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Boy, it’s been one hell of a month since last we convened our little circle of friends here.  Plenty of things happened, everywhere from the microcosm of personal life to the macrocosm of human life per se.  Definite scientific consensus that we’ve tripped the light fandango straight into another mass extinction event, anyone?

Well, if anyone’s prepared to deal with death, danger and the diabolic, it’s those of us with a darker bent: the goths, the punks, the metalheads, the horror fans.  When all your “cleancut” yuppie neighbours are running around all a-tizzy, you can bet your sweet ass that there’s a group of us who’ll be blasting the Morbid Angel…the Bauhaus…the Dead Boys…the Bathory, while a Fulci film plays in the background.  Personally, I know I’ll be pulling out the Kreator, “as the world burns”…

So without any further ado, let’s raise a glass to what may be the last days of man, and celebrate the incipient end of all things with yet another monthly dose of releases.  Avaunt!

EH cover    dave dennis graham bo john

Eldritch Horror – Untouched By The Sun (self-released) (June 26)

Way back in 2012, when I made the decision to expand Third Eye from its initially exclusive cult cinema orientation to other areas of interest (read first and foremost: metal), one of the first bands I went after for the podcast was Widow.

An excellent retro/traditional metal band that didn’t seem to be getting as much exposure as they deserved, Widow was, at least to my ears, the best band out of the burgeoning Raleigh scene, which alongside Toronto was the only real hotbed of retro-traditional metal of the day.  And I found a guy so warm hearted, open and likeable that I venture to consider him something of a friend: Chris Bennett.

We talked Widow, alright, and Johnny Aune’s late, much lamented Viper (reform already!), and even a bit of Twisted Tower Dire.  We talked all about the metal scene, and how much things had changed since its heyday in the 1980’s, with all the stops along the way.  Even with editing and trying to keep the conversation moving, our chat had to be split across two shows.  Did I mention we’d done some lengthy off air chats as well?  This guy knows and loves his metal, that’s for damn sure.

And that’s where things tie together.

Because one band he kept bringing up and praising to high heaven was one he described as a “local act from back in the day”, who “you probably never heard of”.  They only put out a few demos before breaking up, but they were apparently a big deal down Raleigh way, and certainly loomed large in his own estimation if not influences (as he used to play in death metal bands prior to Widow himself).

So here we are, a few years on, and Chris happens to mention something offhandedly about a new CD compilation of re-recorded demo material from back in the day.  The name rang a bell right away.  Eldritch Horror.

So I head over to their soundcloud and take a listen to some samples, just to settle once and for all whether Chris (who generally has impeccable taste when it comes to metal) was right.  And holy crap, was he ever.

Suffocation-style vocals, Leprosy-era Death cum From Beyond-era Massacre riffing with strong touches of IVth Crusade-era Bolt Thrower, crisp production, killer drumming…all I want to know is, how come the rest of the world never heard of these guys back in the day?

This is right on par with, and occasionally even superior to, the sort of thing coming out of Morrisound Studios back when, on labels like R/C (remember the short lived, nigh-exclusively death metal based Roadrunner/Combat merger?) and Earache.  While I can’t speak to the original demos, the production here by band guitarist Dennis Shaw is on par with the sort of thing Scott Burns and Colin Richardson were pulling off…talk about lost gems!

And this was right smack dab in step with that era, mind: the band was active from 1990 (they claim New Years’ Day, yet!) through 1993.  It’s like they formed right when death metal coalesced into a definable style (yeah, earliest releases came anywhere between 1987 and 1989, but the “scene” per se? 1990.) and had the good sense to call it quits when things fell apart (quick, name the essential death metal albums post-1993/1994! I dare ya!).

All we can do at this point is be thankful that this material is available again today.  It may be re-recorded…but it sounds exactly like the period all of this material hails from. Exactly.

Vocalist (and former band co-guitarist) David Price has that Frank Mullen Suffocation thing down, but manages to keep things more intelligible and (dare we say “melodic”? How about “smooth”?) than Mullen ever was.  There’s never really a question as to what’s being said here, so lyric sheets are entirely optional…

Aforementioned guitarist Dennis Shaw and new kid Graham Farrell keep the riffs thick and punishing, but with that snaky sort of feel that marked all the best death metal acts back in the day. It’s meaty and chunky as a Rick Rozz performance, but tending towards more of a single note/tremelo riff complexity.

There are decided influences from several revered Morrisound Studios bands bleeding through and some nice vintage-style solos that manage to blend right in without being overly flashy*, but it never veers towards slavish homage or any retro-style attempt to recreate a long lost sound.  This just feels authentic through and through – there’s no question this band and these songs hail from that specific time and place, you really can’t fake it at this level.

* that being said, there is a very James Murphy sweep picked arpeggio bit during “the vomit hounds”…

Drummer John Placko is pretty friggin’ awesome any way you slice it – not only is he fully capable of working some complex syncopation on the kit, but check out that trilling quintuplet double bass intro on “remission of desperation”. I mean, it’s very old school death metal in orientation, but there are decided prog elements to his playing.

This guy clearly knows his shit, and the excellent production here allows every member of the band to be heard with a refreshing degree of equality – not in the sense of modern production, where everything is jacked up and shoved right against the speaker in competition (the effective end result being hissy mud), but in the sense of proper analog studio recording, well recorded, mixed and produced to create a unified whole that still sacrifices none of the individual efforts that comprise the whole. Hell, I can even hear the bass lines fairly clearly at times, and how often do you catch me saying that?

So for those (like myself) who missed out on their 1991 and 1993 demos (as well as their lone appearance on 1992 King Fowley comp Midnight Offerings), the material is all here, albeit in re-recorded form.  But when the performances and production sound this good…do you really care?

Sounds like these guys may be back to stay – think of this release as clearing the vaults and setting the record straight.

See?  You should’ve been paying attention, you missed out on something as truly killer as this…

https://www.facebook.com/eldritchhorror
https://eldritchhorror.bandcamp.com/

chill_shirt_38x38_300     chILLMiskachILLJopo

chILL – Artificially Alive (Twisted Entertainment) (July 30)

Korn-like guitar noise effects and detuned lumbering nu-metal riffs give way to a much smoother, nigh-melodeath section, complete with clean (if somewhat nasal and occasionally flat) vocals.  Then it drops into an aggro/screamo thing.  Rinse, repeat.

Well, if you’re going to mess with this sort of sound, at least chILL have the good sense and presence of mind to include, if not specifically emphasize some pleasantly melodic overtones amidst all the other nonsense.  They make a point of bringing up just how many catchy hooks there are, and it’s no lie – minus the unwelcome outside influences, this one would be a real winner.  Those whose taste runs more to, say, Five Finger Death Punch than the likes of Vain, Entombed or Gorgoroth would likely rate this one even higher.

Production is crystalline – seriously, this is one of the stronger modern productions I’ve encountered of late.  We’re talking instruments and vocals only, with no appreciable compression issues and overdubs kept to a bare minimum.  Enough space is left in the overall mix to allow each and every component to be heard, giving Artificially Alive at least the illusion of old school studio ambience.

It’s still got a bit too much sheen, leaving the album with that “clean” and “modern” feel that separates modern music production from a more traditional, “retro” approach, but for the type, it is surprisingly palatable and should hold up to serious house rocking volumes for those so inclined.

While it’s still not exactly my style, bearing a bit too much of the telltale smell of 90’s “indie” metal-substitute (nu metal/aggro/screamo/groove) to sit well on the shelf next to more traditional variants of genre, it’s definitely more than listenable in the same sense that the better emo and “dark metal” acts are.

If you’re pissed off and depressed, you could certainly do a whole hell of a lot worse than chILL for appropriate mood music.

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Spectral Lore – Voyager (Stellar Auditorium)

Talk about strange…OK, it’s essentially ambient space rock in the vein of Tangerine Dream and E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr, but there are some total out of left field bits and bobs thrown in to pull the meditative listener right out of their reverie.

Seriously – the freakish hissing noises in “experimental spectroscopy” were one thing, but the Fine Young Cannibals meet Heaven 17 thing towards the end of the title track and the Vince Clarke in Depeche Mode thing that makes up “asteroid mining” show a musician who’s not ready to commit to a subgenre. Problem with being too syncretist is, in trying to please multiple audiences all at once, you wind up alienating all of them.

Now, if he’d stuck to the ambient bent, hey, most of this works quite well, and gives the intended sensation of a vessel drifting through space, exploring the far reaches of the galaxy.  And if he said, hey, I want to resurrect the early 80’s electronic dance scene, I’d have been down with that – “asteroid mining” wouldn’t have seemed too out of place as a bonus track on Speak & Spell, or even Yazoo’s Upstairs at Eric’s at a stretch.

But to put the two together in some odd mashup is just jarring, and ruins the mood either way, or for fans of either style. And just to make things really fucked up?  He claims to be a black metaller.

Say huh? 

Ambient space rock fans should be happy with most of this, but be prepared to have some entirely inappropriate happy New Wave style dance music breaking you right the hell out of your trance.

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Chaos Magic – S/T   (Frontiers Music) (July 3)

Chilean gothic metal chanteuse Caterina Nix and the restlessly prolific Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius, Ring of Fire, Allen-Lande, Avalon) pump out yet another radio friendly, pop-oriented gothic metal release in a genre that’s become overcrowded with such.

Where earlier offerings in the field tended to emphasize a more symphonic approach with decidedly operatic affectations and approach, the genre has over the past decade or so morphed into more of an incusionist thing, where the general minor key feel, midtempo stylings and clean female vocals are still present, but a far poppier, more (European) top 40-ish sound has almost entirely subsumed any loftier aims.

The vocals are pleasant enough, but hardly akin to (or even attempting) any operatic diva flourishes, and the guitars are simple if melodic, eschewing the bombast of earlier Epica, Within Temptation, Nightwish or Leaves Eyes in favor of a more middle class hoi polloi “you can do this too!” sort of thing (think everything from Nemesea, Unsun and Evanescence to…well, Chaos Magic).

For his part, Tolkki brings his usual solid sense of song structure, tacking some odd synthesizer programming bits on to his usual guitar/bass/drums setup every now and again, but not enough to throw things off to any appreciable degree.

Chaos Magic (the album as well as the band) is unquestionably listenable enough, with likeable (if somewhat unremarkable) vocals and plenty of hooks, but you have to ask, will all this really stick with the listener after a play or two?

Your call – this is pretty par for the course for (if not superior to) the gothic metal scene of recent years, and make no mistake, I did enjoy this album.

I just remember when bands used to strive for so much more.

THE V COVER

THE V – Now or Never (Frontiers Music) (July 3)

Benedictum’s Veronica Freeman does the solo thing, bringing her entire band along for the ride (uh…what?!?), as well as notable guests like Stryper’s Michael Sweet, Symphony X and Midnight Eternal’s Mike LePond, Dokken’s Jeff Pilson and Chastain’s Leather Leone.

Being rather indifferent towards the band she hails from, this is actually something of an opportunity to reappraise Freeman on her own merits – while Well, Avina and Stjernquist are all present and accounted for herein, there’s a decided stylistic switchup going on and a laundry list of players taking part on any given track.  So let’s see how the lady fares.

Well, she’s still got that deep, throaty, sorta masculine thing going on vocally, but there’s a decided Leather Leone-style rasp at times that I hadn’t really noticed before.  She also keeps things generally clean, particularly when working the high end of her range.

Overall, this is playing in the same ballpark as late 80’s/early 90’s hard rock/Hollywood metal acts like Femme Fatale, Princess Pang* or even When the Blackbird Sings-era Saraya*, which means more or less major key and somewhat uptempo, not to mention more palatable to a general (i.e. non-metal oriented) audience.

* Yeah, I know they’re New Yorkers (transplanted or otherwise), but we’re talking style here…

It’s unquestionable that the album is filled with hooks, good guitar solos and a respectable performance from Freeman herself, who seems to have turned the aggro elements of her persona down several notches to put her best foot forward here.

It’s one of those albums that’s unquestionably solid, not to mention fairly catchy – there’s not a lot to knock here. But there are a few too many “soft” tracks (falling in that desert area crossing balladeering with a very light country-rock sort of thing) for my taste (“line in the sand”, “love should be to blame”, “starshine”) and a few that just don’t work (“roller coaster”, “king for a day”, “line in the sand”), and that puts the better half of the album (everything not mentioned herein is pretty damn good, folks) in a lesser light than Freeman and company deserve.

A damn good start, here’s hoping volume II tweaks the formula a bit.

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DIMINO – Old Habits Die Hard (Frontiers Music) (July 3)

A really nice floor tom roll (the kind that fakes double bass sextuplets) opens up what winds up as a fairly typical quality Frontiers affair featuring Frank DiMino of 70’s rockers Angel.

Like The V, Dimino pulls in both former bandmates (Punky Meadows of “Punky’s whips” fame, Barry Brandt) and big names (Stryper’s Oz Fox, Twisted Sister’s Eddie Ojeda) for the project, which shows DiMino very much in Biff Byford territory vocally.  In fact, there were more than a few moments where I could’ve sworn Byford dropped by as guest vocalist, so Saxon fans take note.

There’s enough energy and drive here to give this some appeal to the Hollywood metal/glam rock crowd, and there are a few solos that should make fans of, say, Dokken and Ratt happy (“rockin’ in the city”), so don’t automatically assume that Angel’s vintage implies a “classic rock” vibe – this is hard rock bordering on late 80’s metal, if anything.

There are touches that spell 70’s, alright – the Jon Lord-style keyboard bits, some sleepier acoustic tracks that bring The Who or Bad Company to mind – but I dare you to run something like “mad as hell”, “the quest” or the aforementioned “rockin’ in the city” by the crowd that keeps the nostalgia circuit in business – they’re too fast paced, too aggressive for that.

By the time the album wraps, there are far too many ballads and midtempo tracks for my taste, but when DiMino’s good, he’s very very good for the style.  And that’s good enough to give the man a nod of respect.

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YES – Like It is – At the Mesa Arts Center (Frontiers Music) (July 3)

With no small measure of prescience, Frontiers releases one of the final concerts from prog pioneers Yes, mere days after the passing of bassist Chris Squire.

As veterans of the more staid British variant (and arguably originators) of the progressive rock scene, I’ve personally always found Yes somewhat stiff and lacking in the comparative fluidity of American, Canadian and Italian acts such as Cherry Red/Goblin, Frank Zappa, Fates Warning or Rush.

In the rising trend of bands performing fan-favorite albums en toto in a live setting, Yes delivers respectable 40 plus year removed takes on Fragile and Close to the Edge (what, no Tales from Topographic Oceans?)

Jon Davison doesn’t reach to the astronomical (if not squeaky) highs of olden days, but delivers a more than respectably close variant thereon, Chris Squire’s basslines and Geoff Downes’ snaky ivory tickling are as solid as ever, and while Alan White’s drums aren’t exactly being pounded with John Bonham-level force or the sort of meter-challenging virtuosity of a Neil Peart, it’s debatable if they ever truly were.  There are no audible issues, and the entire band is fairly picture perfect throughout the entirety of the performance.

Which brings us to…

Steve Howe similarly sounds astronomically more self assured than his rather shaky performance on last month’s Asia live reunion album, despite retaining the rather clipped note-interruptus feel that contributed to making that one so jarringly “off”.  It’s not quite “right”, but is far closer to being in the right ballpark – the band never displays that uncertainty or obvious need to cover for off-tempo phrasing  and/or flubs that his Asia bandmates were forced to.

In fact, if not for the “just barely hit the note and run” lighter than air fretboard work, you’d think it was a completely different guitarist we’re talking about.  Yes fans who haven’t experienced the Asia release under discussion will probably wonder about most of what I’m getting at here, and just praise Howe and his bandmates for a surprisingly good job at recreating material that came out before many of us were even born.

It’s Yes, and like most prog rockers (particularly of the British variety) that means a fairly even split between an impassioned musico fanbase and an equally large audience who finds their often aimless noodling, lengthy suites and spacey concept albums rather bloated and pretentious (cue everything from the mods and rockers to the punk and new wave scenes that rose in direct revolt against the extravagances hereof).

Personally, I find myself split on the subject, thoroughly enjoying some variants (particularly Zappa and Cherry Red/Goblin) and strongly questioning others (Yes, ELP) who tend to bore more than impress with their rather Lizstian cum Mendelssohnian “look at me, aren’t I virtuosic” emptiness of feel, emotion and compositional immediacy behind whatever measure of flash.

In effect, while their efforts and skillbase can be appreciated on an intellectual level, the bottom line is that bands like this come off as quite dull if not flat out boring to these ears.  That’s great that you come from a more classical background than all of these blues, rockabilly, funk or jazz based rocker types.  But it all feels rather pointless and without drive, when zero percent of it comes from the gut, and it’s so over-rehearsed that absolutely nothing here feels spontaneous, affecting or from the hip.

Fans of “classic rock”, particularly the British progressive style, should be overjoyed that these veterans are so well represented herein, fully able at a comparatively advanced age to pull off material they composed and recorded a lifetime ago.

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Iron Savior – Megatropolis 2.0 (2015) (AFM Records) (June 9)

A reissue and reworking of Piet Sielck’s 2007 opus, given the full makeover treatment in every respect.  Not only is this a remaster with new artwork, but Sielck apparently remixed the original tracks and went so far as to re-record portions thereof.  And that’s not to mention a pair of bonus tracks, just for good measure…

Suffice to say, this should be an entirely different animal to the original.

Sielck and Iron Savior are primarily notable for three things:

First, he was a longtime bandmate of Helloween and Gamma Ray’s Kai Hansen, and therefore in on the dawn of the Teutonic power metal scene (and thus the genesis of that scene per se).

Secondly, for his unusual focus on science fiction concepts, inspired by the national love for SF icon Perry Rhodan (a sort of Buck Rogers figure whose novels have been published since the early 60’s).

And finally, for his skills and presence as a respected producer and engineer (Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray, Grave Digger, Twisted Tower Dire, Paragon).

Needless to say, all of those factors come into play herein, with a crystalline modern metal production, melodic songs that cross traditional, 80’s style metal stylistically falling somewhere between Dokken and Accept with a more present day Euro-power metal take.  Sielck’s solos are tuneful and more than respectable, at times even somewhat flash oriented, while his vocals are clean with an appropriate power metal rasp that unlike all too many of his ostensible peers never veers into the realms of unintentional comedy.

This is good, solid, straightforward music that beats out the better part of the competiton by sheer dint of its professionalism and yes, even emotional drive.  Sielck himself is a good guy with a pronounced and quite welcome sense of humor, not to mention something of a winningly self-effacing quality all too keen to play down his abilities and status as a veteran of the scene, which taken in combination with material this strong and production this pristine can only result in a heartfelt thumbs up.

Five stars.

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Borealis – Purgatory (AFM Records) (July 7)

Modern symphonically oriented power metal.

Driven by both in your face guitars and prominent keyboard, these Canadians make a very good impression in an overcrowded genre that generally fails to resonate with these ears beyond a general appreciation for its melodic, neo-traditionalist orientation.

While still very much set within that basic field of play, Borealis forefronts the melodic bits and heart-rending cries of (perhaps over-)emotional angst to the point where the listener could be forgiven for mistaking them for some ersatz gothic (if not gothic-symphonic) metal band with emo touches.

Vocalist Matt Martinelli has a sleepy, grungelike approach that taps somewhat into the bluesier end of the last days of American metal, with all that Aerosmith meets Hanoi Rocks worship of the late 80’s Hollywood scene, and while this is hardly my cup of tea (the tone just smacks of Top 40 radio if not country to these ears), its unquestionable that he’s a perfect fit for a band this depressively emotional and expressive.  Think Mr. Big’s Jeff Martin crossed with Layne Staley and you may get the general idea, but there’s more of a modernist pop feel than that statement implies.

Apparently these guys are only in their mid-20’s, so all this “post-metal” business is understandable, but guitarist Michael Briguglio throws in some very clearly “metallized” elements from the overprocessed but melodic guitar lines ala Thomas Youngblood by way of John Petrucci.

Similarly, keyboardist Sean Werlick delivers a nigh-Rhapsody (of Fire) “dramatic” keyboard that both underpins and surrounds the material that rests upon it.  In fact, as opposed to the more typical reverse situation, where keyboards serve as occasional stings and tone coloring, Borealis seems to be subsumed by Werlick’s simplistic but effective chordal comping to the point where, while not exactly driven by it, would unquestionably be a very different, and far lesser animal without him.

Drummer Sean Dowell (you heard that right – a band with two Seans in it) keeps things reasonably straightforward but is unafraid to throw in regular footwork flutters in the manner of a Casey Grillo, leaving matters more than professional sounding across the board, and in fact leaving Purgatory as quite a palatable listen per se.

While this one didn’t exactly set me on fire, smacking far too much of elements both past and present that feel somewhat overused if not played out (the grungy/raspy vocal tones, the power meets symphonic with touches of prog metal vibe), it’s indisputable that these guys are on to something here, and it’s a far more emo take on, say, Dream Theater than you’d ever catch from the latter band.

Very good for what they’re trying to be, and well worth a spin.

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Nomans Land – Last Crusade (Massacre Records) (June 23)

Viking metal from Russia.

You read that right.  Vikings.  From Russia. 

As an Afro-American friend once said about a white rapper type’s misappropriation of a term once popularized by Eastside principal Joe Clark (and subsequent “biopic” Lean On Me), “I think that boy’s a bit confused.

So ignoring that Rachel Dolezalesque bit of cross-cultural identity theft, how is the music, you ask?  And this is where I have better things to report.

While as delightfully cheesy as fans have come to expect from your average Viking/folk/pagan metal act, there’s a further element of strong, propulsive playing on the very forefronted, dual lead guitars from “Sigurd” and “Alex”, who also provide some rather comedic medievalist clean vocal chants on the choruses.  Vocalist/bassist Hjervard offers more of a black metallish snarl, and drummer Einar keeps things in time with extremely straightforward yet basic kitwork.

It’s got the melodic bits and hints of a folkish bounce to the lead lines, at least at times, but what really saves it is the otherwise straight ahead power (in the band) meets black (in the vocals) metal orientation on display herein.  Don’t expect an out and out cheesefest along the lines of Turisas, nor the more boring “serious” Viking schtick of Tyr or latter day Bathory, because this is far more akin to a somewhat Maidenesque power metal with Big Country guitar-as-bagpipe thing.

Rather good in a Taake goes power metal sort of way, albeit with strong touches of Viking metal cheese in the clean backing vocal choruses (which may be a plus, depending on how much you’re into the drunken singalong thing).

I liked it.

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Various Artists – A Light In The Black (A Tribute To Ronnie James Dio)
(Massacre Records) (June 23)

sigh…

Well, it’s time for another one of those pointless tribute albums, where a gaggle of bands known and unknown join forces to record a track apiece from a much beloved scene leader from days gone by.  This time around, it’s the late great Ronnie James Dio as covered by a batch of power metal bands, most of whom get not one, but two songs to represent themselves.

Crystal Ball (whose LifeRider we reviewed last month), Messenger, Gun Barrel, Metal Inquisitor and Gloryful (whose Illusory Blues, Damage Dancer, Ultima Ratio Regis and Ocean Blade we addressed in February, April and June of last year, respectively) join apparent unknowns like The Order, Circle of Silence, Burden of Grief, Rebellion, Wizard and Love.Might.Kill to deliver generally watered down, power metallized takes on classic Dio and Dio-era Black Sabbath and Rainbow tracks.

Messenger makes the strongest showing, with some fairly strong covers of “kill the king” and “don’t talk to strangers”. Gun Barrel and heretofore unknowns Love.Might.Kill offer the strongest individual track with their dead on “stand up and shout” (their take on “hungry for heaven” is acceptable enough, but fails to light any real fires), while Burden of Grief and Rebellion are positively comedic with their aggro meets death metal variants. I know I actually laughed out loud when the respective vocals kicked in on each, and that’s saying something.

Look, if you’re big on the tribute albums – and clearly somebody out there must be, or Cleopatra records would have gone out of business with the (un?)death of the mid-90’s goth revival – this one’s passable enough, with a few strong if generally indistinguishable performances scattered throughout the 20 track, 2 disc running time.

But you have to ask yourself: why?

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UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Time Stands Still (Napalm Records) (June 26)

Strong modern metal offering from yet another Canadian act (so, how’s it goin’ up there, eh?) whose approach appropriates some of the more likeable elements of melodeath (in the guitars, drums and production) while remaining firmly in the realm of melodic metal.  Think something along the line of a more excitable Triaxis crossed with Battle Beast, and you’ll get the idea.

Fluid, melodic lead line-driven dual guitars (courtesy of Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley), never-decelerating double bass drums (the relenteless footwork of Scott Buchanan) and beefy, testosterone driven “tough girl” vocals from Brittney Slayes, who has the presence of mind and good taste to liberally punctuate the biker gal alto shout she tends to gravitate towards with plenty of soaring soprano siren cries.  It’s a winning combination, managing to feel very traditional while clearly dancing in a very modern playing and production style.

Sure, lead single “tonight we ride” (reviewed last month) is still the standout track by a Missouri mile, but if you dug Steel or Rage and Retribution, you’ll definitely be happy with this one.

Very strong, very anthemic.  Look forward to hearing more from these pals n’gals in the future.

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GLOWSUN – Beyond the Wall of Time (Napalm Records) (June 26)

Kyuss circa Blues for the Red Sun goes to France.

Seriously, that’s all there is to say.

It’s all instrumental, and likeable enough if you were looking for an album of vocal-free outtakes from that era of Kyuss.

OK, nothing wrong with it, but certainly nothing to write home about.

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POWERWOLF – “Army Of The Night” single (Napalm Records) (July 17)

Would you like cheese with your cheese? We have some peccorino romano you can sprinkle over that heaping hunk of gruyere, and some melted cheddar jack to pour on as an accent.

German band with French and Romanian members, they’ve been around for a while, they have this thing about the vocalist actually being a werewolf or something.

Well, maybe not quite that bad, but they do go around in corpsepaint and try to act all ooga booga anti-Christian while delivering some uber-cheesy keyboard-fronted singalong power metal that feels a bit like a major key take on Gothminister.

ummm….

Yeah, I’m at a loss here.


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The Answer – “Gone Too Long” (Napalm Records) (July 31)

Boy, these guys didn’t wait too long to drop some new material on us…didn’t we just review Raise a Little Hell a few months ago?

Well, the good news is, this single is so much superior to that earlier release, I was wondering if we were talking about the same band.  The Mr. Big influences are all over this one, and the feel of this melodic power ballad is so 1989 you’ll be sure to do a doubletake.

Very, very good. Cheers, mates.

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Falling From Grace – Shadows of the Past (Inverse Records)

ugh. Groove metal from Finland.

Some of the guitarwork leans more towards melodeath (i.e. acceptable) than groove (unacceptable), but the screaming, howling aggro vocals are still there throughout.

Pantera fans, here ya go.

Sheesh.

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Profezia – Black Misanthropic Elite – Moon Anthem (Moribund) (July 24)

Comically howling, nigh-Fleurety (if clearly intended to be Burzumesque) vocals punctuate some straightforward, old school second wave Norwegian black metallesque material coming straight out of sunny Italy.  We talked their recent Oracolo Suicidia back in February of last year.

A reissue of two likely demos from 2008, It’s very raw and rather akin to, say, Vlad Tepes in its virulent aggressiveness and relentlessly lo-fi aesthetic, and that’s a decided plus.  The six Black Misanthropic Elite tracks are what you really want to dig into here, the two Moon Anthem tracks are (believe it or not) somewhat better produced and slow down to a comparatively doomier tempo, losing much of the earlier material’s appeal in the process.

Pretty good, though the vocals may be too silly and distractingly offputting to properly retain the bleak, trancelike wintry woods feel the band is shooting for here.

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Nekro Drunkz – Absolute Filth (Moribund) (August 21)

Hey, did that guy just open the album with a belch?

No, not a bowel-rendingly gutteral death metal approximation thereof…I swear, this guy just stylized two belches!

2 guys from Oregon who seem to have a thing for grindcore-level playing (and movie soundclips) while delving into Mentors territory, going so far as to nigh-unrecognizably cover El Duce and company’s classic “sandwich of love”.  Their last album was entitled “Tyrants of Toilet Music”, and they self-identify as “purveyors of Toilet Metal”, so you get the idea.

Just take a look at the song titles if you want to know what you’re getting into – I have to imagine #4 is a tribute to the equally distasteful Long Jeanne Silver, so there’s no mistaking just who these guys are trying to be, or how low they’re willing to go for a cheap sophomoric (not to mention scatological) laugh.  Look, they have a song entitled “satanic stool sample”, so come on.

The music is pretty low grade grind, with every track sounding exactly like the one before it and even less appeal than usual.  Don’t expect something on the order of Terrorizer’s World Funeral, Carcass or Repulsion here, this is pretty low-skilled and noisy stuff.

I’m surprised Bill Zebub hasn’t tapped them for scoring one of his absurdist comedies yet.

Nah.

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Vardan – Between the Fog and Shadows (Moribund) (August 21)

Hey, you know me, I love me some Vardan.

This is a 3 track EP which plays into something of a widdershins orientation, with each track getting successively longer and if not more uptempo (as they’re all pretty much of a piece in that respect), then certainly more…awake and aware.

There’s a comparative liveliness and awakening that seems to grow as you progress through the tracks, to the point where “of dead dreams through funeral eyes” comes across as positively danceable (in a traditional gothic rock sense), complete with a bit of a lilting bounce and vaguely syncopated feel.  It’s nice, but not what you’d expect from Vardan, or even from the mood set with the first track!

That said, we’re certainly talking a more recognizably Vardan release than he’s been putting out of late, with raw underproduction and a very trancelike approach.

Good stuff, and seems to be hinting at a dawning return to form.

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PERVERSOR – Anticosmocrator (Hells Headbangers) (July 27)

Speedy Chilean black metal.  I did very much appreciate the high powered, Pete Gill meets Phil Taylor Motorhead-like double bass bits (as in the midsection of “inhale”, but they’re scattered all over the album – this guy is positively relentless with the footwork!), but there’s still a bit too much reliance on the blastbeat and over-reverbed vox for my taste.

Guitars are one long wall of noise, with only the drums and vocals appearing to have been subjected to any degree of production whatsoever.  It’s like listening to music during a bout of post-concert tinnitus – other than the double bass and some vocal bits, it’s just hisssssssss whiiiiiiiiiine all the way through.

I’m willing to take the generic feel and unrecognizably blurred guitars (seriously, good luck figuring out when one track changes to another here) for this guy’s non-blastbeat drumming – his footwork alone brings me back, and that aspect alone is something that’s sorely missed in today’s triggers and trick pedal-driven metal scene.  This guy’s really pounding the living shit out of those bass drums, I’m not hearing the pallid “modern” technique there at all.

Hats off to ya, dude. Here’s to better, even more forefronted drum production next time around.

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DEMONA – 2015 (7″ EP) (Hells Headbangers) (July 20)

Chilean cum Canadian resident “Tanza Speed” delivers an oddly Silvia Superstar meets Schmier approach that combines a Killer Barbys vocal tone with Destructionlike “who goosed me” yelps.  You can hear a touch of (earlier, EP-era) Znowhite in both vocals and guitars, both of which originate from the lady herself.

On this two track single, German blackened thrash veterans Desaster’s drummer “Tormentor” handles drums, and Yellowgoat Project and Tiger Junkies’ own Joel Grind handles the engineering end.

It’s thin, reedy, and fast, which is appropriate given the roots of the genre – who in their right mind could call Megadeth’s Killing is my Business, Kublai Khan’s Annihilation or Toxik’s World Circus beefy and bottom-end heavy?

This one’s all about speed and rawness, and while hardly “well produced” by any standards, Demona delivers a decidedly underground, somewhat old school speed/thrash attack that feels like it could have been an overlooked gem from back in the day.

I dug it.

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BLASPHEMIC CRUELTY – Crucible of the Infernum (Hells Headbangers) (July 20)

Lightning fast blackened thrash in the vein of a sped-up Destruction by way of the Brazilian crowd (early Sepultura, Vulcano, Sarcofago, et al).  The biggest differences are the modern-style legato but controlled fretwork courtesy of Perdition Temple’s Gene Palubicki and thick, somewhat in your face modern production that pushes vocals, drums and guitar solos right up front while leaving rhythm guitars somewhat buried under a layer of mud.

There’s a hint of Slayer by way of Morbid Angel to “icons of revolt” (and another rather Slayeresque riff before the solo in “from crypts of bloodlust”), but the general orientation is more generically blackened thrash with noticeable death metal touches here and there.

It must be said that Crucible of the Infernum bears something of an indefinably generic feel despite its merits otherwise, but the recognizably old school flourishes, strong production and decent lead guitar work definitely make Blasphemic Cruelty a band worth watching.

Here’s to more from these guys.

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DESTRUKTOR – Opprobrium (Hells Headbangers) (July 4)

We encountered these guys on a split with Throneum last summer, where they got somewhat of a mixed if generally positive review.  Well, they’re back with a full length, and nothing has changed, whether for the better or worse.

The drummer is still pretty damn impressive, but retains that unfortunate penchant for falling back on blastbeats, he never swapped out that thin, overly tight punk snare drum for a beefier deep dish version, and their driving, hyperaggressive tremelo picked black/”war” death metal still features the same middling at best death metal bark/puke vocals.  None of this is a deal breaker, but (non-blastbeat drumming aside) it isn’t exactly a selling point either.  In the grand scheme of “is this band any good”, my sentiments are split right down the middle.

I did like the aggression and De Mysteriis era Mayhem-on-speed black metallized riffing, and like I said last time and above, I really like this guy’s kitwork.  He’s fast, unafraid to work the toms and syncopate whenever he can sneak it in there for a bar or so, and his floorwork is positively masterful on a similar level to the guy in Perversor, albeit with astronomically more advanced a skillbase on the set proper.  It’s as if he couldn’t decide whether to emulate Neil Peart and Dave Lombardo or Jan Axel Blomberg, but thankfully the former duo seem to have won out overall.

Look, with decent if unspectactular riffing and an acceptable if somewhat inappropriate feeling vocalist, it’s hard to say “damn, this was really good”, but something about it just works, particularly with some often-jaw dropping, very well-produced drumming going down throughout.

You have my leave to forget all the negative points this time around and take this as a horns up.

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DEIPHAGO – Into the Eye of Satan (Hells Headbangers) (August 7)

Filipino underground metal. It’s really noisy, they’re really angry, and the bassist/vocalist isn’t exactly averse to pumping a bit of iron now and again, so you know this former bodybuilder isn’t gonna slag an effective brother in arms too bad.

They have amusing old school black metal/blackened thrash pseudonyms for both self and instrument that nearly approach Blasphemy for sheer giggle inducing wordiness: “Voltaire 666, bass bulldozers and black vomits!”  “Sidapa on crasheraxe and leads!” “Savnok on deathhammers!”  It’s all very teenage, but that high school sophomore inside me is stifling the urge to pump a fist in the air and say “fuckin’ cool, dudes!”.  Silly but fun and retains a definite aesthetic.

It’s reasonably well produced despite all the noise – you can definitely hear some studio ambience in quieter moments, but any reviewer would be hard pressed to call this “music”, even by comparison with uber-raw “war metal” acts like Beherit and Blasphemy, and I don’t get the impression that particular style is even what Deiphago is shooting for.

Part of the problem here isn’t even just skill on their respective instruments, but the fact that either guitars, bass or both appear to be so detuned the strings are vibrating on the neck like they’re in mid-whammy bar dive.  Throw multi-tracked belches phased from left to right and a lot of reverb, plus some seriously incessant blastbeat drumming, and it all kind of turns into mush.

In the end, this really is not for everybody.  And I don’t mean including your mom, your girlfriend and all the Taylor Swift fans you know, either.  This is unappealingly raw, noisy, nasty testosterone dumping at its most crazed, and unlikely to work for all but the most hardened of underground metallers.  Yeah, you may dig Burzum, Malevolent Creation and even the better part of the Hells Headbangers roster.  But Deiphago?  Whole different story, folks.

Can’t claim to have enjoyed the ride musically speaking, but respect for the weightlifting and keeping that old school 80’s underground aesthetic alive.

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SCYTHIAN (UK) – Hubris in Excelsis (Hells Headbangers) (August 21)

I was drifting off totally during the somewhat generic opening track, when the title cut kicked in.  Night and day.

Ok, now that you’ve got me paying attention, what do we have here?  Some fairly aggressive death metal with a vague Nile influence (the snaking, Arabian minor sounding guitar lines), more chaotic than most bands trying to approach a more “mainstream” death metal sound, but far too polished to fall under the same “so raw and underground, it’s practically DIY” classification as the sort of acts Hells Headbangers typically handles.

You can tell they’re a UK act in two respects: first and most obvious are the accents on display…which is strange given that the primary vocalist is Finn “S. Vrath” of Sepulchral Temple.  But even beyond the Bolt Throweresque lilt and use of “proper English” is the sense of stiffness that nearly always seems to accompany bands hailing from the Isles. It’s good stuff, alright…just don’t expect fluidity and soul.

It’s rather strange to hear them name checking acts like Sodom, Bathory, Sarcofago and early Desaster, because absolutely zero percent of those show in Scythian’s sound.  I guess if you took IVth Crusade era Bolt Thrower, gave them a crazed drummer and threw in some sloppy Slayeresque solos, you’d have a basic sense of what you’re getting into here.

Like that band (or Xentrix, or any number of UK thrash and death metal acts you can name), Scythia is competent, and given a spin or two to let it all sink in, is likeable enough, and I can certainly recommend it on that measure.

But it’s highly unlikely that this one will grab you at first go – it’s missing that special something, that uniqueness of style and approach that turns unsuspecting or casual listeners into hardcore fans.

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BONEHUNTER – Evil Triumphs Again (Hells Headbangers) (August 21)

Now these guys have the early Bathory thing down.

Vocally, you’d think Quorthon himself came back from the dead just to record this one – it’s all snot gargling wide mouthed back of the throat yet reedy rasp from minute one. Musically speaking, they’re parked somewhere between the Venom/Motörhead worship of the debut and the awful production and comparatively aimless noise fetishism of The Return, but with a tad more biker metal influence.  If you toss a dash of Maax, Intoxicated and Venomous Maximus into the otherwise all Bathory, all the time mix, you’d have Bonehunter.

As a dedicated fan of the Bathory self titled (and Under the Sign, whose sound doesn’t play into this in the least), this works for me quite well, making an excellent accompaniment to Joel Grind’s similarly dead on Yellowgoat Project.

This is how first wave black metal (and more contemporary homages thereof) is supposed to sound, kids.

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BARBATOS (Japan) – Straight Metal War (Hells Headbangers) (August 7)

You know how I could tell this was Japanese?  Forget the artwork.  Forget the photo.  Forget the fact that the label put “(Japan)” right after the band name.

Flatbacker.

Yep, what we have here is a side project from Abigail’s Yasuyuki which taps right into the vibe established 30 odd years ago by the band that would soon be rechristened EZO by none other than Kiss’ Gene Simmons during his brief, somewhat powermad production career (see also the Plasmatics’ Wendy O Williams’ WOW, Doro Pesch’s Doro and Keel’s The Final Frontier, all of which sound very…Kisslike).

But in their pre-America days, EZO was known as Flatbacker, a speed-thrash monster delivering sloppy tracks like “deep insert” and “massacre”.  The closest analogue for Stateside listeners is their own “desiree” on the self titled EZO album – fast, aggressive, herky jerky quirky stuff that doesn’t quite qualify as thrash or speed metal in domestic terms, but is definitely playing in a recognizably similar ballpark.

So here’s the Abigail mainman doing sloppy but likeable Phil Taylor-style double bass drumming, sped up NWOBHM riffing in the vein of the early thrash scene and topping it off with some really weird, almost tongue in cheek vocal ululations that are recognizably clean sung English, but delivered in a way that’s just…way the hell out in left field somewhere.  Think Black Rose and early Mercyful Fate-era King Diamond with all those haunted moans, but as done by a totally sloshed drunk if not Marlee Martin.

He’s not all that bad on the lead guitar, either: it’s fast, legato and kind of messy, with a tone that says he’s either running this straight from the Marshall stack or using a wah filter for extra grit – there’s no real “distortion” in the modern sense, leaving Straight Metal War with an almost tube ampish, light overdriven feel throughout.

This is pretty much what you’d expect from the guy behind Abigail and Tiger Junkies, but more clean toned (and clean if oddly sung) in a sort of ersatz Motorhead biker band way.  If you crossed pre-1916 Motorhead with Circus O’Power and put a Japanese punk/thrasher on vocals, it’d sound a hell of a lot like Barbatos.

I fully support this Straight Metal War.

Keep on keepin’ on, Yasuyuki.

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Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom… (Nuclear War Now! Productions/Ross Bay Cult)  (July 1)

Let’s face it – while the mid 80’s were positively filled with thrash acts from Brazil, Germany and Sweden who leaned towards the “blackened” end of the equation…hell, even Manowar tipped their hats on Hail to England…by 1990, it was all over.

Sure, King Diamond was still around, but the whole Mercyful Fate schtick was decidedly watered down.  From bearing the standard of satanism, he’d morphed himself into a jolly uncle figure, telling spooky ghost stories to entertain the kiddies.  Bathory went Viking.  Sepultura got polished and went straight up death metal.  The Teutonic trio dropped the evil imagery and started talking sociopolitics…come on, Sodom was talking about Vietnam!  Hell, even Hellhammer/Celtic Frost went glam with the ridiculous Cold Lake.  Outside of Deicide and Morbid Angel, there wasn’t a blackened, bullet belted, pseudonymous metaller to be found, anywhere.  And I mean worldwide.

Enter Blasphemy and Beherit.

Isolated on either end by the death and “sellout” (or development, depending on who you listen to and when they said it) of the first wave of black metal and blackened thrash and the eventual dawn of the Norwegian-spearheaded second wave, these two backwards-looking acts came out of nowhere with a form of black metal so untutored, so raw and sloppy that it (much, much later) got its own sub-subgenre designation: “war metal”.  I was one of those folks who picked up Oath of Black Blood right around its release…on cassette, mind…and found it confusingly messy.  I was expecting another Bathory, dammit!  What the hell is all this noise?

Decades on, it, like the brief but scene significant output of Canada’s Blasphemy, sounds positively tame, it’s structures loose but easily discernible by comparison with much of the pointless bullshit that clutters the scene nowadays…much of it from the “bigger” labels, yet.

But at the time, these two bands stood all by themselves in a veritable desert, too backwards and lunkheaded for the increasingly musically proficient death metal scene, much less the general public, who’d begun to sell off their metal collections in droves, embarrassed that they’d ever had “big hair” or worn patched and button bedecked denim and studded leather.  Nooo, I’ve always been a huge fan of Hazel and Camper Van Beethoven, didn’t you know?

So here we are in 2015.  The European and Japanese diehards have been rewarded by seeing their faithful underground become more of an accepted mainstream, the South American scene is stronger and more prolific than ever, and there’s even a small but growing revival of sorts going on here in the (true) metal-averse States.

Sure, you still have the groove, aggro and nu-crowds floating around, and hipster kids still aping their painful to the ear amusical approach – I call the virus out whenever it peeks its ugly head into these monthly reviews, in the fervent hope that a more genre literate fanbase will help stamp that shit out once and for all.

But there are plenty of folks across a wide range of ages keeping the torch alive – proper metal, musicality and character are no longer exclusive to historical record and bands and albums from 20 years past or more.  There is hope once again.

And so here we have the debut.  Long out of print and fetching stupid amounts of money (who are all these crackpots, and why don’t they mind mortgaging the house for a frigging DVD, book or CD, anyway?), fans have had to make due with an easily available disc of their far lesser second and final album Gods of War, packaged with the demos that should have been included here (so everyone could save their money and get all the material that matters in one shot)…until now.

What the hell are you waiting for?

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Ysengrin – Liber Hermetis DLP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (July 1)

Did he just sing about his maitresse?  Hmm, wasn’t expecting kink from a black metal act…

As you may have guessed, this is a French act, but a further one from the Les Legiones Noires or Sepulchral sound cannot be envisioned.

In fact, this bears closer ties to the Rotting Christ school of playing, all midtempo and a sort of slow thrashiness, with death metal burping and enough negative space in the mix to hear everything drummer “Aboth” is doing (which is a good thing) despite relying on a guitar tone so over-distorted it bleeds all over the place.  Redlining individual tracks is not a modus operandi, folks.

This is actually another reissue from the fine folks at NWN, who tend to have some very good taste as a rule, so you know it’s worth your time to take a listen.  Apparently this one ups the previous release of Tragedies – Liber Hermetis by appending the Alchimete demo in its entirety.  Oddly, the demo has a rather good production, which in some respects comes off better than the album (shades of Blasphemy!)

It completely lacks Sakis and Themis Tolis’ strong melodic sense and don’t expect the sort of variety you’d hear on one of the early Rotting Christ albums, but that’s a good signpost for what to expect here.

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Insulter – Blood Spits, Violences and Insults (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (July 1)

A pair of classic demos (and what appears to be a band rehearsal) out of the Brazilian blackened thrash scene.  These guys apparently had some Sarcofago members floating in and out of their ranks and ties have been mentioned to Vulcano, so you get the idea.

I’ve always loved the classic Brazilian black thrash scene. Similar to (if decidedly less technically accomplished than) the Teutonic variant thereof, these guys were the original “retro” acts, firmly situated in the (at the time) hyper-extreme metal underground being built by acts like Bathory, Venom, Slayer and Possessed, with bands and the two scenes exerting further influence on each other all the while (check out the glaringly obvious Destruction homages “eternal existence” and “beyond the twilight line”).

While most of the Brazilians quickly changed style or just faded away into history, there was a brief period back in the mid to late 80’s where they were the craziest, most violent sounding and most “evil” of scenes. To get a pair of obscure demos from this era, particularly from a band quite this strong (they may be raw and wild, but Inculter are more Sepultura/Vulcano/Exumeresque barely controlled fire than Sarcofago/Sodom-level sloppiness), is a damn good thing any way you slice it.

There are a few tracks that are rather muddy, and you hear what sounds like a cassette recorder getting flicked on at one point, but that just adds to the charm, particularly when the better part of the material sounds better “produced” than any dozen black metal albums I could name!

This one’s fucking awesome. There’s really nothing more to say.

Go get the damn thing already!

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Black Feast – Larenuf Jubileum LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (July 1)

Compilation of demos and split appearances from the Finnish band now known as Witchcraft.  They compare themselves to early Beherit, and there’s definitely some elements that suggest a strong influence, but…

Look, you’re talking to a guy who finds both Beherit and Blasphemy sorta catchy, so I’m no stranger to raw and brutal underground metal – in fact, I came up on it during the first wave (check out the first part of my chat with Bill Zebub).  But this…sounds grindcore, not black or war metal.

If you thought Caninus, Hatebeak and Sect Pig were the sine qua non of metal, here’s more “goodness” for ya.

Me?  I found it tedious and pointless, despite a few good riffs here and there.

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Shroud of the Heretic – Unorthodox Equilibrium (Iron Bonehead) (July 31)

Over-reverbed frat party end of the night belches and a detuned, low and slow approaching funeral doom feel.  Yep, it’s another Shroud of the Heretic release.

We’ve dealt with these guys before, about a year and a half ago…and nothing much has changed since then.  They still sound sort of sinister, it’s still kind of middling at best leaning towards generic.

Unless you’ve got a huge jones for gut-wrenching straight from the bowels belches over trancey, detuned, vaguely black metallized slow to midtempo sort-of death metal, you can comfortably get away with saying you did, but didn’t.

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Doomentor – The Second Ceremony 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (July 24)

Mortuary Drape meets Psalm 9-era Trouble and everybody wins.  First track is more the former, the second more the latter.  Maybe you can toss a bit of Bulldozer in there for good measure.

Are you sure they’re from Germany?  The Italian sound is all over this one…

If this is their debut single, I can’t wait for the full length.

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Reverie (Denmark) – Bliss (Invictus) (July 17)

Danes with a very weird sense of song structure. Can you guess they’ve been compared to “math metal”? You could say “technical death” or even (quite arguably) “prog”, given how “off” the riffing feels.

The listener never gets much of a chance to get into the groove and enjoy this – it’s like Grotesque and Morbid Angel were making it with Watchtower, Atheist, Centurian and Necrophobic in a meat grinder. Oh, and there appear to be some hardcore punk influences bleeding through every now and again.

Sheesh.

These kids are apparently still in their teens, so they should be applauded for their level of relative competency in mechanical terms, but the operative question is, would you ever listen to this all the way through, forget ever again?

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Enlighten – Phösphorvs Paramovnt (Signal Rex) (May 11)

And on the other hand, we also have this coming out of Portugal, implying that burgeoning scene is decidedly hit or miss.

Meandering, sub-Watain open chord wankery that gives way at random intervals to a blastbeat driven, somewhat sped up version.  They even approach a bad black ambient thing at points.

Pass.

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Urðun – Horror & Gore (Signal Rex) (July 21)

Icelandic act delivers their demo in an appropriate cassette format.  Sounds pretty clean and well produced for a demo…

There’s a herky jerky feel to it, like they’re trying to punch you in the mouth or trip you up at random intervals.  The drumming gets hyper-stiff, the riffs do a pummeling quick stop/start thing, and it comes off a bit like a marching band goes gnarly underground death metal.

It’s hard to give this an onomotapeian description, but picture some old coot with a pole up his ass trying to dance the H.B. Strut, and you’ll probably get the general feel of this. HUH! HUH! HUH! HUH! HUH-HUH-HUH!  It’s very spastic.

That said, I did really like the grinding, filthy feel of it, and the general sound they’re approximating feels pretty retro.  They namecheck Autopsy, and that’s pretty obvious from their most (comparatively) fluid track, “mortuary”.

While a bit strange (I really can’t picture anyone either headbanging or moshing to all this spaz attack riffing, it’s too stiff and off kilter), make no mistake – I definitely liked this one and do recommend it to fans of old school death metal of the more raw and unpolished variety (there’s that Autopsy thing again).

Horns u…er, somewhere off to the side jerking spasmodically.

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Barshasketh – Ophidian Henosis (Blut & Eisen Productions) (July 30)

Expat Kiwi Scotch act that gets second wave black metal right.  Everyone but the vocalist goes by initials.

There’s a very melodic basis overriding all the straightforward old school tremolo picked, snarly vocalled grimness that brings Nattens Madrigal-era Ulver to mind, but it’s much better produced and bears some of that pagan metal bounciness ala Taake.

I really dug this one.  Very probably the best black metal release this month, and one which actually manages to herald a potential return to form for the flagging, aimlessly wandering in search of a direction black metal scene of late.

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Stilla – Ensamhetens Andar (LP) (Eisenwald) 

Reviewed here last January.  Nothing’s changed except the cover art and label releasing it…

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Skogen – I Döden (LP)  (Eisenwald)

Exact same deal here, except this time they’ve tagged in three bonus tracks that weren’t the last time around.  “Tihra dautra” is particularly killer, the other two are more droning and trancey nigh-instrumentals.

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Névoa – The Absence of Void (Altare Productions) (June 22)

Whoa, wasn’t expecting this from Portugal, of all places…

The sort of ethereal, contemplative if not depressive black metal that marks the French Canadian scene in particular, but mixed with a bizarre 90’s indie sort of vibe that makes Nevoa come off like the Afghan Whigs and Darling Buds just discovered Neige Eternelle and Sombres Forets.  You bet it’s good.  But weird

You know, since the days of jazz fusion, there haven’t been all that many genre-blender releases or acts that actually worked.  Everybody does it to some extent, but the stuff that works always let’s one style or subset of influences predominate.  You’re a punk band and really dig grunge too?  Fine, go start a side project and get that grunge bug out of your system that way.  Don’t fuck up your metal band with that shit.  Oil and water don’t mix.

But every now and again, a band comes along that’s so resolutely syncretist, that feels so original or at least has sufficient character to pull it off, and it works.  Kontrust is a great example, albeit one a few continents removed from what we’re talking about here.  They’re weird and they know it, and wear that on their sleeve with good humor and as a badge of honor.

Nevoa is another one.  There are depressive, thoughtful, and even sorta dreamy-happy in an All About Eve sort of way melodies wending their way betwixt and between the more obviously black metal riffs, vocals and drumming.  There’s even an all acoustic track with exclusively female vocals (“alma”).  And yet…it works.  And works well.

Soledad Miranda aside, who the hell knew we had to start paying attention to Portugal?

Very good stuff.

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Imperial State Electric – Honk Machine (Psychout Records) (August 21)

More surprisingly authentic-feeling 70’s rock from Nicke (Entombed, Death Breath) Andersson and friends.

Forget the moribund crap they play on most “classic rock” radio stations, this is the more upbeat, good time driving with the top down summertime 70’s American hard rock arguably falling somewhere between Alice Cooper, Boston and Rick Derringer, with a dash of glam and even hints of bubblegum to boot.

Andersson’s solos are soaring, get up and dance pentatonic, there are double stop bends aplenty and there’s that telltale Beatles influence underpinning the whole affair (if you don’t know, you weren’t there).  The rest of the band sticks to the formula and keeps things movin’ and groovin’ without overplaying or allowing more modernist influences to bleed in anywhere, and it just feels surprisingly right overall.  Wouldn’t be surprised if they were playing on vintage instruments and tube amps…

There’s a positive vibe going on throughout, and the production is strong but a bit hissy, which in its own strange way just “feels right” for what they’re trying to evoke here.  You could pull in 90’s acts like Urge Overkill as possible precedents, but that’s a different animal entirely – this is so Watergate era it hurts.

Crack out your elephant bells, stick on flowers and tight fitting tees with iron on logos, because the days of van culture are back.

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Draugurinn – Ísavetur (Nordvis Produktion) (August 21)

Wow, that’s some great friggin’ artwork, there.  Was it ripped from the original first edition D&D Monster Manual?  Yeah, it’s that level of charmingly naive sketch art…

There is absolutely nothing to this.  Seriously.

Think Philip Glass at his most minimalist, and that’s still more lively, and contains a whole hell of a lot more motion.  One long, admittedly atmospheric drone with mellow, mournful chanting, like slowly boating downstream into and through an ominous dark cavern.  What I just described makes this sound so much better than what it actually is.

I will admit that “I” and “III” certainly set a mood, and one I enjoyed being drawn into. But outside of (if not inclusive of) those, there’s just nothing here, no forward motion, no change, nothing.  Just background music of the most innocuous sort, like one of those old Ghostly Sounds Halloween records, but far more inobtrusive.

Great intro, seriously.  So when’s the song gonna start?

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Raise Hell – Written In Blood (Black Lodge Records) (August 21)

Surprisingly retro thrash-minded Swedish metalcore act.

It’s kind of hard to describe, but here’s the deal. Raise Hell clearly draw from the more aggressive of Bay Area acts while simultaneously leaning heavily towards a more raw, post-Slayer modernism.  At first it feels quite retro (“dr. death”, “six feet under”), but the sound really isn’t and becomes increasingly less so as we progress throught the album.

Now, Jimmy Fjällendahl’s Vocals are way too raw and abrasive to have been taken seriously back in the day, but Jonas von Wowern’s riffing certainly feels Exumerish with touches of Exodus, Slayer or even early Sacrifice, and there are definite Dave Lombardo fills and rolls aplenty the listener can pick up in Sven Vormann’s drumming.

That said, there is further, equally obvious core orientation towards metalcore that becomes ever more apparent as you progress through the album.  And “a blackened resurrection” sounds positively power metal – check out the bridge riff, harmony solo and chorus, it’s jarringly melodic if not bombastic amidst all this hyperaggressive thrashiness.

It’s like they really kinda want to be retro thrash, but dig power metal enough to toss in one song very much in that vein, and find themselves afraid to travel too far from their roots in Avenged Sevenfold, Atreyu and the like.

Definitely has moments, but…hmm.

 

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