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Well, that’s it, kids – that’s all she wrote.

Summer’s over, and all too many adults of personal acquaintance are struggling with job layoffs and benefit cuts (thanks so much, right wingers and corporate types, for devaluing the individual in favor of maximizing profits for the already bloated tenth of a percenter multinational moguls – you’ve given so much to the world).  Did I mention the farmer’s almanac, of all things, is predicting another bad winter?

As Laaz Rockit once sagely penned, “shit’s ugly”.

So to get our minds off of all the serious shit and the unpleasant vagaries of man’s inhumanity to man, let’s dig in to yet another month of bone crunching metal.

Whether it lets you escape into worlds of fantasy and personal empowerment or just gives vent to all that pent up rage at the evildoers that set themselves up in “authority” over men (as if we were expected to actually recognize or respect any such “authority”…keep dreaming, fuckwads.  Revolution’s coming, best duck your fat heads), there’s no better accompaniment to the imminent fall of Western Civilization and the world as we know it than some energizing, pounding thrash and punk, dark and brooding, sinister goth and black metal or anthemic, spirit lifting traditional or power metal and hard rock/AOR.

So without any further ado, queue up, grab yourself a tall cold one and prepare to fuck shit up – I want to see a mosh pit out there!

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AXIS – No Man’s Land (No Remorse) (August 5)

Very strong mid-80’s LA metal with strong NWOBHM influences.  Vocalist Douglas Bjerke sounds a whole hell of a lot like Biff Byford of Saxon crossed with some Bruce Dickinsonian stylistic touches.

I’m surprised a band quite this good didn’t achieve greater acclaim, were it not for the (for the era) unusually throaty vocal approach and comparatively late arrival of their sole album here in 1988 (by which time trends had shifted towards a more self consciously glam and/or tattooed junkie Aerosmith wannabe thing courtesy of Poison and Guns N’ Roses).

Opener “long live the king”, “bringin’ me down” and to a lesser extent, “top of the hill” are real standouts, though the title cut is a slightly disappointing take on Metal Church’s “watch the children pray” with an overly long build.  The overriding sense is that Axis was trying desperately (and nearly succeeding, rhythm guitarwise) to be Ratt, but without Warren DiMartini. While the songs are generally quite well constructed and catchy, the leads fall sorta flat, being acceptable enough but decidedly workmanlike.  Think David Carruth from Bitch and you might get the general idea of his skill level.

But don’t let those minor setbacks dissuade you: this is one of the strongest “lost” traditional metal albums I’ve come across to date, with a whole hell of a lot of Ratt meets Saxon feel.  Songs are melodic, catchy and full of grinding old school metal riffing, and the vocals and leads, while perhaps a bit unusual, do work.

If they’d have stuck around, I could picture having an Axis pin on my denim jacket back in the day – they’re really surprisingly good, and No Remorse have resurrected one hell of a blast from the past here.

Raise your fist and yell.

HIGH POWER – Les Violons De Satan (No Remorse) (August 5)

Most obsessive traditional metal fans should be well aware of France’s High Power, who delivered a surprisingly strong debut back in 1983.

While hardly up to the quality of the self titled, second release Les Violons de Satan is playing more or less in the same ballpark, with very NWOBHM inflected metal, vaguely Don Dokkenesque vocals (perhaps crossed with a bit of Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett) and surprisingly classy, even a bit flashy lead guitar.

Another rip from a likely LP-only source, there’s plenty of that thinness and hiss on the treble range, but sufficient clarity and beef on the bottom end to make fans of vinyl more than happy.  A more practiced audience accustomed to the surprising clarity of the CD may be less enamored of all this distortion and missing information, but the rarity of the material and quality of the band in question may well override any such concerns.  Your call.

It’s not even close to being “High Power – the sequel”, but Les Violons de Satan is a respectable mid 80’s offering that should leave fans of the more British end of the metal spectrum quite pleased.

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WASP – Radio Single “Last Runaway” (Napalm Records) (October 2)

Wow, W.A.S.P. is still around?

I remember being fascinated by Blackie Lawless and his drunken pal Chris Holmes back in the day – the debut is a flawless heavy metal classic that remains in rotation to this day, and followup The Last Command, while a bit more pop radio oriented, still contained some of their best material.

After that, things kind of went South, with Ghoulies soundtrack appearances, questionable live albums and Who covers.  My drummer and a bass playing acquaintance (who subsequently joined a prominent and still active Latin-themed Nu-metal act whose name you’d all recognize immediately) seemed to like their Headless Children, but for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why.

The simple fact is, by the end of the decade, I turned off.

So here we are in 2015.  Apparently Blackie kept on a’rolling all these years, and in fact has a new album coming up on notable Euro label Napalm (home of Leaves Eyes, Xandria, Delain and far too many personal favorites to list off herein).  Has anything changed since I last heard the band?

Well…yes and no.

It’s hard to judge by a single (we’ll get a better picture next month with the full album release), but it seems that Lawless has taken half a step back from the more unrelentingly glum and faceless sound he adopted for Headless Children (and presumably going forward, though I’m hardly the one to ask about the intervening decades).

“Last Runaway” is surprisingly hopeful and major key, offering a sort of wistfulness in place of their former anthemics, a casual listenability where their old material was simultaneously catchy and “edgy” (at least to the unwashed non-metal masses).

Let’s put it this way, I can’t picture the man sawing a woman in half, tossing raw meat into the audience or sundry suchlike elements of the band’s famed stage show to a lighthearted summertime cruising song like this.

Decidedly unspectacular, but interesting…we’ll see what next month brings.

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AHAB – The Boats of The Glen Carrig (Napalm Records) (August 28)

Damn, has it been three whole years since the last Ahab album?

When I had former Midnattsol six stringer Christian Hector on the show, I found him to be likeable, articulate and unusually thoughtful – with his band’s orientation towards turn of the century whaling literature, you’d have to expect such. And yes, I did (shortly after our chat) finish the oft-omitted Poe novella The Giant was based upon.

Sticking with the fin de siecle nautical horror thematics, the band now takes on William Hope Hodgson’s likewise named novel, which the promo materials note as being a “survival and adventure story with elements of psychedelic horror in the form of weird weed monsters and dangerous snail-like creatures”.  I’m familiar with and appreciative of Hodgson’s shorter, Weird Tales oriented material, so my interest is decidedly piqued…

Similarly, the band sticks with the (frankly more evolved) progressive approach of The Giant over its earlier (if still quite listenable) straight up funeral doom material.  While the gritty, Sabbathlike stuff does in fact appear (and constitutes a more than reasonable percentage of the album’s running time), there are similarly lengthy, dreamy clean sections, both in vocal approach and in terms of the crystal clarity of the guitars and recording.

Like their last effort, it’s an excellent balance, and alongside the welcome literary orientation (when’s the last time you’ve heard that mentioned about a band outside Iron Maiden?), to these ears puts Ahab well ahead of their ostensible stylistic peers.

Thanks, Christian.  Now you’ve given me another novel to dig into.

Anyone up for a sea voyage?

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DIEMONDS – Never Wanna Die (Napalm Records) (September 4)

Decent late 80’s style hard rock/heavy metal combo out of Canada.  Their secret weapon is smoking hot desi gal frontwoman Priya Panda, who pulls off both aesthetics and vocal skills with equal aplomb.

Tapping into the same vibe that informed hard driving female fronted combos like Saraya, Princess Pang and particularly Femme Fatale back in their circa 1988-9 heyday, Diemonds offer a particularly melodic bar band style of heavy rock that we haven’t seen since.

Figures it’d originate from north of the border – Widow and a few Midwestern occult rock and black metal/blackened thrash acts aside, we still haven’t gotten over all this hip hop and nu metal/aggro/alterna-grunge bullshit Stateside. It’s just fucking sad at this point…

What’s interesting is how you could arguably place Diemonds in company with the sort of retro-AOR/classic hair metal thing Frontiers Records has made their specialty…and yet, the band is actually too aggressive and “heavy” for them!

The band takes the countrified/street junkie grit of Princess Pang and When the Blackbird Sings-era Saraya (which is an entirely different animal from their impeccable and very traditional oriented debut, mind), the melodicism of Vixen and the meaty traditional metal meets hard rock riffing (and oversell of the sex angle) of Femme Fatale with arguable touches of later Girlschool or even The Runaways. It’s a nice mix.

Seediest cut: “secret”. Put that together with Panda’s pleasing visuals, and you’ve got a sure bet to get the hormones surging.

Party like it’s 1988, preferably with Ms. Panda in tow (nudge wink).

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Stahlmann – CO2 (AFM Records) (September 18)

More “poppy” and “gothicized” than the similarly oriented Rammstein, the third full length from Germany’s Stahlmann treads closer territory to the gothic-industrial metal likes of Gothminister or Megaherz.  The music is simple and to the point, with plenty of melody and actual instruments being played – check out the emotional, bluesy solo on “die klinge”!

While martial enough to satisfy fans accustomed to a more Rammstein/Laibach template, make no mistake, Stahlmann are laying down an even more listenable terrain than Lindermann and company.  The anger is there, but so is a certain vibrancy, a level of humanity and melancholy that the presence of a song like “sadist” would not suggest.

It would certainly be a stretch to call this warm, but it’s unquestionable that more genuine emotions are being tapped here than the pure rage and self-disgust that marks more veteran industrial outfits (whether stretching back to chilly pioneers like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, more gothic followers such as Skinny Puppy or dance oriented bands like Meat Beat Manifesto or Nitzer Ebb or height of popularity acts like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson or yes, Rammstein).

Hey, I really dig Gothminister, which is why I had him on the show, and Megaherz similarly has not left the iPod since being reviewed a year or so back. Stahlmann’s CO2 may in fact be more hook-filled than either of the aforementioned, so are you expecting a slag?

Deutschland Tanzt!

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U.D.O. – Navy Metal Night (AFM Records) (August 21)

Udo Dirkschneider and company take a leaf from Satyricon and Empyrium.  This is another pairing of a hoary metal concern with a symphony  orchestra, with the difference being that it actually works quite well.

What’s truly surprising is how tracks like “Future land” and “Animal House” manage to sound like they were always composed for symphonic performance, with the blend between the band per se and the Marinemusikkorps Nordsee being that of a seamless interplay.

Seriously, the flow of acoustic through electronic parts and vice versa is so particularly sinuous, you have to wonder just how much rehearsal went into this project, and who took on the arrangements hereof.  Whomever is responsible, my hat’s off to you.

So if you can picture Accept-style martial cum neoclassical guitar riffing, drumming and the gravelly vocals of the one and only Udo Dirkschneider fronting and taking part in a reasonable scale symphony orchestra, that’s what this is – but so well done.

Hell, Udo even takes the opportunity to step out with a jazzy little number called “cut me out”, which is so unlike what listeners have come to expect from the man as to be jaw dropping…and yet guess what, it works.  Really good stuff across the board.

Hey, Satyricon, this is what Live at the Opera should have sounded like, rather than a half-assed Satyricon show with a little added chorus for garnish.  This sounds nothing like a typical U.D.O. album…and yet, it sounds exactly like one, fully realized.

Raise your fist in salute to the metal king.

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Pyogenesis – A Century In The Curse Of Time (AFM Records) (September 18)

Catchy emo act with strong metal overtones gives a steampunk history lesson.

Apparently they were a 90’s act who crossed over from some variant of metal (or even gothic metal) into alternative and punk, which is wholly believable not only based on musical trends of the decade but the (essentially emo, but often quite confused) hybrid we see here.

I guess if you crossed a typical act of the emo genre (don’t ask me to name names, AFI and a brief debut album flirtation with My Chemical Romance were about as far as I ever delved outside of random radio or comp encounters) with Weezer (“the best is yet to come”), Urge Overkill (“the swan king”) and modern metal cum melodeath (“steam paves its way”), you might get something like A Century in the Curse of Time.

I appreciated the steampunk thing and all the turn of the century business about the dawn of the industrial era, and the music was quite likeable, though more generally ‘punk’ in the late 90’s-present sense (think poppy, safe mallrat stuff like Good Charlotte, The Offspring and Lagwagon over the real deal living on the streets stuff like the Dead Boys, Iggy Pop and Minor Threat here) than it ever gets “metal”.

The alterna-elements seemed something of an ill fit, though they certainly pull off all of the disparate styles they choose to adopt with sufficient aplomb to recognize and give respect to their skillset.

Not bad for what it is, and sure to be playing at your local Hot Topic soon.

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To Die For – Cult (Massacre Records) (September 18)

Finnish dark melodic rock with gravel/growly vox and melancholic midtempo songs. Guitars are detuned, it all feels quite modern, and another one sure to be popular with the mallrat goth/punk crowd, though if we’re comparing apples to oranges, I’d much rather be listening to Pyogenesis.

It’s sort of bland and reminiscent of what happened to the aforementioned My Chemical Romance on subsequent albums.  Sure, it’s not horrible if that’s your thing, but…nah.

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Sinister – Dark Memorials (Massacre Records) (September 4)

I have the impression I have an old copy of Sinister’s second album Diabolical Summoning laying around somewhere.

The fact that I don’t know for sure says a lot about this band and their relative standing in the annals of old school death metal, a genre I revisit regularly and keep in at least annual rotation.

They were there back in the day.  People knew they existed, and I’m sure they had their fans.  But it’s just sort of…hmm.

The band has not really altered its style and gone djent or whatever – this is still old school style death metal.  It’s just…Sinister.  You know, it’s listenable enough, but there’s nothing there to really stand out, no melodies or catchy riffs to stick in the listener’s head, no gimmick to hang their collective hats on.

The production’s fair but unspectacular, and you could say the same about the playing. Adrie Klooserwaard goes for the throaty but aggressive vocal style, with his mouth in an “O” and freaking out throughout, the guitars and drums are OK, and it’s an album filled with covers of (mostly) classic thrash and death metal hits.

They do respectable takes on death metal classics “beyond the unholy grave” (Death), “ridden with disease” (Autopsy), “radiation sickness” (Repulsion) and “blasphemies of the flesh (Carnage), but are mediocre at best covering thrash (“under the guillotine” (Kreator), “necrophiliac” (Slayer) and “beneath the remains” (Sepultura).

Some tracks are actually unrecognizable, like their take on “exhume to consume” (Carcass), and they also cover some lesser material from Bolt Thrower (why not something off the IVth Crusade?) and Master (meh), but where they finally seem to come alive is in (surprise, surprise) two covers of their own material, namely a speedy “compulsory resignation” and a middling to noisy “spiritual immolation”.

Seriously, the energy just picks up all of a sudden, as if they were trying to get listeners to think “damn, that band Sinister is so much better than all those bands (read: comparatively lackluster covers) before!”

Look, it’s old school death metal, being performed by a band who was actually there back in the day. They cover a lot of truly choice classic tracks from some killer bands, some of which actually sound fairly decent, for covers. So far, so good.

But you have to ask: why not just listen to the (far superior) originals?

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New Light Choir – Volume II (High Roller Records) (August 7)

umm…

well, there’s a Jimi Hendrix intro that turns into black metal, then it goes sorta occult rock/doom. But that’s just the opening track – there are no further concessions to the corpsepaint crowd hereafter.

It’s two guys, a drummer and an otherwise one man band handling everything but. There’s a strong 60’s feel* to the clean guitar bits and the Britpoplike whiny clean vocals, but the heavier bits do play into the general ballpark of occult rock and/or doom metal.

* or perhaps more aptly, 80’s style retro-60’s ala The Smithereens or Echo & the Bunnymen.

What are we to make of this? Who the hell knows. It’s definitely listenable, particularly for fans of the aforementioned 80’s Britpop with 60’s leanings, and I guess that’ll have to suffice.

Not bad at all, if you’re so inclined.

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Last Red Ransom – Snubnose (self released) (September)

Interesting – electronic rock cum dance music with gothic elements?

I really liked “the electric sky (digital sunshine)” with its female vocals and catchy hooks; “burning buildings” was a bit more gothic/industrial oriented and brought both Antichrist Superstar era Marilyn Manson and Lacuna Coil to mind (simultaneously!). Hell, the male vox even smacked of Fallen-era Evanescence a bit…

“Been dead before” sounds like a long lost Curve outtake, “Lanterns” is like Type O Negative with much lighter tenor vocals (and a guest chorus by Theatre of Tragedy-era Liv Kristine!). “The living trust” feels a tad Garbage, the piano line in “etch” makes me think of Sabine Dunstler-era Elis somehow.

The other tracks didn’t impress me quite so much, though I did think “the house” vaguely reminiscent of a more aggressive variant of the sort of sound bands like Lush, My Bloody Valentine and the Darling Buds were going for back in the 90’s.

In fact, the entire affair seemed quite 90’s, but not in the crappy grunge sense – this is more like one of the many odd subcultural musical trends I was prone to explore during those dark days.

Particularly in terms of the tracks listed above, I liked this one a lot. Well worth checking out for those whose interest I’ve piqued.

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De Profundis – Kingdom Of The Blind (Wickerman Recordings) (September 28)

Pretty good melodeath with an (early) Desultory meets Baphomet vocal approach. Too bad about the shitty “we’re so black metal” cover art, which gives the prospective listener a completely wrong impression about what awaits within.

There are definite touches of latter day Death or early Cynic to the proceedings, which leaves me with mixed feelings. While I appreciate the complexity on the drumming, this sort of “technical death” cum “math metal” approach always leaves me flat.

But don’t count De Profundis out yet, because the band’s core orientation appears to be towards melodeath above and beyond all that tech bullshit (Death ended after Rick Rozz and James Murphy left, I’m sorry), leaving this as a very listenable death metal take on more palatable progressive thrash acts like, say, Watchtower or perhaps even Believer.

In fact, I found myself quite happy with this band and album, both on a scale of pure listenability and in terms of musicianship. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but overall proves well deserving of the nod.

They tread the razor’s edge quite well – a stronger “tech death” focus would have sunk their asses like a stone, but on the flipside, too much of a “melodeath” leaning could have left them comparatively generic. De Profundis actually manages to walk the tightrope and boil the blend at just the right temperature to emerge with one of the more palatable souffles of genre-blend to cross the virtual desk of late.

Raise the horns.

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My Silent Wake – Damnatio Memoriae (House of Ashes) (June 29)

Strange variant of doom metal with overly clean (possibly heavy overdrive?) guitars and a questionable vocalist.

Apparently they’ve been poking around for a good decade, with almost as many album releases as there were years in their recorded career. But is it any good?

They’re what used to be called a “power trio” (Triumph, Rush, Nugent, you get the idea), with mainman Ian Arkley handling both vocals and guitar. Something about this feels fairly straightforward, despite the often snaking guitar/bass unison lines and orientation towards atonal sustain – they almost feel “modern/Watain worship black metal” therefore, though that’s really not what’s being tapped into here*. In fact, Arkley and company tend more towards pseudo-psychedelic rock in their overall playing style, with straight ahead rock drumming and a lot of negative space (think early Danzig).

* that said, check out “black oil” and tell yourself that’s not what’s going down…

Honestly, I’m not really sure what to make of these guys.  What sound were they really shooting for?  Is it doom metal? Gothically oriented hard rock?  Watain wannabe schmutters?  Psychedelic stoner rock?  The answer to all of those is “yeah, sorta…but not really.”

I guess it’s listenable enough if you’re in a depressive mindset – the Chuck Biscuitslike drumming from Gareth Arlett is certainly quite palatable, and the use of negative space definitely helps as well.

I just really don’t get what the hell they’re trying to be, and find the vocals…questionable. Not horrible, and certainly not good…just…hmm.

While I’ll rate the music itself several degrees higher than the vocals (if nothing else, then for the drumming alone), it’s something of a mixed bag.

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Designs Of Chaos – The Darkest Storm EP (self released) (June 28)

Emo screamo with a strong tech metal orientation. For those interested in the human interest angle, they’ve apparently soldiered on past tragedy, as they’ve recently lost their former drummer due to a workplace accident (!)

It’s only three songs, and some of the riffs are likeable enough, but I’m sorry, I have to laugh at these all too typical scream till your face goes red and I can see your tonsils shake “vocals”. I’d replace the vocal chair and have the band integrate some of those cool riffs into a more musically inclined outfit.

For the teenage screamo crowd, likely playing at a Hot Topic or college “metal” radio station near you.

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Disfago – S/T double 7″ EP (Witch Ghetto Productions) (August 6)

Punk meets underground black thrash/D-beat. Parts of this are just too damn fast and poorly recorded (what the fuck is guitarist/vocalist Miika saying?), but it’s definitely in line with the sort of thing you hear on much beloved labels like Hell’s Headbangers, Iron Bonehead and Nuclear War Now! – grimy, filthy, sloppy, noisy and all around fucking awesome.

Sometimes the drummer speeds the tempo in the middle of a verse, and the whole thing feels like it’s about to collapse at any time, but look, I was a punk before I was a metalhead (and was again, during metal’s long death here in the States during the 90’s and early to mid millenium), so this sort of barely controlled chaos is right up my alley.

No question about it – their shows must be anarchic in the extreme. Enter pit at your own risk while this level of insanity is playing…

Think bands like Midnight and Shitfucker are too sedate and technical?  Try Disfago on for size…

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AmoK (Norway) – Necrospiritual Deathcore (Edged Circle Productions) (September 25)

Reissue of a 2006 album that came and went on (of all places) Mysticum’s vanity label. Given that band’s very public problems with substance use, one can only imagine these guys would’ve been lucky to see a paycheck for this, much less any widespread marketing…

An essentially blackened death metal act, Amok uses their horror film sounclips in a particularly odd manner – rather than starting off or ending a given song, they’re integrated into the song proper and played over (making them kind of hard to hear at points).

There’s not a lot to say about the music, it’s reasonably straightforward and, let’s be honest, a bit boring. Chugga chugga chunk chunk chunk ad nauseaum…

Nothing particularly outstanding or horrible here, just prone to leave the listener drifting off if not falling asleep in its very genericness.

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Horna – Hengen Tulet (W.T.C.Productions) (September 22)

Ah, one of the few dependable standbys in black metal. Alongside Gorgoroth and…uh…well, nobody really…the band has maintained a steady standard of blazing northern darkness without fail, despite numerous changes in vocalist over the years (from longstanding guitarist Ville “Shatraug” Pystynen to Lauri (“Werwolf”, “Nazgul von Armageddon” and sundry other aliases) Penttila through personal favorite Tapsa “Corvus” Kuusela to current frontman Tuomas “Spellgoth” Rytkonen).

Through it all, they’ve held the banner of darkness aloft, raising the horns where most all of their peers and predecessors fell into various sorry trends and a more particularly “radio friendly” straightforwardness, keyboards, simplified structures, even the black metal equivalent of “death n’ roll”. Bands whose first demos and early albums (or trilogies and quartets of albums) are revered far too often hung around long after their sell-by date, diluting the brand and scene with various levels of effective crap.

But Horna? Never.

Like Gorgoroth, the band has never gone “Viking”, “melodic”, “progressive” “post-black metal” or whatever other ridiculous appellation labels and press can come up with for “sellout”, instead delivering the dark goods mainline over what is now nearly a quarter century’s worth of releases…and a whole hell of a lot of ’em at that. Want a laugh? Go ahead, take a look at the Horna discography. Good luck collecting ’em all…

Respect to the band, and “Shatraug” himself, whose side projects tend to be of similar (if inevitably lesser) quality, for staying true for all these years.

Sure, I’d prefer to hear “Corvus” back in the vocal chair – his era contained some of the very best of Horna releases. But that’s like saying I’d rather have Hat fronting Gorgoroth again – true, but you take what you can get.

There’s nothing here you haven’t heard from them before – and trust me, when it comes to Horna?

That’s a compliment.

Hail to the Finnish lords of northern darkness.

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Shrine of Insanabilis – Disciples of the Void (W.T.C.Productions) (September 22)

I swear, was that the same exact song over and over?

Much like Dark Funeral (at least circa Secrets of the Black Arts, after which I gave up), their whole schtick is ascending and descending in lazy man construction transposition (you remember how all those crappy hair metal songs in the late 80’s used to transpose up a whole step at the end for no apparent reason and ruin the entire atmosphere of the song?). Up and down, up and down, endlessly searching…

Other than that, it’s actually not bad for modern black metal, owing more to old school second wave stylistic flourishes and aesthetic than far too many of their peers.

Even so, it’s noisy, often poorly produced (check out the fast half of “still of this earth”, if you dare!) and like I hinted at earlier, I’d gone through three whole songs wondering when the first track was going to finally end!

Look, it goes without saying that I’ve been exposed to (and forced to listen to and review) far, far worse here at Third Eye. The endless succession of Watain wannabes and subpar Aussie acts cluttering up the black metal scene of late is staggeringly voluminous, and quite frankly, pointless. At least Shrine of Insanabilis is sort of trying, though I can still hear a bit too much of Danielsson in there for their band’s own good.

So as the pigs would say, I’ll let you guys off with a warning.

Next time, I may have to bust ya.

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Kaiserreich – Cuore Nero (De Tenebrarum Principio) (September 7)

Wow, musically I really, really dug this one. That same mournful, hypnotic feel of acts like Vardan and the Sepulchral roster, but with a bit more “in the moment” presence and aggression.

The only thing that throws the mix off a bit is the vocals, which are screeched in such a fashion that they seem to shift back and forth between a particularly Burzumesque black metal shriek and that distinctly teenage emo/aggro screechy screamo shit.

I did appreciate the little At the Gates-isms (the occasional shout of “go!” or what have you to kick off a song or phrase) and seriously liked the band’s approach and sound, not to mention the fact that, confusing moniker aside, they hail from the motherland (viva l’Italia!), so I’ll pretend the vocals are more extreme black metal than mallrat wannabe.  But it’s up for grabs, folks.  Take a listen and deny it.

Fucking awesome, aside from the questionable vox.

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Carma – S/T (Labyrinth Productions) (October 1)

A pair of interesting trance electronic tracks both kick off and conclude what turns into more of a black metal meets funeral doom affair between.

I liked the ambient tracks (“sonhos” and “adeus”) and the more black metal inclined (and comparatively “speedy” midtempo) “procisso”, but when they go straight up funeral doom (albeit with BM vox), it kinda sucked.

There’s only 6 tracks, so if one decent track with a good intro and outro justifies a blind buy, have at it. Just don’t blame me when it all goes south for the other 3.

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Antagonist Zero – No Tears MCD (Inverse) (August 14)

“Dark metal” with strong doom flourishes. Nice and often catchy solos from Ben Pakarinen (who also does vocals) and Juho Suokas. The clean sung sections work pretty well. Unfortunately, the barfed growly bits are questionable at best.

There’s two covers, one of which works pretty well (“the lachrymal sleep”), and the whole EP is sort of early Paradise Lost-ish with perhaps a touch of Candlemass (minus the essential “Messiah” Marcolin vocals).

Bottom line, it’s pretty good – just not so sure about the bleeeeaaaggghhh barrrffff huaaggghhh bits.

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Scythe For Sore Eyes – Dawn Of a Darker Horizon (Inverse) (June 12)

Modern day punk-meets-metal act. It’s all pretty uptempo, with crystalline production, chunky, in your face guitars and odd sprechtgesang vocals that approximate baritone (think a less melodically inclined Voltaire and you’ll get the picture).

There’s a thinness to the center of the mix that makes me wonder if this is a bassless combo – dual guitars (or single guitar dual tracked), drums and vocals only. Oh, wait, there’s a really understated bass riff that appears out of nowhere for a bridge in “selfkiller”, then vanishes. I guess there is a bass player plucking away entirely unheard there after all…

Either way, there’s a definite feeling of something missing here – the sonic fullness, energy and emotionalism of modern punk and emo is entirely absent, with the band laying down some pretty good riffs backed by fair enough drumming, yet never really reaching the proper intensity to get a pit going (or heads banging).

In pure music terms, I liked these guys well enough – it’s actually a pretty decent debut. But despite all the stuff they do get right (which is quite a bit, mind), you just can’t shake the feeling that something both basic and essential just isn’t there.

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Embassy Of Silence – Verisimilitude (Inverse) (August 28)

Led by vocalist Ines Lukkanen, this is a band with something of a confused orientation. What’s in question is just who they want to be or appeal to.

“Shame, spin & click” feels very retro-60’s, somewhere off to the side of the “occult rock” and psychedelic rock revivalists, but still filled with Hammondlike keyboard and that bouncy feel that marked the era. Then it goes all gothic metal for “thimble” and sort of symphonic with radio rock touches for “absurdoscope”. The rest of the album sticks to the latter approach, for better or worse.

Look, they’re not bad, and the sound is definitely smooth on the order of Die Laughing (whose Rachel Speight Lukkanen’s vocals uncannily evoke). It just didn’t work for me, being neither fish nor fowl.

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Simulacrum – Sky Divided (Inverse) (August 28)

Thrash meets prog, befouled by some pretty crummy vocals where I think he’s trying to be Bruce Dickinson but gets too growly for his own good.

It’s a concept album, some sort of postapocalyptic nonsense, but I got bored with all the disjointed flourishes of notes, overly bombastic keyboards and over-dramatic vocals that devolve into raspy growls.

I guess if you’re really into prog and concept albums and don’t mind things leaning well into the thrash zone, you may or may not dig this – I sure as hell didn’t.

zzzzz

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V FOR VIOLENCE – The Book Of V (Inverse) ( August 28th)

ugh.

No, ugh.

Nu metal meets aggro and everyone loses.

Did someone just flush a clogged toilet?  S for Shit.

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Black .44 – No Blanks (Inverse) (August 28)

Oh, geez. Another groove metal outfit. Black Label Society meets Pantera and post-relevancy Metallica with touches of nu metal crap like Korn (can’t disguise that corner of the mouth “ironic” vocal thing).

Skip it and put on some Black 47 instead. “Funky funky Caeli!”

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TODESSTOSS – Hirngemeer (I, Voidhanger Records) (September 25)

OK, they claim Martin Lang to be some sort of ersatz “renaissance man”, not only “musician” but “poet” and “painter”.

If so, why is he producing crap like this?

Disjointed bits of cultural detritus like Atari Teenage Riot meets noise rock with touches of “post black metal”.  It’s very electronic, very schizophrenic, and very lousy.

Yeah, I know the Germans gave us Einsturzende Neubaten, but they can be a lot more musical than this foolishness.

Zero stars isn’t enough. This deserves negative numbers.

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BLOODWAY – Mapping The Moment With The Logic Of Dreams (I, Voidhanger Records) (September 25)

Detuned modern metal riffing with slight black metal touches, particularly in the screechy vocals and atonal open sustain Watainishness.  There are moments where the drummer breathes some life into matters, but the guitars are too off kilter and rigid to wake up and follow him.

Somehow, they got Mika “Dr. Mikkanibal” Kawashima of Sigh to drop by for a brief, Ornette Colemanesque noise solo on sax, but that’s less than a minute of the playing time.

If you’re going to sit through this as an endurance test, do it for the drumming by Alex Ghita, who deserves a much better band to strut his skills with.

Noisy and pointless mess that occasionally lapses into near-recognizable melodic structure before falling apart yet again.

Forget it.

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MARE COGNITUM – An Extraconscious Lucidity (I, Voidhanger Records) (September 25)

Another one where a quiet electronic ambient intro gives way to a relatively traditional, speedy black metal outfit.

There’s some decent kitwork going on when not lazily falling back on the sadly standard blastbeat thing, the vocals work well enough for the style and while the guitars are poorly (and noisily) recorded, there’s a feeling of clarity and ambience that surrounds all of this.

They’re trying to set up some sci-fi concept having to do with explorations of deep space and such, which is pretty cool, but other than the drumming, there’s nothing too special about this one – just questionably produced but respectable underground black metal with busy, fast paced and generally quite excellent kitwork.

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Lux Ferre – Excaecatio Lux Veritatis (Altare Productions) (October 1)

Wannabe Watain clones once again.  Whatever…

They’re from Portugal this time.

Next?

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ABIGAIL / SHITFUCKER – Bloody Your Lovely Pussy! (Split 7″ EP) (Hells Headbangers) (September 30)

As you can tell from the crass, oversexed title, this is a pair of tracks from long running Japanese blackened thrashers Abigail, who follow the above with “you are still slut!”  Gotta love broken English…

Unfortunately, Shitfucker actually bring things down a few pegs with some poorly recorded, extremely noisy speed-thrash that makes their last album look like a carefully crafted, well produced masterwork.

Get it for the Abigail tracks and consider the rest a bonus (or better yet, just stick to the A side).

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MIDNIGHT / SHITFUCKER – Split 7″ (Hells Headbangers) (September 4)

And here they are again, this time paired with the likeminded Midnight.  That band drops an aggressive blackened thrash track in the vein of Venom by way of early Bathory, which once again sounds quite well produced by comparison with their companions Shitfucker.

At least this time, the noise is somewhat less egregious, and you can make out the puked vocals better…

Let’s rinse and repeat: get it for the Midnight track, and consider the other side a bonus (or better yet, just stick to the A side).

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EVIL ARMY – Violence and War (MLP) (Hells Headbangers) (October 2)

Coming at ya with much improved production over their prior I, Commander, Evil Army drops four tracks of vicious thrash in the At War meets Slayer vein.

It’s straightforward and over before you know it, but blazing all the way.

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Pentagram (Chile) / Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Ritual Human Slaughter / La Mujer, El Diablo y El Permiso de Dios – split 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (October 2)

Pentagram delivers the same brand of South American blackened thrash they were known for back in the late 80s (and as compiled on Under the Spell of the Pentagram), albeit with considerably better production.

Unaussprechlichen Kulten, for their part, continues in the vein they’d begun to pursue on the split with Godless, somewhat overly technical feeling and vaguely Suffocationesque.

Whether the two bands are evincing any real measure of “growth” or change from their prior work or no is arguable, but this time around the material doesn’t seem quite as special, or stand out so much from the crowd as they had previously.

Perhaps it has to do with the quality of the company they keep – it’s unquestionable that we seem to be seeing a generally stronger caliber of releases of late (hence a more positive trend in reviews here).

But either way, this one’s certainly acceptable in objective terms…just didn’t do anything for me.

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Venefixion – Defixio TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (October 2)

Poorly produced, trebly but hyper-aggressive blackened thrash.  Promo materials reference Grotesque and Repulsion, both of which are fair signposts as reference.

Four tracks of old schoolish black thrash with slight death metal elements.  Solos are brief and somewhat sloppy, but that’s very much in the tradition of acts like Slayer, Celtic Frost or early Kreator, so it works.

There’s some business about death and burial practices around the world, but all that means is a track about voodoo and another about India’s Aghori – not that anyone could hear the lyrics anyway!

Under all that hissy noise is a very good retro minded act waiting to emerge.  Better production next time might give them the gold star.

I liked it.

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Tetragrammacide – Typhonian Wormholes: Indecipherable Anti-Structural Formulæ 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (October 2)

I think I mentioned Atari Teenage Riot earlier.  Cross that with the more noise-oriented moments of Guitar Wolf (you know, the ones the label warned you not to play too loud for fear of damaging your speakers?) and then throw Zom in the middle of all this, buried under electronic noise, wobbly record distortion and hiss, and you’ve got this one in a nutshell.

Apparently this painful slab of shit comes from India, which would be of interest were it not utter trash.

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Veiled – Omniscient Veil TAPE (Iron Bonehead) (September 25)

Old school, straightforward, driving Norwegian style black metal.  Apparently they were formerly Gnosis of the Witch, an act whose prior EP and split didn’t exactly impress, to say the least.

You can pick up some of the old schmutters in the overlong, unappealing slow sections in “I” and “IV” and some hissy production, but this is such an enormous step forward from that former apellation’s output, it cannot be overstated – it’s a tectonic shift of shocking proportions.

Apparently “II” features vocals from the label’s head, which is odd – he comes off like a sort of drunken Paul Baloff, all throaty slurring and short, spat out phrases. It’s odd, but the band keeps the atmosphere going and almost makes it sound credible.

That’s actually the main thing to take away here: Veiled, unlike the decidedly flawed Gnosis of the Witch, is all about atmosphere, thick and oppressive, with speedy, almost trancelike tremelo riffing not too far removed from, say, Gorgoroth over slowly repetitive chordal patterns.

Whatever happened to these guys, more bands out there could use a hearty swig of.

Raise the horns high for a true redemption from the ashes.

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Abominor (Iceland) – Opus: Decay (Invictus) (September 4)

Uber-generic underground black metal.

Long, semi-acoustic atonal bits that smack of Watain?  Check.

Indecipherable belch vocals buried under metric tons of slap echo and reverb?  Check.

Boring as hell?

Check.

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VI – De Praestigiis Angelorum (Agonia Records) (September 25)

French black metal of the modern variety. Some of the rhythms and cadences here are quite quirky, and therefore of interest…

The only thing I wasn’t fond of was how some of the drum parts sounded canned. They do list a drummer (formerly of Merrimack, yet), but there are blastbeat phrases and snare rolls here and there that sound too fast to be realistic – and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Some sort of tweaking was probably involved, particularly as there are other electronic elements sneaking their way through the album.

Once again, a bit too much of that Watainish feel to the guitars, but there are plenty of odd signatures unique to this particular band, which ameliorates things somewhat.

There’s a strong saminess to their sound, and while the strange, off kilter feel does save them from getting thrown on the usual slag heap, I wasn’t exactly enamored of the electronic bits, the occasional (likely) tweaking of the drums to hyperspeed, or the slower, more Watainish bits, which have gone well past “typical” to being utterly boring at this point in black metal history. Enough already!

Definitely worth a listen, the strangeness of it may well appeal.

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TEMPLE OF BAAL – Mysterium (Agonia Records) (October 2)

Quite similar to their prior Verses of Fire, Temple of Baal delivers a particularly listenable strain of modernist blackened death metal, complete with some strong (if unfortunately blastbeat-ridden) kitwork and decent enough production.  Yes, they improved the production this time around, though it still remains a bit noisy with all the open string, bent quaver Watain bits (and how is that death metal, I ask?).

There is a strong sense of fullness to the mix despite this, the vocals are a bit more Glen Benton than Desultory this time around, and the bottom line is, the band retains that fast paced, Marduklike listenability they displayed an aptitude for last time around.

While hardly playing in the same ballpark as the sort of bands veterans like Rick Rozz, James Murphy and Nicke Andersson were famed for taking part in, Temple of Baal deliver yet another comparative winner in a genre whose bounds are increasingly decaying and being subsumed into, or absorbing from, genres both newer and if not soulless, then certainly far less listenable and comparatively musically disinclined (aggro, modern Swedish style black metal, math metal).

Bottom line, I liked it, and it even represents a slight improvement production wise over their last album.

But since when do comparisons like Watain and Marduk say “death metal” to anyone?

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Ares Kingdom – The Unburiable Dead LP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (September 18)

Now this feels a bit more properly death metal.

Chuck Keller’s guitars are thick and chunky with decent, relatively melodic solos in classic death metal fashion. Alex Blume’s vocals are raw in a very Malevolent Creationlike manner.  Mike Miller’s drumming is right up in your face and comfortable with both the slower, more steady paced material (“salient and redoubt”) and the more Morrisoundesque patterns of “nom de guerre”.

Touches of black metal influence do bleed in with Miller’s occasional reliance on blastbeats for the faster bits, but generally speaking, this is the sort of (arguably second tier, but still) death metal you don’t really hear anymore except from the old guard (or long-awaited resurrections thereof, such as the excellent Eldritch Horror).

Sure, it may not rank with the all time classics, but that’s a lot to ask for.

Compared to the modern stuff?  There is no comparison.

Bang your head until it bleeds.

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Procreation – Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 1)

The challenge here is how to differentiate in description a very raw, blackened thrash-style variant of what is very clearly death metal…and the now-standard “blackened death metal” which has overtaken the latter scene (you know, Watain and/or Marduk wannabes with a base, if distinctly modern, death metal orientation to their playing).

If you can wrap your head around the (major) difference between “fake death metal that’s really black metal in disguise” and “blackened thrash style death metal”, you’ll understand what I’m trying to get at here.

These guys are the real deal, an old school death metal band gone wrong (or right, depending on how you look at things), who are apparently part of BC’s “Ross Bay Cult” (read: Blasphemy’s circle of friends and bandmates).

While they sound in no way shape or form akin to the Beherit-style “war metal” of that storied act, Procreation does date from the heyday of death metal – like the aforementioned Eldritch Horror, almost to the day on both the front and back ends thereof (1989-1993).  This is a compilation of the band’s two demos, dating from “the year death metal broke” and its arguable peak years of 1990 and 1991, remastered for superior sound.

Yeah, I love me some Blasphemy, and I sure do love the glory days of death metal.

Sure as hell I dug this one. Another great unearthed find from Nuclear War Now.

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Sadistik Exekution – 30 Years of Agonizing the Dead LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (October 15)

I’ve tried these Aussie nutcases out before, after such tomes as Metalion: the Slayer Mag Diaries (questionable) and Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult (excellent) came out, and found them somewhat wanting. The Magus? “Fukk” that. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

That said, what we have here is a compilation of two demos from 1991-2 and two EP singles (1996-7), which bar two or three tracks and much to my surprise, actually work.  I don’t mean it’s not bad.

I mean this fucking slays.

Sure, “suspiral” is noisy, seemingly live pure shit, “ipsissimus” is unlistenably hissy and compressed, and “bastard bass” is a joke – literally somebody trying to be Joey DeMaio.

But that’s three tracks out of nine.

The others? Two come with thick, meaty production (“agonizing the dead” and “magus”) and a generally death metal approach, making them the clear standouts. The others sound more iffy on the production end, but are still speedy, Sarcofagoesque slabs of raw blackened thrash with David Vincentlike vocals.

Sure, a lot of my positive impression here comes from the surprise factor. A band I discounted as pure crap turns out to have some killer material in their closet after all. But listen to this stuff – especially given better production like on those first two tracks.

Is it worth a horns up? “Fukk” yeah!

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Black Grail – Misticismo Regrisivo (Tyrannus) (October 2)

Chilean black metal.

You read that right. Not blackened thrash. Black metal.

The drumming, particularly the bass drum and floor tom, are right up there in your face, but the guitars don’t impress – both recording and playing style are overly noisy and very modern once again.

The vocals are raspy and raw, but overreliant on slap echo and reverb (as are the guitars).  It’s very typical black metal underground nowadays, and I don’t know about any of you, but I’m sick of this style already.

Pass.

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Sacrificium Carmen – Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa (Saturnal) (October 30)

Looks like Saturnian Mist have their own proteges.  At the very least, these guys have availed themselves of the aforementioned’s “Frater Zetekh” on production duties…and there are some definite stylistic similarities to be reckoned with as well.

As such, it’s a reasonably strong sounding offering on the production end, with an oddly dry and up against the speakers-style mix with plenty of bottom end on (session) drums, bass and rhythm guitars (at least chordally speaking – the modernist open string schmutters is always unavoidably noisy).  Think of the unusual drum production on Gorgoroth’s Under the Sign of Hell and you’ll get the general idea, though it’s thicker and more present than that.

As one might expect from not only Finnish black metallers in general, but particularly those under the wing of Saturnian Mist, they lay claim to being more serious about their aspirations than most, though given their choice to record nigh-exclusively in Finnish, I can’t comment on that one way or the other.  I have my suspicions.

They also pulled in Horna frontman “Spellgoth” for backing vocals on one track, so think about it. Can’t get much more connected in the Finnish scene than that…

It’s melodic enough, anthemic and clearly old school inspired, albeit with some very modern production and stylings coming into play.

I’d be lying through my teeth if I didn’t give this one hails, with “kaaoksen kaarme”, “verialkemi”, the Gorgorothesque “nemesis” “and speedy “julman san” being particular standouts.

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