standard Satyricon numbers, is directly undermined, leaving the titular “opera” little more than a barely-noticeable garnish atop a rather thin sounding Satyricon live album.

While the very (scored, intended) prominence of the choral elements makes Live at the Opera of considerably greater interest than anything Satyricon has released since the days of Nemesis Divina (if not going all the way back to Dark Medieval Times, which is in point of fact the only Satyricon album I still find myself going back to on occasion), this represents rather more of a missed opportunity, a wasted chance at creating something truly grandiose torpedoed by ego and/or a considerably poor choice in sound mix and balance between the necessarily acoustic chorus and the (in this case, rather over-)amplified instrumentation of the band itself.

Look, it’s probably the only time you’ll catch me listening to postmillenial Satyricon, and it’s unquestionably a very good idea – whoever arranged the choral parts owes some (likely unrecognized) debt to Debussy and his Nocturnes (particularly La Mer), it’s really nicely done.  But burying what matters (the choral/operatic portion) beneath what comparatively doesn’t (Satyricon’s playing) was a seriously bad choice.

I’ll give it a thumbs up for concept and general execution – they actually made Satyricon sound interesting, and that’s certainly more than I can say from prior experience of the band (it’s probably also telling that one of the two standout songs here actually hails from the aforementioned Nemesis Divina, namely “mother north” (the other being Now Diabolical’s “to the mountains”).   And yeah, I’ll be leaving this one on the iPod for future spins.  But there’s just no way I can recognize anything more than a critical fail on the final mix and sound engineering.

Nice try.  I’d say better luck next time, but as this is likely a “once in a lifetime event”, listeners just have to shake their heads in disbelief at the wasted opportunity here.

Coulda been, shoulda been…wasn’t quite.

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We Butter The Bread With Butter – Wieder Geil! (AFM Records) (May 22)

Hmm.

Well, given the band’s obviously tongue in cheek moniker, the rather amusing cover art and the general tone of the album’s photo shoot, I was assuming this to be another J.B.O. or F.K.U. – one of those bands dead set on disproving the general misapprehension that Germans just don’t have a sense of humor (a ridiculous assertion among those in the know, but a persistent one nonetheless).

So why am I listening to a Slipknot-style aggro band?

The only things I can say is that it was a bit lighter hearted than you’d expect from someone tapping into this general sound and style, with touches of melody and a vague feeling of the band winking at the listener through all this screaming, electronic noise bits and thudding neanderthal riffing, which enlivens matters somewhat and serves to raise Weider Geil! above what is (at least here in the States) a decidedly overcrowded and generally unwanted scene of nu metallers, aggro screamers and “new wave of American metal”* types.

* Killswitch Engage, with their extreme indebtedness to Slaughter of the Soul era At the Gates, represent the sole exception to the rule of unlistenability there.

Maybe in their native Germany this sound is more of a novelty, with the more particularly industrialized gothic likes of Gothminister and Megaherz probably coming closest to what is in these shores a particularly unfortunate and overused template.  But here, outside of a certain audience of non-(or faux-)metallers, mallrat teens and Midwestern methhead juggalo types?  This style is considered absolute crap.

While We Butter the Bread with Butter almost manages to make a meal consisting exclusively of braised brussel sprouts sound appealing with their more good natured and vaguely melodic leanings, it’s still one of the most unpalatable of musical genre meals they’re doing their damnedest to spruce up here, and that’s not exactly an easy task they’ve set for themselves.

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A Life Divided – Human (AFM Records) (April 28)

More of the sort of pop-punk meets industrial by way of emo thing we’d heard on The Great Escape two years back, albeit with slightly improved production.

As with The Great Escape, there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with this sound, beyond its unshakeable middle of the roadness.  It’s pleasant enough background music, in other words, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone over the age of 16 getting particularly worked up and excited about it.

If anything, A Life Divided appears to have gone even further down the path to pop with Human, eschewing much of the darkness and introspection of their last album in favor of a more radio-friendly major key sort of thing.  At times it almost approaches the sort of genre-blurred country cum pop thing favored by squares over here in the States, all Blake Shelton meets Taylor Swift by way of Rascall Flatts but without the twang and nods to all that flag wavin’ fundamentalist bible thumpin’ crap the proles eat it up for.

Truth be told, The Great Escape was a much stronger album, and far more attuned to the sort of thing both I and regular readers of Third Eye are looking for in a band, but the sad fact is that this newly “kinder, gentler” A Life Divided will probably find themselves gaining more mainstream acceptance, airplay and acclaim.

In the wild world of entertainment, it’s always a difficult choice whether to stick to some measure of artistic integrity or shoot for success among the masses, and both options fall into a decided gray area when you don’t find yourself truly locked into a particular scene, sound or point of view, which arguably a band quite this middle of the road never really did.

You’ll probably be hearing more of these guys soon, like it or not.  But are they truly “metal” any more?  And for that matter, were they ever?

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CAIN’S OFFERING – Stormcrow (Frontiers Music) (May 18)

Perhaps tellingly, Sonata Arctica‘s decline in musical fortunes after the excellent quadrilogy of Ecliptica through 2004’s Reckoning Night runs in a close parallel to the departure of guitarist Jani Liimatainen.  While it’s not a seamless break (Liimatainen was in fact present and accounted for on Kakko’s “jump the shark” album Unia), it should say something…particularly given how very (classic) Sonata Arctica the erstwhile six stringer’s new combo Cain’s Offering is.

Look, when it comes down to brass tacks, even his former act would seem to know which side of the bread the butter’s on, certainly if we’re to judge by last year’s tour with Delain and the newly revitalized Xandria, as their setlist consisted in no small part of Liimatainen-era material (which were also the songs which seemed to resonate strongest with the highly excited, singalong audience that evening).

Suffice to say, there are few real surprises to be found herein, with the same sort of upbeat, anthemic, well produced and uniformly uptempo double bass-driven power metal feel and an uncannily Tony Kakko-esque performance by vocalist Timo Kotipelto (formerly of fellow Finnish power metal powerhouses Stratovarius).  Hell, Liimatainen even manages to grab highly respected former Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johanssen for the project, though fans of his speedy harpsichordlike baroque runs will find themselves somewhat hard pressed to pick him out in the better part of the material herein.*

* “constellation of tears” and nigh-album closer “rising sun” being the only real exceptions to that rule.

If you’ve been jonesing on a long awaited return to form from the once-mighty Sonata Arctica, Cain’s Offering would appear to be the only place you’re going to get it.

So all you wolves, heed the call of the pack and follow the new leader…same as the old leader, as it were.

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AWE / VACANTFIELD / END – “Moerae” (split album) (Ill Damnation Productions) (June)

Three lengthy (15 minute plus) tracks from a trio of unrelated bands on the Greek black metal scene.  Interestingly, they’ve chosen to pull together a sort of concept album relating to the Fates of their nation’s myth.

Awe takes on “Clotho”, and they opt for a vaguely Watain by way of Dark Funeral approach, all croaking vocals, speedy drumming and dissonant arpeggiated upper string guitar.

Vacantfield ups the ante somewhat with a more Mortuus-era Marduk style “Lachesis”, which oddly incorporates some Alice in Chainsisms a few minutes in(!) Things fall apart somewhat in the midsection and there are a few too many Tribulation bits towards the end, but for the most part this is the most aggressive and to the point of the tracks herein, occasionally approaching Gaahl-era Gorgoroth in singlemindedness and driving thrust.

Finally, the appropriately monikered End give us “Atropos”, which while certainly bearing its fair measure of speedy bits, leans heavily towards chant and slower, more ambient textures (albeit ones punctuated by some very busy, often syncopated and double bass driven drums, which makes for a nice play against structure feel).

While all of the bands are very firmly situated in the general heading of “modern black metal” and bear more than their fair share of overworked Swedish black metallisms, each of the bands appears to be savvy and creative enough to work the overestablished, overused template in some interesting, even refreshing ways.

If pressed to rank the three offerings here, I’d give “Lachesis” the nod over “Atropos”, with poor “Clotho” pulling up a somewhat distant rear, but the bands are close enough stylistically to feel somewhat indistinguishable stylistically.  In effect, you could have said this was one band, and despite some obvious variations in vocals and drumming style, I wouldn’t have been overly shocked to hear it.

Not bad at all, and worth a listen for fans of the modern Greek or Swedish black metal sound.

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Pohjoinen – S/T (Inverse Records) (April 10)

Stoner doom with psychedelic touches.  Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss is the most obvious influence here, though there are moments that actually approach death metal-era Entombed (“kuolema”), Sabbath (“joki”), Monster Magnet (“luovuttaja”) and even The New Black (“kulkuri”), so it’s clear these guys know their history (even a bit outside the strictures of established subgenre).

Good stuff, more than listenable and has the courage to experiment with tempo and at least elements of style. I liked this one a lot.

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Whorion – The Reign Of The 7th Sector (Inverse Records) (April 27)

OK, these guys openly refer to themselves as “technical” death metal, occasionally referred to as “progressive” or even “math metal”, so you know you’re in trouble.

That said, what they actually have to offer is far less annoying than many such bands tend to be, often pulling in some odd symphonic keyboard touches, like some ersatz take on Total Fucking Darkness-era Cradle of Filth (check out “when the moon bled”, and if you don’t walk away thinking it’s CoF crossed with, say, Crimson Moonlight…)

There are still those silly amusical noodling guitar runs to reckon with (how very Dream Theater of them) and plenty of post-Morbid Angel/Death circa Human-style stutter stops and meter changes, but Whorion bears a whole hell of a lot more of a melodic base than, say, post-Considered Dead Gorguts, Atheist, Suffocation or any number of lousy bands that followed in their wake in the mid to late 90’s and beyond.  The keyboards help smooth out the rough edges even further, almost pulling the band into Mors Principium Est territory (albeit a version with a very spastic guitarist – Mors collaborating with Bumblefoot, perhaps?).

Normally speaking, just having to write the words “technical”, “progressive” or “math” in a sentence would be an instant kiss of death – I despise this rather contrived subgenre as a rule, making exceptions for markedly few early-origin acts (if you expand matters out to encompass such bands as Forgotten Goddess-era Echoes of Eternity, Fates Warning through Parallels, Queensryche through Rage for Order, Watchtower or Refuge Denied-era Sanctuary).

But for all that, Whorion manage to craft an unusually listenable, even somewhat melodic variant on the template, and for that if nothing else, I’ll be leaving them on the iPod for future spins. Due respect.

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My Grimace – Grim Serenades (inverse Records) (May 8)

OK, it’s starting to sound like there’s a new movement in the making this month.

Yet another band who adopts the trappings of the much-hated aggro scene (belch-screams, stop-start detuned neanderthal riffing) but somewhat contrarily opts to pull in elements of more melodic and musically accomplished scenes such as emo and “modern”/darkwave metal.

There’s even Cradle of Filthlike symphonic black/gothic metal bits (as becomes quite apparent in “dire need” and “abandon all…”) enlivening the mix, and a few Killswitchisms (as in “drink of death”) that keep My Grimace feeling quite modern, in the best sense, and a very accomplished dual guitar front from Juha Kumpulainen and Aleksi Salojarvi and some driving, fairly syncopated drumming from Roope Salminen make these Grim Serenades often downright palatable.

In fact, if it weren’t for the lousy vocals and the aggro trappings, this would be a very good modern metal album.  As it is, it pulls in many of the right pieces, but never quite coalesces into a cohesive whole – a sort of fashionably dressed, well mannnered Frankenstein’s monster whose hideous, poorly stitched on head gives the game away.

Damn close, but with those vocals and the Panteraesque neanderthal bits?  Look, it’s a definite almost.  But no cigar.

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Curse Upon A Prayer – Rotten Tongues  (Inverse Records) (June 12)

Another one of those Swedish-style black metal bands in death metal clothing (or is it the reverse?)

Really generic, very belch-screamo dual vocals that are mixed to overdriven levels. Somewhere buried behind them are noisy black metallesque guitars and hissy, rather tiny-sounding blastbeat drums and cymbal crashes.

For more than their fair portion of the tracklist, they switch over to a rather different format wherein the guy just croaks or whispers and the band plays it cool with wide open spaces and a slower tempo, somewhat akin to what Gaahl and King brought to Gorgoroth (and later God Seed).  As I prefer Hat and Pest’s iterations of that band by leagues and fathoms, this isn’t exactly a compliment, but there you have it nonetheless.

It’s not awful, but neither is it essential, or even of particular interest.  Just another reasonably generic black(-ish) metal band to clutter the shelves of the genre diehard.

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Autokrator – S/T (Iron Bonehead) (May 29)

French industrial noise band with tin can-sounding blastbeat drumming buried in the back and signal bleed distortion death metal crunch guitars up front. Vocals are all reverb-happy ala Zom and their ilk, but this is some very, very samey stuff. It’s actually questionable whether there are even riffs being played, it’s more like one long noisy drone throughout.

Hold your nose and move along quickly while passing, so the stench doesn’t overwhelm you.

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Possession (Belgium) – 1585-1646 (Iron Bonehead/Invictus) (June 5)

These guys, on the other hand, keep going from strength to strength.  Following 2013’s His Best Deceit with the excellent Anneliese single, they continue to sharpen their blades and up their game with 1585-1646, which follows a witch through her initiation to her demise at the hands of the inquisition in the course of its four all too brief tracks.

Yet another improvement in terms of production, this one continues to show the Belgians stepping up to the plate with plenty of energy and aggression if not necessarily chops (the band has always been fairly simplistic and straightforward in approach – we aren’t exactly talking prog here), and the clean mix actually shows instrument separation during the few quiet moments (as during “ablaze”, for one example).

While it’s still rather a noisy beast, the Possession machine continues to grind away with welcome regularity, offering one poisoned treat after another.  Looking forward to what they come out with next.

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Antiversum – Total Vacuum (Invictus Productions) (April 20)

The Swiss version of Zom, more or less. Absurd levels of cavernous reverb on the vocals, which utterly predominate the mix so that some hollow sounding, nigh-tube amp guitars and tinny blastbeat drums sound like children playing off in the distance beneath them.

It’s not as pointless, detuned or atonal as Abruptum, but they’re definitely playing in that ballpark. One would presume that falling into a black hole (as the cover seems to indicate is what will happen to the prospective buyer’s cash) would produce a far more dramatic effect than Antiversum offers herein.

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Goatlord – Demo ’87/Rehearsal ’88 DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)
Goatlord – Sodomize the Goat DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)
Goatlord – The Last Sodomy of Mary LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)
Goatlord – Reflections of the Solstice LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

Nuclear War Now! recognizes an important link between black, doom and sludge metal with their reissue of the entire back catalog of Las Vegas’ one and only Goatlord.

Now, Third Eye regulars are likely well aware of my love of this band and their decidedly evil-sounding, DIY and extremely underground aesthetic, to the point where I actually managed to dig up vocalist Ace Still (also of the similarly minded, albeit somewhat more psychedelically inclined Doom Snake Cult) for an interview on the podcast a few years back, so I refer interested readers to that show for further details.

For the purposes of this review, suffice to say that NWN appears to have cleaned up the (rather rough sounding) prior releases of this same material on the earlier Distorted Birth demo comp.  In fact, this remastering appears to hold pretty much across the board, with even the most sludgy and basement recorded of these sounding much superior to the versions I’d been familiar with previously.

Interestingly, the label eschews the all-demos approach of Distorted Birth in favor of giving Sodomize the Goat its own release, while the ’87 demo finds itself appended by a lengthy (and surprisingly similar quality) rehearsal from the subsequent year.  The rather iffy, generally post-Still Last Sodomy of Mary and the original European version of the self titled (Reflections of the Solstice) are effectively retained “as is”, bar a change in track order (“chicken dance” gets shuffled to an earlier slot on Reflections).

Those looking for the alternate versions found on the domestic self titled (namely Chris Gans’ shot at glory on “voodoo mass” and a reworked, more atmospheric take on “chicken dance”) can find them packaged with the ’87 demo, and they even managed to recreate an extended studio version of “the fog” on Sodomize the Goat, so you’re pretty safe in considering this batch of releases the last word on the history of Goatlord.

My only unfulfilled wish here is that they’d have packaged it all together as a box set, using the far more evocative and eerie cover for the self titled…

An easy thumbs up, and highly recommended for fans of black metal, blackened thrash, doom metal and dark psychedelic sludge.  One of my favorite obscurities from back in the day gets another evening under the cruel light of a burning moon…and does not come up wanting.  Hails.

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Embrace of Thorns – Darkness Inpenetratable LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (April 13)

Look, they open on a quote from Xe do Caixao (that’s Coffin Joe to all you Something Weird fans), so they already got on my good side.  Let’s see how things pan out from there.

Well, they certainly tap into the Watain vibe (check out “sons of fire & brimstone” and you’ll hear it immediately), but these guys are far more aggro.  Think Watain crossed with Marduk, but a dash more underground…perhaps a Brazilian version thereof?  But nope, they’re from Greece, ostensibly noted as one of the more “seriously satanic” scenes.

What this means to you is that they freely talk about such things as “my hermetic quest…” and calling out the name of Crowley’s Liber al vel Legis co-author (whom his later diaries identify as the archdemon of all such), though it’s still kind of hard to take at face value…particularly given other titles such as “the antipodes of chastity” (huh huh…he made a sex joke), “erect bloodstained totems” (arguably another one, huh huh) and the garbled arcane philosophizing of “I die therefore I exist” (…just…never mind.)

Did I mention they go by such amusing pseudonyms as “Archfiend DevilPig” (call me Jody!) and “Herald of Demonic Pestilence” (come on, now, stifle that giggle)?

So occultic pretensions aside, we’re left with the music, which as noted above, is a more violently aggressive and speedy take on the modern Swedish black metal sound.  It’s not bad, there are certainly less accomplished bands by the dozen jumping on the copycat train (enough. Watain. already.), and it’s worth a listen or two, but with a sound this generic, Darkness may be Impenetrable, but it’s unlikely to make its way into ongoing rotation.

meh.

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Sect Pig – Self Reversed MLP/MCD (Nuclear War Now!) (May 1)

The fact that they voluntarily compare themselves to Von should say it all. Some audio clips from suicidal self-cutters, a serial killer and a lengthy lecture from a British symposium on the subject of serial killers “enliven” the mix (or more accurately, take up the better part of the running time).

Did I mention they derive their name from the hog snort/puke ‘vocal’ style?  Yeah, seriously.  Hatebeak and Caninus have nothing on this…oh, wait, those were gimmick bands, using actual parrots and dogs.

Pretty much a noisy mess, probably too asinine and banal for even diehard grindcore aficionados.

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Tyrant Goatgaldrakona – Horns in the Dark LP (Blood Harvest) (June 12)

Hungarian death metal in a vaguely “modern” (read: post-1993) style, all overdriven belch-vomit vox, relentless triggered double bass and blastbeats and sloppy guitars marked by pronounced signal bleed.  I doubt the mix leaves the red zone at any point, even when things slow down to a lumbering crawl.

That said, it’s traditional enough in feel to be listenable – just keep in mind we’re hardly talking early 90’s, name studio, well produced and comparatively catchy death metal here.  This is background music, probably works well on a long late night drive.

Someone compared them to Incantation, and I guess that’s not incredibly far off the mark, though Tyrant Goatgalrakona is one hell of a lot more likeable and memorable than those clowns ever were (I mainly recall Incantation standing out for John McIntee’s gurgling stomach acid belches as opposed to any distinct riffs, much less songs).

Yeah, I liked this one.

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Maleficence – Journey to the Depths TAPE (Blood Harvest) (May 11)

OK, see if you can follow me on this one. If you take Colombia’s Witchtrap (themselves an effective homage to the glory days of Teutonic and Brazilian blackened thrash acts such as Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and Sepultura), throw in elements reminiscent of Nihilist (pre-Entombed) or even early Dismember, then give the whole thing a black metal spin, you might wind up with something along the lines of Maleficence.

Like a more thrash-ized take on Necrophobic, Centurian or even earlier Desaster, these Belgians relentlessly blaze their way through some tremelo riff punctuated, nigh speed metal offerings, while never losing sight of the first wave black metal cum primitive thrash aesthetic.  They make now-uncommon use of controlled feedback (think Reign in Blood-era Slayer) and keep things moving along at a breakneck pace throughout.

Double horns up for the distinctly old school vibe.

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Ascended Dead – The Advent TAPE (Blood Harvest) (May 11)

San Diego blackened death metallers deliver a hyperaggressive, ultra-lo fi underproduced slab of near-chaos. What’s interesting is that these appear to have been recorded under different circumstances: opener “the promised time” is as raw-yet-crisp as one of my old band’s basement rehearsal jam sessions, and in fact appears to be a more instrumentally driven piece, with occasional (nigh-literal) belches serving for the vocal end.  For this very reason, its intimacy and directness and DIY attitude, I liked that track a lot.

From what appears to be the same session comes the far noisier and sloppier “perdition” and the slightly more controlled “dawn of armageddon”, but it isn’t until the (more well practiced?) fourth track “mortification of souls” that we return to anything approaching the promise and feel of the opener.

Then another session picks up, simultaneously cleaner (i.e. it appears to have been recorded at an actual studio session) and muddier (i.e. all the crisp edges have been muted and buried under a blanket) with “emanation from below” and “arcane malevolence”).

As you can see, it’s a pretty mixed bag, even within a given session. While the rehearsal-level quality of it would seem to have granted forgiveness to many sins we found in their last release (see our earlier review), it’s still something of a judgment call.  Do we give the nod for “the promised time” and possibly “emanation from below”?  Or do we give it the brushoff based on the sloppiness and pronounced all over signal bleed of the (lack of) production and lack of coherence even between a given session?

I’ll be nice and give this one the nod – it certainly didn’t strike me anywhere nearly as bizarre or off kilter as Arcane Malevolence had, and something about the first track actually left me feeling nostalgic for my own days in the trenches. Worth a listen.

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Undead – False Prophecies (Listenable) (May 12)

Holy crap, when these guys said they wanted to do old school style death metal, they weren’t bullshitting.  I haven’t heard a band ape Scream Bloody Gore/Leprosy/arguably Spiritual Healing-era Death since…like, ever.  But here it is, dead on Chuck Schuldiner riffing, with a frighteningly approximate take on Pestilence/Asphyx the Rack-era Martin Van Drunen on vocals.

Then you get dual lead guitar lines very much in the vein of Chuck and James Murphy on Spiritual Healing – sadly, no nods to Rick Rozz-style whammy bar wankery, which would have made this a really nice package deal.  Then there’s a few Pestilence riffs tossed into the mix.

They claim allegiance to and influence from several other classic death metal bands in the promo materials (Possessed, Morbid Angel, Obituary and Celtic Frost all get name checked), but absolutely zero of those are in evidence.  This is 100% a classic Death tribute band, with elements of Pestilence (or perhaps even Asphyx) creeping into not only the vocals (which is a definite) but the riffing and solos (which is more subtle and arguable).  Not even a hint or whisper of the other bands here, kids.

Look, everyone loves and owes allegiance to the mighty Death.  Members went on to form (or cycled in and out of) such top notch bands as Massacre, Obituary, Autopsy and Cynic (and effectively, Cancer), not to mention such non-death metal acts as Sadus, King Diamond and Testament.  Chuck, Rick Rozz and Kam Lee were there before anyone else bar Possessed, and whether they fall more under the header of “forefathers of death or black metal” is debatable.  Riefert and Murphy followed soon after, and even the entire band of Massacre (bar former Mantas drummer/vocalist Kam Lee) rotated (back) in and out of Death for Leprosy.

They were big, they were influential, they started a scene both musically and in terms of location (and just how many death metal bands flocked to Tampa Florida to record at the mighty Morrisound Studios under Scott and Randy Burns in imitation thereof, much less the many who relocated down there permanently thereafter?).  So what’s surprising here isn’t that Undead chose to do a fairly exclusive, if rather dead on imitation of the legendary Death, but that nobody else bothered to try until this time…

They’ve got the riffing down. They’ve got the quirky Chuck Schuldiner soloing style down.  They’ve got…well, Martin Van Drunen’s vocal style pretty well in hand.  And dammit if they didn’t get that crappy clean but marred by scratchy distortion and high end bleed all over the mix Randy Burns production down pat as well.

Could this be any more authentic, bar bringing a string of original members together for an effective tribute record?  Fuck, no.  Five stars.

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Vargnatt – Grausammler (Eisenwald) (March 29)

OK, these folks say they were influenced by black metal trilogy-era Ulver, and it’s quite apparent. While they never even attempt the clean chanting vocals of Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg and or the strong medieval folk pieces that made those albums so special, they do tap into the same melodic lead line driven black metal riffing the earlier band was prone towards.  They even occasionally slow things down for some acoustic guitar, and for some reason, guitarist/vocalist “Evae” actually adopts some mellow variant of the Varg Vikernes school of shrieking throughout.

It’s seldom approximate to Bergtatt, never in the slightest like Kveldssanger and only superficially like Nattens Madrigal, much less early Burzum.  The aggression just isn’t there, there’s no crazed pain or drive.

But if you can accept some of the form without the substance that shapes it, Vargnatt may scratch an itch for the days when Norwegian black metal was worth paying attention to – albeit through a much calmer, more reasoned and mellow Teutonic filter.

Not bad at all.

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Sterbhaus – Necrostabbing the Corpsefinder (Single) (Black Lodge Records) (April 1)
Sterbhaus – New Level of Malevolence (Black Lodge Records) (May 29)

A reasonably modern sounding death metal (albeit thankfully one without those annoying Watainesque “blackened” overtones) driven by a hyperactive drummer whose snare is over-miced.

The end result is that you get to hear everything he’s doing, which can be a real plus (the man really likes to work the turnarounds and change the meter – there’s more twists and turns on the percussion end within the first two minutes of the album than some bands manage in an entire EP!).  The only downside is that he often pulls things back to a two-beat between drum and snare, or even a stiff blastbeat-style POUND POUND POUND POUND in 4/4, on solo snare!  Sure, it breaks things up, but what a profoundly annoying technique, much less so forefronted in the mix…

But the bottom line is, the guy is damn good, so this is generally speaking a decided plus.  This guy is definitely more prog than blastbeat, which gives him a definite thumbs up in my book – plus I’m given to understand that the drums were actually recorded acoustically, without triggers and studio wankery!  Nice job.

Third track “necrostabbing…” was chosen as the single, but personally I’d have gone for the more lighthearted nudge at the pretensions of the “seriously satanic” members of the black metal scene “et giftus satanus”, told from the perspective of a skeleton, if I was hearing it all right (LOL!)  In fact, the band does seem to possess a distinctly German/Austrian style sense of humor, which is a bit odd given their Swedish point of origin, but which displays itself all over the album’s
lyrics.

Vocals are snarl-raspy to the point where they’re a bit hard to take – think Demolition Hammer meets Dani Filth and you’ll get the idea – and guitars are acceptable, but with a riffing style falling somewhere between “technical thrash” and pre-Sony Cradle of Filth, for better or worse.

If you can get past the vocals and the two beat/blastbeat phrases on the drums, it’s very listenable and has merit for those in the mood for something a bit more modern than usual.

Just give ’em a listen before diving in – those vocals may shut things down right off the bat.

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DEMONICAL – Black Flesh Redemption (Agonia Records) (April 24)

Well, the guitars say Sunlight Studios, with a distinct Entombed/Dismember/Unleashed/Grave tonality and plenty of stolen…er…old school inspired riffs from the Swedish death metal school.

The vocals aren’t too far off the beam, being somewhat reminiscent of Nicke Anderssen on Clandestine crossed with Johnny Hedlund, so the only issue here is the lousy recording, which shoves everything way up into the treble range, with so much hiss and bleed you’ll be sure to have a headache before the first track ends.  Guess Tomas Skogsberg wasn’t in town…

They’ve got all the right influences, and generally speaking, the right sound.  Now if they’d only get themselves a real producer, instead of letting the vocalist do it!

Seriously.  Not the guitarist.  The fucking vocalist.  And you wonder why the production blows?

Good stuff, but be prepared to pop an Advil or two.

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HYPOTHERMIA – Svartkonst (Agonia Records) (May 15)

Like some weird cross between Sono Morti and Chris Isaak, this trio of ostensible “black metal rockers” (which includes former Lifelover guitarist Kim Carlsson) drops a quintet of deliberate, consistently midtempo instrumental tracks that cross the detuned/alternate tuned jangliness of Sonic Youth with a feeling of wide open space more akin to rockabilly and surf music.

There are hints of what appear to be lazy saxophone, which are apparently really some electrified and presumably detuned violin, though you’d be hard pressed to hear the likes of Jean Luc Ponty, much less Pinchas Zukerman and Jascha Heifitz in these single note bass string drones.

There’s precious little variation from track to track, making this one long, aimless piece split into five parts, but yet and still there’s something grim and compelling about it.  It’s atmospheric background music to the worst night of your life, essentially.  Girlfriend dump you, don’t have money to cover the rent, seriously drunk and in trouble with the cops all on the same night?  Here, play this!

Trancey ambient music for the seriously depressive.  Inessential, but I kinda liked it.

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Hard Action – Sinister Vibes (Svart Records) (June 12)

Finnish hard rock/heavy metal crossover act, who we gave a decided thumbs up to the debut 7″ of back in October.  Think somewhere between classic NWOBHM and the more uptempo of the Hollywood tattooed junkie metal scene, or as we described it last time around, a cross between the Dead Boys and Motorhead.

The guitarist is dead on, with the sort of unexpected legato flash you get with players like Bon Scott-era Angus Young, Fast Eddie Clarke and Cheetah Chrome – too aggressively metal for the boring rock crowd, too accomplished and flashy for the punk scene, but not as stiff, dull and wankery-prone as far too many metal players tend towards, especially in the more soulless, amelodic scene nowadays.

In other words, absolutely perfect.

Vocals are unexpectedly clean, a sort of nasal, forceful baritone with drums totally steady if generally unspectacular – think a busier, more adrenalized take on players like Charlie Watts or Phil Rudd.  That said, he pulls off a little break during “cut to the bone” that calls stronger players like Kim Ruzz or Clive Burr to mind – nice stuff.

I already really liked these guys, this is just another layer of icing on the cake.

If you’re ready to leave the nursery and start playing with the big boys, Hard Action will help show you what real men play like.

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The Exploding Eyes Orchestra – I (Svart Records) (June 12)

OK, if more than 3/4 of your band defects to a new “side project”, shouldn’t you start to get a bit concerned?

Generally unimpressive “occult rockers” Jess and the Ancient Ones are in that very situation, with guitarist Thomas “Corpse” and four of the remaining six members defecting to a similar, and in the case of one track, far superior act, going by the odd moniker of The Exploding Eyes Orchestra.

Right off the bat, you know we’re playing in different territory, with “the smoke” offering a surprising cross between Eldritch Dark-era Blood Ceremony, Coven and the late, much lamented The Devil’s Blood – in other words, the real “occult rock” “Corpse’s” other band never actually managed to get a handle on.

But then things get strange, taking a hard right turn directly into Starbucks rotation alterna-rock territory with the dirgelike “crazy heart” and the balladeering of “my father the wolf” and “drawing down the west”, which seem to tap more into Mazzy Star meets The Cranberries by way of The Cardigans.  Say huh?!?

There’s a bit more of an aggressive edge to “two-zero 13”, but then it’s back to Mazzy Star and company for “black hound” and closer “farewell to all-in-one”.  Then the album ends.

So what happened here? If we’re to judge by “the smoke”, I’d be praising these guys to high heaven – look, they finally figured it out.  This is what Jess and the Ancient Ones seemed to have no real clue about, delivered at last.  A worthy successor to Farida Lemouchi at last?  Well, not quite, but it’s definitely playing in the right ballpark.

But then it all goes right to shit.

If you can grab the individual mp3 for “the smoke”, by all means do so, it’s absolutely killer.

The rest of the album?  Yeah, well…forget they recorded anything else, unless you’re a latte sipping hipster (in which case, why the hell are you even reading these monthly roundups?)

One track of pure gold amidst a septic tank’s worth of alterna-crap.

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Forndom – Flykt (Nordvis Produktion) (June 19)

One man band from Sweden. He likes to play in the folk/ambient arena, all new age keyboards and droning vocals, much akin to the sort of thing Projekt Records focuses on nowadays.

Darkwave ambient folk with pagan trappings. You may pick up a few Dungeons and Dragons-style elements in there, making it ideal as background music for your next tabletop session.

Not bad for what it is, if a bit pointless.

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The Alfas – Day After Day (Wild Kingdom) (May 29)

OK, a Tom Petty meets Lindsay Buckingham type, all whiny, pained vocals and late 70’s/early 80’s stripped down rock guitar, produced by…wait a minute…does that say FRED ESTBY of CARNAGE and DISMEMBER?!?!  WTF?!?

The promo materials mention Big Brother and the Holding Company, and that influence does appear somewhat in the thin, ratty guitar tone and main solo section on “I’m leaving you”, but there’s more of a Mark Farmer Grand Funk Railroad thing going on, with the aforementioned Petty/Buckingham
thing particularly noticeable on opener “day after day”.

It’s a bit odd to hear this guy getting quite so worked up within such a long out of date musical format, but definitely fits in with the 70’s retro thing bands like Sammal and The Golden Grass are working so successfully.  I liked it well enough, and aesthetic kudos for the Davy Vain meets Jimi Hendrix floppy hat thing they’ve got going on.

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APOLLO RA – Ra Pariah CD/LP (No Remorse Records) (April 25)

Here’s a weird reissue.

Apparently this is a US based metal band who self-released back in 1989, but never scored an actual label deal. So unless you had the cassette tape, you join me in never having heard of these guys.

OK, the music.  Think Jason McMaster from Watchtower and Dangerous Toys fronting…let’s say Omen meets Obsession, but with a far more Los Angeles Sunset Strip sensibility.

This is the sort of band that was ubiquitous at the time (or at least a year or two prior – by ’89, far too many bands had dropped their metal membership cards to jump on the GN’R bandwagon) – strip bar regulars, house bands at The Whisky, the Roxy or Gazzari’s – you know, Masi, London, Saraya, that sort of sound.

Me, I loved all that shit, so much that I was ready to pack my bags and head out cross country in search of fame and fortune.  But times changed quickly, and so did the music scene – first the tattooed faux-“hard rock” thing aforementioned, then grunge spelled the end of hundreds of careers for a full decade or more.  Hell, despite increasing respect in certain corners of a growing underground, metal is still looked at askance here in the States, if not as openly laughed at as it was during those dark days of the 1990s…

Anyway, point is, this one’s right up my alley.  This is the sort of band you’d catch at local clubs and dive bars out this way (if you were lucky), and who were absolutely ubiquitous out Hollywood way.  The guitars are good and strong, with traditionalist riffing, reasonably flashy if somewhat workmanlike solos and piercing high-range vocals.  They were probably trying to be a heavier Motley Crue, but come off more along the lines of Omen, Malice or Obsession due to the stronger influence of NWOBHM and classic metal over glam.

Looks like one of the guitarists and the bassist are no longer with us, so put this one on the turntable and raise a toast to the glory days of metal.

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MENDES PREY – The Never Ending Road CD/DLP (No Remorse Records) (April 25)

Speaking of obscure NWOBHM acts, here’s some Yorkshire lads who deliver a bit more than their hometown specialty pudding. Like many of the less celebrated bands of the style, these guys are fairly mellow, falling arguably somewhere between Gaskin and Blitzkrieg stylistically.

While guitarists Mark Sutcliffe and Steve Holt are both quite good, they never attain the jaw dropping majesty of Praying Mantis, Satan or Diamond Head, nor do they bring the driving aggression of acts like Sweet Savage, Tygers of Pan Tang or Angel Witch.  They don’t bear the quirkiness of Hell or Bruce Dickinson-era Samson, are nowhere nearly as polished as Def Leppard or Judas Priest and lack the punk edge of Di’Anno-era Maiden, Motorhead and Girlschool or the
Sabbathisms of Witchfinder General.

ultimately, Mendes Prey fall into more of a no man’s land occupied by the likes of Fist, Holocaust or the aforementioned Gaskin and Blitzkrieg – nothing here is as catchy as what similarly midlevel acts as Grim Reaper or Saxon were capable of, and while The Never Ending Road comes as a really nice discovery which I’m glad to see in general release here in 2015, it just doesn’t have that special something that makes most of the aforementioned bands stand out, at least in their glory days between 1979 and 1982 or thereabouts.

Don’t let the comparisons above throw ya, I really liked this one, it’s catchy, the clean nigh-baritone vocals are a nice touch, and the dual guitars are pretty damn sweet.

It’s just no mystery why they never really got their due, given the competition.

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Master Massive – The Pendulum (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (June 5)

Straight from 1993 comes a “metal opera”. Hoo boy. I know how well these things tend to go – check out our review of Jorn Lande’s Dracula thing a few months back for a general idea.

But let’s give it a spin, who knows, they might surprise me.

Well, let’s see, there are two folks from Therion and one guy who replaced the vocalist/bassist in Leviticus (of all bands), that sounds bizarre enough to be interesting.  What next, Chris Impelliteri joins forces with members of Tribulation and Vintersorg?

OK, this just goes on and on…and on.

Yep, it’s metal alright, and less modern/power metallized than you might expect from this sort of project, though it still carries the expected boredom factor.  The lead guitars from vocalist/guitarist/project leader Jan Strandh are surprisingly decent and actually have some character – there’s even some Joey de Maioisms to the bass work from Max Warnby.  So those are pluses, right?

(sigh)

Look, it’s no secret to Third Eye regulars that with few exceptions, I’m no real fan of prog, tend to find power metal fairly boring and find the words “opera” and either “rock” or “metal” to be inimical to each other’s company.

Not that it isn’t a nice idea…just that outside of accomplished female vocalists of operatic bent and stuff like The Phantom Agony where they pull a choir or chamber group in to collaborate with a band savvy enough to work out a proper mix, it just never works.

Worst of all are the guys who eschew cross genre efforts at bringing symphonic or operatic elements in to enhance or alter their usual band dynamic, but try to write a bad play…I mean Broadway show...er, “opera”, where they tell some goofy story set to meandering swatches of music that seldom coalesce into proper songs.

Right from the damn Who and those talentless schlubs Pink Floyd foisting dogshit like Tommy, Quadrophenia and The Wall on an unsuspecting public in place of their usual snooze inducing material, it was a bad idea whose time came and went sometime in the declasse days of the mid to late 70’s and very early 80’s.

Allow me to reiterate, in case I wasn’t being crystal clear.

It never. works. 

Now, to compare The Pendulum to the likes of that Dracula thing…well, at least some of the riffing and playing sounds a bit more King Diamondlike here.  Sorta.

But make no mistake. “Rock” or “Metal”?  Should never be in the same sentence as “Opera”.

Case in point.

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The Ugly – Decreation (VICISOLUM PRODUCTIONS) (June 5)

Swedish black metal.  You know the drill.  A heaping helping of Watain, more than a few shakes of Marduk, maybe a jigger of Dark Funeral, and you’re done.  Instant clone!  uh, I mean modern black metal act.  Sorry, slip of the tongue there.

At least these guys actually recruited Marduk’s Magnus Devo Andersson as producer, so they have an excuse for sounding exactly like their obvious template.

Except for three midtempo tracks in the middle, it’s uniformly fast paced and fairly well produced, albeit prone to high end bleed and trebly hiss with all those nonstop tremelo riffs, blastbeats, cymbal crashes and snarls.

The plus here is that they (understandably, given who they’re working with here) fall far closer to the Marduk side of the equation than the usual Watain one.  Otherwise, it’s just another Marduk album with a different band name slapped on the cover.

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FORGOTTEN HORROR – Aeon of the Shadow Goddess (Woodcut Records) (June 19th)

Tuomas Karhunen of Deathchain and Jess and the Ancient Ones (and who knows, possibly The Exploding Eyes Orchestra as well) drops another slab of modern “blackened death metal” on the listener.

It’s not as exciting as Death Gods, but it’s still playing into a similar template.  Calling it “black metal” is a bit of a stretch, despite a slightly more snarling vocal approach and more tremelo driven riffing – this is one of those rare occasions where in place of black metal acts posing as death metal bands, we have a death metal band pretending to be a black metal band.  There’s just too much about the sound, feel and approach here, from machine gun stutter guitars and forefronted guitar solos to the production and mix style that screams “(modern) death metal”.

There’s nothing particularly standout about this release, though it’s well produced and bears some of the Deathchain approach, which means it’s quite listenable.  I guess if Demolition Hammer went black metal instead of thrash gone death metal, they’d sound a whole hell of a lot like Forgotten Horror.

Fair enough, definitely very listenable and worth a spin or two, but didn’t exactly set me on fire either.

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