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I don’t know if it’s the onset of warmer summer weather, but suddenly releases are popping up out of the woodwork.  You can hardly blink for another pair of albums, EPs or singles coming in…and even more unusually, the bulk of them are really quite good.

So don’t get the misapprehension that we’ve suddenly gone soft here at Third Eye…it’s just a (sadly rare) case of a whole lot of folks stepping up to the plate and doing their damnedest to bat one out of the park.  Sure, there are a few grounders and a fly ball or two, but at least they’re not bunting…

Without any further ado, let’s get into what will probably be the most generally positive month of reviews you’ve encountered to date…and for those who don’t like to hear that, hey, I’m sure the usual big load of crap will resume next month!*

* Don’t take me up on that, guys…it was nice having such a good batch of releases for a change…

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Midnight Eternal – When Love and Faith Collide/Masquerade of Lies (single) (self released)

Kicking things off this month, we have an (at the time) brand spanking new local gothic metal band who we were introduced to when we caught them at the infamous Mexicali Blues…er, ‘Live’ on the Delain/Xandria tour, Midnight Eternal managed to impress with their makeshift “the show must go on” set the venue’s limitations imposed on them.

The entire sad story can be read here, but suffice to say that Trollfest was sufficiently unimpressed with the place as to leave it off of their tour DVD that came with Kaptein Kaos…oh, no, they were never at that venue

Despite all the chaos (and absurd cannon fire-level drum mic’ing that managed to drown out just about every band playing that evening), the band managed to put on a tight (in more than one sense!) set that still stuck in the memory, with the best drumming of the four bands that evening, a high standard of keyboard and guitar work, and a likeable frontwoman who did her damnedest to shimmy while crammed between three guys and a drumset, literally elbow to elbow.

So flash forward a few months, and here we are, talking their advance single (both songs will eventually appear on their upcoming debut album), and I’m happy to say, the light of day (and far more ideal sonic conditions) do not disappoint.

The lead song is far more traditional, actually reminding me of my goth days proper more than any bastardized “gothic metal” iterations thereof in tapping into something of a Die Laughing feel before the vocals arrive and the song kicks into high gear.  Afterwards, it’s more of a propulsive double bass drumming and keyboard heavy gothic meets prog metal affair, with a quick Boris Zaks keyboard solo in the vein of early Magica giving way to a quick if flashy guitar lead from Richard Fischer.  Throughout the entire solo section, drummer Daniel Prestup does his damnedest to make this reviewer’s mouth drop and head shake in admiration at his syncopation and rapid fire, jazz fusionesque mastery of meter and the art of the turnaround.  Seriously, like I said in the concert review, this son of a bitch can play.

Look, Mike LePond of Symphony X has recorded with them and occasionally drops in for a show or two (case in point), so you know this isn’t your everyday gothic metal band – the sheer chops alone should tell you that.  And more of an indicator? They’re good enough not to flash it around 24/7.  You actually think you’re listening to a decent everyday band in the style, then all of a sudden, they drop a bit of (musical) knowledge on ya, BAM!  There are no slouches here, that’s for sure.

The B-side may actually be better, in the sense of pure songcraft: this is the radio friendly number, where it’s all about being catchy and melodic.  Vocalist Raine Hilal shines here, doubling herself for some really nice harmony sections later in the song, and Fischer lets his neoclassical leanings show for another quick but impressive solo, but overall the band reins things in to let the song itself (and Hilal’s vox) take center stage.

Now, you know me, I come from the jazz school of thought and performace, and expect that every song will give each member a few bars to “blow” as it were, and show off their shit, or dammit, it just ain’t a song.  But I also know that the average listener is not a musician, and all they want is a catchy melody to hum along to in the car – and “masquerade of lies” is nothing if not that.

These guys only came together a year ago, and already have a sound this well defined and accomplished?  Uh, yeah, how fast can you get me a copy of that debut album?

We’ve often found some killer, unfamiliar bands opening for more “name” acts, and some even managed to blow the headliners off the stage (Leaves Eyes opening for Kamelot, the Melissa Ferlaak/Wolfgang Koch Trinity era of Visions of Atlantis opening for Epica).  But for the band to actually be local?  Un-fucking-heard of.

Midnight Eternal’s single comes with the highest of recommendations to gothic metallers, and displays some definite crossover appeal to both the progressive and old school gothic rock crowds as well.  Thumbs way up.

As an addendum, and you know I don’t normally do this, but the band requested I post the link to their new video as well, so you can check that out here:

For those who’d like to check out the band and single, here’s a whole lot of links to reach them through:

https://www.midnighteternal.com
https://www.facebook.com/MidnightEternal
https://twitter.com/MidnightEternal
https://www.youtube.com/midnighteternalmusic
https://instagram.com/midnighteternalmusic/

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Pink Carnage – S/T EP (self released)

Next up, we have a self-release from one of our pals up North.  Yes, we’re taking another trip across the border to the Great White North for an unorthodox grindcore EP from one man band Pink Carnage.

Run by a Chris McDonald, who clearly knows his kitwork and can throw down a grind-level guitar riff as well, Pink Carnage straddles the messier end of death metal with a distinct punk vibe (check out the vocal approach on “children of the damned” if you don’t believe it), a touch of Watainesque atonal black metal flourish (the slower breakdowns in “black market maniac”) and even some straight out of left field industrial/noise influences.

Seriously on that last point, there are more hissing and squealing sounds opening and closing tracks than a Throbbing Gristle record.  It’s deliberate electronic/machine sound manipulation, but it’s ugly and something of an odd choice to use as accents to the otherwise unrelated material.

There’s a surprising ode to Caged Men costar and famed wrestler Abdullah the Butcher (!) and plenty of genre-appropriate sound bite samples from classic film and television, and none of the songs stick around long enough to piss you off if you aren’t digging it – in other words, we’re definitely operating in the basic arena of grindcore here.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the vocals, which are pretty reedy shouts and beefy growls doubled in the Carcass/General Surgery vein, but augmented by long back of the throat shrieks and the sort of processed old-time-radio compressed microphone sprechtgesang you get in industrial music.  But McDonald does know his way around the drumkit (particuarly in relation to nigh-polyrhythmic sextuplets of double bass footwork) and it all works well enough for grind fans openminded enough to accept some very non-traditional elements playing a major part of the overall sound.

Now all you hoser Canucks up there* may be familiar with some of Chris’ prior bands, which may or may not give a vague idea of what sort of influences play into this – check out all the variances in genre on display:

Cherub (Metal) (Vocals),
Rozea Haven (Death Metal) (Drummer),
Liquorbox (Country) (Drums/Mandolin)
The Beta 58’s (Punk) (Drummer).

* OK, calm down, now.  Not only have I been a longstanding champion of Canadian metal acts (many of whom I’ve had on air one or multiple times, such as Skull Fist, Cauldron, Mortillery, Scythia and Striker), but I like you guys enough to have married one!  So take off, eh?

Those whose interest has been piqued can check out the man and his band via the following links:

Bandcamp:www.pinkcarnage.bandcamp.com/
Facebook:www.facebook.com/pages/Pink-Carnage/1591627081070719
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/pink_carnage
Reverbnation:www.reverbnation.com/pinkcarnage

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PRESENCE – Rock Your Life (No Remorse Records)

A vaguely Don Dokken style vocal with Loudness-like football cheer backing at the choruses over music that crosses bands like the Matthias Jabs-era Scorpions (“rock your life”, etc.) and Dokken (“danger zone”, “when a wall is made”, etc.) with elements of pre-Hysteria (i.e. good) Def Leppard (“no way”) and Y&T (“co’mon baby”).

The band is tight, the vocals are clean and decent, the guitar solos are rather good, and while the gang chorus thing always seemed kind of cheesy to these ears, it’s authentic to the era and listenable enough.

I really liked this album, which comes in its first CD-era release courtesy of No Remorse.  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to guess they lost the masters, because this is one of those LP transfers, complete with thinner tones, a touch of hiss and clipping.  I will never understand those folks who think vinyl sounds better than CD…you lose so much audio information for that bit of extra “warmth”, it’s ridiculous.

Anyway, better this way than not at all, so if you don’t mind the fact that it’s from an old record (and at this point, is unlikely to surface in any other format), I can give Presence a well deserved thumbs up.  The label even threw in the band’s 1985 demo as a bonus, which while decidedly inferior to the material on Rock Your Life, clearly identifies the band as being French in origin.

Hey, who knew?

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TITAN – S/T  (No Remorse Records)

Same story here, another French metal band from back in the mid-80’s, transferred to CD direct from vinyl (with all the sonic limitations that implies, and the same caveat that masters are presumed lost at this long a remove).

The difference is that these guys are more in the vein of “speed metal”, an effectively meaningless label which can imply a lot of things and encompass some very different styles of band.  Hell, even Accept was considered “speed” at one point, based entirely on a single song (“fast as a shark”).  Does calling a band “speed metal” imply technically accomplished thrash ala Megadeth or Annihilator?  Melodically if not glam oriented flashy guitar heroics with high energy riffing and high vocals ala Toxik, TNT or Nitro?  Punk-style NWOBHM ala Motorhead?

In this case, I’d say closer to the latter, as this one bears a very mittel-80’s European feel and strong traditionalist vibe far more akin to a sped up, more aggressive NWOBHM act ala Tygers of Pan Tang.  The label mentions Heavy Load as a reference point, which should give a general idea – just add a lot more speed and some proto-double bass drumming and a gargling TT Quick style vocalist.

Where things really fall apart is when they slow things down and try to get all pop (“black power”) or pull off a half assed power ballad (“l’enfant de la guerre”) – the latter is more acceptable than the former, but neither track should have made the cut, with “black power” just being an embarassing piece of crap any way you slice it.

There are some midtempo tracks here that work (“damien”, “popeye le road”) which cross some unspoken border between the aforementioned TT Quick and Accept, but it’s the fast stuff that really defines them and will get veteran bangers’ fists pumping the air.

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STASH – A Matter Of Time (No Remorse Records)

This one’s a bit of a change after our two crackling vinyl-transferred Gallic friends above: this time we’re looking at a Dutch act who’d never progressed past the demo stage back in the day.

They’ve recently reformed ala Hell to deliver updated and reworked versions of their demo material, and both the re-recordings and original versions are included herein, as well as a handful of brand new songs.  Also similarly to Hell, the new versions are not only comparable to the originals, but in some respects actual improvements (and come on, how often can you honestly say that?), and better yet, the new tracks are pretty good!

Bert Kivits has a clean, high pitched (and occasionally somewhat quirky) vocal that hearkens more to early 80’s AOR (Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Boston) than traditional metal, but it works well enough with the material, which is further enlivened by the relatively flash leads from guitarist Roel Nottrot.  Gosse Niewenhuis keeps to a fairly simplistic 4/4 throughout, but there are moments of double bass trill footwork and syncopated cymbal fills that show promise and hint at more than the typical dunderheaded “rock” drum performance.  It’s a good package, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stash snapped up by Frontiers for their next album…

More for the traditional and AOR crowd than the other two No Remorse releases this month, but unquestionably very good and well worth looking into.

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BEAUVOIR FREE – American Trash (Frontiers Music) (June 5)

Heading straight back to the 1988-1993 era of tattooed Hollywood style hard rock/metal that came in the wake of Guns N’ Roses, LA Guns and their ilk, industry legend Jean Beauvoir reunites with guitarist Micki Free, formerly compatriots in a band called Crown of Thorns.

As one might expect from the songwriter/producer behind such albums as Kiss’ Asylum and Animalize, the Ramones’ Brain Drain and Doro Pesch’s Fight, the grit of the guitar tone never even comes close to overwhelming the strong sense of melodic structure and ear-tickling vocal harmonies, with Beauvoir’s beefier toned tenor hearkening back to vocalists like Extreme’s Gary Chenone and Kingdom Come’s Lenny Wolf.

There’s a touch of Kings X to tracks such as “morning after” and “she’s a KO”, the faux-Beatlesisms of later Mr. Big on tracks like “cold dark december”, a hint of XYZ or early Winger to the smooth but driving “shotgun to the heart” and some appropriate to genre (if overused by all too many bands in this general style) Zeppelinisms popping up in the likes of “whiplash”, but surprisingly you’ll also hear more than a touch of easy to digest European trad/power metal accents ala Mat Sinner and Alex Beyrodt popping up all over the mix.

The end result is something of a more accomplished take on, say, Motley Crue’s Girls Girls Girls (albeit without the seedy emphasis on strip bars and such – there’s really nothing here to embarrass Beauvoir among a crowd of religious prude types) with a touch of the more female-pleasing likes of Trixter or Skid Row.  In sum, the album’s got enough grit and rough edges to satisfy fans of that final era of arguable metal dominance in the US, while still going down butter smooth enough for a non-diehard crowd.

Free’s solos are surprisingly smooth and legato (think Joe Perry) while still retaining the tight phrasing and occasional anthemic feel of such players as Randy Rhoads and Slash (that classic, thick toned Les Paul sound is unmistakable herein). Pair that off with Beauvoir’s songwriting abilities and clean with a touch of gravel singing style, and you’ve got yourself an inarguably winning combination.

One of the best (if not the best album(s) I’ve heard out of Frontiers so far this year, American Trash comes highly recommended to vets and fans of the final days of mainstream American metal before its unceremonious demise in the wake of all things grunge, “groove” and “nu”.

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TRIXTER – Human Era (Frontiers Music) (June 5)

And speaking of Trixter…

You know, we went to one of those nostalgia concerts a year or two back, Dokken, Warrant and special guests Trixter.  Actually Trixter were sort of a last minute addition to the ticket, and I snickered a bit when I heard they’d be on the bill.

After all, I remember when they were local kids, and first put out their
eponymous debut.  There was a line exclusively comprised of sub-glam fan preteen girls sitting on the floor of the local mall record store, excitedly waiting for the band to show up and sign their record.

This was nothing new – they’d been drawing crowds of underage females at local gigs since their demo, mostly because the girls found them “cute”.  They were just about our age if not younger, and hell, we were all a bit jealous at all the female attention…if contrarily bemused by the fact that they were mostly of the too young variety.  Anything so beloved by little girls just has to be crap, right?  Back to Kreator, Celtic Frost, Danzig and Megadeth for us.

But you know what?  That album had a few tracks that even at the time didn’t seem too bad.  Nah, can’t be any good.  Dismissive laugh and flip the bird, time to move on.

Flash forward to the show the other year.  Old Don…once one of my all time favorite metal songwriter/vocalists, mind…had degenerated into a bitter old fat guy in biker regalia, barely able to hold a note, much less carry those smooth tones that made their first 3 albums so damn near perfect.  Worse, he was prone to slipping into misogynistic rants and baiting the audience.  Oh, well.  We actually walked out of the show after a few songs, one of the few times I can recall ever doing that.  Ever.

Warrant did their best, but old Jani Lane was sorely missed, and speaking frankly, we were a bit bored.  So what saved the show?

You guessed it.  Fucking Trixter.

These guys were full of ego (they clearly love themselves as much as all those little underage girls did back in the day), but full of the chops, stagecraft and youthful vigor to back it up.  Come on, the frigging guitarist and bass player were jumping around and bouncing off the walls (literally!), the leads were flashy, the vocal harmonies were solid…god damn it, they put on a really good, high energy show.  I actually went out and got the 1989 Trixter album, a few decades removed.

And you know what?

It was and is one hell of a good album!

So when I saw that Frontiers had picked the guys up for Human Era*, my ears perked up.  Could this one possibly live up to the debut album, much less that show they put on for us and a few hundred others that night?

* technically, I understand that they got them an album back, which is probably what they were touring when we saw them…

Well…

OK, it’s clearly them.  The vocal harmonies still show up for the choruses, Steve Brown’s solos are still impressively ripping, Pete Loran’s vox are a bit more gritty, but still in good form, and presumably bassist P.J. Farley still sports that goofy floppy mohawk/half head shave that he always did.

Well, maybe not that part…

Anyway, the answer is, somewhat, but not quite.

On the thumbs up end of the equation, the Mr. Big by way of Roxy Blue-like “for you” is the clear standout, “crash the party” has that snotty teenage “give them the raspberry” thing that they made something of a trademark back in the day, and “not like all the rest” is just a damn good, catchy radio friendly song, no two ways about it.

But after that, things turn a bit spotty.  There are further moments of life here, but the rest of the material leans very far in the direction of countrified balladeering, if you know what I’m getting at saying that (it’s not technically “country”, but think the general style and feel of Poison’s “every rose has its thorn” and you’ll get the connection).  “Good times now” and “midnight in your eyes” are probably the best tracks in that style, but I just keep seeing some scruffy guy driving a pickup on his way to the local shitickin’ bar out in the heartland when listening to these.

Overall, it’s a good album packed with solid musicianship and good performances.  With repeated listens, I’m sure even the more questionable material should grow on ya – just don’t expect to judge this one by the same standards as the surprisingly solid debut album.

All that said, a long-belated thumbs up, guys.  As I’ve been pretty open about since that show with Dokken the other year, we shouldn’t have judged the band by its audience back in the day – you were (and are) a hell of a lot better than I ever thought I’d be giving you credit for.  Keep on rockin’.

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HOUSE OF LORDS – Indestructible (Frontiers Music) (June 5)

Damn, I know I more or less enjoyed Precious Metal last year, but is this some kind of improvement, or what?

James Christian is still delivering his raspy but melodic vox over a bed of angelic harmonies, but guitarist Jimi Bell really seems to be killing it right out of the gate.  Yeah, I thought he let it rip now and again last time around, but holy crap, this is a man with something to prove!

There’s even a touch of 80’s style (yes, Giuffriaesque) keyboards in “100mph”, and the entire affair comes off a damn sight better, with cuts like “go to hell”, “indestructible”, the aforementioned “100 mph”, “ain’t suicidal” and “stand and deliver” actually having some real teeth to them.

Seriously, this isn’t what you’d expect from a melodic hard rock cum metal band on the world’s most prominent AOR oriented label.  There’s even an Impelliteri by way of Apocrypha (or even, God help us, Nuno Bettencourt) moment in “aint suicidal”, where Bell is just fucking blazing away like the shredder nobody knew he was…

Sure, the rest of the album is pretty much sappy balladeering and entirely fodder for the fast forward button, but look, that’s half an album of serious old school heavy metal.  Not Hollywood glam or post-G’N’R Aerosmith worship.  Actual head banging 80’s style heavy metal.

Raise your lighters, House of Lords just nailed it.

More of that, please.

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ASIA – Axis XXX Live in San Francisco MMXII (Frontiers Music) (June 5)

Asia was something of an oddity: a prog rock “supergroup” featuring members of King Crimson, Yes and ELP (among other acts various members had previously taken part in), whose debut came after the rise and fall of prog.

Debuting in 1981, their self titled pretty much contained all of their Stateside hits: the dramatic “only time will tell” and the new wave-poppy “heat of the moment”, but the band continued to soldier on through the succeeding decades and the loss of nearly every original member.

This disc is a recording of their 30th anniversary reunion, featuring all four original members and running through their lengthy discography, though if you’re like myself, you’ll only be familiar with material from the first album.

So how’s it hold up?

Well, both “only time will tell” and “heat of the moment” are still damn good songs (the former being a much better song than the far more familiar and populist latter, but that’s neither here nor there), and the band can still play the stuff, which is an accomplishment when you’ve achieved the age each of these (let’s face it) likely septegenarian gents have.  I mean, come on, they were out there recording albums before most of us were even born!

To see men of that vintage out there rocking out is something impressive in and of itself, so you know I’ll have to give this the nod regardless.  I only hope I’m out there rocking as well as they do when I get to be their age!

But moving away from such considerations and tackling the performance itself, there are some bits and bobs the curious should be aware of.  First, John Wetton (bass/vox) does display a prominent toothy, perhaps clicking lisp and a touch of quaver to his once-smooth Irish tenor-like tones.  Naturally, the high notes are no longer there, but this would be unnoticeable to those unfamiliar with the original versions, as he simply drops those bits by a few octaves (which is exactly what you do in such cases).  It’s not bad, but you have to give some mental points for compensation, like “my grandpa’s pretty cool, he can still sing and play prog rock songs,” or it doesn’t quite work.

On the other hand, Carl Palmer is as on point as ever, particularly on more uptempo tracks such as “tomorrow the world” which show him at a driving pace and level of syncopation that absolutely belies any concerns of age, and Geoff Downes more or less carries the keyboard end with sufficient panache (though I’m sure I caught a hesitant note or two at rare points).

The problem here, unfortunately, lies with the much celebrated Steve Howe, whose best days would appear to be behind him. While he does manage to hold the guitar end up to a mostly acceptable level, there are legions of long pauses, shaky notes, missed and oddly altered phrasing, dropouts on held tones and a generally thin toned, staccato approach that leaves him (and to some extent, the band he drags down with him) coming off like a teenage cover band who’s almost got the songs down, but needs a few months of polish to really pull off the tribute band circuit.  It’s a bit embarrassing in the sense where the listener finds themselves sympathizing with the guy and covering for the deficiencies.  “That was alright, I guess, wasn’t it? I mean, it wasn’t that far off…”

Hey, we’re all getting older, and I salute these guys for being able to pull off something at all, much less to the level you’re hearing herein.  But it’s impossible not to notice Palmer and Downes’ confusion and attempts to compensate for Howe’s shakiness with the material – drumrolls suddenly slow, keyboard phrases get held for an extra half measure, you name it, all in the name of trying to follow (or cover for) Howe’s questionable command of the material.

Look, I said it before, I’ll say it again: I only hope I can still play as well as these guys do at their age, so all bullshit aside: heartfelt kudos to the four of you for pulling this off.

But for those who aren’t diehard patrons of the nostalgia circuit, buyer beware.  Go pick up a copy of the debut album, and leave it at that.

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Graveworm – Ascending Hate (AFM Records) (July 7)

Not to be confused with blackened death metal band Gravewurm, this is more of a gothicized “dark metal” act out of Italy. Unfortunately, that’s not saying anything, as the term “dark metal” has been applied to numerous acts that really don’t sound anything like one another.

So here’s what you get: it’s got traces of gothic metal in the sense that Therion or Cradle of Filth are considered such: keyboards are present and they’re that obvious and somewhat goofy strain of Tim Burton-spooky.

It’s got strong elements of death metal in the lousy puke-barked vox (which are pretty shitty any way you slice ’em) and some pointedly melodeath tracks like “blood torture death”, “rise again”, “sons of lies” and “to the empire of man”.

They throw in some (modern) black metal in portions of “downfall of heaven” and “nocturnal hymns”.

And there’s that modern metal cum nu metallish thing of simplistic, detuned riffs in a minor key on “buried alive”, “stillborn” and “the death heritage”.

So what the fuck are they trying to be?  It’s ridiculous how many soundalike acts these days are trying to pretend they have not so much their own individual sound as their own personal genre.  Please.  Pick a style and work it like a master.  Jacks of all trades master none.

That particular issue aside, here’s the plain facts of the case: while the vocals blow, they aren’t the sort that annoy the listener into pulling out of the overall experience and atmosphere the band is trying to set.

And while annoyingly syncretist – less in the sense of Frank Zappa accomplishment and mastery of multiple styles than the increasingly common “duh…I never sat down to pick a genre, aren’t I unique?” – the music is actually rather good.

You heard that right.  I really liked this album.

Now if I had to give you two points of reference, I’d say picture Cradle of Filth crossed with Killswitch Engage (albeit with a horrible modern blackened death metal vocalist), but there’s more to it than that.  Essentially, this works because it sets a mood and doesn’t break it.  The band is certainly accomplished for a rhythm guitar act – I can’t say I ever heard a single solo, though there are plenty of dual tracked (or dual guitar) tremolo melody lines to be found driving the songs – and they can definitely pull off everything they set themselves to present herein.

This is definitely the sort of album that will grow on ya and become a sleeper with further listens: I wouldn’t be surprised if next time around you see me as something of an unabashed fan of Graveworm.  They’re gothic metallish and black metallish enough to keep me happy, with strong elements of melodeath/metalcore to give a bit of extra melody and make the mix a tad more palatable (though some of those nu metallish breakdowns are annoying as fuck – hello, “death heritage”).

You’ve read all the specifics, here’s the general: damn good album in the modern metal arena.  Horns up.

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Iron Savior – Live At The Final Frontier (AFM Records) (July 7)

Live album from the likeable Piet Sielck and company.

We talked the whole story behind Sielck, Kai Hansen, Helloween and Iron Savior here, so suffice to say he’s a cool dude with a great sense of Germanic humor (as I point out often, the terms “Germanic” and “humor” are far from incompatible, despite an undeservedly lousy rep internationally) and he’s been doing this for many years now (albeit with a good decade or so spent behind the scenes in production work), so the man knows his shit.

This is a live “greatest hits” of sorts, played to a generally appreciative hometown crowd.  The recording is excellent and guitars are right up there in your face, minus distracting (and traditionally faked) crowd noise and nearly studio-worthy overall, bar a few overexcited backing vocals that swing sharp and/or bend flat in the heat of the moment.  Hey, it’s a genuine article live document, those sort of little fluffs are supposed to be there.

The real killers here come when Sielck slows things down a bit for the Acceptlike “break the curse”, “R.U.R.” and “heavy metal never dies” (come on, he even gets the guitar tone right), the three of which prove to be the clear standouts from the otherwise very Helloween-template power metal material.  But either way, fast stuff or slow, it’s all quite listenable and Sielck’s guitar work, while not especially flashy, is unimpeachable.

Worth a listen, particularly for fans of the Perry Rhodan-inspired SF oriented act per se.

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Burning Point – S/T (AFM Records) (July 7)

Fans of Battle Beast circa Steel should be happy with this one, bringing together a similarly minded Finnish speed/trad metal band with original (and arguably superior, vocally speaking) Battle Beast frontwoman Nitte Valo.  To appropriately honor the band’s upgrade under the powerhouse vocalist, they augmented 5 originals with some reworkings of old Burning Point material to fill out the album.

While not quite as propulsive as Steel or the self titled from Valo’s former act, Burning Point’s self titled shows the band as similarly anthemic, with a strong melodic orientation and well structured (if perhaps less flashy) neoclassically oriented leads from Pete Ahonen and Pekka Kolivuori.

The only area where the album fails…and this is a serious girl with the curl situation*, mind – is in the thin and reedy production, which manages to forefront the guitars without leaving them sounding appropriately powerful – the actual tone is quite hissy and treble-heavy.

Worse, Valo’s glorious pipes, which boomed so powerfully throughout Steel, are shoved back in the mix to be at best even with if not hiding behind the guitars.  Why recruit a voice this strong if you’re not going to put her right up in the spotlight and let her rattle some eardrums?  Close listens reveal no dimunition in her abilities – it’s just a piss poor mix very much akin to that which marred Kublai Khan’s Annihilation.

* for those without a childhood, “when she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad…”

Sure, you can jack the bass to floor rocking levels to get this one sounding a bit more acceptable, but it doesn’t change the paper-thin strat/tele guitar tone a whit…and even the best sound system can’t correct deficiencies in the core production.

OK, here’s the deal.  Send me the tracks and let me supervise a remix on this one – all it needs is Valo shoved right up front, jack the bass across the board to astronomical levels (seriously – like 2 or 300%) and drop the treble to sub-Scott Burns production levels.  Then maybe we can salvage what is ultimately a damn good album…just one in desperate need of a real producer to set things straight for the more casual listener.  Hell, ANY listener.

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

But in case it wasn’t crystal clear: I absolutely despise its production!

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Damnation Angels – The Valiant Fire (Massacre Records) (June 23)

When you hear bombastic symphonic metal, the absolute last thing you expect to hear are clean…I mean absolutely clean, no rasp or growl to it – vocals.  I mean, I found myself thinking, is this an 80’s gothic new wave throwback thing ala Beastmilk, but working that vocal style in to a very different musical setting?

Well, not exactly.  British brother act Will and John Graney (guitars and drums, respectively) and vocalist Per Fredrik Asly have been doing what they refer to as “epic metal” for about a decade, apparently, which may account for the assured performances herein.

At times driving and power metallesque, in others more subdued and contemplative (definitely not something one associates with the chest thumping bombast of power…or symphonic metal, for that matter) and then they go all smooth harmonies like a (pre-auto tune/formulaic pap) radio pop act.

While they do have their moments of grand symphonic chutzpah, the overall feel here is far more intimate and small scale than that implies, which can be a left field surprise of a plus or a distinct negative, depending on how closely you expect acts within a given genre to stick to established template.

Personally, I found them interesting, with Asly’s very 80’s style vocals being the linchpin that holds the material together.  Just don’t expect the uncompromisingly symphonic bombast of Rhapsody (of Fire), early Epica or even pre-Sony Cradle of Filth here, despite the involvement of Scott Atkins on the recording and production end.

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Crystal Ball – LifeRider (Massacre Records) (June 23)

I thought there was something wrong with the album when this started up – the vocals and keyboards were so oddly distorted and quavering it sounded like a terrible off-air recording complete with static, if not a record whose grooves had worn out.  “burble MAY blub DAY! gurgle MAY bloop DAY! gluk gluk”…seriously, what the fuck were they thinking?

The tones of the vocal screams, the backing chorus screams and the oddly processed guitars and keyboards never actually resolve to a proper full sound throughout, and as good as the song itself is under all this weird distortion, you have to admit, this track, with all the (in practice) audial glitching and thin, underwater tones was a really strange one to start off on…

“Eye to eye” fares much better, with the familiar tones of current Battle Beast frontwoman Noora Louhimo mixing well with Steven Mageney’s glass-gargling rasp, and both “paradise” and “balls of steel” retain the same sort of propulsive traditional metal sensibility.

Things sort of peter off after that with a 5 or 6 song journey into the more lunkheaded and simplistic direction metal drifted into in the latter end of the 80’s, only returning to form for the Dokken-esque title track and bonus track “not like you”.  The band covers both Dio and Black Sabbath, but picks odd tracks: a lackluster “sacred heart” and the forgettable in the original post-Dio era “sign of the southern cross” aren’t exactly prime cuts to display your knowledge of the classics by.

While the six non-cover songs mentioned are (let’s get right to the point) damn good, well crafted melodic metal with strong performances on the guitar and keyboard fronts, the issue here is, once again, the production.

Strangely enough, it’s from Accept’s Stefan Kaufmann, which makes sense given Crystal Ball’s very Accept-like anthemic yet radio friendly and tuneful traditional metal orientation.  But didn’t the band, alongside the related Gaby “Deaffy” Hoffman coproduce all of the classic Accept albums?  You certainly can’t accuse Restless and Wild, Balls to the Wall, or even Metal Heart of being hissy, awkward or sadly lacking in thickness and bottom end…so why this?

Picture Ratt circa Invasion of Your Privacy or even Dio circa Last in Line – that same sort of strange, overly thin tonality, but made worse by all the processing done on the keyboards and the wah pedal set to the middle guitar tones, all wrapped up with a nice bow by a production style that leans heavily towards treble and hiss.  And this came from Stefan Kaufmann?

I give this one a partial thumbs up.  While the production leaves a hell of a lot to be desired (chhh ssss crsssshh hsssss gurgle burble) and things devolve into a far less appealing and simplistic modern sound for a long stretch mid-album, the bottom line is that the band is really good, and at least half of the material here hearkens straight back to the mighty Accept (and in one case, Dokken) in their indisputable peak era.

I’d certainly like to hear more from these guys.

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COAL CHAMBER – Rivals  (Napalm Records) (May 22)

Oy.  Nu metal.  I remember knowing people who listened to and loved bands similar to and including Coal Chamber.

Look, the closest I ever got to this stuff was a grudging fascination and measure of respect for Prong, whose stripped to the bone, negative space-crazy musical style reminded me of the best Rick Rubin productions (Slayer’s Reign in Blood, The Cult’s Electric, the first Danzig album, Trouble’s 1990 self titled).  Outside of Tommy Victor and a (very) brief curiosity about the primal scream therapy-driven Korn debut album?  Nada.

Now I realize there may actually be a few diehard nu metal fans floating around juggalo festivals somewhere around the Midwest or something (are there really still any of those out there?  How’s your Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit holding up, kids?), but this is soooooooo not my scene.  Longtime listeners to the podcast and readers of the monthly Roundups should be well aware of how often the style is brought up alongside grunge and Watain clones for the purposes of sheer derision, to slag a band for appropriating any of its stylistic flourishes.

Well, here’s the pluses, folks.

um…they’re not as annoyingly red-faced screamo as the Pantera/aggro crowd…they more or less stay in (de)tune throughout, and there are melodies.  Oh, and the girl’s pretty damn cute, if that counts.  I’m sure one good friend I can name who’s shared a Facebook post or two from the likes of Five Finger Death Punch may very well enjoy this one, if he isn’t already in possession of a Coal Chamber album or two somewhere in his collection.  Hi, Matt.

But I have to say, it amazes me that this sort of minimalist, lumbering, neanderthalic arguably ‘music’ still has its circle of fans in a day and age where we have bands long-disbanded reuniting after a quarter century’s absence and a fair proportion of younger bands are well enough versed in their material to pay homage to their elders in an entire movement of “retro” or traditionalist leaning metal acts.

Sure, when the good stuff is nowhere to be found, you may very well wind up accepting a cheap substitute.

But when the real thing comes back into vogue?

What the fuck do you need this shit for?

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MY SLEEPING KARMA – Moksha (Napalm Records) (May 29)

Wow, this was a weird surprise.  Picture Kyuss circa Blues for the Red Sun, but all instrumental, somewhat Near East-inflected and extremely trancelike and meditative.

Borrowing equal measures of melodic structure from the generator party-driven desert stoner scene, the ambient space rock scene ala Tangerine Dream and the Indian raga, this is all about tripping out.  Play this to the most stone cold sober, cynical materialist and watch them get strangely mellow and zone out.

Not the sort of thing you reach for normally, but very much welcome in its own unique niche, My Sleeping Karma delivers some music to have out of body experiences by.

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CIVIL WAR – Gods And Generals (Napalm Records) (May 8)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

OK, it’s really no surprise that no less than FOUR former members of Sabaton (now down to 3, but even so) are part and parcel of this one.

With a bombastic militarism and self conscious attempt to be epic in scope, these Swedes slice the gruyere and limburger in an enclosed room during a truly “epic” heat wave.  Enjoy the scent!

Vocalist Nils Parik Johannson hails from a number of other power metal bands (all of which I’m unfamiliar with, but fans of the genre may know very well who the man is), which is odd given his ultra-thin reedy rasp.  It sort of grows on you by the time half the album has gone by, but it really strikes the unsuspecting listener as strange on first listen.

The fact of the matter is, you simply haven’t lived until you’ve heard him belting out heartfelt, impassioned cries about how “HE WAS A MAN WITH A B-RAVE HEART!” about the strangely much beloved Kevin Costner dud, over the goofiest damn “metal” tango you’ve ever heard in your life.

This follows a similar bellow about how “THEY AIM TO TAKE THE RES-I-DENCE AND LIVE BY THEIR OWN PRE-CE-DENCE” in “THE BAY OF PEEEGS!”  Did I mention that several songs have some portion that’s effectively acted out, like you’re watching a bad musical or listening to a Queen album or something?

I’m sorry, this is just fucking hilarious…

I’m going to give this one a thumbs up for pure comedy value.  Get your pagan metal pals over, down a few beers and raise your fists as you sing along with mocking affection to the ridiculous lyrics and goofy gallop of the music.

Shit, I loved this one, albeit very probably for all the wrong reasons…this one ain’t goin’ nowhere from my iPod – Gods and Generals (see, even the title is ridiculous!) is definitely a keeper.

“IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, READ THE HIS-TO-RY BOOK AGAIN!  MY FRIEND!”


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UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – “Tonight We Ride” (single) (Napalm Records)

Jackie Slaughter, move over, you have some competition on your home turf.

All I know at this point is they’re Canadian and female fronted, but this is the same sort of speedy uptempo metal with soaring vocals as you get with Skull Fist, with some very TNT-like riffing and an (early) Znowhite feel, complete with some very prominent dual guitarwork that isn’t quite Shrapnel level (so don’t expect another Phantom Blue, for example), but which is fast, clean and leaning vaguely towards the neoclassical end of the more standard pentatonic approach.

The vocalist (very little information was provided with this one) has more of a throaty alto than you might expect for this style of music, but she does pull off some piercing soprano bits every now and again, leaving her as something of an impressive if not winning frontwoman (particularly when they multi-track her for harmony vocal sections around the chorus).

The only bit that concerns me is the little snarly death metal bits that pop up every so often as punctuation.  Thankfully, they’re fairly limited on this single, so it’s not an issue, but it could prove to be one if those become more prominent in future material.  You can sing, girl, you don’t need to pull an Angela Gossow and ruin that.

I have no names, no photos, and no reference on these guys, so you’re on your own till the album drops, but it sounds like a real winner so far.  Best thing I’ve reviewed this month.

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SIRENIA – The Seventh Life Path (Napalm Records) (April 24)

More gothic symphonic than either of their prior Ailyn Gimenez-led albums of my acquaintance (namely the 13th Floor and Enigma of Life), The Seventh Life Path similarly finds a Sirenia losing some measure of the pop friendliness she brought with her.

It’s still intensely melody-driven, and guitarist/mainman Morten Veland certainly allows himself the indulgence of a few brief if pleasantly flashy leads, but it’s a much angrier album, a more desperate sounding one that marks something of a change in direction once again.

Giminez’ vocals are no longer front and center, nor is she the focus of attention she’d been on those earlier albums, instead finding her lovely tones, however nicely self-accompanied in multi tracked harmony phrases, competing with some forefronted guitars, Enigma-style chanted choral bits (which are actually a pretty cool touch) and even Veland’s own vocals, which I recall being far more played down if not absent on the aforementioned pair of records.

Here, he practically handles vox on tracks like “elixir” and “sons of the north” all by his lonesome, with others like “earendel” and “concealed disdain” kicking off with lengthy solo bits of throaty male growling and snarling!  Decidedly not a plus…

That said, the lady appears to be in good form when she actually does take part, indulging in occasional operatics and reaching for coloratura-range notes rather than sticking to the more pop-oriented thing she came to the band with.

The songs are also rather long, tending to wear out their welcome much in the vein of Epica’s “jump the shark” moment The Divine Conspiracy or Metallica’s own on And Justice For All, despite the frequent merits to be found in each track here.  While not the same level of major gripe in relation to The Seventh Life Path as it was with either of the aforementioned albums, a bit of editing would have resulted in a much tighter album than it actually proves to be.

Finally, once again, we have some very iffy production.  When the music pulls back, you can hear that Ailyn’s vocals are generally treated to some gothic rock-like overproduced reverb which while pleasant enough in a quieter environment means they tend to get lost behind the beefed up, in your face guitar tones, backing choral bits and keyboard stings, but the biggest issue here is actually the absolutely awful drum production.

Sounding like they’re being filtered through a busted speaker woofer, it’s as if Veland was playing in a puddle using paper bags as drum heads.  PFFF PFFF FFFF TFFF TFFF…seriously?

Bass is wholly inaudible, but that’s not unusual for rock and metal per se, and he was probably counting on the uber-thick guitar tones and all-enveloping, overly in your face (yet thin) forefronted keyboard bits to cover for the lack of bottom end otherwise, but it’s just too much information to process all together.  Broken off individually, most of the parts work (though I’d have added significant bass tone to the keyboard and cleaned up those drum parts dramatically), but all together, it sort of turns to mush.

Here’s the scoop.  What are you expecting from the new Sirenia album?  Did you want a 100% symphonic metal record?  OK, this is pretty close to playing in that ballpark, I’ll give it credit for that.

But if you’re looking for a more gothic metal record in the vein of the first two records under Ailyn like I was, this comes off like an overproduced (in the sense of consisting of far too many tracks and sound processing effects all thrown together at once) also-ran that buries its star player under a mountain of crap, shoves improperly recorded parts (the thin keyboard bits, the wet cardboard drums) right up in your face until you start to get pissed off about it, and overprocesses everything possible…then come off like a blowhard with a collection of exclusively 6-9 minute tracks.

Is it a bad album? Not at all, in fact, it’s quite listenable and a fairly respectable gothicized variant of a symphonic metal album, albeit one spoiled a bit by an inappropriate emphasis on genre growl/snarl vocals.  But here’s the deal.

Give me Ailyn front and center, pull things back to a more intimate, stripped down setting ala Rick Rubin in his prime, and lose all the production overkill.  It just makes you sound like a horny nerd trying to pick up the head cheerleader.

And you’re going to have to seriously dial it back and be real before you can stand a chance at that.

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KAMELOT – Haven (Napalm Records)

Look, Kamelot for me is Thomas Youngblood and Roy Khan.  Period.

So when it comes to replacing Khan, even when you get a singer as good (and it should be noted, similarly stylistically inclined) as Tommy Karevik, you’re already operating at a disadvantage.  I mean, I loved Khan since the Conception days, he was pretty much the vocalist of his day.  You can’t replace that, I’m sorry.

That said, Karevik has a pleasant, clean tenor (leaning towards Irish tenor) and likely deliberately appropriates much of Khan’s dramatics, phrasing and vocal style, to the point where you wonder whether Youngblood recruited him from some Kamelot tribute band.

He’s just missing that smoothness, that lower range that gave a true baritone like myself the option of singing along loudly with him in the audience (some guy actually shoved a camera in my face to record portions of it during the famous show where we discovered opener Leaves Eyes).  Though he may be (and in fact is) a damn good singer and a worthy contender for attempted successor, that’s unlikely to happen with Karevik’s far lighter, higher range variant thereof.

That said, Haven does seem to be a damn sight better than the disappointing Poetry for the Poisoned, and pretty much on par with the 50/50 Ghost Opera, which was really the Khan-era Kamelot’s “jump the shark” moment, despite a few really good songs like the title track.

Case in point of how Karevik is damn good, but will never be Khan: “under grey skies”, a nice power ballad he shares with Delain’s Charlotte Wessels.  Great song, right?  OK, now go back and pull out Khan’s collaborations with Epica’s Simone Simons on “the haunting” and (to a lesser extent) “trois vierges”.  I’ll wait.

Now, I’ll admit, it’s hardly fair to judge somebody, particularly a talent on the level of Karevik (who had Khan never existed, would be referred to herein as just “a damn good vocalist – maybe one of the best out there in the metal arena right now”) against someone he replaced in what used to be one of my favorite bands.

But I will say this: while I found myself extremely impressed by Karevik and glad to see a more lively and energetic album than I last left him with (Poetry really did suck, I never actually pull that album out of the collection for current rotation), I similarly can’t see myself putting Haven into regular ongoing rotation to the same degree Fourth Legacy, Karma, Epica and Black Halo (not to mention the Conception albums) wind up being.

One negative about the album itself: hilariously, Youngblood also pulls in the former vocalist of The Agonist (of all bands) to deliver her embarassing screamo pukes on an otherwise decent track herein (likely due to her newly increased visibility in her current band, who shall remain nameless).  I’ve mentioned that particular opening act experience many times over the years, I’m sure longtime readers are familiar with my derision towards her particular “talents”…kick any broken down vans lately?

Anyway, the bottom line is, it’s a Kamelot album, and one stylistically similar to the glory days of the band.  Karevik is a really, really good vocalist, and new listeners should absolutely love this one.

Give him a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

It’s not his fault he’s not Khan.

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Carnalation – Ghosts (EP) (Inverse Records) (June 12)

Speaking of shit vocalists…sure you don’t want to hire the Agonist girl?  Couldn’t be any worse…

They’re saying this one is grindcore, but it’s not.  They also say it’s death metal, and…wait for it…that’s right, it’s not.

Screamo crap over noise. They occasionally slow things down to lunkhead neanderthalic modern/nu-metal aggro riffing or bits of sustained atonal “ambient” nonsense falling somewhere between Korn and Watain stylistically.

Can you spell “sucks”?

Hey, WSOU, new band for ya…if they aren’t already in heavy rotation!

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A:S:Örchestra – Winter Rain (digital single) (Inverse Records) (June 12)

Some fella by the name of Aleksi Susi just dropped a digital-only single that plays very much in the realm of such bands as Gothminister or Megaherz, while keeping things closer to 80’s synth driven dark new wave than industrial.

I really liked this one, can’t wait for a full length album.

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Amanita Virosa – Asystole (Inverse Records) (June 12)

OK, another band that likes to play dressup.  Who knew Sykotic Symphony would prove so influential?

“Hospital metal” indeed…

The opener is a nice keyboard and acoustic track with an electrified lead, then it gets sort of metalcore, albeit with a decidedly gothic/”dark metal” bent.  The dual vocals are shooting for the Carcass model (one puker, one screecher), the keyboards are pulling in a very gothic metal direction, the guitars are aiming straight at melodeath cum metalcore territory…it’s really bizarre, but there’s so much melodic underpinning from the keys and the nicely phrased guitar solos that you can’t help but sort of like it.

At least for the first three songs, which should have been an EP unto themselves.  After that, things slow down, lose atmosphere and sort of fall apart.  They find their footing again on the final track “dead body love”, but it’s too late to make up for 5 shitty tracks that make up the middle of the record.  So keep in mind that I’m grading this on the first three songs and the last one only, which are of a very different caliber from the dogshit that comes between them.

I guess if Magica played too much Silent Hill, then tried to join Killswitch Engage, you might have something similar to this…though they still wouldn’t have that awful vocal thing going on!

Seriously, this guy is kind of a joke.  While the screechy stuff is common enough among modern strains of black metal (and in fact sounds vaguely like earlier Davey Havok crossed with Mirai Kawashima), the death-puke stuff is hilariously bad.  It’s like he’s taking in a conversational voice, but trying to do it as deep and hollow-mouthed as possible.

Go ahead, say “these vocals are seriously lame” using a bit of a growl and leaving your mouth in a big “O” the whole time, and you’ll sound just as “good” as this guy!

It’s not something you’re likely to reach for often, but the keyboard player and guitarist…when he’s doing lead and melody lines, anyway…save it from the junk heap.  Give it a listen…just stick to tracks 1, 2, 3 and 9 if you want to retain that surprisingly positive impression.

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Child of Caesar – Love in Black (Inverse Records) (June 12)

German gothic metal band tries to recapture the 80’s gothic rock and dark synth-driven new wave of bands like Sisters of Mercy (who they credit as an influence) and Depeche Mode (who they don’t, but whose stink is all over this one).  I was a goth myself and love both bands, so you know I”m sold.

That said, it’s far more guitar oriented and hopeful if not pissed off than the moodier, artsier and more introverted gothic rock scene ever has been, so expect to cross the aforementioned bands with Ben Moody-era Evanescence and tag in some more metallized elements such as solos and a forward driving midtempo feel.

Vocalist Daniel Mitchell actually hails from the U.S., and he’s a large part of what makes this work, with his Dave Gahanesque dark tenor (which almost approaches the baritone stylings of Modern English at points).

It’s not quite Beastmilk, but this is definitely a child of the 80’s.  Oddly, they actually claim an allegiance to the grunge, “indie”, industrial and hip hop spattered 90’s, but trust me, the only thing going on in that decade worth attending to was an all too short lived resurgence of gothic rock (mainly focused on the reissue/comp-heavy Cleopatra Records and the darkwave focused Projekt Records run by Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s Sam Rosenthal.)  We’re talking maybe 3 years, tops, middle of the decade.  So unless that’s what they’re referring to, they’re only kidding themselves.

Hell, if they were really a 90’s oriented act, they’d sound a hell of a lot more like Pantera, Nine Inch Nails, 4 Non Blondes or The Spice Girls than this!

Check it out, it’s really quite good.

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Somehow Jo! – Satans Of Swing (Inverse Records) (May 4)

A really weird band. They sound like a 3 piece ala Primus, with a tube amp overdriven, detuned guitar tone working odd but simplistic bass line style riffs while an overlapping restless lead guitar with a shitty Telecaster sound makes weird noises and throws down trebly triads along the line of post-Possessed Larry LaLonde or the guy in Korn.

There’s a mix of quirky gallop and boring “classic rock” cum stoner thing going on for many of the tracks, but overall, it’s like some surf guitar-led variant of Primus.  About the best it gets is when they sound a tad like Urge Overkill sharing a dirty needle with the Afghan Whigs during “fool”.

Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo makes yet another pit stop this month post-Crystal Ball to sing a few phrases on the title track, which is otherwise just a mess in the vein of Mr. Bungle or something.

Too screwed up to just label as “crap”, it’s actually the sort of thing psychologists’ eyes light up over.  Ah, now we have a truly interesting case of (musical) insanity to study…

Not my thing in any way shape or form.

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Vile Caliber – Tomorrow’s For Those Who Dare (Inverse Records) (July 6)

Well, this is more like it.

Kicking off on a driving drum riff and a run of harmonics (I’ll ignore the subpar whammy bar wankery, thanks) before kicking off with an aggressive old school metal riff that sounds like something off Krokus’ Headhunter, these guys are playing right up my alley.

Check ’em off, the influences are there: AC/DC, Twisted Sister, earlier Dokken, The Cult circa Electric, the list goes on.

The guitarists (and there are clearly two) are both really, really good.  They know how to construct a solo, phrasing is down pat, they throw in the tricks and flash (so you know they’ll put on a damn good live show) and yet manage to keep things solidly melodic throughout (think Warren DiMartini crossed with George Lynch and a touch of Eddie Van Halen to get the idea).

The drums are double bass driven but with plenty of tom rolls and actual syncopated kit work, and the vocals are clean but quirky in a very winning manner. Think Vile Valo crossed with Davy Vain but in the same way 80’s British synth new wave vocalists expressed themselves…then someone (possibly backing vocals) rip into old school 80’s metal screams in the pre-GNR L.A. metal style, and you’ll get the general idea.

Could I fucking love this one any more?  This is what heavy metal is supposed to sound like, not this modern overproduced bullshit without any energy or soul.  You’re supposed to want to step on the gas, beat someone’s head in or lift weights to the stuff, not fall asleep…

Five stars?  Nah.  Six.

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My Reflection – “Dead Musician” (single) (Inverse Records) (May 29)

Folky female vocals over a chunky, early Leaves Eyes-style backing band.

It feels a bit like when I was into British Isles and Celtic Folk – there are definite elements of Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention here, despite all the grinding lumbering gothic/pagan metal guitars.

She has a nice soprano when she leaves her standard speaking voice-range vocals, and I’d encourage her to use that a lot more – you have a very lovely singing tone, why waste our time effectively talking through the entire damn song?

All I know about these guys is that they’re Finnish and going on hiatus, so if you like ’em, you might want to grab this one…it may be all you get for the forseeable future.  And that’s really too bad.  I liked it.

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Sepultus – Svärta (A Sad Sadness Song) (July 6)

The world’s sloppiest drummer (well, OK, since Front Beast, anyway) screws up all over the place, missing and mistiming beats, cymbal crashes and rolls to the extent where the listener inevitably winds up laughing and shaking their head in disbelief.

Him aside, it’s actually fairly decent black metal, full of atmosphere, crisp drum production (if the guy was actually a good drummer, I’d be praising how you can hear every little thing he’s doing…which is actually a huge disadvantage in this case!) and a very underground feel.

Those are some very insistent, dark tremelo guitar riffs…and did the singer worship Varg Vikernes, or what?  The only problem is, they’re a little too artsy fartsy for their own good.  Not only are there far too many quiet sequences where nobody’s even playing and the singer is just laughing to himself and puking in the corner while somebody tunes up (the guitar tech, the drum tech, testing the levels on the soundboard, that sort of thing).

So what do we have here in sum?  A good, atmospheric, partially well produced (the guitars are just noisy and the screeched vocals really overdrive the mic, but when things get quiet you can hear how much of the studio ambience is being captured) effort in desperate need of an editor (leave all the pointless nobody’s even playing bits on the floor and just cut to the chase here) and a drummer who doesn’t miss a good third of the beats he’s trying to hit and can actually stay within a measure!

Your call – it’s another little girl with the curl situation.

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Imperial State Electric – All Over My Head (Psychout Records) (May 1)

Whoa, wait a minute.  This perfectly acceptable, well crafted but really not my thing 70’s pop radio country rock is fucking Nicke Anderssen of Nihilist/Entombed and Death Breath?

Sheesh, who knew he sounded like a cross between Walter Egan and John Schlitt?  And that guitar solo…shit, Nicke, who knew you took lessons from Lindsay Buckingham on weekends?

You know, I don’t really listen to this kind of music at all anymore, and don’t know how well it would or wouldn’t work in a full album worth of similar material.  But this is just Rod Stewart with Ron Wood enough that I’d be very interested in hearing more.

Kudos to the man of many talents!

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EBONILLUMINI – Arktos (Wickerman Recordings) (June 1)

Somewhere between your typical Projekt Records act, Lene Lovich and (very arguably, but some relentless drumming points towards) black metal lies Ebonillumini.

With bizarre but likeable vocals (well, for those who like Lovich, Nina Hagen and Eva O, anyway) from Christina Poupoutsi and occasional (much goofier and more obviously camp) male vox from a J.D. Tait, this is far more akin to the more experimental end of the brief mid-90s gothic rock scene than anything that’s come since (or black metal per se), which means that for all its strangeness, it felt like putting on an old pair of shoes.

The eerie multiple tracking of their voices in and out brought Mephisto Walz or even Switchblade Symphony to mind, and while lacking the authority and power of gothic rock and appropriating some very busy (and well syncopated to the point of being downright jazzy) drumming from Andre Thung, this worked quite well for me.

There are some rather “out there” moments to be sure, and the band can’t seem to decide whether to be ambient darkwave, straight up gothic rock, or some ersatz variant of metal (name a genre, so long as it’s modern and off the beaten path), which can really ruin the mood(s) they try to set in each track (not merely from one to the next, mind, but within the exact same track!)

There’s some odd conceit about travelling the world to explore mysteries, In Search Of style, but the only thing that rung a bell here was Florida’s Coral Castle.  It doesn’t matter, the bottom line is just that they’re trying to be all ooky spooky…and like the late lamented gothic rock scenes of the early to mid 80’s and the second wave of the mid 90’s, it actually works.

Definitely not for everyone, but I really liked it.

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Satanic Ripper – Southern Black Spells (Blood Harvest) (June 22)

Chile gives us this act, whose self-invented personal genre (see earlier reviews this month – cough Graveworm cough – for my thoughts on that absurdly viral new trend in metal) is something called “Evil Grave Metal”.  Really, it’s plain old South American blackened thrash, better recorded than early Sarcofago or Mystifier, but closer to those bands than early Sepultura or Vulcano.

I love the South American scene for precisely this level of aggressive, old school underground thrashiness, and this one’s a bit better played and recorded than most similar releases I’ve been exposed to recently, occasionally approaching the production level of, say, Belphegor (if you can believe that in a Chilean blackened thrash release!).

Raise the horns in salute.

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MIDNIGHT ODYSSEY – Shards Of Silver Fade (I, Voidhanger Records) (June 8)

Eight 15-20m tracks.

Seriously.

One man band “Dis Pater” has a rather Peter Murphylike voice, which he similarly buries under cavernous reverb in spare ambient settings.  At some point in every track, he goes all black metal, and can pull off that tonality similarly well.  Very keyboard-driven and contemplative even at its wildest, our hero sticks to a clean voice ala Cynic just as often as he does the Abbath-ish croak thing, and it all works.

The quieter, more ambient and ethereal sections feel very Peter Murphy (solo career) crossed with a particularly contemplative Ian McCulloch, and the black metal sections keep things from ever getting boring.

Yeah, this is some seriously good shit.

Dig it.

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ABSCONDITUS – Kατάβασις  (I, Voidhanger Records) (June 8)

um…

well, opener “prologue a l’agonie” was rather nice, so I assumed this was another introspective black metal offering.  Then those nasty puking vocals kick in…

Was that a Morbid Angel-style harmonic squeak I just heard?  Hmm, this is getting more interesting, musically…that dual tracked guitar lead is pretty off kilter…now they’re doing Morbid Angel/Immortal circa Blizzard Beasts full band stops with Gorgoroth riffs…

OK, I’m sold.  “Loxias” (guitars) and “Anderswo” (drums) are both pretty damn good for the genre, I really liked the music, as quirky as it gets at times.  They seem to know just how much to rein it in and get back to the more traditional and comfortable stuff, rather than jumping straight over the cliff into atonality and formless noise-crap like so many self consciously “experimental” acts do these days…

“Aliexagore” is rightly credited as “session vocals”, and while he’s hardly the worst I’ve heard (not by a long shot), they should probably look into getting a less annoying frontman going forward.

The only issues I have with an otherwise pretty worthy black metal release stem from the vocal chair.  Another decent French black metal release in a queue of many.

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BLAZE OF PERDITION – Near Death Revelations (Agonia Records) (June 26)

The Polish black metal scene, unfortunately, seems to have lost its way over the years, leaving behind most of the more unsavory politicosocial associations but simultaneously losing much of the grim atmosphere and musical style that made them worth paying attention to in the first place.

These days, Poland seems to have gone from its more underground cult status to a far more mainstream mindset, delivering one subpar Watain (or perhaps Marduk) wannabe after another.

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You know, it says a lot when you’re bored off your ass less than halfway through the first track.

BO-RING. Pass.

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AZAVATAR – S/T (Art of Propaganda) (June 29)

German quartet with a thing for the letter K.  Seriously, every track has to start with a K.

I like that fluttering thing they do on the guitars at about the 3m mark of “kult”.

…can you tell there’s not much to say about this one?

It’s one of those modern black metal jobs, the stink of Watain is all over it, but they earn a measure of respect for at least trying to be more original than your average Watain zombie act.

It’s listenable, parts of it work, whatever.

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Thornesbreed – GTRD (Art of Propaganda) (June 29)

German former death metal band gone black metal (nah, that’s never happened before, right?) who return from a 12 year hiatus (!), but all they can deliver us after a dozen years’ remove is some pretty par for the course “modern” black metal.

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…did I mention that for a guy who loves black metal and primarily identifies that as his subgenre of choice, I am totally fucking sick of “modern” black metal?

Be original, or imitate the greats from back in the day.

This kind of shit just ain’t cuttin’ it, kid.

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Dolentia – Iniciação Eversiva (Altare Productions) (June 22)

Wait, you mean even Portugal has a black metal scene?  Since when?

King Diamond with Mercyful Fate-like moans alternate with more typical BM snarls over a typical mid-90’s Norwegian school black metal setting.

It’s not incredibly exciting, but good enough, and I liked the tribal drumming bit ala Kevin Haskins in “guardilo das almas”.  Wasn’t expecting a touch of Bauhaus with my Norwegian darkness…

Fair enough, worthy of replays and watching to see what comes of both band and burgeoning scene in the future.

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Nahtrunar – Symbolismus (Altare Productions) (June 22)

Austria gives us one of the most traditional sounding black metal releases I’ve heard this year.  Talk about the Norwegian second wave…this one would not have felt a bit out of place in 1996, if not a year or two earlier.

The BM tracks alternate with brief instrumental ones, mostly acoustic guitar, but there are some instances of violin as well.  It all works, and quite well at that.

Instantly recognizable, instantly likeable.  I’m sold.

Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

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Demoncy – Empire of the Fallen Angel (Eternal Black Dominion) (Forever Plagued) (June 29)

Another reissue of an interesting underground black metal offering from years gone by?  Surprise, it’s an Elffor-like re-recording of the original that screws with the audience by retaining the same name.  Confused much?

Well, I have no idea how the original (full band) version sounded back in 2003, but this one is sole current member “Ixithra” (love these goofy pseudonyms they always come up with) redoing everything all by his lonesome.

Think of it as an inverse Vampyrisme from Theatres des Vampires, who redid the original bedroom-recording album with a full band and better production, ala Saxon’s endless stream of latter day re-recordings…but this guy wants to flip things over and take a full band back to a one man bedroom recording!  How necro, how kvlt…

Well, anyway, I’m given to understand that he decided to slow down the tempos as well as downscaling to a more grotty black metal style production.  How true this is by comparison, only those who own the original can say, but front and center whispered vocals aside, the current album sounds pretty well produced to these ears.

The two standout songs actually fall in the middle of the album.  Following a Graveland-style instrumental break, we proceed into the similarly Darkenesque “obsidian age of ice” and the eerie “night song”.  The rest of the material isn’t exactly a million miles away from those highlights, but they do stand out as more memorable than that which surrounds them.

Like the last Demoncy re-release, Empire of the Fallen Angel is a pretty damn good example of USBM’s ongoing transcendence of its longstanding derisory status in the field.  It’s like current bands are determined to set the record straight – look, we can do black metal as good or better than any of you!

All that matters to this reviewer is that they have the material to back up the posturing…and Demoncy certainly does.

Horns up.

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Vardan – Winter Woods (Moribund) (July 10)

It’s summertime!  The sun is bright, the days are longer and to the extent global warming hasn’t screwed all our weather patterns beyond the point of recognizability, it’s hot as hell out there.

What better time to take a walk into the Winter Woods with our old pal Vardan?

Despite boasting the worst production of any Vardan release reviewed to date (seriously, it’s all up in your face, and all mids – we’re talking approaching Nattens Madrigal-level nasty here), this EP shows a man displaying signs of at least thinking about returning to fighting form after February’s comparatively disappointing The Night, The Loneliness and April’s even lesser Despicable Broken Hope.

Much of Winter Woods is still more mournful and sluggishly paced than his earlier material (“the cry of dying forests” could have been added to Despicable Broken Hope and nobody’d so much as bat an eyelash), but you get the distinct impression from “uroburus black circle” that if he’d filled the entire release with tracks like this, much less had the sort of production that, say, Dreaming…Living My Funeral, Enjoy of Deep Sadness or Verses from Ancient Times had, we’d be talking about this far more positively than we are.

Look, it’s still Vardan, so in today’s very mixed black metal scene (some of which is very, very good…the rest…), that means one of the few musicians out there you can pretty much trust to deliver every time.

But the odd slump that seems to have kicked in 2 releases back hasn’t quite lifted.  Signs of promise are here, which is the good news…but don’t get your hopes up too much yet.  Looks like there’s still a ways to go before he’s back in fighting trim.

Still love ya, mi amico – just know from previous experience that you can do better than this.

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Doom Snake Cult – Love Sorrow Doom (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 15)

Look, I pretty much said it all about Goatlord last month, and my interview with Ace Still himself covered both that band and his subsequent turn with Doom Snake Cult, a band which pre-existed, or at least cohabited with Goatlord throughout…just without Still on vox.  Think Asphyx while Martin Van Drunen was still in Pestilence – nobody cares about the stuff they did without him, but you can’t really say they only came into being when he joined!

“Carnival freak show” is the standout here, and probably the closest the band gets to what Ace was doing with Goatlord, but it’s all of a piece: an extremely distorted, highly idiosyncratic variant of stoner doom with an evil sounding black metal vocalist.

It gets pretty strange when you realize they’re talking about peace, love and acceptance.  “I just saw a freak…they’re not hurting anyone, they were at peace with themselves” is not the sort of thing you expect to hear out of the mouth of the guy who snarled about voodoo masses, chicken dances and vengeful spirits coming at you out of the fog.  Sure, Goatlord spoke of an “acid orgy”, but the impression was of a much darker experience than what the lyrics seem to be reaching for here.

And yet…listen to those riffs.  Check out those vocals.  Peace and love?  hmm…

Hardly as essential as the Goatlord reissues, but a worthy complement to the fan that it’s good to see back in print.

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Mefitic – Woes of Mortal Devotion (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (June 15)

Apparently these Italians have been poking around for a good decade without releasing a whole hell of a lot more than a demo, EP and a couple of splits.

So here’s their full fledged debut album at last. And what are we to make of it?

well…

It’s death metal with a modern feel (i.e. the influence of black metal is both obvious and inescapable).  The vocals are Immolation deep…possibly even Incantation level deep, and buried a bit under reverb.  A bit too much reverb, actually, but OK.

The riffs are punishing and clearly death metal style, but there’s a bit of a buzzing bee quality to them that suggests black metal, an impression also borne out by the blastbeat-infused drumming.  The guy can do double bass and the occasional bit of proper kit work, and it’s not always “blastbeats proper”, but he’s definitely playing in that general ballpark.  He prefers to keep things noisy, with incessant cymbal hits, and that’s not very death metal at all – one of the primary reasons I got into the genre back in the day was the crisply recorded (mainly courtesy of a certain Scott Burns) double bass kitwork (at a time when drums were buried in the mix in other forms of metal, and few if any drummers knew how to work that style of drumming in the first place).

So I’m left with a mixed bag.  To the extent this really feels death metal (mainly in the riffing and, were there a lot less cavernous a reverb on them, the vocals), I liked it.  To the extent it tried to cross over into conventions more comfortably left unto black metal, I hated it.

I love both genres, but come on.  Keep ’em pure, guys.  Death metal or black metal, which style are you gonna play?

Pick one or the other, they do. not. mix. well.

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Katechon – Coronation (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (May 22)

Norwegian blackened death metal act.  All these bands who can’t pick a genre start to sound alike after awhile.

It’s not horrible, but honestly, we’ve heard it a thousand and one times before.
Come the thousand and second, who the fuck cares?

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Nekromanteion – Cosmic Horrors 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (June 19)

Wow, that’s an awesome cover there.  I like these guys already (insert some hearty laughter here).

Seriously, that’s great.  We need more stuff like this, somewhere between “cool” and “absolutely fucking ridiculous”.  Love it.

Bolivian blackened thrash act, but they’re so indescribably messy and noisy that you find yourself thankful for the parts without vocals, which are much more stable and listenable.

Mystfier and Chile’s Pentagram have nothing on these guys for sheer unapologetic sloppiness and noise.  Not what I mean when I say I love South American blackened thrash.

Love that cover, though!

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DEATHHAMMER – Evil Power (Hells Headbangers) (June 30)

Now THAT’S more like it.  Norway gives us all the standard tropes of old school Teutonic cum blackened thrash: the Schmier (Destruction) style “who just goosed me?” sudden high notes, the Tom Araya screams, the blazing early Kreator riffing and Sodomesque plain ol’ not giving a shit how sloppy it may sound.  Hell, they even have the guitar tones and studio ambience down pat.

Another one to add to that “best thing I’ve reviewed this month” comment earlier.  This is how it’s supposed to be played, kids.

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Abyssion – Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki (Svart Records) (July 3)

Should come as no surprise to regular readers of Third Eye and listeners to the podcast that I am a dyed in the wool old schooler.

Sure, there’s plenty of interesting stuff coming out each and every month, but there are wayyyyy too many clowns out there copying one or two currently popular acts slavishly, flooding the market with derivative crap.  Cough Watain wannabes cough.

Then there are the lazy syncretists, who operate under the misapprehension that grunge, industrial and metal can all work together nicely, and claim they’re not only “original”, but so much so that they have no precedents and in fact have mysteriously formed and lay claim to their own unique genre.  Pole sitting stoner toilet worthy metal, yep, that’s our band!

So when you get a band who manages to sound this old school traditional (to Norwegian second wave black metal) and yet still resolutely oddball with its cross-genre appropriations, it’s something of an interesting conundrum: will this work despite its weird metaphorical miscegenations, or fall flat on its ass in the face of an inability to pick a horse and run with it (as is all too often the case in such matters)?

Well, I’m happy to say this is one of the all too rare winners on the high stakes game of cross-genre genderplay.  I found myself reacting quite well to the Burzumlike (with welcome touches of pre- and post-Gaahl Gorgoroth, demo era Thorns and Euronymous era Mayhem) early 90’s black metallisms here, which include both heavily distorted, moody and droning riffs and snarl/croaked screams and vocalisations.

Sure, the actual vocals with words aren’t exactly appropriate, coming off more like Udo Dirkschneider going Viking metal, and there are strange Hawkwind by way of Monster Magnet “let’s play with the phase pedal knobs” sound effects and 70’s prog/space rock keyboard phrases that really don’t fit, but neither is particularly jarring and not even close to being any sort of deal breaker.  All told, this one is damn good, any way you slice it – weird genetic splicing of wholly unrelated genres be damned.

One of my favorite black metal releases reviewed this month for sure.

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Örök – Übermensch (Signal Rex) (April 29)

My favorite sort of modern black metal: the dark, droning, introspective and evocative stylistics of the French and French Canadian scenes as put forth by labels such as Sepulchral and Nordvis and bands as far afield as Stilla and Sombres Forets.

Tracks go on for anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes and the feel touches on the best elements of more commonly copied acts such as Watain, Gaahl era Gorgoroth and Formulas of Death era Tribulation, while avoiding the pitfalls thereof (or more directly, the shoddy bits lesser acts seem only too keen to misappropriate for their own rather questionable efforts.)

The mental impression is appropriate to a lonely walk through wintry landscapes and night-draped forests, allowing the listener’s mind to wander and open to a more calm and centered contemplative orientation through the day’s (or evening’s) activities.  It’s not a communal music, to be shared among friends, but one for the solitary listener, on headphones.

And Orok fits all of those attributes, marking every signpost along the trail.  Salute.

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Månegarm – Havets Vargar (Re-Mastered) (Black Lodge Records) (May 29)
Månegarm – Dödsfärd (Re-Mastered) (Black Lodge Records) (June 26)

We’ve talked about these guys twice before, for their relatively recent (and very clearly Viking metal) Legions of the North and for their early (and surprisingly black metal oriented) Nordstjarnans Tidsalder, which would have marked a dramatic improvement had it not been penned well before Legions.
Here we have two further remasters from the band’s catalogue, first the still likeable Havets Vargar, then the more questionable transitional affair Dodsfard.

Compared to the nasty lo-fi traditionalist approach of Nordstjarnans Tidsalder, Havets Vargar boasts a far beefier production and guitar tone, which brings them one step closer to the pagan Viking thing they began moving towards.

Most tracks are still operating in the same ballpark as their prior effort, but elements are starting to creep in – bits of traditional instrumentation, sound effects of streams and a more lilting, bouncy folk feel become somewhat apparent amidst all the more straightforward black metallisms.  By the time you hit closers “den sista striden” and “vinternattskvsde” you can tell the band’s got bigger festivals and drunken, fur-bedecked jigging crowds on its mind.

Where Havets Vargar showed the band still firmly on the black metal side of the fence looking Westward towards the longships, Dodsfard unquestionably displays a band sailing a few miles offshore, looking back.  There are still enough black metal bits to be found to make this recognizable as from the hand of the same band, but it’s clear they’ve broken camp and disembarked towards distant shores.

The snarls give way to throaty belches and mediocre death metallish growls, there are far less speedy, tremolo guitar and double bass driven passages, and those that are still present are quickly succeeded (if not immediately preceded) by cheesy midtempo bits not out of place at your local Renaissance Faire.

It still works to the extent the black metal is still present and accounted for, but it feels more like nods of respect to their past than any heartfelt pledge of allegiance, as it were.  They’re getting ready to take the plunge over cheese mountain, they just haven’t committed to it wholeheartedly yet.

Relative thumbs up to Havets Vargar, but the newcomer would be better served tackling Nordstjarnans Tidsalder. Dodsfard is a lot more likeable than the eventual Legions of the North, but still too Viking for my tastes. Cue Bill Zebub walking around in a Viking helmet…

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Les Discrets – Live At Roadburn (Prophecy Productions)  (June 9)

Moody instrumental music closer to mid-90’s gothic rock or a particularly guitar driven darkwave (think Lycia with guitars rather than keyboards, and drop the sinister vocals entirely) than anything “metal” per se.

You can hear strong elements of the gothic end of The Cure in Fursy Tessier’s lengthy, reverb-suffused clean toned guitar workouts, and a sort of Style Council-esque Paul Weller tonality to his mellow croons.

Members of Alcest take part in this live show, bringing the Siouxsie meets Cure and everyone wins feel of the Robert Smith blessed (and quite essential) Nocturne directly to mind, and “Les feuilles d’Olivier” even pulls in the double bass work, hinting at a somewhat more black metallish orientation thereby.

“Au creux de l’hiver” brings a touch of gothic tribal drumming in, but it alternates with both standard double bass and some impressive syncopated footwork from Alcest drummer “Winterhalter” (the standout player in a group of excellent musicians across the board – check out his kitwork on “le nuit muette” to see how it’s done, kids).

A very, very good album all around, bringing the best elements of gothic rock, shoegaze and the more ambient end of the black metal spectrum together for a winner.

Another candidate for album of the month (if not the year) in what has been a shockingly good month of releases.

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Sunset In The 12th House – Mozaic (Prophecy Productions) (June 9)

Trancelike stoner rock instrumentalists with a penchant towards more traditional forms of metal – check out the often quite syncopated footwork of Sergio Ponti if you want to really enjoy this one – and a tendency to break into Iron Maidenisms, Zeppelinisms and Ahablike doom breaks amidst otherwise clean, somewhat noodling clean toned drones not a million miles remove from what we just heard from Les Discrets (though oddly inclined towards a far more extroverted if not major key oriented approach and tonality throughout).

There may be some ooky spooky pseudomystical meaning to the rather long tracks that start the album gradually decreasing in length to the point where track 6 is 1/3 as long as track 1…and it’s a deliberate, steady shrinkage in length from track to track to get there.  Weird, but whatever.

The only time they screw up a bit is when some Alex Krull-like vocals appear out of nowhere on the final track of an otherwise all-instrumental album. They’re not all that bad, but after what came before, you’re left sitting there wondering…what the fuck?!?

Very good overall, but the jumping in and out of classic rockisms and standard metal tropes struck me as a tad too jam band.  And do we really need another Phish, much less a younger Grateful Dead?

Look, the musicianship was damn good.  You really can’t (and shouldn’t) knock guys who play quite this well, even if I was inclined to do so – and I’m really not.

So yeah, I liked this one well enough, but with strong reservations nagging at me the whole time.

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